In this article I share how I’ve been adapting the 5×5 workout program to accommodate my (well) over 50-year-old body.
I’ll also detail the training routines of the original 5×5 programs and their popular offshoots being used today, and tell you why I need to adjust them to better suit me here at the ‘tender’ age of 61.
Up ahead I’ll open up my training notebook & provide the (evolving) training specifics of my hybrid 5×5 workouts: their exercises, sets, reps, frequency, etc.
A quick personal note: You & I each have our own individual situations to deal with as far as our age, health, strength, equipment, & available workout time are concerned.
I’ll let you know what I’m doing, but (for sure) you want to adapt any ideas you like to fit your needs & training goals.
Before I provide my 5×5 workout schedule though, we need to look at the three most popular 5×5 workouts first.
These are — of course — the:
- Reg Park 5×5
- Bill Starr 5×5
- Strong Lifts 5×5
This is so I can easily point out why each of them is an inappropriate training choice for me & my strength training goals, if I followed them to the letter.
My point being: As-is & without modifications, none of the popular 5×5 programs are good for me given my age, health condition, & life situation.
Note: To skip ahead to my 5×5 workout section, use the Table of Contents (above) or you can click this link:
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
What is a 5×5 workout?
In its simplest form, 5×5 means 5 sets of 5 reps each.
So the traditional 5×5 workout — regardless of version — is one that consists of doing 5 sets of 5 reps for each of several exercises.
And the majority of those exercises are your basic compound, multi-joint weightlifting movements like the squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press, rows, etc.
The proven effectiveness of the 5×5
The 5×5 workout & its myriad of versions have been successfully used to build muscle & strength for several decades now.
So I want to take advantage of this well-proven training program to help me get stronger & gain lean body weight.
But I’m not 20, 30, 40, or 50 anymore
Since I’m closer to my death than my birth — unless I got some Methusaleh DNA in me — my body has changed quite a bit since my early lifting days.
And I need to respect that fact, even as I continue to try and push the envelope, fighting tooth & nail against the aging process on a daily basis.
me at 60, Jan. 2020
5×5 workouts were created by 30-year olds
If you’re over 50 like me, chew on these facts below like I did when I finally let a little truth & perspective chisel its way into my hard rock noggin.
Fact about the most popular 5x5s
All of the famous 5×5 workouts — from Reg Park, Bill Starr, & that Belgian dude who started Stronglifts 5×5 — were written by guys in their 20s or 30s.
Reg Park 5×5 fact
Reg Park has the earliest published 5×5 workout I could find.
Titled Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters & Body Builders, he published it in 1960 at the age of 31. (1)
Bill Starr 5×5 fact
Bill Starr published his famous 5×5 in 1976 at the age of 37. (2)
But much more importantly…
The intended audience for Starr’s original 5×5 workout was high school & college-age athletes, and it was titled The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training For Football.
Stronglifts 5×5 fact
This is the most popular 5×5 workout out there these days, and is easily the most well-known of the 5×5 workouts amongst aspiring lifters who are half our age.
On his About page, the 5×5 creator known as Mehdi says he published his 5×5 in May 2007. (3)
On a FAQ page answering a question someone in their mid-30s asked about being too old to do Stronglifts 5×5, Mehdi mentioned he was 37. (4)
That page was last updated in 2019, so that would indicate that Stronglifts 5×5 was created* by someone who was around 25 at the time.
*created – That word might be a little strong. The Stronglifts 5×5 workout is basically Reg Park’s beginners’ 5×5 workout repackaged with a couple of changes applied to it.
Summary of these famous 5×5 workouts
* Reg Park’s 5×5 workout came from a 31-year old who’d recently benched 500 lb. and had won Mr. Universe twice to that point.
* Bill Starr’s 5×5 workout was written for competitive football players between the ages of 15 & 25.
* Stronglifts 5×5 was published by a guy in his mid-20s who’s currently marketing it in his mid-30s, and is borrowed heavily from Reg Park’s 5×5.
These 5×5 workouts vs. the ‘over 50’ me
So knowing all that info I just shared, there’s no way I’m going to try & go toe-to-toe with those workouts as they’re intended.
That’d be dumb.
