Beginner Intermediate Workout Plan

StrongLifts 5×5: Getting Started in the Gym

Mehdi- creator of StrongLifts

The StrongLifts 5×5 workout program is a great place to start if you are just getting into the gym. Alternatively, it is great if you are still trying to maximize strength training or build muscle as an intermediate lifter. It provides fast linear strength gains as well as the ability to either lose fat or build muscle based on your diet. StrongLifts 5×5 is also a great way to ease into the gym. It only requires three days a week of lifting and it will get you comfortable and able to lift heavy weights.

StrongLifts is a strength training program that consists of two workouts that are performed every other gym session. Workout A is Squat, Bench Press, and Barbell Row; while workout B is Squat, Overhead Press, and Deadlift. The workouts are performed 3 days per week with at least one day of rest in between for adequate recovery. This allows you to add weight each week and build muscle while doing so.

Example of StrongLifts weekly exercise breakdown
Example of StrongLifts weekly exercise breakdown

For example, week one might look like this-

  • Monday- Workout A
  • Wednesday- Workout B
  • Friday- Workout A

While week two might look like this-

  • Monday- Workout B
  • Wednesday- Workout A
  • Saturday- Workout B

More about the program

One of the strong points of the StrongLifts 5×5 workout program is the minimal time commitment paired with the flexibility of only training 3 days a week on the days you are available to do so. Remember to alternate workouts A and B regardless of the days you choose to complete them on. The Stronglifts app is a great way to keep better track of your training and progress.

It is important to start this program light. That way you get used to the movements and to perfect form to avoid injuries. If you are new to these exercises or haven’t lifted in a few years start with the lowest weight possible, but if you are an experienced lifter start with 50% of your 5-rep max. Don’t worry, you will be able to lift heavy weights in no time and you will continue to build muscle while doing so.

5×5 Meaning

The 5×5 means you will complete five sets of five reps with the same weight (or for deadlifts, one set of five reps). Unrack the weight, complete five reps, rack the weight, rest 90 seconds. Then start your next set until five have been completed. Then move on to the next exercise. For any lift that is more than the empty bar, complete 1-2 warmup sets with lighter weight. As with most strength training programs, the next time you complete that workout, add 5 lbs.. The one exception being deadlift, where you should add 10 lbs. if possible.

The first weeks of this program should feel pretty easy, but the weights will increase quickly. If you can complete all the required sets you should be squatting 220 lbs. for 5×5 in 12 weeks. This is more than most people in the gym! The goal with this program is to add weight every workout for as long as possible. However, you won’t be able to do this forever. At some point you will struggle to get 5 reps and fail, but I will cover ways around that later in the article.

StrongLifts 5×5 Program

The StrongLifts 5×5 workouts trigger strength and muscle growth using whole body A and B workouts. The actual workouts are structured like this-

Squats- major exercise in stronglifts program

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout A

Squat- 1-2 warmup sets, then 5 sets of 5 reps.

Bench press- 1-2 warmup sets, then 5 sets of 5 reps

Barbell Row- 1-2 warmup sets, then 5 sets of 5 reps

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout B

Squat- 1-2 warmup sets, then 5 sets of 5 reps.

Overhead press- 1-2 warmup sets, then 5 sets of 5 reps.

Deadlift- 1-4 warmup sets, then 1 set of 5 reps.

Complete one workout per day. Alternate between A and B, and add weight every time you perform that workout by 5-10 lbs. If by the end of the workout you feel like you can complete more lifts increase the weight more than 10 lbs. as the weight is too light. Wait at least one day in between workouts so you can fully recover. To track your workouts on this program I would recommend the StrongLifts app.

Exercise order and execution is very important in StrongLifts 5×5. Complete the lifts in the right order with the right equipment in order to get the best results. Squats are the hardest of the lifts so complete them first. Otherwise, you are making them unnecessarily harder and making progress more difficult. 

