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.
Stronglifts 5×5 uses five free weight compound exercises: the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press and Barbell Row. You do three of these exercises each workout, three times a week, for about 45 minutes per workout. You Squat every workout, three times a week.
5×5 stands for five sets of five reps. These are the sets and reps you do on every exercise except Deadlifts. Deadlift is only one set of five reps (1×5) because doing more would beat you up. Plus, Squatting three times a week will get you stronger at Deadlifts since it works similar muscles.
Unlike most bodybuilding routines, your goal on StrongLifts 5×5 isn’t to reach failure, get “pumped” or be sore. Your goal is to add weight. Here’s how: start light, focus on proper form and add 2.5kg/5lb each workout for as long as you can. This is the simplest way to get results fast.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Goals
- 3 Exercises
- 4 Equipment
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
- 5.1 What does 5×5 mean?
- 5.2 What does 1×5 mean?
- 5.3 Why only 1×5 Deadlifts, not 5×5?
- 5.4 How much weight should I start with?
- 5.5 How long should I rest between sets?
- 5.6 What should I do between sets?
- 5.7 How long should I rest between exercises?
- 5.8 How fast should I lift? What’s the tempo?
- 5.9 How should I warm up?
- 5.10 How should I breathe?
- 5.11 Can I change the order of exercises?
- 5.12 Can I do workout A and B on the same day?
- 5.13 Can I train two days in a row?
- 5.14 What if I fail to get 5 reps?
- 5.15 What if I keep failing at the same weight?
- 5.16 How long should I do StrongLifts 5×5?
- 5.17 Does StrongLifts 5×5 work for women?
- 5.18 What if the answer to my question isn’t here?
- 6 Apps
- 7 Spreadsheets
- 8 See Also
Summary of Stronglifts 5×5
StrongLifts 5×5 consists of two full body-workouts:
You train three times a week, alternating workout A and B, and resting at least one day between two workouts. You never train two days in a row because your body needs days off to get stronger.
Most guys train Monday, Wednesday, Friday. But you can lift Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday. As long as you train three times a week, and take at least one day off between two workouts for your body to recover, you’ll get stronger.
The first time you do StrongLifts 5×5 you start with workout A. Two days later you do workout B. So first week is A/B/A, second week B/A/B, third week A/B/A, and so on. Like this…
|StrongLifts 5x5 Week 1|
|Squat 5x5||Squat 5x5||Squat 5x5|
|Bench Press 5x5||Overhead Press 5x5||Bench Press 5x5|
|Barbell Row 5x5||Deadlift 1x5||Barbell Row 5x5|
|StrongLifts 5x5 Week 2|
|Squat 5x5||Squat 5x5||Squat 5x5|
|Overhead Press 5x5||Bench Press 5x5||Overhead Press 5x5|
|Deadlift 1x5||Barbell Row 5x5||Deadlift 1x5|
Week three of StrongLifts 5×5 is like week one, week four like week two, week five like week one, etc. If it doesn’t make sense, download the StrongLifts 5×5 spreadsheets to get a 12 week overview. If you’d like me to email you a copy of these StrongLifts 5×5 spreadsheets for free, click the link below
5×5 means five sets of five reps with the same weight. This excludes your lighter warmup sets. 1×5 is one heavy set of five reps, after you’ve warmed up, and applies to Deadlift only (Squatting 3x/week will get you stronger for Deadlifts because it works similar muscles. No need for more sets).
Your goal isn’t to get pumped or sore (although that’s possible once the weights get heavy). Your goal is to increase the weight each workout. If you get five reps on each set, add 2.5kg/5lb next time you do that exercise (so 1.25kg/2.5lb on each side of the bar). If you get 1×5 on Deadlifts, add 5kg/10lb next time.
Don’t start too heavy or you’ll get sore legs and feel like skipping workouts in week one. Start light to let your body get used to Squatting three times a week. Remember you’re adding 2.5kg/5lb per workout or 30kg/60lb per month on Squats. The weight will increase fast. No need to start too heavy.
If you’ve done free weight exercises like Squat, Bench and Deadlift before, with proper form, start with 50% of your five rep max. If you’ve never used free weights, haven’t lifted in years, or you have no idea what a five rep max means, start with these weights:
- Squat, Bench Press, Overhead Press: 20kg/45lb. That’s the empty Olympic bar.
- Deadlift: 40kg/95lb. The empty bar with a plate of 10kg/25lb on each side.
- Barbell Row: 30kg/65lb. The empty bar with 5kg/10lb on each side.
Here’s how your first two weeks of StrongLifts 5×5 will look like if you start with these weights.
|StrongLifts 5x5 Week 1|
|Squat 5x5 20kg||Squat 5x5 22.5kg||Squat 5x5 25kg|
|Bench Press 5x5 20kg||Overhead Press 5x5 20kg||Bench Press 5x5 22.5kg|
|Barbell Row 5x5 30kg||Deadlift 1x5 40kg||Barbell Row 5x5 32.5kg|
|StrongLifts 5x5 Week 2|
|Squat 5x5 27.5kg||Squat 5x5 30kg||Squat 5x5 32.5kg|
|Overhead Press 5x5 22.5kg||Bench Press 5x5 25kg||Overhead Press 5x5 25kg|
|Deadlift 1x5 45kg||Barbell Row 5x5 35kg||Deadlift 1x5 50kg|
All weights include the weight of the bar because you lift it. So Squat 5×5 27.5kg is 3.75kg on each side of the Olympic bar. It also means five sets of five reps using 27.5kg on all five sets. If you get five reps on each set, add 2.5kg on your Squats next time. That’s a plate of 1.25kg on each side of the bar.
On Deadlifts increase the weight by 5kg/10lb per workout – that’s 2.5kg/5lb on each side of the bar. The Deadlift uses more muscles than other exercises, you’ll have an easier time progressing on it. So use bigger increments, then once you reach 100kg/220lb, switch back to the regular 2.5kg/5lb per workout.
If these weights feel or look “easy”, remember you’re adding 2.5kg/5lb each workout. That means you’ll Squat 50kg/110lb in four weeks, 80kg/175lb in eight weeks and 100kg/220lb in 12 weeks – for 5×5! That’s more than what most guys Squat in your gym. Think long-term and you’ll get stronger.
Now you’ll add weight each workout longer than you think. But not forever. After a while you’ll struggle to get five reps. Eventually you’ll miss reps. Just try again next workout. If that doesn’t work, there’s more ways to break through plateaus. But right now what matters is that you get started!
Videos of Stronglifts 5×5
I wanted to show you Stronglifts 5×5 is so simple and easy, anybody can do this. So I created two videos in which I’m doing the full StrongLifts 5×5 workouts A and B.
In these videos you’ll see me lifting the weights you’ll be lifting in weeks 8/9. I’m also answering common questions about Stronglifts 5×5 . Notice I complete each workout in less than 30 minutes.
Note: if you’d like to see me lift heavier, here’s a video where I Squat 170kg.
History of StrongLifts 5×5
Stronglifts 5×5 is based on the 5×5 routine of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mentor, Reg Park.
Reg Park was the first guy to write about 5×5 in 1960. Many people have written about the 5×5 routine during the last 60 years, before I was even born. So I didn’t invent this :)
I stumbled on the 5×5 routine in 2003. I was doing bodybuilding split routines at that time and got fed up training up to six times a week, spending two hours in the gym, hitting failure on each set, waking up sore every day, etc. Unfortunately I didn’t know any other way to train…
During Summer 2003 I went on holiday to Turkey with two friends. Some guys who didn’t look like they lifted weights challenged us to armwrestling. I lost against all of them (again!).
This made me realize I was strong in the gym, but not outside. It was all “fake” gym strength. Puffy, bogus muscles. Lots of show, but zero “go”. So back in Belgium I googled “how to get stronger”. And that’s when I discovered that to gain strength, you have to…
- Use free weights, not machines.
- Do compound exercises, not isolation.
- Add weight, not train for pump and soreness
It made sense. So I searched for a routine that had all these ingredients to get stronger. And that’s when I found a guy on a forum raving about an oldschool routine. It was called “5×5″…
I was skeptical. 5×5 looked too simple – three exercises, three times a week, 45 minutes per workout. There was no isolation, no high reps, no machines, no failure training, no “pump”, nothing. And yet this guy claimed I’d get stronger by training LESS and doing LESS? It seemed too good to be true…
But I gave it a try and it turned out to be true. And so 5×5 became the foundation for everything I did. I even told my friends to do 5×5. It was so simple and easy. Plus, we all got stronger.
