The 5x5 Stronglifts routine comes from Mehdi at the Stronglifts.com web site. It's a deceptively simple yet effective strength workout that takes only 45 minutes, three times a week. Yet it guarantees total body strength improvement if you follow it precisely and use good form. In this post, I'll summarize the workout and my experience with it, and point you in the right direction to look into it yourself.
After a couple of years getting comfortable in the gym, there were still a couple of exercises that I heard were beneficial that I felt uncomfortable performing - specifically the barbell squat and the deadlift. I've had slight pain in my left knee for a long time, and the concept of putting more stress on it through free weight lifting sounded illogical. I had heard of the Stronglifts 5x5 workout on a couple of different podcasts and since I was looking for a new routine, I decided to check it out.
Here's the claim on the web site:
Stronglifts 5×5 is the simplest, most effective workout to get stronger, build muscle and burn fat. Thousands of people have used the StrongLifts 5×5 workout to change their bodies and lives. The program is easy to follow and only takes three workouts a week of about 45 minutes.
This sounds entirely too good to be true. So what are they selling, how much does this cost? It's free, no strings attached. So I figured that it wouldn't hurt to adopt the routine for 12 weeks to see what happened.
Stronglifts 5x5 Summary
The "5x5" refers to the fact that you do five sets of five reps of each of three exercises, three times a week. The exercises you perform are what are called compound exercises - they work more than one muscle group at a time. That's how you're able to get a total body workout with only 5 exercises:
Three times a week you do just three of these exercises, 5 sets and 5 reps. Except for deadlifts, which only have one set of 5. I do my weight training Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So for each day, there is a prescribed set of three exercises for me to do - I have them already set up on my Fitocracy app on my phone, so I use that to track my progress.
There are actually two different weekly routines that you alternate between:
The other key point to the routine is that each time you perform an exercise you add 5 pounds. 5 pounds really isn't much, but over 12 weeks it basically means you're adding 180 pounds to your squat, 90 pounds to your bench and overhead presses, etc. That's a lot! Beginning weightlifters start at a lower weight than more experienced weightlifters.
My little summary here isn't anywhere as good as the full explanation you can get on the Stronglifts 5x5 web site, but you get the idea.
More on form
Just a couple of years ago I was a novice to weightlifting. The personal trainer I worked with would demonstrate the proper form once for each exercise, but after that I was on my own. And the 3-4 months I worked with the trainer we really didn't progress much into barbell exercises. So I was a bit casual with my form. That actually lead to a slight lower back injury about a year ago because I wasn't using proper form, and because I wasn't strengthening opposing sets of muscles (front and back). The emphasis on proper form with this routine has really helped me. I especially like Mark Rippetoe's series of YouTube videos done in conjunction with the Art of Manliness web site.
Here are some things that I really like about this workout:
But what YOU really want to know is, what were MY results? Good question. I'm only about 8 weeks into the program, but I've definitely improved my strength in squats and deadlifts, two exercises I tended to avoid before. My "muscle quality", as measured by the AIM Skulpt device, has also improved a few points overall. My body fat percentage has also dropped about 1%, so I would say - so far so good. I'm planning on continuing the program for about another month.
Overall, I highly recommend this routine for beginning to advanced weightlifters. Mehdi has included a ton of great information, videos and downloads on his web site. He also has a free daily newsletter that you can sign up to receive each day. Check it out!