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5×5 for the not so beginner

Look through any history book and you will see, sometime after the creation of rocks but slightly before the creation of dirt, the first 5×5 training protocol. Despite the fact that a new version of this protocol seems to come out every few years with some “new” twist that makes it even better, 5×5, in all its forms has been around forever. In fact, I’d bet it’s safe to say that it is probably one of the oldest structured training programs ever devised.

Even though there are, no doubt, many thousands of articles concerning this type of training that cover just about everything imaginable, I have decided to throw my hat into the ring and give a version of 5×5 that I like and incorporate with come clients. In this program I draw a lot of inspiration from many of the previous incarnations of 5×5 including Bill Starr, Rippetoe, Madcow, and, of course, Reg Park. In fact, it was through Park that I was first introduced to this type of training. If you are well read on training concepts you will, no doubt, recognize some other influences.

Before getting to the program let me stress one important point. I hate “light days.” At least as most people, and most 5×5 programs, tend to do them. I like to go as heavy within a given rep rage as often as possible. Obviously this won’t work for very long unless you don’t care about shitting spleens all over the place. However, this is possible IF you structure the program to take advantage of underloading. What’s underloading you ask? Underloading is training a movement that is harder, but lighter, and you are weaker at than a similar movement. For example, high bar pause squats will always be less weight than a wider stance power squat.

The program is split into heavy, medium and light days. It breaks down like this:

  1. HEAVY DAY – 93% of best 5 .
  2. MEDIUM DAY – 80% of most recent heavy day
  3. LIGHT DAY – 70% of most recent heavy day

Day 1

  • Squat – Medium = CAT squats (focus on acceleration through the concentric range)
  • Bench – Heavy = Competition Bench
  • Deadlift – Light = Stiff legged Deads standing on a small platform

Day 2

  • Squat – Light = Front Squat or High Bar Pause Squat
  • Bench – Medium = Close Grip Bench
  • Deadlift -Heavy = Deads from floor

Day 3

  • Squat – Heavy = Strongest Stance
  • Bench – Light  =  Incline Bench Press
  • Deadlift – Medium = Deficit or Snatch Grip Deadlift

Each week add 5 pounds to the heavy day and follow the percents for the other days. If you don’t complete AT LEAST 1 set of 5 on the heavy day, don’t add weight to anything the following week. It won’t take long to surpass your previous PR so don’t be an ass hat and start at, or above, your PR. Let yourself build some momentum to crush PR’s.

*You can choose to go for 1 top set of 5 and a few down sets or try to complete all 5 sets with the same weight. You can even stick with a weight until you can do all 5 sets before adding weight. This is the day with the most leeway as to set up.


Here is an example week for a lifter who has 5 rep PR’s of 315, 225 and 405 for squat, bench and deadlift, respectively. The starting numbers for the “heavy” day will be 295, 210 and 375

DAY 1 

  • CAT Squats: 235 5×5
  • Competition Bench w/pause: 210 5×5
  • Stiff Legged Deads on Platform: 265 5×5


  • High Bar Pause Squat (3-5 seconds in the hole): 205 5×5
  • Close Grip Bench:  170 5×5
  • Deadlift from floor: 335 1×5, 375 1×5, 350 3×5


  • Squat: 295 3×5, 265 2×5
  • Incline Bench: 150 5×5
  • Deficit Deadlift: 300 5×5

There you have it.

Simple. Hard. Effective

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