StrongLifts 5×5 is a simple strength training program. 3 workouts per week. 3 body-weight exercises. 5 weight lifting exercises. 5 sets of 5 reps. Start with an empty barbell. Add weight each workout. Deload when you stall. Repeat.
Simple. And yet some don’t apply the program as laid out. Changing things for whatever reasons. Here are 15 common mistakes on StrongLifts 5×5 that you must avoid to get the maximum out of the routine.
1. Adding Exercises. Stronglifts 5×5 is a full body routine. Overhead Press, Dips & Bench Press works your triceps. Barbell Rows, Pull-ups & Chin-ups work your biceps. Overhead Press, Squats, Deadlifts work your abs. And so on.
No need to add Biceps Curls, Triceps Extensions, Sit-ups, etc. Focus on the big picture: getting your Squat up to 1.5x your body-weight. Then your arms & abs will be muscular.
2. Dropping Exercises. I read one guy dropped Squats because he didn’t think they were necessary. Only reason not to Squat 3x/week is because it’s hard. Avoiding what’s hard doesn’t get you results. Doing what’s hard does.
You can drop Pull-ups, Chin-ups & Dips if you’re short on time or lack equipment. Don’t drop any other exercises, especially not the Squat. The whole StrongLifts 5×5 program revolves around the Squat.
4. Changing Exercises Order. The exercise order is chosen for a reason.
- Squats first because they are most important, but also heaviest
- Next Bench Press or Overhead Press to give your legs & back a break
- Then Deadlifts or Barbell Rows as they work your legs again
Stick to the exercise order, it works best that way. Read how to deal with crowded gyms in case someone uses the Squat Rack.
5. Using Machines. Strength built on machines doesn’t transfer to free weights or real life: machines balance the weight for you. Machines are also potentially dangerous: they force your body into fixed, unnatural movement patterns.
- No Leg Press. Do Squats.
- No Smith Squats. Do Squats.
- No assisted Pull-up/Dips machine. Use Pull-up & Dip bars.
6. Using Anything but Barbells. Barbells work best because you can use more weight. More weight is more stress on your body, thus more results. It’s also easier to add weight each workout with barbells as you’re using both sides.
You want to use dumbbells or kettlebells? Follow a training program designed for those. But remember: if you want to become strong you need barbells for your main exercise. Use dumbbells as assistance.
7. Changing Sets. Best way to learn exercise technique is to do the exercise a lot. StrongLifts 5×5 has 25 reps/exercise to practice technique. 25 reps is more volume than 3×5, this builds more muscle.
5×5 Deadlifts is too much on your lower back. It’s already worked on Squats, Barbell Rows & Overhead Press. Stick to 1×5 Deadlifts. When you can Squat 1x your body-weight you’ll be happy to end your workout with 1×5 Deadlifts.
8. Changing Reps. 5 is the magic rep range. You learn exercise technique best. You can add weight more easily. And you build strength, power & muscle mass.
- High reps. 8-15 reps work endurance. You can’t lift as much weight and fatigue gets in the way of learning exercise technique.
- Low reps. 1-3 reps is for strength, speed & power work. Less total reps when doing 5 sets, thus less muscle. Closer to your max weights.
9. Lowering The Weight. Never lower the weight because the first 2 sets were hard. Go for 5 reps. If you only get 1 rep per set, so be it. The only way to get used to lifting a weight, is to lift it.
Only lower the weight if you got injured, if you’re not confident about your technique or if you stalled 3 times with the same weight. Read how to Squat safely when alone and how to Bench Press safely when alone.
10. Not Adding Weight. Lifting the same weight forever doesn’t force your body out of its comfort zone. It becomes lazy and you lose strength. Add weight each workout until you stall. Then use the 1 step back, 2 step forward method.
If you’re not sure about your technique, lower the weight by 20%. If you got injured, start with an empty bar. Add weight slowly, but systematically.
11. Adding too Much Weight. Use bigger increments if you have weight lifting experience, are confident about your technique and started too light. You can also use bigger increments if you just come out of a layoff.
However, if you just did 180lbs Squats and they were heavy, don’t add 10lbs the next workout. Stick to 5lbs. Bigger increments make you stall faster. Small increments delay stalling and are better for your technique & confidence.
12. Underestimating The Program. You’re a beginner longer than you think. Weight lifting experience doesn’t make you an intermediate. Squatting 1.5x your body-weight with good technique does.
Weightlifters, strongmen, powerlifters, athletes, … work their legs several times per week. Bodybuilders are the only exception. If you never did Squats more than once per week, do StrongLifts 5×5.
13. Overestimating Yourself. Starting with heavier weights will make your legs sore. Sore legs will make it hard to Squat again 2 days later. Worse, you might not make the gym because your legs hurt too much.
Start with an empty barbell and add weight each workout. Less soreness, and you can better focus on technique. Proper exercise technique is more important than weight. Adding weight becomes easy once you can lift correctly.
14. Skipping Workouts Because You’re Sore. The best solution for soreness is to train the muscle again. This flushes blood into your muscles, speeding up recovery. Start with an empty bar and go the gym no matter what.
15. Switching Program too Soon. StrongLifts 5×5 is not a 10 week program. Change routine once you can at least Squat 1.5x your body-weight. You’ll stall 2-3 times on your Squat before getting there.
You can progress faster on StrongLifts 5×5 because you’re adding weight each workout. Intermediate programs use weekly increases. Stick with StrongLifts 5×5 until you stall at least 2-3 times on your Squat.
Trust the program. Try StrongLifts 5×5 as laid out for 2 months. Measure your progress by tracking your body fat & strength stats and taking pictures. After 2 months you can evaluate for yourself if it works or not.