Go Big Or Go Home

How the 5X5 system can boost your strength and mass.


Bodybuilders like round numbers. Page through this magazine and you’ll see lots of sets of 8–12 reps, but odds are you won’t find any 7-11s. So the first thing you’ll probably notice about the 5x5 system is its odd digits. Five sets of five reps? That doesn’t seem like a bodybuilding thing. In truth, it is more associated with strength training today, but it originated with musclemen like Reg Park back in the 1950s. With a few tweaks, we’ll bring 5x5 into the 21st century and show how this “odd” system may be the right one for gaining strength and size.


British-born Reg Park—Mr. Universe, cinematic Hercules, and idol of young Arnold Schwarzenegger—developed his own 5x5 system that cycled through 10 to 12 basic lifts in a single workout with every exercise performed for five sets of five reps. There were only one or two exercises per body part, and some areas were neglected entirely. For example, both front and back squats were included in Park’s routine as well as deadlifts, all of which stimulate the hamstrings a little. However, there was no direct ham work. With its full-body emphasis and Olympic-style moves like power cleans and standing presses, Park’s paradigm now more closely resembles a CrossFit routine than a bodybuilding workout.

Nevertheless, the 1951 Mr. U set the parameters for every 5x5 system that followed. Focus on getting stronger in the most basic exercises by doing five sets of five reps with a maximum weight. When you can get five on your fifth set with the same weight you used on your first, increase the resistance slightly in your next workout. Never add reps. Five is your maximum, and if you get six on any set, increase the resistance for the next set. With those fundamentals, 5x5 systems have been tailored over the past half-century for strength athletes. What we’ll do is incorporate Park’s principles in a modern bodybuilding program.


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