Like any type of exercise routine, strength training programs can feel tedious and leave you feeling unmotivated after a while. If you’ve spent a little time looking for a workout that is convenient enough to do from your home gym or is just different from what you do every week, you might have seen the StrongLifts 5x5 program.
Starting a new program and making a commitment to it can be a risk that every bodybuilder takes. What if you don’t like it? What if you’re two weeks in and feel no changes? If you don’t like a workout program, it may feel like an incredible setback.
We will discuss the StrongLifts 5x5 program, and what others have to say about it, so you can make a well-informed decision about whether it’s worth trying out or not.
What Is StrongLifts 5x5?
You may be familiar with a 5x5 workout or at least have heard of it before. It’s been around for decades and Bill Starr, a strength coach, used the workout plan to build muscle in football players during the 1970s (the plan’s origins dates back to decades earlier).
In short, the 5x5 program is a strength training routine, and it consists of five sets of five repetitions. We will discuss the details of the plan a little further in the article.
The StrongLifts program was created by Mehdi, who began creating a website and a program using the 5x5 method in 2007. Since the website was created, Mehdi has also created numerous StrongLifts videos that showcase the 5x5 workout and a free mobile app (with in-app purchases) for iPhone and Android.
How Use StrongLifts Different From The Standard 5x5 Program?
Have you tried a 5x5 program before and want to see how it differs from the StrongLifts program? Let’s take a look at some of the main differences.
Starr’s 5x5 Program
The original 5x5 program, which was used by Starr, consists of three main exercises for strength and adding bulk. They include squats, power cleans, and bench presses. The original 5x5 workout rotates exercises so that one of the three (such as the squats) is performed with maximum weight load once a week and the other exercises are done at a lower intensity.
The 5x5 program is designed to have a light, medium, and heavy day for each of the three exercises during the week. The program usually runs for six weeks, then there’s a brief break, and the program starts from the beginning but using heavier weights.
While the program does a great job at bulking up and strengthening the legs and back, bodybuilders often need to supplement to strengthen the upper body. Critics of Starr’s 5x5 program say that the lack of variety can lead to boredom and even injury if lifters try to overcompensate with too much weight.
StrongLifts 5x5 Program
The main difference between StrongLifts and Starr’s program is that the StrongLifts routine has two extra exercises. During the week, the individual performs deadlifts, squats, bench presses, overhead presses, and barbell rows.
The routine is done three days a week and is designed with an A/B split (or two different workout days). The program is designed with a day of rest between Day A and Day B. Similar to Starr’s plan; you begin adding more weight as you go.
An In-Depth Look At The StrongLifts 5x5 Routine
Now that we’ve given you a brief look at the differences between Starr and Mehdi’s programs, let’s take a closer look at the StrongLifts routine.
If you have a home gym, you can easily do the StrongLifts program from home otherwise it’s just as easy to do at your regular bodybuilding gym.
As we already mentioned, the program consists of two workouts, A and B, and are done with a day of rest in between.
Day/workout A consists of squats, bench presses, and barbell rows. Day/workout B consists of squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts. The purpose of only doing three workouts a week is to keep your body rested, stronger, and less likely to sustain an injury while lifting.
If you follow the program, allowing your body to rest and recover, you should be able to lift more weight with each workout, and you’re more likely to build muscle and strength more quickly. There’s no rule to when you should start the program; Mehdi recommends starting on a Monday, but select a schedule is convenient for you (just allow for a day of rest).
Here’s an example from the StrongLifts site that maps out what your first two weeks might look like:
- Monday (Workout A): Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
- Wednesday (Workout B): Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift
- Friday (Workout A): Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
- Monday (Workout B): Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift
- Wednesday (Workout A): Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
- Friday (Workout B): Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift
As you can see, the workout schedule is relatively easy to follow, and you can always make up your own calendar, use the workout app, or signup for daily StrongLifts email tips, to ensure that you don’t mix up which workout you’re supposed to do for the day.
Depending on how much experience you have lifting, you’ll probably use a lighter weight than other users of the program. Despite your experience, you should start out with a lighter weight than your used to as your body needs to adjust to doing the same five exercises.
Mehdi recommends the following weights for beginners or for someone who rarely lifts (or hasn’t lifted in a while):
- Use 45 lb (or the unloaded Olympic barbell) for squats, bench presses, and overhead presses
- Use 95 lb (or unloaded bar with 25lb on each side) for deadlifts
- Use 65 lb (or unloaded bar with 10lb on each side) for barbell rows
You can always start out with even lighter weights, depending on your experience and lifting ability. It’s better to start out light and work your way up.
