When to Switch from StrongLifts 5×5 to Other Programs

An from Vietnam asked…

I love this post, that’s exactly what a real man should do.

I also have to thank you for your program, I’ve gained 26kg in two and a half years, from 48kg to 74kg, and still expect to gain more (I’m 1m76, Vietnamese FYI). I just did a 130 kg x 5 squat and still feel so great about that. My max deadlift now is 135kg for 4 reps.

However, after 1 year of doing StrongLifts 5×5 I’ve changed my work out scheme. My current program still consists of 3 days/week but I only do 2 squats in a week. My main exercises are heavy backsquat on monday, 4×10 frontsquat on wednesday, deadlift on Friday, and dumbbell bench press, overhead press, yates row, pull ups, farmer walk … I feel this program suits me greatly.

I also have a question for you, that do you feel that you need to change your program? Because I’ve followed your blog for a very long time (and got a lot of great informations, and motivation as well, from it) and know that you’ve been dong StrongLifts for at least 8 years in a row, and I think you’re now an advanced lifter so it’d be better to change the program.

What do you think about some other great programs like 5/3/1?

First, good job on the 26kg weight gain and the 5x285lb Squat.

I don’t know where you got the idea that I’ve been doing StrongLifts 5×5 for 8 years in a row though… As an advanced lifter Squatting 400lb raw at 165lb BW there’s no way I could ever keep gaining strength by Squatting 3x/week for 5×5 with a 5lb increase every workout. This would simply be too much.

In fact, the last time I did SL5x5 was in September 2009 after I returned from a 7 weeks trip around Spain/Portugal (my first break since I founded StrongLifts in May 2007, sort of a sabbatical, needed to get away from it all to think). I used StrongLifts 5×5 to get back in the game after this planned break from the gym.

So I haven’t done StrongLifts 5×5 for 8 years in a row, nor should you be doing it for more than 12 months. Sure there are guys who have accomplished a 500lb Squat after 1y of SL5x5, like StrongLifts Member Simon and Norman, but both are in the +275lb class. Smaller guys weighing around 180lb will usually have to switch to Madcow 5×5 by the time they Squat around 300lb.

And that is how you decide when to switch program – by asking yourself: are you still making progress with your current program? Is the weight on the bar increasing over time? Are you lifting more weight than 3 months ago? If not, and you’ve really done StrongLifts 5×5 as laid out, then switch to Madcow 5×5.

What is NOT okay is switching program because you’re getting bored of your current one, or you had a bad workout, or you want to do the program that’s hot today or other utter nonsense. All of that is bad because…

  • You’ll never gain enough experience to get the most out of a program
  • You’ll never discover what works and doesn’t work for you specifically
  • You’ll never build the invaluable discipline of sticking to something

All StrongLifts Members will tell you to milk the program. This “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”-philosophy is the exact opposite of the training program ADD that is so common today. Take it from StrongLifts Member Harrison (24y, USA, page 69 inside the 5×5 report): 11 months of SL5x5, then Texas Method, now confident to Squat 385lb at his first powerlifting meet. Here’s what he said:

To those reading and wondering if it’s time to switch from a beginner program to an intermediate program, be sure to ask yourself if you’re tempted to switch because your current program is hard, or because if it’s not giving you results anymore. If you’re getting results but the workouts are brutal, toughen up and press on! This is where the real physical and mental progress lies!

Regarding Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, I’m actually doing it since January 2011 (2nd round, did it also from Jan to Aug 2010). Inside the StrongLifts Community, 5/3/1 is with Madcow 5×5 the most popular program (after SL5x5 obviously). I’d frankly rather see you doing a program proven to work like 5/3/1 than creating your own program. You can read my review of Wendler’s 5/3/1 program here.

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