But I love the 5×5 workout’s main ideas of going with heavier weight, incremental progression, focusing on the compound exercises, etc.
And I’ve incorporated all of the main 5×5 principles into my 5×5 workout that I’m doing now.
I cycle training blocks
I should mention that I am definitely not intending to keep doing this 5×5 ad infinitum like the Stronglifts 5×5 guy recommends.
I love cycling through different training blocks every 6-12 weeks or so, depending on:
- strength progress or lack thereof
- overtraining signals if any
- diet/caloric changes
So this evolving 5×5 workout I’ve been doing for several weeks now will eventually give way to a week of recovery.
There I’ll reassess if I’m going to keep on truckin’ with the 5×5 for another multi-week block, or shift gears into something else to keep my muscles guessing & my mind engaged.
Next I’ll share what limitations I’m up against that help determine what kind of effective 5×5 workout I can put together.
About my 5×5 workout since I’m over 50
These are the factors in play that are most important as I design the right 5×5 for me:
- I take longer to recover from workouts
- I’m limited to dumbbells
- What does sports science say?
- Long workouts aren’t a good idea
1. Slow recovery
Limitation: Post-workout recharge takes much longer.
I’ve been lifting for almost 40 years, and I’ve felt my body’s ability to recover from workouts go downhill over the past two decades as I went from 40 to 60.
I discuss recovery in more detail in my article How I Plan To Build Muscle At 60.
Suffice to say, it is the most important factor in determining my:
- workout frequency (days/week, muscle groups/week)
- training volume (sets/reps)
- training intensity (how heavy; rest period length)
- workout time length
2. Dumbbells no barbells
Limitation: No barbell or power rack.
My 5×5 workout variation has to be adapted to work well with dumbbells.
See ya, gym fees
I bailed on a gym membership about 15 years ago and never looked back.
But I never plunked down the money to set up a power rack, barbells, & plates area at my new home.
Instead, I started stockpiling used dumbbells.
Got back a lot of time & money
Working out at home has saved me 5-6 hours of travel time per week, and over a 15-year period that’s 780 hours of my life reclaimed.
And I got things I’d rather do than drive to & from a gym I pay a couple hundred a year for, plus gas.
Don’t have quite enough weight, but it’s OK
I have pairs that run up to 70 lb. in 5 lb. increments, so I need to work within that limitation.
I’m cool with that, since I stopped going super-heavy on the big lifts back when I was in my 40s.
3. Most effective training methods only
Not really a limitation, but a heavy influencer.
When it comes to any training topic, I want to know what legit sports performance and strength & conditioning research has proven.
I believe in the equation:
Sports science > Gym Bro science
This applies to things like:
* what’s the most effective “number of days/week” to work your muscle groups when you’re over 50
* what’s the optimal amount of recovery time between heavy lifting days, etc.
4. Workout time length
The length of my weightlifting workouts is another important area for me to dial in, given my age as well as my life circumstance.
What worked then don’t work now
Those 2+ hour workouts back when I was in my 20s did me a world of good: I packed on 40 lb. of muscle.
Lifting heavy for that length of time now would be dumb and very counterproductive.
Busy schedule too
The other thing is, I just can’t dedicate that amount of time several days per week to my weight training pursuits.
I have a lot of other stuff to do, so the actual weightlifting part of my overall fitness plan needs to be adapted to fit my life’s daily routines.
Regarding these issues
I’ll be keeping these 4 factors front & center in my mind as I build my workout and while we now go & check out the popular Big 3 of 5×5 workouts.
If you want to skip to my “Over 50 5×5 Workout”, please use the Table of Contents widget that’s up near the start of the article or click here to get beamed aboard the USS 5×5 right now.
I mention this because this next section analyzing the three well-known 5×5 workouts is LONG.
5×5 workouts: what works & doesn’t
In this section I’ll first summarize what I like about the common elements found in the popular 5×5 workouts from Reg Park, Bill Starr, & Stronglifts 5×5.
Then I’ll list what I don’t like about each one individually.
I won’t provide my explanations here, just the bullet-points of what’s not going to work in a “5×5 workout for an over 50 me”; the detailed info follows right after this.