Keep in mind that 5x5 refers to the number of sets and reps you do, so you should do five sets of five reps of the same weight.
The schedule, with weights, can be a little confusing so let’s take a quick look at what week one might look at with weights (again, it’s beneficial to sign up tips or use the app).
- Monday: 5x5 45 lb squat, 5x5 45 lb bench press, 5x5 65 lb barbell row
- Wednesday: 5x5 50 lb squat, 5x5 45 lb overhead press, 5x5 95 lb deadlift
- Friday: 5x5 55 lb squat, 5x5 50 lb bench press, 5x5 70 lb barbell row
Common Questions About The StrongLifts 5x5 Program
While the StrongLifts program seems relatively straightforward, there’s a lot to the program, and it could easily be an overwhelming workout for some. Medhi addresses many questions on the StrongLifts website, so it’s essential to visit the site and read through all the information before starting the program.
How Long Does The Program Last?
Many people wonder how long the program lasts. Medhi recommends giving it at least 12 weeks, and some reviewers used the program for up to a year. The length of the program may depend on specific factors like your level of commitment and your starting point (such as how much you lift in the beginning).
What Are The Benefits?
While Starr’s 5x5 program was specifically designed for football players, the people who want to try the StrongLifts aren’t football stars. What are the benefits? Working out as frequently as you do with the program, you’re bound to build muscle and get stronger.
Mehdi also states that you can boost your endurance, improve your flexibility, enhance your sex life, lose weight, and build your confidence. Your results will vary depending on your fitness goals, your lifting experience, and your fitness level.
Is It Safe For Beginners?
Many people who want to get stronger and build muscle have no experience lifting weights, which prompts the question if it’s safe for beginners. In theory, the StrongLifts program has the potential to work for anyone as long as they are committed to the program and do the exercises correctly.
If you are a beginner, it’s essential to know who to do all the exercises correctly and start with a suitable weight. As with all workout programs, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to see if you’re fit to try the StrongLifts program.
Most of the material and resources that explain the StrongLifts program is free. As we already mentioned, there’s a plethora of information on the website, and if you have a little experience with the 5x5 program, it might be enough to get you started.
You can sign up for free emails that give you additional tips for working out. The app is free, but the in-app purchases are as follows (for an iPhone):
- StrongLifts Power Pack ($$)
- StrongLifts Warmup Set ($)
- StrongLifts Pro Annual ($$$)
- StrongLifts Arm Work Assistance ($)
- StrongLifts Plate Calculator ($)
- StrongLifts Switch 3x5 ($)
- StrongLifts Pro 3 Months ($$)
- StrongLifts Power Pack ($$)
- StrongLifts Pro Backup ($)
- StrongLifts Switch 3x3 ($)
What People Are Saying About StrongLifts 5x5
The StrongLifts program gets some mixed reviews from users who have followed the program. While some users who described themselves as “out of shape” and inexperienced with weightlifting were happy with their results and felt stronger and healthier.
Many users who followed the program for more than six months dealt with plateaus and lost interest in the program, feeling like there was no more to do. Some people took a long break and came back to the program.
While most users loved the extensive resources, a few felt overwhelmed and thought the program as a whole. Most people who use the app find it easy to use and thinks it keeps them better organized while working through the StrongLifts program.
Overall, the program gets positive feedback, but most users don’t see it as a lifelong workout (Mehdi, himself, says it’s not meant to be done forever).
What We Think About StrongLifts 5x5
After reviewing the details of the program and reading through dozens of user reviews, we think that StrongLifts program is an excellent opportunity to build muscle and strength. While it still lacks variation, having two extra exercises from the standard 5x5 definitely helps.
There is a lot of information to read through and videos to watch, and while this may be helpful to most users, we can also see why it might be more of a hindrance. Even though the workout is laid out, it could still be confusing (and a little overwhelming) for a newcomer to the world of bodybuilding.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to know how to do each exercise properly before doing the program and choosing a weight that is light and safe. Overdoing it with heavy weights from the start of the program will lead to burnout and possible injury.
We definitely think that the program is worth a try, but unless you are committed to working out on a schedule and doing the same exercises every week, you’re probably not going to succeed or enjoy the program. As for experienced bodybuilders, the StrongLifts program may not be the best option depending on current fitness goals (as it may not be challenging enough).