The 5 sets of 5 reps program is one of the classic muscle building workout programs. It was popularized by the legendary strength coach Bill Starr in the 1970s, but still enjoys popularity in many gyms around the world.
You may think that a program as simple as 5x5 needs no explanation. That is true to a certain extent, as I could tell you to do 5x5 and you would immediately know what to do. However, the program can be (and has been) interpreted in a variety of ways. So let's take a look at the three main variations of the 5x5 muscle building workout program.
1. Straight sets
This is the classic interpretation of the program. Simply pick an exercise and a weight and stick with it for 5 sets, attempting to complete 5 reps each set. If you end up choosing too heavy of a weight to complete all 5 sets of 5 reps, then stick with that weight when you do the exercise next time. For example: 225x5, 225x5, 225x5, 225x4, 225x3. You are to use the same weight until you can complete 5 sets of 5 reps, and only then increase the weight.
2. Work Up
This variation allows you start with a lighter weight and work up over the 5 sets to your 5 rep maximum for the day. This means that the 5th set is your heaviest. Here is how this might look: 135x5, 185x5, 225x5, 275x5, 315x5. The next week you would come back and try to increase the weight on every set, but pay particular attention to increasing the weight on the 5th and final set.
3. Work Up and Down
This variation is similar to the previous, except that you work up in weight more quickly so that your heaviest set is your 3rd set. Once you hit your heavy third set, you decrease the weight for the 4th and 5th sets. For example: 185x5, 225x5, 275x5, 245x5, 225x5. The next week you would try to increase the weight on every set, but especially on sets 3, 4, and 5.
The 5x5 program is one of those classic muscle building workout programs that will never go out of style. There are endless variations of this program and each will have its own specific effects on strength and hypertrophy.
Always remember that any training program will only work for a short period of time, and 5x5 is no exception. For long-term, consistent results you need to know the science behind how to change your program over time and how to combine it with a complementary nutrition and recovery program to enhance your strength and muscle mass.