Then I’ll share my 5×5 Program For Dinosaurs.
What I like about 5×5 workouts
* Working within an easy-to-remember set & rep scheme simplifies the workout.
* Using heavier weight + lower reps on a weekly basis keeps attention on strength & mass.
* Slowly bumping up the weight in small increments is a smart way to extend the continual strength gaining period.
* 5×5 workouts focus on compound exercises (even to a fault), and these multi-joint movements are great for the ol’ bod. (5)
What I don’t like about 5×5 workouts
OK, here I’ll bullet-point what’s not so hot (for me & my particular situation) about each of the three popular 5×5 workout programs.
Some negatives may show up in all three due to the similarities in their routines.
Stronglifts 5×5 – what’s not good for me
You can see the Stronglifts 5×5 workout schedule here.
- Don’t want to do squats 3x per week
- Per muscle sets per week # is light
- # of sets in its older person workout is even less
- Once a week per muscle group isn’t enough
- No variation of reps or sets in program
- Limited number of exercises
- Stronglifts says no to dumbbells
Reg Park 5×5 – what’s not good for me
You can see Reg Park’s 5×5 workout schedule here.
- Only 4 exercises in Phase 1, which lasts 3 months
- Phase 2 workouts will take over 2 hours
- Phase 3 workouts will take 3 hours
- 10 sets of squats 3 times a week won’t work
- Adequate recovery an issue due to volume
Bill Starr 5×5 – what’s not good for me
His original 5×5 workout has become hard to find for free, and the book it came from, Only the Strongest Survive: Strength Training For Football, is expensive.
You can (sort of) see Starr’s original 5×5 written up in this article.
- Only 3 exercises
- One of the three is the power clean
- Squats 3x/week again
As time went on, I heard Starr added more exercises to this, but I couldn’t find any credible workout info showing his modifications to this original 5×5 workout from 1976.
Detailed info on the well-known 5x5s
I think the only one of the popular 5x5s to discuss further is Stronglifts 5×5.
With both Reg Park’s and Bill Starr’s 5x5s, one look at their workout schedule and it’s pretty easy to see why I wouldn’t want to copy what they recommend.
Reg Park 5×5 issues
The Reg Park 5×5 workout gets too long (2+ hours, then 3+ hours) for 6 months of its 9-month cycle, and it has 30 sets of squats a week during that time frame too.
And the overall training volume performed 3x per week gets too much for me to recover from properly, starting with Phase 2.
Bill Starr 5×5 issues
Bill Starr’s original 5×5 doesn’t have enough exercises to interest me, and I can’t do power cleans with dumbbells.
Besides, at this point in my life I don’t want to do any power cleans anyway.
Detailed info on Stronglifts 5×5
Here’s the Stronglifts 5×5 schedule again.
* It’s 3 days per week, à la Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
* So it has a rest day following two of the workout days, and a 2-day rest following the 3rd workout day.
* There are two workouts, A & B.
* It takes 2 weeks to do each workout 3 times:
- Week 1: Monday A, Wednesday B, Friday A
- Week 2: Monday B, Wednesday A, Friday B
Continue repeating this 2-week cycle.
Exercises & volume
* It’s 3 exercises per workout, and each exercise gets 5 sets of 5 reps.
* There are 5 exercises:
- Bench press
- Barbell row
- Overhead press
Workout A is squat, bench, & rows.
Workout B is squat, overhead press, & rows.
You increase the weight on the bar by 5 lb. using 2.5 lb. plates for every exercise you could do ‘5 sets of 5 reps’ of in the previous workout.
Anything specific for older people?
“Older” according to the Stronglifts guy means 40 & up.
His schedule for older people has only 2 workouts per week, and he cuts the sets from 5 down to 3:
- Monday (A) – squat, bench, row (all 3×5)
- Thursday (B) – squat, overhead press, deadlift
His advice is 2 days of rest between.
So week 2 workouts would be on Sunday & Wednesday, and week 3 would be on Saturday & Tuesday.
Week 4 would be a return to Monday-Thursday, & so on.
What I like about Stronglifts 5×5
I do all five of these exercises all the time, regardless of what kind of training block I’m on.
To me they’re foundational movements that are never taken out of any workout plan I cook up.
