Home Blog Why I Don’t Like the 5×5 Strength Training Programs…

Why I Don’t Like the 5×5 Strength Training Programs…

Written on May 6, 2008 at 7:52 am, by Eric Cressey

Actually, this post should have been entitled, “Why 5×5 Workouts Works for Some People, but Not for Others.” That title would have been long and not “black and white” enough to get your attention, though.

The 5×5 workout (or 4×6, for that matter) approach works relatively well for taking people from beginner to intermediate. When all you’ve been doing is 3×10-12 (because the bodybuilding magazines said that was the way to do things), lifting heavier weights for continued progress makes perfect sense.

I feel strongly that not working below five reps on the main strength movements in your program is a huge mistake for lifters who are intermediates (or more advanced) – whether the goal is size or strength.

You see, in an untrained individual, you get strength gains on as little as 40% of 1-rep max (1RM). As someone gets more trained, that number goes up to 70%. However, you need at least 85-90% of 1RM in intermediate and advanced lifters to elicit strength gains.

For the average intermediate, 85% of 1RM corresponds to about a 5-rep max. In other words, only your heaviest set of five would be sufficient to stimulate a strength improvement. Now, what happens if you do a 5×5 workout? You’ve done 25 reps – and maybe five of them (the first set) were actually performed at a high-enough intensity to elicit strength gains.

As I show in my new book, Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, if you want to get stronger faster, you need to spend time below five reps – and above 85% of 1RM (and preferably 90%). This isn’t just physiological; it’s also psychological. You’ll get more comfortable handling heavier weights.

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7 Responses to “Why I Don’t Like the 5×5 Strength Training Programs…”

  1. ray Says:

    I agree,but as I get older, now 48, it’s getting tougher on my joints…. so I’m doing higher reps and less sets.

  2. jim stone Says:

    I also find that at 46 years old, that 85% – 90% of 1 rep max always results in a muscle strain/tear to either my groin or thigh. This is what I have noticed over the past three years. Very frustrating. Now, if I try to push the heavy weights, psychologically, I’m thinking I’m going to tear something before I even start the first rep.

  3. charlie Says:

    with some exercises actually working at 90% or higher for 1 or at most 2 reps is much safer and better for me, that is giving i have warmed up sufficiently and have prymided up in the load. I am nearly 63. Doing a single with over 90% on a squat is better for me since I only have to do 1 rep and I can feel assured that I can do that rep with good technique. Also it seems that this type of training is less demanding on my CNS. Needless to say at my age one must do foam rolling and other movements that help preserve ones full range of motion. But no matter what age its always a process of learning how to do things that enable you to be fairly consistant in ones workouts.

  4. Stu Says:

    Although the intensity is high in those 1-3 rep ranges the overall volume gets very low. I think at that point improvements become more neural than hypertrophic. I’m in the intermediate of 5×5. One day a week I work up to a heavy triple. After that there’s a backoff set of 8 with a lighter weight. I agree it helps to get a feel for very heavy when training that triple. I disagree with the title though – 5×5 LINEAR always works for the beginner – it has to physiologically. If it doesn’t work for intermediate or advanced there’s more than likely something wrong with their methodology.

  5. Gaby @ myTRAINERhp Says:

    Fully agree with Ray! As years went by, things change. Indeed it takes a lot more effort these days.

  6. Robert Wynne Says:

    Hi there Mr. Cressey, I’ve been a long-time reader & big fan of your work in the strength & conditioning industry since the summer of ’09. And I have a quick question pertaining to strength training programming, if you don’t mind me asking:
    I’ve been toying around with the idea of running a Texas Method style of periodization for a year; in order to get my high-bar back squat 1RM from 395lbs to 455+.
    Do you think the “Volume Day” workout (5X5, 6setsX4reps, 8setsx3reps, etc.) would be a sufficient driver of weekly progress in an athlete, such as myself, whose 5×5 working load is ridiculously close to their 5RM?
    (Stats… Age: 21, Training Age: 5, Weight: 190lbs, Height: 5’10”, 5×5 load = 335lbs/84.8%, 5RM load = 350lbs/88.6%).
    Thanks for your consideration in advanced!

  7. Eric Cressey Says:


    I don’t think the intensity would be high enough. You’d have to get over 90% more often to make optimal progress, in my opinion.

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