In 2007 one of my friends told me to start a website on how to get stronger. I was reluctant since I could barely write English. But I got tired seeing guys waste their life (as I did) on bodybulding split routines without getting stronger. So I stopped making excuses and created Stronglifts.com
In the beginning Stronglifts was just me telling people the basics: free weights, compound exercises, add weight, Squat, etc. But they asked for more: they wanted a routine to get stronger. So I shared what had worked for me and all my friends: the 5×5 routine from Reg Park.
It started with an article – “Beginner Strength Training Program”. People tried it and got stronger. Within a few weeks, that post had 200 comments. Some Members of my online community began referring to this routine as “StrongLifts 5×5”. It sounded simpler. So I began calling it that too.
Today StrongLifts 5×5 is all over the Internet. Every lifting forum has guys who used my program to get stronger. Some call me “the 5×5 guy”. Great, but I didn’t invent this. I simply put info together, built 5×5 apps to track your workouts, and spread the word about 5×5. Real credit goes to Reg Park.
Reviews of StrongLifts 5×5
Here’s a video from Elliot Hulse from strengthcamp reviewing and recommending the StrongLifts 5×5 program for gaining strength, building muscle and burning fat. I didn’t pay or even ask for this.
More reviews of StrongLifts 5×5
- Muscle and Fitness StrongLifts 5×5 review
- The Art Of Manliness review of StrongLifts 5×5 (by Brett)
- Gym -Talk’s Review of StrongLifts 5×5
If you’ve posted a helpful review of StrongLifts 5×5 on your site, send me the link through the contact form.
How To Get Started
The best way to find out if StrongLifts 5×5 can get you stronger, is try it for 12 weeks. The program is free so you have nothing to lose. Here’s the best way to get started…
- Watch the videos – you’ll see it’s so simple, anybody can do this.
- Grab my spreadsheets – it will motivate you to see how strong you’ll be in 12 weeks.
- Find a gym – you only need a power rack, bench, bar and plates. Search for a gym today.
- Install my 5×5 apps – they’ll show you which exercise to do, with how much weight, and how long to rest between sets. Available for free on iPhone and Android. Rated +4.5 stars.
- Get my daily tips – many guys read my daily motivational emails first thing in the morning. They keep telling me it gives them a “kick in the butt” to hit the gym. Get my daily tips here.
And, get off your butt. Don’t just read read read. Do my StrongLifts 5×5 program this week. It’s only by taking action that you’ll get stronger.
In Ancient Greece, the wrestler Milo From Croton got stronger for the Olympics by carrying a newborn calf on his back each day. As the calf grew bigger, he carried a heavier weight. This training stimulated Milo’s body to get stronger and build muscle. It turned him into the strongest guys of his time.
Maybe it’s just a legend, but the story illustrates how StrongLifts 5×5 will get you strong: you don’t start heavy, hit failure and try to get pumped. You start light, do your workout with proper form, and add a little bit of weight each time. Do this as long as you can, and you’ll get stronger.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to use a calf. But you’ll lift to build “real world” strength. Not that fake gym strength but strength usable outside the gym. Some call it “functional strength”. Here’s how…
- Free Weights. Machines balance the weight for you which leaves your stabilizing muscles weak. But free weights force you to balance the weight yourself which strengthens your stabilizers. This develops real-world strength. It’s why Stronglifts 5×5 uses free weights.
- Compound Exercises. You rarely do single-joint movements like curls in the real world. Carrying or picking up heavy objects always engages several muscles. So to get stronger you must practice exercises that mimic real-world movement – Deadlifts, Squats, all StrongLifts 5×5 exercises.
- Barbells. It’s easier to Squat with 180kg on your back than with a dumbbell of 90kg in each hand. It’s also easier to add 2.5kg/5lb each workout when using barbells than dumbbells. Stronglifts 5×5 uses barbells because you can lift the most weight and progress more easily.
- 5 Reps. You can use more weight if you do five reps than 8, 10 or 12. The more reps you do, the more tired you get and the worse your form becomes. Drop the reps and you can lift more weight with better form. StrongLifts 5×5 uses sets of five so you can lift heavier and get stronger.
- Frequency. “Strength is a skill” world champion Mike Tuchscherer told me once. The more you do an exercise, the better your form gets and the more efficient you become at lifting. You’ll do each exercise several times a week on Stronglifts 5×5 because that’s key to getting stronger.
Then there’s mindset – strength training is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t be the “hare” who starts heavy to get quick PRs. You’ll gets sore, feel like skipping workouts, and plateau early on. Be the tortoise: start light, add a little bit of weight each workout, and get stronger at a steady pace.
If you can Squat 140kg/300lb, with your hips going lower than your knees on each rep (parallel), you’re too strong for StrongLifts 5×5. You need a more advanced program. But if you can’t Squat 100kg/225lb using free weights and proper form, StrongLifts 5×5 is the simplest program to get stronger fast.
Unlike many guys believe, you don’t need to train a muscle directly for it to grow. You don’t need to do a dozen of exercises each workout to hit your muscles from every angle. And the best way to gain muscle is NOT to train until failure to get “pumped” and wake up sore.
Instead, just get stronger. Because the stronger you are, the more weight you lift, the more muscular you’ll be. Lifting heavy forces your body to add muscle to your frame. That’s why the 140kg Bencher usually has a bigger chest than the guy struggling with 60kg. More strength is more muscle.
This is also why the most successful bodybuilders ever, from Reg Park to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronnie Coleman, could Deadlift over 700lb. They knew the secret to gaining muscle is to get stronger by lifting heavy. Here’s a video where I show why strength is key to building muscle.
Many guys think you can’t build muscle with StrongLifts 5×5 because it’s only three exercises. But the key to building muscle isn’t the amount of exercises, it’s the intensity. Squatting 100kg for 5×5 is a workout by itself. You’re happy you don’t have to do more than three exercises per workout.
Here’s why: the Squat is a compound exercise. It works several muscles at the same time. Same for Bench Press: it’s NOT a “chest” exercise. What’s holding the bar? Your hands. What’s moving? Your arms. Ever heard of “leg drive?” Your whole body has to work to bench a heavy weight.
But most guys don’t go heavy. They just curl, curl and curl. That’s why they can do so many exercises per workout – you can’t do that with heavy compound exercises. Worse, many guys favor their arms and chest while ignoring their legs and back. This leads to imbalanced physiques and shoulder pain.
StrongLifts 5×5 is different. You won’t get an imbalanced physique because you’re working your whole body using compound exercises. And you can go heavier than with isolation exercises like curls, flies or leg extensions. As a result, you’ll get stronger and finally build muscle.
Better, you’ll build that muscle while training less. Because you’re getting a full body workout with only five exercises. So no more gym rat, no more one muscle a day, no more five times a week B.S. Just three workouts, done. And you can actually have a life outside the gym.
Here’s how StrongLifts 5×5 will work each muscle in your body using only three compound exercises per workout, three times a week, for about 45 minutes per workout…
- Abs. Your abs have to work hard at keeping you from collapsing under the bar when you do heavy Squats, Deadlifts and Overhead Press. Stronger abs are the secret to six pack abs. Note that you do have to eat right as well. Otherwise your abs will be hidden behind a layer of fat.
- Shoulders. Both the Overhead Press and Bench Press will work your shoulders hard to lift the weights up. Nothing worked for me to build wider shoulders until I started to Overhead Press.
- Chest. Getting your Bench Press to 100kg/225lb will have the biggest impact on getting a bigger chest. You don’t need to do incline, decline or all that B.S. Just go flat and go heavy.
- Arms. One, your biceps works hard when doing heavy Barbell Rows. Two, your triceps works hard when pressing heavy (bench, overhead). Three, you’re holding the bar on each exercise, squeezing it hard during heavy weights. So your arms will get tons of direct and indirect work to get bigger.
- Forearms. Again, your arms grip the bar hard on every exercise. That and heavy Deadlifts will make your forearms grow bigger. Forget about high rep wrist curls in every direction.
- Traps. Shrugs suck. If you want ski-slope traps, just Deadlift heavy. Take before/after pics for proof. Your traps will be huge once you can pull 4 plates (180kg/400lb) off the floor.
- Thighs. Get your Squat to 3 plates (140kg/300lb) and you’ll have to buy new pair of jeans. You might even tear a pair of shorts in the gym… (note: I can’t be held responsible for this).
