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The 5×5 workout

The 5×5 workout

I want to discuss an old school training routine today – the 5×5 workout. It is enjoying something of a renaissance these days thanks to the internet, There is actually a guy who has based an entire site and in fact an entire business on this one single concept. His idea is that the 5×5 workout is all that you need to go from skinny kid to musclebound behemoth.

Unfortunately, the development of muscle and strength is not that simple. The body gets used to whatever stimulus is applied to it after a time and the returns diminish. You need to change your training approach on a regular basis.

However, the 5×5 workout is still an excellent routine, and it adheres to my personal approach – the KISS approach (Keep it simple stupid).

This particular routine was a favourite of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s idol Reg Park. This is significant because the physique Park built with this routine was largely in the pre steroid era. It shows that those people who adhere to more complicated and voluminous workouts these days are missing the mark, because these workouts are the product of the use of steroids and the subsequent improved ability to recover from workouts.

The 5×5 routine, while challenging, is just the right level of volume and intensity for people who would like a good strong physique.

So what is it? Quite simply, it’s choosing a basic, compound weight movement and performing 5 sets of 5 reps of that exercise. You choose three exercises in total and do each of them for this reps scheme.

For example you choose bench press, bent over rows and squats.  Each exercise you do, the first couple of sets are warm up sets, then the last 3 are heavy.

The workout is performed 2 to 3 times a week, depending on your ability to recover. If you use weights as your primary mode of exercise, 3 times a week is good. If you use weights as a way to put on a bit of muscle for another sport, then two days a week might

An example routine might be:

Monday –

bench press

bent over rows



bench press

overhead press


Friday –


bent over row

overhead press.

This program should serve as a template for any weights work anyone does. The idea that you need to add bells and whistles to any fitness routne is an absolute fitness dead end.

Yes there are lots of tricks and tweaks that can enhance our fitness and athletic performance, but seldom are the tricks that work some magical machine with lots of pulleys and chrome. Rather, they are the basics. A set of pushups, sprinting up a hill, grabbing a skipping rope and skipping.

You need to ditch the 12 sets of bicep work. You need to ditch the leg extensions. You need to ditch the pec deck. The most productive work is always done when you strip away the non essentials. These things do absolutely nothing to improve athletic ability. In fact they will do the opposite; they will add useless workload to your exercise routine that will require recovery time. They also take up time that could be used doing the extras that will pay dividends, such as depth jumps and bear crawls (I’ll post about these soon)

So this workout, hard, heavy and basic, should put a good amount of muscle on and not only that, should provide you with that thing I always bang on about, functional strength. If you want to be more durable on a contact sport, more resistant to injury in a tackle, able to hit harder, this is how to train.




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