Workout Tips

Classic Muscle Strength Programs Reviewed

We review four of the most influential and enduring muscle and strength programs that never fail to produce results.

The 5X5 Method

The 5X5 Method is the oldest one on this list, and it goes way back in the annals of bodybuilding. It’s the same system Reg Park used throughout most of his career, and it’s what Arnold Schwarzenegger used as an up-and-comer, laying the foundation for what would become the world’s most famous physique. It’s dead simple, and even easier to follow than linear periodization.

There are four main workouts per week: one each for the squat, bench, deadlift, and military press, with three or four accessory exercises following your main lift of the day. In Week 1, you’ll do five sets of five reps at 65% of your onerep max for your main lift of the day. In Week 2, it moves up to 75%, then up to 85% in Week 3. You de-load in Week 4, dropping down to 60%, then reset in the fifth week working with 65% of your new max, adding five pounds to maximum upper body lifts and 10 pounds to your lower-body lifts.

“Because the focus is on compound movements, you increase your workout efficiency,” Smith says, “and it’s a great way for intermediate lifters to progress to using heavier weights.” Both Smith and Meadows concur, however, that the limitations of the system can crop up after only a few repetitions of the cycle. “There are only so many times you can keep adding five pounds to the bar,” Meadows says. “It works, but only to a point. You can’t just add five pounds forever.”

The Breakdown

Who it’s for: Beginner to intermediate lifters.
Pros: Easy to follow; four-week waves give you immediate feedback that it’s working.
Cons: Lacks built-in diversity that will let you bust an eventual plateau.

The Takeaway

Beginners, or guys stuck in a rut with no set program at all, should absolutely hit up 5x5. It will allow you to lift heavier than three sets of 10, and you’ll be surprised what a difference the extra weight on the bar can do for your physique.

5X5 Sample Template

By CJ Murphy

Split: Perform each workout (Days 1, 2, 3, and 4) once per week. You can perform Days 1 and 2 on back-to-back days and likewise for Days 3 and 4.
WEEK 1: 65% of 1RM on 5x5 lifts
WEEK 2: 75% of 1RM on 5x5 lifts
WEEK 3: 85% of 1RM on 5x5 lifts
WEEK 4: 60% of 1RM on 5x5 lifts

Day 1:
Squat: 5x5
Power Clean: 5x5
Split Squat 3x6 each leg
Hanging leg Raise: 3xAMAP

Day 2
Bench Press: 5x5
Dip: 3xAMAP
Bentover Row: 3x8–12
Pullup: 3xAMAP
Side Bend: 3x6–12 each side

Day 3
Deadlift: 5x5
Front squat: 3x8–12
Back Extension: 3x8–12
Plank: 5x10 seconds

Day 4
Military Press: 5x5
incline DB Press: 3x8-12
DB Row: 3x8–12 each side
hammer Curl: 3x8–12


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