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Rest Times

Remember, this is a strength training program. You aren’t trying to get a pump or cut down on rest time. You are trying to add weight to the bar and build muscle. With the StrongLifts 5×5 workout you can rest as long as you need to between sets but the recommended rest times are-

Rest times are important to replenish ATP stores in the muscles.
  •  90 seconds if you completed the last set very easily
  • 3 minutes if you struggled with the last set
  • 5 minutes if you failed to get all five reps on the last set

An easy way to know if you are ready to complete the next set is by paying attention to your breathing. Elevated heart rate from a difficult set will cause you to breath heavy. When breathing is back to normal it usually means you are ready for your next set. You don’t want to jump in too early and not be able to complete the programmed rep range.

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Progression

The StrongLifts 5×5 program is made to progress every workout. For this reason you should add weight to the bar if you were able to complete all sets and reps the last time you completed the workout. For example, if you squatted 100 lbs. for 5 sets of 5 reps last time you should be attempting for 105 lbs. this time. The recommended weight increments are:

  • Squat- 5 lbs.
  • Bench press, overhead press, and barbell row- 5 lbs. unless you are small or female then 2 lbs. increases will let you progress more without plateauing.
  • Deadlift- 10 lbs.

If you started too heavy at the beginning of the program or tried to add weight too fast and end up too sore to progress, go to the gym anyway. Just decrease the weight by about 10% before continuing as normal. It is unlikely that you will have constant linear progress with the StrongLifts 5×5 program if you choose to follow it long term. It will stay that way for a while but as add weight to the workout you will eventually hit plateaus.

Stronglifts 5×5 Workout Warmup

Before starting your working sets do several warmup sets with lighter weight. Start with the empty bar, then add 25-45 lbs. for the next set. Repeat until you reach your working weight. There is no need to rest between warmup sets but you should rest between the last warmup and the first working set. Warming up decreases the risk of injury and also increases how much you can lift. Don’t jump into working sets without warming up first or you can injure muscles and joints. The exception would be if you are using the empty bar or only slightly more. In this case there is not a way to warm up without tiring the muscles which will hurt your working sets.

Typical Results of the StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Program

Of course, your results will depend on many factors such as age, gender, experience, and recovery. However, it isn’t unreasonable to get a 300 lb. squat, gain 24 lbs. of muscle, and lose 12 lbs. in a year on this program. Women or individuals with lower testosterone could not expect these kinds of results. Here is what most people can expect-

  • More strength-  With StrongLifts 5×5 you will build strength on a weekly basis that will transfer to other lifts as well as daily activities in your life.
  • More muscle- StrongLifts 5×5 will build muscle if eating in a caloric surplus. The increase in strength will build muscle mass, in fact, if done correctly a new lifter can gain up to 24 lbs. of lean muscle in a year with the program.
  • Less fat- The more weight you lift the more energy your body will burn and the increase in muscle mass will also increase your metabolism. This means StrongLifts 5×5 will help you lose bodyfat without even adding cardio!
  • Better posture- The increase in strength that comes with StrongLifts 5×5 will help maintain a healthier posture.
  • More endurance- Stronger muscles last longer before they get tired. It will take less time and effort to do daily physical tasks.
  • More power- Stronger muscles can do more work in the same amount of time, making you more explosive, faster, and tougher.
  • More fit- Your heart will get stronger as well, daily activities will put less demand on your heart, lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
  • More flexibility- Squatting every workout with StrongLifts 5×5 will increase hip mobility and shoulder flexibility.
  • Better health- Your testosterone will increase, your cholesterol, blood pressure, and stress will decrease. Your glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity will improve as you build muscle.

This strength training program is a great way to build a foundation for better success in strength sports as well as bodybuilding.