What’s not good for me about Stronglifts
1. Doing squats three times per week
In Stronglifts 5×5 you’ll do 5 sets of squats three times per week.
I’m not going to do that, especially since we’re picking a weight that’s heavy enough to be effective with only 5 reps.
My legs will not be recovered with only 1 rest day between squat workouts.
My legs get a good workout and recover in my 4-day workout splits where I squat twice a week.
Bottom line: I’m going to stick with twice per week max for my squat work.
2. Muscle group sets per week is light
Let’s look at the Stronglifts regular schedule first.
It takes 2 weeks to get an equal amount of A & B workouts in, 3 apiece.
After 2 weeks this is how many sets of each exercise we will have done:
- Squats 30
- Bench 15
- Rows 15
- Overhead press 15
- Deadlifts 15
So that comes out to 15 sets/week for squats, which is plenty.
But the other 4 exercises only average 7 ½ sets per week, and that’s not plenty.
Pro bodybuilders and powerlifters for decades have always done a lot more than 7-8 sets per muscle group per week.
In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s books I reference below, he recommends a lot more than 7 sets a week too.
And sports performance science has shown multiple times that more sets per week yields more muscle gain. (6)
The chart above is from an extensive review of 15 research studies led by Brad Schoenfeld, who’s at the top of the food chain when it comes to strength & conditioning research. (7)
The only columns you need to check out are the first and the last where my arrows are.
You see that 10 or more sets per week creates more muscle gain than any set total less than that.
So Stronglift’s 7 sets/week average for the four exercises besides squats isn’t good enough for me.
And Stronglifts 5×5 workout for older people like me has even lower weekly sets.
There are only 3 sets/week for all of the exercises besides squats…and squats only get 6 sets a week.
Bottom line: I’ll be doing 10 or more sets per muscle group per week for all muscle groups, unlike Stronglifts 5×5 workout.
This is because it’s always worked for me and it’s overwhelmingly supported by evidence in bodybuilding, powerlifting, & sports science.
3. Training muscle groups 1x/week isn’t enough
Semi-related to the low number of sets issue is the fact that with Stronglifts, every week there’ll be two exercises that’ll only be done once a week.
In week 1, it’s the B group’s overhead press & deadlift that get worked just 1x.
In week 2, it’s the A group’s bench press & barbell rows that only get done once.
Once again, strength & conditioning research doesn’t support this scheduling approach.
A large 34-study review involving hundreds of competitive athletes clearly demonstrated that working a muscle group twice per week was better for muscle & strength gains than once a week. (8)
Bottom line: I intend to work every muscle group twice per week, unlike Stronglifts 5×5 schedule.
4. No variation of reps or sets
There’s nothing in the Stronglifts 5×5 workout plan that mentions ever doing anything other than 5 sets of 5 reps with those same 5 exercises.
But there’s a mountain of solid evidence showing that varying your reps leads to better gains than always sticking with the same number.
Read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s two great training books, Education of A Bodybuilder and The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, and you’ll see that he was always changing up his reps and sets to keep his muscles from adapting.
Later in this article there’s a quote from him where he goes into detail how he didn’t do a 5×5 workout, but instead did all kinds of rep & set variations when he was training for competition.
And these respected trainers and strength & conditioning coaches:
- at bodybuilding site T-Nation
- Ph.D. Jim Stoppani
- and pro athlete strength coach & Athlean X owner Jeff Cavaliere
all recommend throwing in high-rep finisher sets (AKA drop sets) from time to time as a way to stimulate more muscle gains.
And of course there’s strength & conditioning studies that have shown that high-rep drop sets done at the end following a bunch of low (3-5) rep sets caused more muscle gain than doing just the low rep program. (9)
Bottom line: I’ll be programming variations in the reps from time to time during my 5×5 cycle. I’ll do it by either sneaking in a 6th rep here & there, or by adding a high-rep drop set after the 5th set.
5. Limited number of exercises
There are only 5 exercises used in Stronglifts 5×5.
My weightlifting inspiration came from Arnold, and he recommends doing a lot of different exercises in those two books of his I mentioned that I own (& love).