- Back. Forget about wide lat pulldowns and all that. Heavy Deadlifts and Barbell Rows will hit your upper-back hard. You’ll build size, strength and that v-shape everybody wants but few achieve.
- Calves. Squats and Deadlifts will work your calves. But don’t expect miracles if you have high calf attachments as I have. There isn’t much muscle to work with in this case, mostly tendon. Calves are largely genetics. I got over it and accepted myself as I am. I recommend you do the same.
Note that Stronglifts 5×5 is NOT a bodybuilding program. NOT for bodybuilders. Many bodybuilders use massive amounts of drugs and look like mutants. This site isn’t about that. StrongLifts is for guys who want to build a lean, athletic physique by getting stronger – drug-free.
Every now and then I get an email from a bigger guy who’s panicking. Usually he’s been doing StrongLifts 5×5 for seven weeks, everything is going well except… he’s not losing weight, but GAINING. Wtf?!?
The top picture illustrates how this can happen. Two guys, same height, same weight, same BMI. But different look. One guy is all muscle, the other all fat. I bet you’d prefer to look like the left guy.
In that case, remember: the stronger you get with Stronglifts 5×5, the more muscle you’ll gain. Muscle is denser than fat so this is a good thing. You’re going to look smaller at the same weight, like in the picture. But you might see no difference on the weight scale at first although you look better.
Here’s why: the average lean muscle gain for new and drug-free lifters is 0.5lb of per week. For weight loss: it’s recommended to lose 1lb of fat per week max (you need to eat 20% less per day for that).
Now unless you go strict on your diet, you won’t lose 1lb of fat a week with StrongLifts 5×5. The weights are too light for that in the beginning. But you’ll gain muscle from day one.
This explains why it’s common for heavier guys to see little change on the scale, but huge differences in the mirror and how clothes fit: you’re gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time.
But you can’t know that by just looking at the scale. Especially since your body-weight fluctuates daily based on water retention, bowel content, bladder content, fat loss, muscle gain, bone gain, etc. It’s easy to look at the scale and think you’re doing bad when you’re actually doing great!
Anyway, the key to losing weight is to increase how many calories you burn with StrongLifts 5×5. How? Increase the weight on the bar. Lifting heavy is easier if you weigh more. So aim for that 140kg/300lb Squat. When you’re Squatting that for 5×5, you’ve become a fat burning machine.
Beyond that, you can add half an hour of cardio after StrongLifts 5×5 to burn extra calories and speed up weight loss. But prioritize lifting weights – you need to build muscle. Oh, and don’t do cardio on your off days, your body needs recovery. You need those legs for Squats. And clean up your diet :-)
I’ve seen many bigger guys change their goals at one point. They let go of trying to reach a number on the scale as they saw their strength increase. Here’s why: it’s not about how much you weigh in the end. It’s about becoming healthier, looking better and getting stronger. So lift heavy.
The top picture shows the importance of lifting weights for losing fat: muscle is denser than fat. Lifting weights builds muscle. Lifting weights also burns calories and boosts your metabolism. So if you start lifting you’ll build muscle, lose fat and look slimmer at the same weight – without eating less.
Meanwhile most people try to lose fat by eating less, without doing exercise. But few people can stick to low calorie diets for a long time. Most get hungry, crack and end-up fatter than before. The few who can stick to these diets burn muscle from starvation. They end up skinny-fat, weak and unattractive.
Other people try to lose fat through exercise. They’re the “cardio-bunnies” in your gym. Cardio six times a week, then McDo post-workout. They don’t realize half an hour cardio only burns about 400 calories, the equivalent of a Big Mac. Hit McDo post-workout and you just made that half hour of cardio insignificant.
Now cardio is great for speeding up fat loss because it increases how many calories you burn. But unless you’re training six hours a day like Michael Phelps, you can’t out-train a bad diet – you’ll have to eat right. And lifting weights should always have PRIORITY over cardio for fat loss. Here’s why:
- Lifting weights burns calories. Your body burns energy to lift weights. The heavier the weights, the higher the intensity and the more calories you burn. Especially if you do full body exercises like Squats. This is why lifters can eat more than average people without getting fat.
- Lifting weights boost your metabolism. They call this “afterburn” or EPOC. You burn more calories the hours after you’re done lifted weights. This helps you lose fat.
- Lifting weights builds muscle. Cardio doesn’t. Nor does a low calorie diet. Only lifting weights does – the stronger you get, the more weight you can lift, the more muscular you’ll be.
- Lifting weights prevents muscle loss. Low calorie diets and excess cardio BURN muscle. This leads to the unhealthy and unattractive skinny-fat look. Yet lift weights builds muscle and prevents muscle loss from dieting, aging, etc. It makes you healthier and more attractive while losing fat.
- Lifting weights makes you look slimmer. Check the top picture again – muscle is denser than fat. So by lifting weights you’ll build muscle, lose fat and look slimmer than before – at the same weight.
There’s one more way Stronglifts 5×5 will help you lose fat. People who lift weights stick to their diet better than those who don’t exercise. Lifting weights has a domino effect. It motivates you to live healthier and eat better. By eating better you can lose fat with StrongLifts 5×5 without doing boring cardio.
Some guys (and many women) think touching a barbell is enough to turn bulky like Arnold overnight. Yet I’ve been lifting for 14 years, Squat 190kg/419lb, and am anything but bulky.
Here’s why: when guys talk about “bulk” or “size” they mean gaining weight. Yes, you’ll build muscle by lifting weights. But muscle is denser than fat. Plus lifting heavy weights burns calories and boosts your metabolism. So lifting weights can make you more athletic (but smaller) at the same weight.
That means just Stronglifts 5×5 isn’t enough to get “bulky”. If you want to get bigger, if you want “size”, you must gain weight. You must increase your body-weight. How? By eating more. Food contains energy – calories. Eat more calories than your body burns, lift heavy, and you’ll get “bulky”.
Now it’s true StrongLifts 5×5 can burn so many calories at heavier weights, it can make you hungry and eat more. But unless you actually eat more than before, you won’t get bulky by just lifting. I haven’t.
So you have to eat more to gain weight. The simplest way if you’re skinny as I was before lifting weights is to eat more meals each day. Start with three. After a month, four. Month later, five meals a day. Don’t rush it, give your body time to get used to eating more. Be the tortoise, like with the weights.
And stay away from weight gainer supplements. They’re usually full of sugars that will make you fat and fart. They also don’t get you into the habit of cooking your own meals and eating more. The goal is to get strong and muscular permanently. Not revert to skinny and weak after a few weeks.
All exercises on StrongLifts 5×5 are using free weights. Doing any StrongLifts 5×5 exercise on a machine like the leg press will build less strength than free weights. Same for the smith machine where the barbell is attached on rails. This is because unlike free weights, machines balance the weight for you.
Many guys are intimidated by free weights and think machines are safer because you can’t drop the weight. Yet machines force you into fixed, unnatural movements. They lock you into the same movement every time. This causes pattern overload and chronic injuries in the knees, shoulder and back.
StrongLifts 5×5 uses barbells. Dumbbells are less effective because they usually go up by 2kg. You can’t sustain this progression for long. It’s also impossible to Squat heavy with dumbbells. Leg strength rarely is the limiting factor, holding the weight in each hand is. So use free weights, barbells.
The Squat is a full body, compound exercise. You Squat by putting the barbell on your back and bending through your knees. Squatting works your hamstrings, quads, glutes, adductors and calves directly. But your abs and lower back also have to work to keep the bar stabilized under the weight.
The Squat is king of all exercises. It releases more testosterone and growth hormone than exercises like the leg press. That’s why Squats are crucial for getting stronger and building muscle. Nothing I did in the gym worked until I started to Squat. You have to Squat. And you’ll Squat 3x/week on StrongLifts 5×5.
Many people are afraid Squatting will hurt their knees. Yet I’ve been Squatting for 14 years and my knees are fine. So are the knees of all my Members. Squats are even effective for rehabilitation from ACL injuries. The key is to Squat with proper form. That means:
- Move your hips back – think sitting on a toilet, pushing your hips back on the way down
- Push your knees out – don’t let them cave in, keep your knees aligned with your toes
- Hit parallel – go down until your hip joint is lower than the top of your knees
Squatting parallel will strengthen your knees, not hurt them. It’s Partial Squats, only going down 90°, that will hurt your knees. Partial Squats work mostly your quads, not your hamstrings. This creates muscle imbalances and results in knee pain. Partial Squats are also less effective for getting stronger.