Muscles Worked

The Stronglifts 5×5 workout program trains your full body three times per week. All of the lifts in StrongLifts 5×5 are compound exercises meaning they do not only directly target one muscle group but rather build strength and build muscle in your whole body. Following this strength training program will strengthen every muscle in your body which is why it is so simple and time efficient. Lifting heavier weights in compound movements actually causes more growth than directly training a specific muscle group. This is because your training volume is significantly higher. Stronglifts 5×5 will build a balanced and well-proportioned physique. It does not allow you to favor specific body parts in the gym.

Stronglifts 5×5 is not, however, a bodybuilding workout program. You will build muscle, and your physique will improve, but you won’t turn into a bodybuilder. If that is your goal, the StrongLifts 5×5 strength training is just building the base for you to work off of. Similar to laying the foundation of a house.

How the StrongLifts 5×5 workout program works

Free weights don’t balance the weights for you like machines, this forces you to engage more muscles and use more natural movements. This strength from StrongLifts 5×5 will transfer to other movements in and out of the gym. Using barbells allows you to move heavier weight than dumbbells. The heavier weight triggers the muscles more so you can gain more strength and muscle growth. The compound exercises of strength training programs use more muscles than isolation work and allow you to move more weight. They also burn more calories than isolation work because of the increase in weight moved and muscles worked. Squats work most of the body through a long range of motion with heavy weights. This makes them one of the best compound exercises to gain strength and build muscle.

Starting light with StrongLifts 5×5 will prevent soreness and allow you to train more frequently, all while continuing to add weight to your lifts. It also prevents early plateaus and forces you to learn good form. The short but intense workouts are extremely time and energy efficient. This allows you to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time and preventing workout fatigue. Increasing the weights with a planned progressive overload forces your body to get stronger and build muscle.

Training Frequency

The training frequency improves form and triggers more muscle growth than simply training each muscle group once per week. Lifting in the five rep range decreases fatigue and allows you to focus on form to help prevent injury. The five rep range of StrongLifts 5×5 also allow you to get more training volume in. This is because you can lift more weight for the same total amount of reps per workout. 

StrongLifts 5×5 does not take you to failure meaning you won’t get as sore and you can continue hitting the same muscle group with more frequency. The regular rest days allow your body to recover enough to train again and keep increasing the weight. It also gives you planned workouts so you know you will be making progress versus just winging it in the gym. The simple workouts of StrongLifts 5×5 make it an easy program to stick to. This allows you to make continuous progress and miss less workouts.

Breaking Plateaus

You can’t make progress every workout forever with any program. Eventually you will plateau with the StrongLifts 5×5 workout! If you fail your reps one time try these things:

  • Take longer rest periods.
  • Add less weight per workout.
  • Make sure you are warming up correctly.
  • Record your lifts and make sure your form is correct.
  • Stop skipping workouts.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Make sure you are getting enough calories and the right nutrition to recover.

If you fail the reps don’t skip your last sets, but get the reps that you can for them. Next time you train that lift attempt the same weight again for 5×5 instead of trying to add weight.

If you fail to get 5×5 for three workouts in a row you need to lower the weight by 10% on that exercise for your next workout. Then continue to progress from that weight. It might take a little bit of time to get back to the weight you were at. However, you should be able to progress beyond it this time.

When to Switch to 3×5/3×3/1×3

When progress stops with the 5×5 programming switch to 3 sets of 5 reps, when progress on 3×5 stops switch to 3 sets of 3 reps. Then, when progress with 3×3 stops switch to 1 set of 3 reps with 2 lighter sets following that. Eventually progress with this program will stop. This is because the stress of 5×5 becomes more than you can recover from in the short recovery period. Deloads like these will help break through plateaus, but at some point, you will need to switch up your training. You can also use the StrongLifts app to tell you when to switch from one set/rep scheme to the other.

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Recovery

Being sore does not build muscle and does not mean you are getting results. The StrongLifts 5×5 workout works by increasing strength and muscle mass. Soreness may happen, and you may even get a pump. However, for now the only part you should be concerned about is whether or not the weights are still increasing. That being said, you should be wary if you are too sore to do your next workout. If this is the case you either started too heavy (if you are still early in the program) or you are not getting the right recovery needed to build muscle. 

