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5x5 Full-Blown

5x5 Full-Blown
A classic muscle- and strength-building training protocol gets a considerable upgrade with this 5-day full-body routine.

Even the best, most tried-and-true training techniques can use a tweak every now and then. The classic 5x5 scheme is no exception. It’s always produced great results in the gym, but now I’m helping it evolve for even greater gains.

The 5x5 protocol has been around for at least a half century, so it’s nothing new. Iconic bodybuilder Reg Park, a three-time Mr. Universe in the 1950s and 60s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boyhood idol, swore by the method and is considered a pioneer of 5x5 training.

The method is what it sounds like: 5 sets of 5 reps on a given exercise. The 5-rep count is something of a “tweener” that falls within the well-established 8-12-rep range ideal for building size and the 1-3-rep range favored by powerlifters for maximizing pure strength.

So the question is: Are sets of five reps better for size or strength? Through anecdotal and empirical research, the answer is unequivocally both. And with my version of 5x5, you’ll be promoting muscle-building even more (I’ll explain in a minute).

A typical 5x5 program entails using a relatively heavy weight and taking ample rest periods between sets (2-3 minutes or more). And these workouts are nearly always done as bodypart split routines – ranging from upper body-lower body splits to 3-5-day splits.

My twist on 5x5 keeps the weight heavy like the others, but differs in two key areas:

(1) It consists of full-body workouts, hitting each major muscle group every day; and (2) it cuts down on the rest, where you’ll essentially compete against yourself to complete your 25 total reps (5 sets, 5 reps) per exercise in less time each subsequent workout.

The first added element will maximize fat loss, as research shows that full-body training is better for burning body fat than split-body routines. The second aspect, as I mentioned above, will systematically increase intensity to help you pack on more muscle mass.

Sound challenging? Good, that’s the point!

Full-Blown Breakdown

My 5x5 routine consists of (you guessed it) five workouts. As with my other recent full-body programs, you’ll be doing 10 exercises in each session – one move per bodypart (chest, back, legs, shoulders, traps, biceps, triceps, forearms, calves, abs).

The one major difference between this program and my others is that you’ll do the SAME EXERCISES in all five workouts. And you’ll use the same weight on each of those 10 moves as well.

Same exercises, same weights, same number of sets and reps per exercise (5x5). Exact same workout for five straight days? Nope. One variable will change daily…

Time.

Every workout, your goal will be to complete the 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise in less time. If and when you’re able to accomplish this, it means your training intensity will be increasing from workout to workout. It’s a very simple formula: The same amount of work performed (same sets and reps, same amount of weight) in less time equals a more intense workout.

Workout Rundown

Here’s how it will work.

In your first of five workouts (Workout 1), you’ll select your 10 exercises – one for each muscle group. The exercises I chose are shown below. You can either do those same ones, pick your own exercises, or a mix of both (do some of the same moves I did and then pick others yourself). It’s up to you.

You can choose pretty much any type of exercises you want – free weight moves, machines, cables, kettlebells, Smith machine, etc. I recommend selecting compound (multi-joint) movements for large bodyparts – chest, back, legs and shoulders ­– but you certainly don’t have to. If you’d rather do cable crossovers than dumbbell bench press for five days, knock yourself out.

That said, you’ll need to pick exercises you can go sufficiently heavy on, since you’ll only be doing five reps per set. In other words, bodyweight crunches and sit-ups are probably not your best options for ab exercises; go with something weighted instead, like Smith machine crunches or cable crunches.

Once you know the 10 exercises you’re going to do, head to the gym for Workout 1. But don’t forget to bring a timer/stopwatch and something to log your weights and times with – a training log, a spiral notebook, your cell phone, etc.

I was on the road during some of the five workouts, so I used all dumbbell exercises, since those are typically the easiest to find no matter where I travel to. Here are the exercises I picked:

Weight selection is sort of hit or miss on this program. Clearly, you don't want to use your true 5-rep max (5RM). There's no way to complete 5 reps with your max weight for 5 reps on five successive sets, no matter how long you rest. So you need to undershoot the weight a bit. Given that workout 1 starts with only one minute of rest between sets, and each workout the rest gets shorter, you'll definitely need to go much lighter than your 5-rep max.

How light depends on how fast your body can recover in one minute between 5 successive sets. Research shows that females recover quicker between sets and complete more reps on successive sets of an exercise than men. Most people will find that somewhere between their 8-10-rep max is perfect. If it's too easy in Workout 1, you can increase the weight while decreasing rest time in Workout 2. And same thing if you overshoot the weight in workout 1 and can't complete all 5 reps on all 5 sets; simply reduce the weight as you reduce the time in Workout 2.

Record that weight in your training log or phone so you remember how much weight to use on that exercise the next four days.

