Benefits of the 5×5 Workout and set workout programme

The 5×5 workout would’ve faded into obscurity decades ago if it didn’t deliver genuine physical benefits. The reason it’s continued to be a staple program for generations is because it can reliably add muscle and power onto nearly any lifter.

Muscular Size

Whether you’re looking to be built like a powerhouse linebacker, a well-muscled bodybuilder, or something in between, the 5×5 workout can be a top choice. The calorie surplus needed to recover from high frequency, heavy lifting coincides with the type of calorie intake needed to support muscle growth.

In fact, one of the surest ways to short-change your results with the 5×5 program is to not provide insufficient fuel for growth and recovery. One common mistake some lifters make is to try “eating for fat loss” with a calorie deficit while using a 5×5 training routine.

Without ample calories and enough high-quality protein, you run the risk of wasted time and energy, and potential overtraining.

Total-Body Strength

Performing big barbell exercises with heavy weights for relatively low repetitions is a spot-on approach to building raw strength. Using a limited number of exercises in each workout allow you to focus your training intensity on the most efficient movements.

Performing a relatively limited number of sets and repetitions keeps your workouts focused on classic hard and heavy lifting which also yields focused results. One worthwhile “side effect” of  the 5×5 workout is that high-frequency exposure to the same exercises can help ingrain proper lifting technique. Improved technique can carry over to better long-term gains, greater training efficiency, and potentially lower the risk of injury.

Drawbacks of the 5×5 Workout

While the 5×5 program has several clear benefits, there are also a few opposing points to consider. Any training routine will have its own list of pros and cons; being around for several decades doesn’t give the 5×5 workout a free pass.

Limited Muscular Development

Even though the multi-joint barbell exercises do recruit a number of muscles during each workout, certain body parts will likely remain somewhat undertrained due to specific exercise choice or an individual’s unique limb lengths.

For example, performing the bench press as the primary upper body pushing exercise may leave your triceps and shoulders less-than-fully stimulated depending on your arm length and specific grip width. Performing the deadlift will work portions of your hamstrings, but won’t efficiently train the “leg flexion” aspect of hamstring function which can be achieved through leg curls.

Relatively smaller body parts like the upper back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and calves receive some activation as supporting muscle groups but aren’t directly trained with a classic 5×5 workout.

This is one reason why the program is well-suited for beginner lifters looking to establish a general base of muscular size and strength — they don’t yet have any significant weaknesses or discrepancies. Experienced lifters sometimes require more precise training to target key developmental weaknesses, which are not effectively addressed by a 5×5 plan.

Limited Cardiovascular Development

With its focus on heavy barbell lifting, and recovering from heavy barbell lifting, the 5×5 workout doesn’t leave any real room for significant cardiovascular training. Research has shown that aerobic training (like running on a treadmill or long-distance biking) can negatively impact explosive strength and power, and may interfere with overall strength and muscle gains. (4)

Just like the 5×5 workout isn’t compatible with a calorie deficit, it’s also not applicable for those with cardio-based goals such as distance running and many general sports. The key exception would be to specifically program 5×5 in the offseason when cardio training can be a lesser priority in the short-term.

Starr did find an effective shortcut around this obstacle by training in a superset or circuit style. If maintaining some semblance of cardio fitness is a secondary goal, consider planning your 5×5 workout similarly. That’s an effective compromise, presuming you have the available equipment to use three barbells in quick succession — a scenario not likely in many commercial gyms, but quite possible in a home gym.

Potential Joint Issues

Training exclusively with barbells can be highly effective, unless you have pre-existing joint issues that preclude you from performing many barbell exercises. This can often be related to general mobility issues — being unable to safely perform a given exercise — or damage from pattern overuse — the results of performing a given exercise repeatedly over the years.

Creative exercise selection could be a temporary solution in some cases, for example, choosing a push press instead of a strict overhead press. However, for long-term joint health and overall progress, a more conservative approach is often to avoid problematic exercises (and implements, like the barbell) altogether.

Sample 5×5 Workout Program

Train three days per week, with at least one day of rest between each session. If you’re hitting the 5×5 exercises as hard as you should be, you’ll quickly appreciate having a day of rest after each workout and a day to mentally and physically prepare before each session.

Each workout includes a relatively limited “accessory” movement at the end of each workout to tack on some additional work for the chest, triceps, back, biceps, and hamstrings. If you’re feeling excessively fatigued on a given day, the final exercise is entirely optional. What’s important, however, is to not add even more exercises or volume to the training plan.

Feel free to experiment (for weeks at a time, not a few workouts at a time), varying between Park’s “three sets with the same weight” approach as well as Starr’s method of increasing the weight on every set. You might find that you get into a “groove” by repeating the same weight for multiple sets or you could benefit from the dialed-in focus of gradually building up to one very heavy set per exercise. In either case, when you’re able to successfully perform five reps on your fifth set, increase the weight on all sets.

Beginner lifters would be better served repeating roughly the same weight for each workout, increasing whenever the final set reaches five repetitions. More experienced lifters will likely benefit from Starr’s “heavy, light, medium” — the first workout of the week sets the standard, the second workout is programmed with 75 to 80% of the weights, and the third workout uses 85 to 90% of the first workout’s loads. Any required mathematics will payoff with improved recovery between sessions and more powerful performance during training.


Trap Bar Deadlift — 5 x 5

Overhead Press — 5 x 5

Front Squat — 5 x 5

Dips — 3 x 8-12


Trap Bar Deadlift — 5 x 5

Overhead Press — 5 x 5

Front Squat — 5 x 5

Chin-up — 3 x 8-12


Trap Bar Deadlift — 5 x 5

Overhead Press — 5 x 5

Front Squat — 5 x 5

Romanian Deadlift — 3 x 8-12

Author Profile

Lee Clarke
Lee Clarke
Business And Features Writer


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