Workout Tips

Boost Strength and Mass with the 5X5 System

Give this proven lifting approach a try for greater size and strength gains.

Boost Strength and Mass with the 5X5 System

Lifters like even numbers. Page through this magazine and you’ll see lots of sets of eight to 12 reps, but odds are you won’t find any seven to 11s. So the first thing you’ll probably notice about the 5x5 system is its odd digits. Five sets of five reps? Seems a little off. In truth, this set and rep scheme is 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 you how this “odd” system may be the right one for gaining strength and size.

SEE ALSO: Transform Your Body with Stronglifts 5X5

Out of the Park

British-born Reg Park—Mr. Universe, cinematic Hercules, and idol of young Arnold Schwarzenegger—developed his own 5x5 system, which cycled through 10 to 12 basic lifts in a single workout with every exercise performed for five sets of five reps. He performed only two exercises per body part, and some areas were neglected entirely. For example, front and back squats and deadlifts were all included in Park’s routine, all of which stimulate the hamstrings a little, so he didn’t include direct ham work. With its full-body emphasis and Olympicstyle 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, but never add reps. Five is your maximum. 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 into a modern bodybuilding program.


Choose two basic exercises for larger body parts like back and one for smaller muscles like biceps.

Select a weight with which you reach failure on the first set at five reps.

Rest up to three minutes between sets, and do five sets of five reps, ideally using the same weight throughout.

After the 5x5 sets, do two additional exercises per body part for three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

5X5 Chest Routine


Barbell Bench Press: 5, 5
Dumbbell Incline Press: 5, 5
Cable Crossover: 3, 10–12
Dumbbell Incline Flye: 3, 10–12

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