There are many different style of Squats. On StrongLifts 5×5 you’ll do a low bar Squat. Putting the bar lower on your upper-back, between your traps and rear shoulder muscles, shifts the stress from your knees to your stronger hips. So you can lift more and get stronger Squatting low bar.
The safest way to Squat is in the Power Rack. The safety pins will catch the weight if you miss a rep so you can’t get stuck under the weight. If your gym has no Power Rack, find a real gym. Or buy a Power Rack for your home as I’ve done. You must be able to Squat safely alone to get stronger.
The Bench Press is a compound upper-body exercise. You do it by lying on your back, lowering the bar to your chest, then pressing it back up until your elbows are locked. The Bench Press works your shoulders, triceps and chest. It also works your abs and back to stabilize the bar, and your biceps to hold it.
The Bench Press is the most popular exercise in the gym. It’s also the upper-body exercise you can lift the most weight on, more than the Overhead Press. This makes the Bench Press the most effective strength and mass builder for your upper-body. You’ll do it every other StrongLifts 5×5 workout.
Many guys hurt their shoulders Benching. Usually they’re benching with bad form: bodybuilding-style, with elbows flared 90°, to get a bigger chest stretch. Don’t bench like this on StrongLifts 5×5. Tuck your elbows about 75°. This way you’ll get stronger without hurting your shoulders.
You must use a full range of motion when you Bench Press. Using a full range of motion builds more strength and muscle than partials. Don’t do half reps, don’t be a Half-way Harry. Go all the way down until you touch your chest. And lock your elbows at the top so your skeleton holds the weight.
There’s no incline or decline benching on StrongLifts 5×5. You cannot isolate your upper or lower chest. Your chest contracts as a whole. Your upper-chest has to work hard when you bench heavy. So by taking your Bench Press to 100kg/220lb, your entire chest will grow bigger.
To avoid getting stuck under the weight, bench inside the Power Rack. The safety pins will catch the bar if you fail a rep. If you don’t have a rack, ask somebody to spot you. Or don’t put collars on the bar so you can tilt it to one side if you get stuck. The plates will drop on the floor though, power rack is better.
Fore more information on how to Bench Press, read my guide on how to Bench Press.
The Deadlift is a full body, compound exercise. You do it by picking up the weight from the floor to your hips. This works your hamstrings, glutes, quads and adductors. But many other muscles have to work during heavy Deadlifts: your grip to hold the bar, your back to keep your spine from rounding, etc.
I think Squats are king but Deadlifts are definitely queen. The Deadlift is the exercise you’ll lift the most weight on. It works even more muscles than the Squat. And it will release a ton of growth hormone and testosterone in your body. So Deadlifts are crucial for getting stronger and gaining muscle.
Many guys fear hurting their back doing Deadlifts. Here’s the key: don’t let your lower back round. Keep it neutral. That’s how you build a strong lower back without getting hurt. That’s also how you build the habit of picking stuff off the floor with safe form, avoiding injuries outside the gym.
- Lift the weight off the floor by pushing through your feet (as if doing a leg press).
- Keep the bar in contact with your legs.
- Once the bar reaches knee level, thrust your hips forward.
The lift ends when your hips and knees are locked. No need to lean back at the top.
You’ll do the conventional Deadlift on StrongLifts 5×5, with your stance about hip-width apart. You won’t do sumo Deadlifts because the point is to strengthen your lower back. No Romanian or Stiff-legged Deadlifts either because you can lift more weight doing a conventional Deadlift.
Deadlifts is only one set of five reps – not 5×5 like the other StrongLifts 5×5 exercises. 5×5 Deadlifts after 5×5 Squats is too hard. Deadlifts are a different beast than Squats because each rep starts from a dead stop. If you do 5×5 Deadlifts, you’ll quickly start missing reps and plateaus.
The Overhead Press is a full body compound exercise. You do it standing by pressing the weight from your shoulders over your head until your elbows locked. The Overhead Press works your shoulders, triceps and upper-chest. It also works your legs, back, abs and traps to stabilize the weight.
The Overhead Press is the best exercise to build stronger, bigger shoulders. It also keeps your shoulders healthy – the Bench Press works mostly your front shoulders. But the Overhead Press strengthens your back shoulders as well. By alternating the Bench and Overhead Press you avoid imbalances.
Some people are intimidated by lifting a weight overhead. They fear the weight will drop on their head. Yet the Overhead Press is the safest of all exercises: if you can’t lift the weight, it won’t leave your chest. Just start light, add 2.5kg/5lb each workout, your confidence will increase.
You can get lower back pain if you let your lower back hyper-extend. Like with the other exercises, you must keep your back neutral when you Overhead Press. Keep your ribcage down and squeeze your glutes hard. Don’t let your lower back arch and you won’t get back pain.
Overhead Press with your feet about hip-width apart so you have maximum stability and strength. Don’t do a Military Press with your heels together or your strength will plummet. Don’t do a Push Press either, your legs must remain locked from start to finish otherwise it’s cheating.
Press from the rack. If you don’t have one, clean the weight from the floor on your shoulders. If your ceiling is too low, press outside. If you can’t, do the Seated Press. But keep your lower back neutral, it’s easier to get hurt on the Seated Press. And it won’t build strong abs like the Overhead Press.
The Barbell Row is a full body compound exercise. You do it by pulling the bar from the floor against your lower chest in a bent-over position. This works your upper-back, traps, lats and biceps. The muscles of your lower back, abs and legs also have to work hard during Barbell Rows to stabilize the weight.
Barbell Rows are the best exercise to strengthen your upper-back. This improves your Bench Press by increasing stability when lying on the bench. Barbell Rows also keep your shoulders healthy and injury-free by strengthening your rear shoulder muscles so you don’t get imbalances.
To avoid lower back pain, you must keep your lower back neutral when you Barbell Row. Keep your chest up so your lower back doesn’t round. But don’t hyper-extend by excessively arching your lower spine. Raise your chest while keeping your ribcage down so your lower back stays neutral.
Start each rep with the bar on the floor, like on Deadlifts. Push your knees out to make room for the bar to travel upwards. Your torso can come up slightly on the way up but don’t turn your Barbell Rows into Deadlifts. If your torso comes up more than 15°, the weight is too heavy.
If you’d like more information about Barbell Row, read my guide on how to Barbell Row.
I lifted in a commercial gym for five years before building my home gym. In 2004 I bought my own equipment and put it in my parent’s garage, about 23km from my apartment in Brussels. I’ve been lifting there for over 10 years now. So that’s no gym fees in 10 years and one of the best investments in my life.
That’s what’s cool with StrongLifts 5×5: you don’t need bulky, expensive machines. Just a barbell, bench, plates and rack. You don’t need much space either. You can do StrongLifts 5×5 in your garage, basement or shed. One of my friends does StrongLifts 5×5 in his apartment on the fourth floor.
That means you can do StrongLifts 5×5 at home, get stronger, and save a ton of time and money.
- No more money wasted on gym fees
- No more money wasted on fuel to get to the gym
- No more time wasted driving to the gym and back
- No more time wasted for equipment to be free
Plus, you train the way YOU want, whenever YOU want, listen to the music YOU want, without anybody to disturb or judge you while you lift. Investing in a home gym is a no-brainer for serious lifters. It can also be your only option if your local gym doesn’t have the equipment you need to get stronger.
If you want to get stronger without getting hurt, you need a Power Rack.
A Power Rack has four vertical supports. You use the uprights to get the bar on your back for Squats and in your hands for Bench Press. You can’t get the bar on your back for Squats without rack unless the weight is light. So you need a Power Rack to Squat heavy and get stronger.
If you’re training alone at home, without trainingpartner, you need a Power Rack to get stronger without getting hurt. Power Racks have two horizontal “safety pins”. These pins will catch the bar if you miss a rep during a heavy Squat or Bench Press. Watch this video for an example.
I’ve missed dozens of reps on the Squat and Bench Press during the past 10 years. I often missed them training alone in my home gym, without trainingpartner. Yet I never got hurt because the pins caught the weight. That’s why a Power Rack is key to getting stronger without getting hurt on StrongLifts 5×5.
Free weights look intimidating. Many guys prefer machines because the weights can’t fall of you. Yet in 14 years of lifting the bar never dropped on me. The key is to start light, lift in the power rack and add a little bit of weight each workout. Use proper form, keep your ego in check, and whatever you do…
- No smith machine. The weight is attached on rails and forces your body to go straight up and down. These fixed, unnatural movements will hurt your shoulders, knee and back. And since you’re not balance the weight yourself, the machine is, you’ll build fake “gym strength”. Avoid.