The bright side is that you can train through soreness. It might suck but it won’t hurt you, and you are going to be sore regardless. Stick to the training schedule, go ahead and add weight, and maybe try to get some extra carbs in before lifting. Most likely your muscles will feel better after your workout because of the increased blood flow to the muscles. If this doesn’t work and your diet is fine try lowering the weight a bit. Then work your way back up.

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Nutrition

Your body uses food as energy called calories. Lifting and recovering from lifting burns these calories. If you are trying to build muscle, or if you are trying to gain strength and don’t mind gaining weight, you should be eating in a caloric surplus. If you are trying to lose fat, or if you are trying to gain strength without weight gain, you should eat at maintenance calories on this program. Not sure how many calories you should be consuming? Use this calorie calculator.

What you do eat should be high quality, nutrient dense food. You need the macro and micronutrients that come with them to recover well. If you train in the morning, make sure you eat prior to lifting. That way you have the energy to train harder. Try to get vegetables in at every meal along with a good source of protein. For example: chicken with broccoli and potatoes. If you struggle to eat vegetables, I would recommend Ghillie Greens as a way to keep micronutrients high.

Diet Notes

It is very important that you get enough protein in to recover regardless of what your goals are. The protein is used to repair damaged muscle tissue. This helps you become stronger so you can continue to add weight to the bar. Learn more about that in my article about protein consumption.

Hydration is also very important as it will help your body cool down during workouts and help you recover after. Being dehydrated will cause strength loss, joint pain, stiff muscles, and tiredness. All of these will all make it much harder to progress.

In order to maximize recovery, you should be getting eight hours of sleep. Your body releases hormones like testosterone and growth hormone while you sleep so it is important to max this time out for optimum recovery from strength training.

Stronglifts 5×5 Workout Equipment

Beyond the gym equipment that is required to complete the StrongLifts 5×5 program, there are a few personal tools or pieces of equipment that are beneficial to have.

Chalk helps improve your grip for lifting, making it easier to increase the weight as the bar gets harder to hold. If your gym does not allow chalk find a new gym… or just use liquid chalk as it doesn’t leave any dust.

During deadlifts, squats, overhead press and rows a lifting belt will increase lower back support and help prevent injury as the weights get heavier. You should only need to wear the belt during the working sets.

You can also use knee and elbow sleeves if you feel that you need them.

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Supplementation

Although this program does not require supplementation there are a few that can help-

  • Creatine– produced naturally by our own bodies and found in many of the food products we eat today. It increases protein synthesis which is essential for building lean muscle mass. The more efficient your body is at creating protein synthesis, the faster you can produce muscle tissue. Creatine improves your body’s ability to produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is a raw source of energy for your body. This allows you to push your muscles to new limits. At the same time, Creatine pulls water from the body into the muscles giving them a fuller look and keeping them hydrated. This leads towards improved performance in the gym.
  • Protein– If you struggle to meat your protein needs to recover from your lifting sessions I would highly recommend taking a post-workout protein supplement to increase intake.
  • Test Boost– In healthy men, normal testosterone levels generally range between 300 ng/dL and 1050 ng/dL. Unfortunately, levels decline with aging and may fall below the normal range. Test boost supports the body’s natural (endogenous) production of total testosterone all the way up to high/normal levels. It works in a way that is safe and non-inhibitory.
  • Pre Workout– If you are struggling to find the energy that you need to complete workouts even with adequate recovery, pre-workout will help give you that extra boost of energy to progress in the gym.

If you have additional questions about the StrongLifts 5×5 workout, or training in general just reach out!

1 comment on “StrongLifts 5×5: Getting Started in the Gym

  1. Pingback: Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) Workout Plan - Doug Grows

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