Thumbing through his recommended workouts in Education of a Bodybuilder I see where he’s commonly using 3 exercises for each of the 7 muscle groups, plus exercises for the calves.
Even medical sites that weigh in on strength training topics recommend doing more than 5 exercises.
Harvard Health says shoot for 8-10 exercises to preserve & build muscle when you’re older.
They’re no doubt echoing the same recommendations put out by the American College of Sports Medicine. (9).
Bottom line: I’m going to do more than the 5 exercises used in Stronglifts 5×5, that’s for sure.
6. Stronglifts says no dumbbells
The last thing about Stronglifts 5×5 that doesn’t work for me is that the Stronglifts founder says it won’t work with dumbbells.
This makes sense because in Stronglifts, you increase the weight incrementally the next workout every time you can do 5 reps for all 5 sets of a given exercise.
His increments are 5 lb. via two 2.5 lb. plates added to the barbell.
I can’t add 2.5 lb. to any of my dumbbells because they go up in 5 lb. increments…. 40, 45, 50, 55, etc.
So any time I switch to a heavier pair of dumbbells I’m actually going up by 10 lb., an increase which can’t be sustained over time like a 5 lb. increase on a barbell can.
The other point the Stronglifts guy makes about dumbbells is also true.
And that is that at some point, the dumbbell is too hard to hold due to it being so heavy.
His analogy is that he can do 400 lb. squats with a barbell on his back, but he can’t hold 200 lb. dumbbells in each hand.
Bottom line: I have no choice but to use dumbbells (well I do have a choice, but it comes with great cost of time, convenience, & money).
So I’m good with using them for sure.
The other thing is, I’m no longer trying to raise my personal records in the squat, bench, or deadlift any more.
I gave that up almost 20 years ago.
My Over 50 5×5 workout
In this section I’ll share what I’m doing as I figure out a good 5×5 workout for myself.
The following is what’s currently happening, and I’m 6 weeks into this cycle so far.
I’m using a 4-day workout split, hitting each muscle group twice per week.
- Monday / Thursday – Workout A
- Tuesday / Friday – Workout B
Workout A is chest, shoulders, triceps.
Workout B is legs, back, & biceps.
Note: Abs are done 3x /week on their own schedule.
- Dumbbell Floor Press
- Overhead Press
- Lying Triceps Extensions (i.e., 2-db Skullcrushers)
- Bent Over Rows (2-dumbbell)
- Standing Biceps Curl
Note: I substitute (or tack on) additional exercises for all muscle groups whenever I feel like it, and I list & discuss them below.
- Sets & reps are mostly 5×5
- On strong days I’ll go for a 6th rep on a late set**
- On strong days I’ll sneak a 6th set somewhere
**Note: My progression plan is based on these 6th reps, as you’ll see below.
* Rest is 90 seconds between sets**.
* Weight is set so I never hit failure at 5 or less reps. (Actually I never go to failure, period. Got that tip from Reg Park 😉.)
* I bump up weight once I reach 6 reps on all 5 sets***, then go back to 5-rep sets for the new heavier weight.
* When I bump up weight, I will switch to the previous lower weight in later sets if I feel I’ll hit failure at 5 or less reps.
** – Here’s a good example of where you’d adapt this to suit your goals — like resting for 60 or 120 seconds instead. I’m doing the 90-second rest specifically to work on improving my heart disease issues.
*** – Remember, since I have dumbbells my “weight bump up” is in 5 lb. increments per dumbbell.
As mentioned earlier I’ll swap in an alternative exercise when I feel like it.
I haven’t committed to a strict “alternate exercises each workout” kind of thing, but maybe I will at some point.
Just changing up the exercises that day whenever the spirit moves me keeps it fresh.
My additional exercises include the Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Press, & Arnold’s Bent-Arm Dumbbell Flys from his book, Education of a Bodybuilder.
One of my alternate exercises is wide grip pull ups, since I have a doorway pull up bar.
That’s a pull up assist band you see on the bar.
Currently I have to use it on the last 2 sets because I’ll fail before 5 reps unless I resort to crappy form. The band keeps me honest…
Another alternate back exercise is to do rows but change the angle of the dumbbells.
Instead of mimicking a barbell as usual, I rotate the handles 90° upward (aka neutral grip).