Once you've got your weight picked out and are ready to go, start your timer, then do 5 sets of 5 reps with that weight using 1-minute rest periods. After your last set, record how long it took you to do all 25 reps. It should take you somewhere around 5-6 minutes to compete all 5 sets of 5 reps, so Workout 1 should take just under an hour. Each subsequent workout will get shorter.

Once you’ve recorded your time, go right to the next exercise and repeat the process. Do this for all 10 exercises.

The next day (Workout 2), you’ll be doing what looks on paper like the same workout – but here, your goal will be to beat your previous completion times on all exercises. So if it took you, say, 5:56 (five minutes, 56 seconds) to do 5 sets of 5 reps on rows, shorten your rest periods by 5-10 seconds to knock at least 20-40 seconds off that time. Whatever the time was, jot it down.

Do the same thing the next three days (Workouts 3-5) – the same 10 exercises, the same weights, and the same 5x5 set/rep scheme, but trying to beat the previous day’s completion time on each move.

I designed this program to be done on five consecutive days (ie, Monday-Friday), but feel free to stretch it out longer than that by inserting rest days between workouts if you’re a beginner or intermediate and think you need the additional recovery time. Make the program work for your schedule. If you’re only able to get to the gym three days a week, do Workouts 1-3 this week and Workouts 4 and 5 next week, then start another routine to finish your week.

I posted to the below workouts, times and comments on my social media platforms while doing the 5x5 Full-Blown program, but you can do them whenever you want now.

Workout 1

Pick your own versions of the 10 exercises listed below. Because of my busy travel schedule, I chose dumbbell exercises for consistency in different gyms. Feel free to choose your own exercises for each of the 10 muscle groups.

Don't forget to record the weights you're using; you'll use those same weights on the same exercises for all five workouts. And don't forget to log the time it took you to complete your 25 reps per exercise – that's the variable that will change from day to day.

As you'll see, I'm including my time for each exercise, but that's just for an example. Don't feel like you have to hit my times. We're all at different points along our training spectrums, so don't worry about my times too much.

  1. Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Bench Press (5:15)
  2. Incline Dumbbell Row (5:15)
  3. Dumbbell Squat (5:25)
  4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press (5:15)
  5. Dumbbell Shrug (4:55)
  6. Dumbbell Seated Calf (4:55)
  7. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension (4:55)
  8. Dumbbell Curl (5:15)
  9. Dumbbell Wrist Curl (4:45)
  10. Dumbbell Crunch (4:55)

Workout 2

My second time through the 5x5 Full-Blown workout, I beat all my times from Workout 1 by at least 20 seconds, and in some cases almost by a full minute!

  1. Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Bench Press (4:25)
  2. Incline Dumbbell Row (4:20)
  3. Dumbbell Squat (4:30)
  4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press (4:25)
  5. Dumbbell Shrug (4:15)
  6. Dumbbell Seated Cal (4:15)
  7. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension (4:20)
  8. Dumbbell Curl (4:30)
  9. Dumbbell Wrist Curl (4:15)
  10. Dumbbell Crunch (4:30)

Workout 3

Again, I managed to shave off time on each exercise. As the workouts go, it will get harder and harder to shave time and still complete all 5 sets of 5 reps. But that's the goal of every workout. In this workout. I managed to complete 6 of the exercises at four minutes or less.

  1. Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Bench Press (4:20)
  2. Incline Dumbbell Row (4:10)
  3. Dumbbell Squat (4:10)
  4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press (4:00)
  5. Dumbbell Shrug (3:50)
  6. Dumbbell Seated Calf (3:30)
  7. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension (4:00)
  8. Dumbbell Curl (4:10)
  9. Dumbbell Wrist Curl (3:45)
  10. Dumbbell Crunch (3:50)

Workout 4

In my second to last 5x5 workout, I managed to get all exercises down to under 4 minutes each. Some exercises, I even managed to squeeze in in under 3 minutes!

  1. Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Bench Press (3:55)
  2. Incline Dumbbell Row (3:50)
  3. Dumbbell Squat (3:30)
  4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press (3:40)
  5. Dumbbell Shrug (3:00)
  6. Dumbbell Seated Calf (2:35)
  7. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension (3:25)
  8. Dumbbell Curl (3:30)
  9. Dumbbell Wrist Curl (2:45)
  10. Dumbbell Crunch (2:45)

Workout 5

In my final 5x5 workout, I got every exercise done in close to 3 minutes or less. Considering that I started Workout 1 at around 5 minutes per exercise, that's a big bump in intensity – same work in less time!

How'd you do?

  1. Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Bench Press (3:05)
  2. Incline Dumbbell Row (3:00)
  3. Dumbbell Squat (2:45)
  4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press (3:00)
  5. Dumbbell Shrug (2:30)
  6. Dumbbell Seated Calf (2:15)
  7. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension (2:55)
  8. Dumbbell Curl (2:50)
  9. Dumbbell Wrist Curl (2:15)
  10. Dumbbell Crunch (2:25)

 

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