- No 3d smith machine. This latest invention confirms people were getting hurt on the smith machine. Sure now the bar can move horizontally, not only vertically. But the machine is still balancing the weight for you. So it’s inferior to free weights for building real world strength.
- No cybex or similar bs machine. Nothing beats free weights to get stronger, gain muscle and lose fat quickly. If you’re scared of getting hurt using free weights, start with the empty bar to build your confidence. Then lift in the Power Rack with the safety pins set.
If you don’t have much space, get Squat Stands with saw horses to catch the weight. I prefer a Power Rack because it’s more sturdy and has a Pullup bar. But Squat Stands will work to get stronger. Here are several recommended Power Racks for StrongLifts 5×5…
- Atlas Power Rack. Good: cheap. Bad: no free shipping. This rack has 4.8 stars reviews on amazon.
- PowerLine PPR200X Power Rack. Good: handles 600lb, outside uprights, safety pins, pullup bar, cheap. Bad: too short to Overhead Press inside. This rack has 4.6 stars reviews on Amazon. Free shipping.
- Body-solid Pro Power Rack. Good: handle 1000lb, chinup bar. Bad: more expensive than the PowerLine PPR200X Power Rack. This rack is similar to what I have.
- Titan Power Rack. Handles 700lb, 28 holes, chin-up bar, less than $300.
- Rogue R3 Power Rack. Good: pullup bar, high quality. Bad: you must bolt it down, more expensive.
- Short Power Rack. If you have a low ceiling, this shorter Power Rack will fit under a 6″ ceiling.
If you’d like to know which power rack I use, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I’ve got in my home gym. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here
But not all gyms have Olympic bars. Some have shorter bars with fixed sleeves weighing 7 to 15kg and lacking knurling. These bars bend easily, hurt your wrists and decrease grip strength. If you want to get stronger, you need an Olympic barbell like in the top picture. Here’s how it’s different:
- 2m20 long (7 feet)
- 20kg heavy (45lb)
- 28mm diameter
- 50mm revolving sleeves
- great knurling for grip
- handles heavy weights
If you have no idea if your gym has an Olympic bar, weigh it. Stand on a scale with the bar and check how heavy it is. If it’s 20kg/45lb then it’s most likely an Olympic bar. Another way is if you load the bar with a plate of 20kg on one side. Olympic bars won’t tip over, regular bars will.
The temptation is huge to go cheap when buying a barbell. But you’ll get what you pay for. An Olympic Barbell will feel more secure, improve your grip strength and eliminate joint stress. Here’s why:
- Olympic Barbells are safer. I’ve trained with cheap bars that already bent when you put 100kg on. This doesn’t feel safe. Heavy weights are intimidating enough. Don’t make it worse by using cheap bars that can break mid-set. Olympic barbells feel more secure because they can handle heavier weights and don’t bend as easily. This increases your confidence under the bar.
- Olympic Barbells improve grip strength. I’ve also lifted with bars that were smooth in the middle. They make it impossible to Deadlift heavy, especially if you have sweaty hands. My Olympic bar has knurling to improve grip strength. It even has central knurling to keep the bar in position on my back when I’m Squatting heavy. Cheap bars have little or no knurling.
- Olympic Barbells won’t destroy your hands. Cheap bars with knurling usually turn out to be like cheese graters. Too aggressive, shredding the skin of your hands on each rep and even tearing callus. On the other hand, Olympic Barbells have great knurling that improves your grip during heavy Deadlifts without shredding your hands, shins and thighs apart.
- Olympic Barbells don’t hurt your joints. Cheap bars often have fixed sleeves. The end of the bar where you put the plates on can’t spin. This increases the stress on your wrists and elbows and can result in pain. Not with Olympic Barbells – the plates and sleeves spin as you lift the weigh up. This is safer on your joints and improves grip strength.
If you buy a cheap bar anyway, you’ll most likely invest in an Olympic Barbell once you’re stronger. So cheap turns expensive. Better to get a quality bar right away. I’ve used my first Olympic barbell for 10 years. Then I gave it to my brother when he built his home gym. A quality bar will last a lifetime.
You’ll find two kinds of Olympic bars:
- Power Bars. These bars are stiff and won’t “bounce” when you Squat or Deadlift heavy. They usually have a center knurling to keep the bar positioned on your back for Squats. And they have one single ring on each side of the bar to mark off where to grip the bar for Bench Press.
- Weight lifting Bars. These bars aren’t as strong as power bars because you’re not doing snatches and cleans as heavy as Squat or Deadlifts. Weigh lifting bars bend more easily and will bounce with the weigh (they call this “whip”). The sleeves also spin faster so you can get under the bar quickly without releasing your grip. And it can bear multiple drops from overhead position without breaking. But weightlifting bars are far more expensive.
I have both bars and always use the power bar when I do the exercises of StrongLifts 5×5. Heavy Squats with a weight lifting bar just feels weird. It feels as if the bar is bouncing around at the bottom. So get a power bar. A quality one will cost you about $300. Here’s what I recommend:
- Rogue Power Bar – high quality, best of the best.
- Troy Texas Power Bar. Handled 1500lb, center knurling.
- Body-solid Olympic bar. If you want to go cheap, I wouldn’t buy it.
- Cap Barbell. Tested at 1500lb, black. But lacks center knurling for Squats.
- Spring clips. Put this on your bar so your plates can’t move around.
- Lock-jaw collars. Some people find this easier to than spring clips.
- Rubber Mat. To protect your floor, use this rubber mat.
If you’d like to know which barbell I use, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I’ve got in my home gym. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here.
StrongLifts 5×5 doesn’t work with kettlebells or dumbbells. The goal is to get stronger. You must lift heavy for that. You can lift the heaviest weights with barbells. So use barbells for StrongLifts 5×5.
Olympic plates have 50mm holes to fit on your Olympic bar. The biggest 20kg/45 plates are 17″ diameter to set the bar at the proper height for Deadlifts and Barbell Rows. Iron plates are the best. They’re also the cheapest you’ll find. But if you’re wondering about other plates, here’s what I think of them…
- Grip plates. Regular plates force you to pinch the weight to carry it around. This improves your grip strength for Deadlifts. Grip plates don’t because they have holes to carry the weight. I don’t buy the safety argument, just grab a regular plates with two hands and you’re fine.
- Rubber coated. I had rubber plates for 10 years. They make less noise but not when you put 180kg back on the floor. The rubber also cracks over time. Grip is friendlier though, it doesn’t hurt if your finger ends between two plates. But for noise, just get a rubber mat.
- Bumper plates. Made of solid rubber. Designed for exercises like the snatch so you can drop the weight without breaking your floor. With StrongLifts 5×5 you’ll be returning the weight to the floor under control. So you don’t need expensive bumpers that take a lot of space.
- Hexagonal plates. Designed for machines, not barbells. The weight will land on the corners if you use them for Deadlifts and Barbell Rows. This will make the bar roll and mess your technique. Better to use round plates so you don’t get bleeding shins and lower back pain.
Keep it simple. Get cheap iron plates. And since you’re going to get stronger faster than you think with StrongLifts 5×5, get about 140kg/300lb to get started. Here’s the setup I recommend:
- 4x20kg plates
- 2x10kg plates
- 2x5kg plates
- 2×2.5kg plates
- 2×1.25kg plates
Add the bar (because you lift it) and that’s 137.5kg or 303lb total weight. Olympic Barbells weigh 20kg/45lb.
I don’t recommend 25kg plates. I bought four when I got my home gym. But people kept getting confused when they saw my 180kg Squat videos –“BS! That’s no four plates!”. So I gave the 25s to my brother and got 20kg plates instead. No more confusion and the math is easier.
Any guy who trains three times a week consistently can reach a 140kg (300lb) Deadlift within a year. My little brother did it in seven months weighing only 70kg. So you’ll need extra plates after a few months to keep getting stronger. Just get an extra pair of 20kg and you’re good until the next big “PR”.
What I recommend:
- Olympic Plates
- Ader Olympic Plates
- Rogue Ader Olympic Plates
- Rogue York Olympic Plates
- Weight Tree – holds up to 500lb 2″ plates, keep them organized.
- Rubber Mat – to protect your floor
If you’d like to know which plates I have and how many, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I’ve got in my home gym. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here.