So the row is sort of like the seated cable row you have in gyms, except I’m still bent over with engaged core & hamstrings.
The third additional back exercise I love doing could also be on chest day instead, and that would of course be the good ol’ dumbbell pullover.
You can shift the emphasis more towards your lats or your pecs depending on your setup & exercise form, and I go into all that in this article here: Dumbbell Pullover: Muscles Worked, Benefits, How-To’s…
The only other leg exercise I’ve been doing I’ve just been adding, versus swapping out either the squats or the deadlifts.
(I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to ever skip those…)
That additional leg move is the goblet squat, performed with one dumbbell and a wide stance with feet pointed out at 45 degree angles.
I keep the “top” half of the dumbbell touching my chest bone, and I squat low enough to touch my elbows to my quads right behind my knees.
One additional triceps exercise is to switch to one dumbbell, go heavier, and do standing triceps extensions with both hands on the dumbbell.
It’s the one where you lower it behind your neck and get that real deep triceps stretch.
And here are three other dumbbell triceps exercises I’ll rotate in & out of:
* Close grip dumbbell press (aka Crush Press)
* Incline dumbbell kickbacks
* Incline dumbbell overhead extensions
I go into correct setup & form — along with how-to videos — for these three exercises in this article here:
Chin ups with the reverse close grip is one (great) alternate biceps move, and here are three others whose technique is laid out in that article that I just mentioned above:
* Concentration curls
* Incline dumbbell curls
* Standing hammer curls
Drop set / high-rep finishers
In week 4 I introduced a single drop set for each muscle group.
Finishing week 6 now, I can report that I didn’t have enough gas in the tank to do them for every muscle group on all 12 of the previous three weeks of workouts, but I did them a bunch of times.
I’m hoping/believing I’ll be able to do a drop set for every muscle group for all 4 weekly workouts soon.
(Update 2021: That didn’t happen. Some days I’m strong enough to throw in drop sets, some days I’m not…c’est la vie.)
Drop set / high-rep finisher exercises
- 15-25 body weight squats, slow & to failure
- 15-20 deadlifts with half the current weight
- 15 presses with half the weight
- 15-20 1-arm rows w/ half the weight
- 15-20 overhead presses w/ half the weight
- 15-20 lying tri extensions w/ half the weight
- 15-25 resistance bands curls, slow to failure
Bottom line: These additional exercises give me a total of 21 to use in my 5×5 workouts.
For me that’s a better deal than having only 3 (Starr 5×5) or 5 (Stronglifts).
Weekly volume by muscle group**
Legs 20 sets
- Quads 10 sets (squats)
- Hamstrings 10 sets (deadlifts)
Chest 10 sets (presses)
Back 10 sets (rows, pull ups)
Shoulders 10 sets (overhead presses)
Triceps 10 sets (extensions)
Biceps 10 sets (curls)
** These are low-end numbers, since they exclude both the occasional 6th sets and the high-rep finisher sets.
Summary of my Over 50 5×5 Workout
Well there’s what I’m working on, and as I progress on it I’ll come back to this article & update what’s happening.
As mentioned earlier, I cycle out of this 5×5 set & rep scheme and daily schedule into other weekly workout splits with different training volume numbers (sets/reps).
I used to be able to go hard for 8 weeks straight, but here in 2021 my cycles have been 6 weeks long before I needed to chill for a week.
I still use all of those same exercise options I shared with you, mixing & matching depending on how I’m feeling.
Remember my 4 important factors?
Here again are the four main things I needed to address & respect when I put together a 5×5 workout for myself:
- I take longer to recover from workouts
- I’m limited to dumbbells
- What does sports science say?
- Long workouts aren’t a good idea
I’m pretty sure I ticked all of the boxes on these; let’s see.
I have a 2-day recovery for all muscle groups that is then followed by a 3-day recovery.
For me, this is much better than going at it every other day 3 workouts in a row like the famous 5x5s.
I may have to track down some 75s or heavier at some point, but so far I think I’m making my dumbbells-only limitation work out real well.
I’m getting stronger, and if I squint lookin’ in the mirror I’m getting real buff too. 😄
Am I in line with sports science?
I feel my workout is following proven protocols with regards to volume, intensity, schedule, & recovery.
Do I avoid long workouts?
Workouts with the baseline 15 sets take:
- 10 minutes for the actual lifting
- 14 minutes of rest
- 24 minutes total (excluding abs, warmup, stretch)
Workouts with drop sets on all muscle groups + one 6th set in there (23 sets) take:
- 16 minutes for actual lifting
- 22 minutes of rest
- 38 minutes total (excluding abs, warmup, stretch)
Who invented the 5×5 workout?
Funny you should ask…
Lineage of the 5×5
Like many family trees, the origin story of the 5×5 workout is a bit cloudy, where facts collide with internet
bullsh folklore & myths are forged from wishful minds, hoping for catchy storylines.
Guys linked to the 5×5 workout program
Here’s a list of the various men you’ll see credited with inventing, using, &/or recommending the 5×5 workout, depending on what website you land on.
Mark Berry (1930s)
* First U.S. Olympic weightlifting coach and personal trainer for Mr. Universe John Grimek.
* Author of books & publications dedicated to weight training & bodybuilding.
* Two of his training books are still available that I had access to: Physical Training Simplified (which I own) and The Mark Berry Bar Bell Courses.
Neither book has any reference to a workout built around a “5 sets of 5 reps per exercise” protocol.
Reg Park (1950s – 60s)
- 3-time Mr. Universe winner
- Second man on record to bench press 500 lb.
- Idol (& later mentor) of Arnold Schwarzenegger (12)
- Starred as Hercules in a few Italian films
His book Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters and Body Builders is where (I believe) the first ever 5×5 workout was published in 1960.
* Besides myself, he’s the person most responsible for getting me to start lifting back in 1982.
* Likely due to his well-known connection to Reg Park, you can find people online saying a few different things:
- Arnold used Reg Park’s 5×5 when he started lifting;
- he used it during his bodybuilding career;
- he recommended it to aspiring lifters.
Well……I respectfully question the factual accuracy of all three of those claims, and here’s why.
Where’s the proof of Arnie’s 5×5 connection?
I own a couple of Arnold’s books.
I’ve owned a copy of Education of a Bodybuilder, his part-autobiography / part-muscle-building guide, for 39 years.
It’s my favorite strength training book by far: it inspired me to begin lifting & inspired me to go for it in my life.
But there is no mention of Reg Park’s 5×5 workout anywhere.
Education of a Bodybuilder
In the autobiographical Part 1 Arnold talks a lot about Reg Park’s influence on him.
And he also talks about his early training days a lot too.
But not a word about the 5×5.
In Part 2 he gives out a ton of good advice about nutrition and recommends all kinds of weight training workout specifics.
But not a word on the 5×5 workout there, either.
The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding
The other book of Arnold’s I own is this one.
This monster of a book — its over 800 pages long — has two very detailed chapters dedicated to training.
Set & rep ideas for every conceivable situation or goal are recommended & explained thoroughly.
The 5×5 workout isn’t talked about once.
I took a screenshot of my Kindle version of this book, where I searched for the term “5×5”.
Nada. Zippo. Nichts. Zilch.
Even Arnold himself said he didn’t use the 5×5
Arnold has been making himself accessible to his fans over the past several years post-governor, which is way cool.
He’s done a couple of Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything) forums, and one was about fitness.
He was asked point blank for his opinion on the 5×5 workout, and he said he did a whole different training routine back in the day.
Without even mentioning the 5×5, by the way…
You can read his Reddit AMA thread by clicking on the link in the word “fitness” above.
Given all these facts, I’m pretty sure Arnold isn’t a member of the 5×5 workout family tree.
* Used the 5×5 set/rep combo in all sorts of ways, applying it to different training applications: sport-specific, strength training, etc.
* As mentioned earlier, he first published one of his versions of a 5×5 workout in 1976: Only The Strongest Will Survive: Strength Training For Football.
* He used many other set & rep schemes besides 5×5 as well.
I hope that this article with my “5×5 Workout for the Over 50 Me” is useful to you, and that the background info on the major 5×5 workouts is helpful too.
I wish you well on your fitness journey; let’s go.