Fractional plates are small weights of 1.25kg and less. Many gyms only have bigger plates of 2.5kg. This forces you to add 5kg on each side. This can work for a while on Squats and Deadlifts. But not forever, and definitely not on the Bench Press and Overhead Press.
Here’s why: the Bench and Overhead Press use smaller muscles than Squats and Deadlifts. This is why you can’t Overhead Press what you can Deadlift. This is also why you’ll struggle on the Overhead Press first. And this is why adding 5kg on the Overhead Press is harder than on a Deadlift. Consider:
- Adding 5kg to a 100kg Deadlift is a 5% increase.
- Adding that same 5kg to a 40kg Overhead Press is a 13% increase – more than double!
- But adding 2.5kg to a 40kg Overhead Press is a 6% increase – closer to what you add on Deadlift.
Same idea for Bench. Ironically, the weaker you are, the harder adding 5kg each workout is. That’s why you’ll miss reps, hit plateaus and get frustrated early into StrongLifts 5×5 if you add 5kg each workout. You need small plates of 1.25kg – especially if you’re lighter like me or a woman.
Small plates are expensive. But that’s what you’re paying for. It costs more to create plates at a tighter weight tolerance. So don’t get caught up with the price per kg. Plates I recommend:
- Ader Fractional plates
- Rogue Fractional Plates lb
- Rogue Fractional Plates kg
- Iron Woody Fractional Plates kg
You can also put two chains of 1.25kg on each side of the bar. Or glue two washers together. Or add small ankle weights. I don’t use any of that though.
If you’d like to know which fractional plates I use, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I’ve got in my home gym. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here.
You need a bench to Bench Press each StrongLifts Workout A. But you don’t need a bench with uprights since you’ll bench inside the Power Rack. This is also safer if you bench alone, without training partner, and don’t want to get hurt. The safety pins will catch the bar if you get stuck with the weights.
The key is to get a sturdy bench. Legs of cheap benches can bend and kill you (proof). Keep in mind that the max weight of a bench often includes your body-weight. So if you’re 75kg, a bench tested at 150kg can handle maximum 75kg on the bar safely. That’s not enough when doing StrongLifts 5×5.
You need a heavy duty bench. One that handles at least 300kg. It should be 30cm/12″ wide so you have great upper-back and shoulder support for maximum strength. Heavy dutch benches will be about 17″ high. If you’re short, put something under your feet to get to the proper height.
Avoid benches with leg attachments. One, they’ll get in the way of your legs when you setup for benching. Two, you’ll get plenty of leg work doing heavy Squats, plenty of ab work doing heavy Overhead Presses. So those leg attachments will be of no use, just a waste of money.
You also don’t need an adjustable bench since you’ll flat bench on StrongLifts 5×5. There’s no decline or incline. Don’t panic – taking your bench press to 100kg will make your “upper-chest” grow more than anything else. That and walking with your chest up. We’re not bodybuilding here.
So get a simple flat bench. Here’s what I recommend for StrongLifts 5×5:
If you’d like to know which bench I use, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I’ve got in my home gym. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here.
Chalk is a powder you put on your hands to lift more weight. It’s the same powder gymnasts and rock climbers use. Chalk improves your grip strength by stopping moisture from sweat. It also minimizes callus formation by filling up your skin folds which otherwise get trapped under the bar.
Chalk is not baby powder. Baby powder is usually made of talc, a lubricant. Some powerlifters put baby powder on their legs to reduce friction when doing heavy Deadlifts. But they’ll never put baby powder on their hands because that makes the bar slippery and thus harder to hold.
Chalk is also not the same as blackboard chalk. Blackboard chalk is usually made of calcium sulfate. For StrongLifts 5×5 you need chalk made of magnesium carbonate.
You won’t need chalk the first weeks of StrongLifts 5×5 when the weights are light. But once the weight increases you’ll struggle to get five reps on Deadlifts. The bar will slip off your hands, it might not even want to move off the floor. Use chalk and you’ll get an instant boost in grip strength.
I like to do all my warmup sets without chalk. Powerlifting legend Andy Bolton told me he does this to get extra grip work. Then on my heavy work sets I’ll rub my hands with chalk to improve my grip. To minimize callus formation fill up your skin folds with chalk so your skin can’t get trapped under the bar.
Some gyms don’t allow chalk because it leaves dust everywhere. The best alternative is liquid chalk. This is magnesium carbonate dissolved in alcohol. The alcohol evaporates when you put the liquid chalk to your hands, leaving a clean film of chalk. So liquid chalk doesn’t turn the place messy.
Some people use eco ball. I’ve used chalk balls for rock climbing but didn’t like it. Ended up tearing it apart because it didn’t leave enough chalk on my hands. Regular chalk seems superior.
Here’s the chalk options I recommend:
If you’d like to know what kind of chalk I use, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I’ve got in my home gym. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here.
Don’t use gloves with StrongLifts 5×5. They make the bar thicker and harder to grip, can cause wrist pain and won’t stop callus. Callus are a byproduct of lifting heavy, just like muscle is, so get over it. Use chalk, grip the bar properly and shave your callus of once a week – done.
Don’t use straps on StrongLifts 5×5 either. Doing every exercise and set with straps will weaken your grip. You want to strengthen your whole body, including your grip. Best way to do that is lifting without straps. I routinely pull 200kg with my bare hands, using chalk only. You can do it too.
I started Squatting in running shoes like most guys. Funny looking back, I’d never do that today. Running shoes are for running. They’re not for Squatting. If you do StrongLifts 5×5 with running shoes anyway, you’ll get knee pain, hurt your back and hit plateaus. So don’t Squat with running shoes.
Here’s why: running shoes often have soles with air pockets, gel or other spongy material. This cushions your feet when you run. The sole absorbs impact each time your foot hits the ground. And while this may or may not be a good idea for running, it definitely is NOT for lifting weights.
Squatting with running shoes is like Squatting on a trampoline. The spongy sole will compress under the weight. This makes it impossible to control your technique and lift with proper form. Bad form is the number one cause of knees and back pain when Squatting. It also causes plateaus.
The point is: you need shoes with hard soles. Soles that don’t compress under a heavy weight. Test it: Squat a set barefoot. Without a sole that compresses between your foot and the floor. I do this all the time with new lifters reluctant to lose the running shoes. Their Squat form improves instantly.
Which doesn’t mean I recommend lifting barefoot. It’s just a test. In fact, I would never Squat barefoot. You need traction when lifting heavy. Your feet must stay locked in position. Lifting barefoot or in socks offers zero traction. Your feet will slip. This isn’t optimal for lifting heavy.
In 2004 I heard Louie Simmons raving about Chuck Taylor’s. So I dropped the running shoes and bought a pair. Chuck Taylor’s have flat soles, solid traction and they’re cheap. I’ve Squatted in Chuck Taylor’s for 10 years and hit my 190kg Squat PR with them. It’s the best all around shoe for StrongLifts 5×5.
That’s why you’ll often see half the room wear Chuck Taylor’s at my StrongLifts seminars. I even have a pair I wear outside the gym. They’re that comfortable. Make sure you get a snug fit so your foot doesn’t move around. I feel the high tops fit better than low tops for Squatting.
I also have lifting shoes. But I don’t like them for low bar Squats because the heel throws me forward. I have another pair of shoes that I’ve been using lately and that works better for my wider feet.
I still recommend Chuck Taylor’s but if you’d like to know which shoes I wear now, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I use. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here
A belt allows you to lift more weights. It works by giving your abs something to push against. Your abs contract harder as a result. This braces your core and supports your back in lifting the weights. Unlike many guys think, your abs don’t become weak if you lift with a belt. They get stronger.
But belts don’t prevent injuries from lifting with bad form. If you Deadlift with a round back, you’ll hurt it. If you hyper-extend at the top, you’ll hurt it too. And that’s regardless of the belt. Injuries with belts can be even worse because the weight you lifted with bad form was heavier thanks to that belt.
The point is proper form is crucial to get stronger without getting hurt. Don’t wear a belt if you get back pain from Deadlifting. The belt will give you a false sense of security and encourage you to keep lifting with bad form. This will make it worse. Instead fix your bad form so you get stronger pain-free.
This is why I do not recommend wearing a belt when you start StrongLifts 5×5. Practice good form first, make sure your back stays neutral when you lift, build a good foundation.
After the first 12 weeks you should have good form and Squat about 100kg. Then you can add a belt to help you get stronger and break through plateaus. Wear it on your last warmup set and 5×5 sets only so your abs get trained both ways. Don’t wear it the whole workout.
When looking for a belt, get one that’s the same width all around. Remember the point is for your abs to have something to push against. A bodybuilding belt that is narrow in the front doesn’t work for getting stronger. Get one that’s 4″ all around.
Single prong belts are easier to put on that double prong. Prongs are easier than a lever when you need a different setting on each lift (no need for screwdriver). 10mm thick is perfect unless you weigh over 250lb (then go with 13mm). Here’s what I recommend:
- Ader Powerlifting belt
- Bestbelts – high quality, custom made, pre-broken in.
- Rogue Ohio Belt
- Inzer Forever Belt
If you’d like to know which belt I use, I’ve put a guide together with all the equipment I’ve got in my home gym. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here.
My Home Gym Setup
People often ask me which equipment I use. So I’ve created a guide with the exact power rack, bench, barbell, plates, shoes, etc I have. If you’d like me to send you a copy of this guide, click here
Frequently Asked Questions
What does 5×5 mean?
What does 1×5 mean?
Rest between your reps should be one second at the floor (no bouncing). Don’t wait 10 seconds between your reps otherwise you’re doing singles which isn’t the same as a set of five reps.
Why only 1×5 Deadlifts, not 5×5?
- Deadlifts has each rep starting from a dead stop
- Deadlift uses more muscles than any other exercise
- Deadlift allows you to lift heavier weights than other exercises
You can get away Deadlifting for 5×5 on StrongLifts 5×5 when the weights are still light. But it will beat you up once the weights get heavier. It will make you plateau on Deadlifts, Squats and so on. Once your Deadlifts get heavy, you’ll be happy to end your workout with only one set of five reps, not 5×5.
Keep in mind Squats and Deadlifts work similar muscles. Getting stronger at Squats will get you stronger at Deadlifts. You rarely need more than one set of five reps to increase your Deadlift to 180kg (400lb). My little brother got his Deadlift to 170kg/380lb in seven months doing only 1×5.
If you love to Deadlift, do five reps on your warmup sets. So 1×5 140kg Deadlift would look like 5x60kg, 5x80kg, 5x100kg, 5x120kg, 5x140kg. This gives you several sets of five, but with the weight increasing instead of being the same for 5×5. This gets you more work without the stress of 5×5 140kg.
How much weight should I start with?
If you start too heavy, you’ll get sore legs which can make you feel like skipping workouts in the first week. Better to start light so your body get used to Squatting three times a week. The weight will increase quickly anyway since you’re adding 2.5kg/5lb per workout (that’s 30kg/60lb per month on your Squat).
If you’ve done the Squat, Bench and Deadlift before, with good technique, you can start with 50% of your five rep max. If you’ve never done these exercises, or you haven’t lifted in years, or you have no idea what I mean with a “five reps max”, just start with these weights:
- Squat, Bench Press, Overhead Press: 20kg/45lb. That’s the empty Olympic bar.
- Deadlift: 40kg/95lb. The empty bar with a plate of 10kg/25lb on each side.
- Barbell Row: 30kg/65lb. The empty bar with 5kg/10lb on each side.
You should indeed start heavier on the Deadlift and Barbell Row because you can’t do these exercises holding an empty bar in the air. The weight should rest on the floor at the start of each rep, so start with weight on the bar.
How long should I rest between sets?
Enough to get five reps on your next set. You won’t need to rest much between sets the first weeks of StrongLifts 5×5 when the weights are still light. But as the weight gets heavier and more challenging, you’ll need more rest between sets. Here’s what I recommend:
- 1min30 if getting five reps on your last set was easy
- 3mins if you struggled to get five reps on your last set
- 5mins if you missed a rep on your last set
3-5 minutes rest after a challenging set of five reps is key to get stronger. It gives your central nervous system time to recover between sets. If you only wait a minute after a hard set, you risk missing reps on your next set and plateau. Wait 3-5 mins and you’re more likely to get your five reps and get stronger.
If you have an iPhone, iPod, or Android phone, track your workouts using my free StrongLifts 5×5 app. It has a built-in timer which will tell you exactly how long to rest between sets so you get stronger.
Otherwise pay attention to your heart rate. I’m often breathing heavily after Squatting a hard set of five. When my heart rate is back to normal, that usually means I’m ready for my next set.
To keep your workout short as the weights get heavier, don’t rest between your warm-up sets. Put the weight on the bar and do your next set. Then rest longer between your sets of five.
What should I do between sets?
Stay focused. Avoid talking with people or playing with your phone (unless it’s for using my app, haha). Socializing is great before or after your workout, but not during. You don’t want to get distracted, end up resting 15 minutes between your sets, get cold and lose focus, and then miss reps.
What works is to sit on a bench and visualize yourself doing the next set with proper form. I like to stand or walk a bit around between my sets. But I don’t like it when people start talking too much, especially on Squats. You have to stay focused because this is key to get stronger.
Don’t superset your exercises. Don’t Squat five reps, then Bench five reps and go back to Squatting five reps. You must rest between exercises so your body can recover for the next set. If you superset your exercises you’ll exhaust yourself and will lift less weight. The goal is to lift heavy. Rest between sets so you can lift heavy.
How long should I rest between exercises?
You don’t need to rest between exercises. I unload the bar after Squats, set my equipment for the Bench or Overhead Press and warmup with the empty bar. By the time I’m doing my 5×5 work weight, my CNS is recovered. I’ve also found not resting between exercises keeps my workout shorts.
Check the videos of StrongLifts 5×5 workout A & B – you’ll see I don’t rest between exercises.
How fast should I lift? What’s the tempo?
There’s no tempo with StrongLifts 5×5. The first weeks, when the weights are light, lift the weight under control. Don’t go too fast yet because that makes it harder to practice and maintain good form. But don’t go too slow either. Just control the bar on the way up and down.
After your first 12 weeks, once you have more experience and good form, lift as fast as you can on the way up. You’ll be able to lift more weight and get stronger if you lift fast on the way up. Control the weight on the way down, don’t drop it it. But don’t be slow on the way down either.
Do not lift slow thinking you’ll build more muscle that way. Lifting fast on the way up is key to lifting a lot of weight and get stronger. The stronger you are, the more muscular you’ll be. So go fast but controlled on the way up once you’re confident about your form.
How should I warm up?
Start with two sets of five reps with the empty bar on Squats, Bench and Overhead Press. Then add 10-20kg (25-45lb) and do 2-3 reps. Keep adding 10-20kg, doing 2-3 reps on each set, until you’ve reached your 5×5 weight. Don’t rest between these warmup sets to keep your workout short.
This means you don’t do any warmup sets for the Squat, Bench and Overhead Press the first weeks of StrongLifts 5×5 because your 5×5 work weight is the empty bar or close above it. But once you’re lifting 30kg/65lb for 5×5, warmup by doing two sets with the empty bar for the Squats, Bench Press and Overhead Press.
Empty bar warmup sets don’t work for Barbell Row and Deadlift. The bar has to start at mid-shin level for proper form, you can’t hold it in the air. Plus, since you’re doing compound exercises, your whole body is warmed up already by the time you have to Barbell Row or Deadlift. So you can start heavier here.
If you’re confused about how to warmup, download the StrongLifts 5×5 apps for iPhone and Android and check the warmup feature. It automatically will tell you how much weight to warmup with and for how many sets and reps, whatever your work weight is.
Never do a heavy 5×5 weight without doing lighter warmup sets first. The 5×5 weight will feel heavier, you can miss reps and could get hurt. Start with the bar and work your way up so you warmup your muscles and can practice proper form. This will make the 5×5 weight easier and you’re less likely to get hurt.
Cardio pre-workout is not enough and can work against you. It’s not specific to Squatting, doesn’t let you practice proper form. So you still have to warmup with the bar. Worse, too much cardio pre-workout will pre-exhaust your legs and make it hard to Squat heavy. So warm up with the bar.
How should I breathe?
Don’t think about it and you’ll do it right. Lifting weights isn’t the same as running. Staying tight is key to lifting big weights without getting injured. That’s why if you pick something heavy from the floor, you’ll automatically take a big breath and hold it before you lift it.
This technique is called the “valsalva maneuver”. Big breath, hold it, lift, then exhale. By taking a big breath you’ll increase the pressure in your abdomen. This in turn reduces the risk of lower back injuries because your “core” is tighter. Here’s how I recommend you do it:
- Squats. Take a big breath at the top of your Squat, before you go down. Hold your breath on the way down, hold it at the bottom of your Squat, then breathe out at the top.
- Bench Press. Take a big breath at the top. Do as many reps as you can with good form, breathe out at the top when you need to. I’ll often do three or even five reps with a single breath.
- Deadlift. Take a big breath at the bottom before you pull. Hold it on the way up. Exhale at the top while staying tight. Or hold your breath at the top and exhale when the bar is back on the floor.
- Overhead Press. Take a big breath at the bottom, and do as many reps as you can with good form. Breathe out when you need at the top or at the bottom (top is better but tricky).
- Barbell Row. Take a big big breath at the bottom. Do as many reps as you can with good form. Exhale when you need at the bottom, when the bar is on the floor.
Do NOT exhale at the bottom of your Squat. You’ll lose tightness and could hurt your lower back. If you want, you can exhale by grunting on the way up if you want (I do that sometimes on hard Squat set). But make sure you’re tight at the bottom of your Squat.
Your blood pressure will indeed increase if you hold your breath. However it will go back to normal once your set is over. Plus weight lifting is proven to improve blood pressure.
Can I change the order of exercises?
No. The exercise order isn’t random. It’s set this way because that’s how it works best. Here’s why:
- Squat first. Because it’s the most important exercise to get stronger. If you do them at the end of your workout, when tired or hurried, it’s easy to skip them. Do them first, when fresh, and you’ll Squat consistently. If the Power Rack is taken, wait or ask if you can train in between.
- Bench/Overhead Press second. So your legs and lower back get a break. You need these muscles again on heavy Deadlifts and Barbell Rows. Pressing first gives your body time to recover.
- Row/Deadlift third. Because you need your legs and lower back again. But since you pressed first, they had time to recover from the heavy Squats at the start of your workout.
Reversing Squat and Deadlift, by doing Deadlift first, is not a good idea. Most guys find Deadlifts easier if they Squat first. But they don’t find Squat easy if they Deadlift first. So stick to the exercise order. And don’t hesitate asking to train inbetween if the Power Rack – you might find a trainingpartner.
Can I do workout A and B on the same day?
No. You might be able to get away with this in the first weeks when the weights are still light. But as the weights get heavier, the Squats will by itself get you too exhausted to even think about doing more than three exercises per workout. So doing the two workouts the same day would never work in the long run.
If you feel like doing more because the workout feels too light, then just increase the weight. Add 5kg/10lb per workout instead of the usual 2.5kg/5lb. This will quickly increase the intensity of the StrongLifts 5×5 workout and make it more challenging. It’s not about the amount of exercises you do, but the intensity.
Can I train two days in a row?
No. Your body and mind need days off to recover. You might be able to get away with training two days in a row the first weeks when the weights are still light. But as the weight on the bar increases, you’ll need those days off inbetween two workouts to recover, get stronger and gain muscle. And you’ll be happy you have days off the recover.
If you feel like doing more because the workout feels too light, up the intensity by increasing the weight. Add 5kg/10lb each workout or more, then go back to the 2.5kg/5lb increments once the workout is challenging.
What if I fail to get 5 reps?
If you haven’t already done five sets on this exercise, wait five minutes for your central nervous system to recover. Then do your next set with the exact same weight and try to get five reps. Take a big breath and lift fast on the way up. This will help you get your reps.
If you missed reps in any of your five sets, you do not increase the weight by 2.5kg/5lb next workout for that exercise. You lift the same weight again. So if you did 5/5/5/4/3 x 100kg on Squats (missed reps in set four and five) you do 5×5 Squat next workout.
What if you miss reps on Squats but not Bench Press or Barbell Row? Then you add 2.5kg/5lb on Bench and Rows next workout A. But you don’t add weight on Squats since you missed reps on that exercise. You only repeat the weight for the exercise you missed reps on, not all of them.
Here are some other mistakes you got to avoid:
- Never do more than 5×5 with the same weight. If you only got three reps on the fifth set, you don’t do a sixth set to try to get the five reps you missed. Five sets max, not more.
- Never lower the weight during a workout. If you get five reps on the first set, but only three on the second, don’t lower the weight. Keep the weight for the next three sets and do your best.
- Never increase the weight if you missed reps. If you didn’t get five reps on every single set, you must lift the same weight again for that exercise next workout. Don’t increase it.
If all of this sounds like Greek to you, download the free StrongLifts 5×5 apps for iPhone/iPod or Android phones. They’ll tell you how much weight to lift on each exercise if you fail a rep.
What if I keep failing at the same weight?
You take a step back in order to take two steps forward. Here’s how: if you fail to get 5×5 on an exercise three workouts in a row, lower the weight by 10% for that exercise only. This is called a deload. And it will give your body extra rest as well as avoid mental plateaus.
So if you failed to get 5×5 on Squats with 100kg/220lb three workouts in a row, deload to 90kg/200lb next workout. This weight will feel light but take it seriously. Focus on proper form, lift fast on the way up and breathe correctly. Add 2.5kg/5lb each workout until you’re back to 100kg/220lb. You’ll make it.
Note that you only deload on the exercise you failed to get 5×5 three times in a row. If you plateau on your Squat, but not on your Bench Press or Barbell Row, then you only deload on Squats. The other exercise keep increasing by 2.5kg/5lb each workout.
Best is to download the free StrongLifts 5×5 app for iPhone/iPod or Android phones. They’ll tell show you how much weight to lift on each exercise if you keep failing at the same weight.
How long should I do StrongLifts 5×5?
As long as you’re getting stronger. StrongLifts 5×5 is NOT a 12 week program. 12 weeks is just the start. It’s a test-drive for your body to prove you this works to get stronger. Many guys are able to get stronger on StrongLifts 5×5 for 16 weeks, 24 weeks, some 52 weeks!
You’ll know when it’s time to switch to a more advanced training program when you’re no longer able to add 2.5kg/5lb each workout. When you’re no longer able to get stronger despite repeating the weight up to three times a week, deloading and dropping to 3×5, 3×3, etc.
Many guys want to know a specific weight they should reach before they can switch program. But there’s no such thing. When you’ll have to switch programs depends on too many variables including your body-weight, age, form, sleep, nutrition, consistency, commitment, and so on.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll usually have to switch once you Squat between 100kg and 140kg (220lb and 300lb). The better your form, the better your sleep, the better your nutrition, the more consistent you are, the bigger you are, the further you’ll take StrongLifts 5×5.
Does StrongLifts 5×5 work for women?
Yes. My girlfriend does it. And she does the same exercises, sets and reps as I do. The only differences:
- The empty bar can be too heavy. I had my girlfriend do goblet Squats with a kettlebell, kb Deadlifts and db bench/presses. Now she Squats 50kg for 5×5 (her body-weight).
- You’ll need fractional plates. Adding 2.5kg/5lb each workout is too much on the Bench and Overhead Press. This is because women tend to have less muscle in their upper-body than men. My girlfriend used increments of 1kg/2lb from the start on Bench/Press.
Besides that there’s no difference. Remember lifting weights won’t make you bulky. I’ve been lifting for 14 years and I’m not bulky. My girlfriend started weighing about 50kg, she still weighs the same, despite Squatting 50kg for 5×5. And yet people have asked “did you lose weight?” Muscle is denser than fat
What if the answer to my question isn’t here?
I’ll update and further expand this guide over the coming months. So come back later and you might find the answer to your question. If you can’t wait, here are your two options:
- Signup to my daily emails. Each day you’ll get my tips and answers to questions I receive by email. Many guys find my daily emails motivational. Go here to signup (it’s free).
- Send me your question. Use the contact form to send me your question. Please keep it short and to the point, 1-2 sentences max.
My team has created free apps to track your StrongLifts 5×5 workouts on your phone. These apps will show you which exercises to do each workout, with how much weight and for how many sets and reps.
The StrongLifts 5×5 apps also have a built-in timer that will show you how long to rest between sets. And they automatically deload and show you how much to lift if you miss reps.
Both apps have +4.5 ratings on iTunes/Google play. Get them here:
Apple even featured the StrongLifts 5×5 app for Iphone in their commercial “strength” which aired during the Stanley Cup, Jimmy Fallon, NBA finals, etc. Watch the video at 0:38
I’ve created spreadsheets for StrongLifts 5×5. They show you which exercises to do each workout, with how much weight and for how many sets and reps. These spreadsheets also come with progress graphs so you see your strength increase overtime (this will boost motivation).
If you’d like me to email you a copy of these StrongLifts 5×5 spreadsheets for free, click the link below