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Reg Park’s 3 Phase 5×5 Workout Review26/08/2020
If there’s one thing that has become apparent over the years, it’s that many are still completely clueless when it comes to building muscle and strength.
It’s not uncommon for people (mostly men) to believe that taking pills, powders and other ‘magic bullets’ will automatically allow them to attain a physique with envious v-tapers, classic lines and perfectly symmetrical muscles that will attract an ungodly amount of women.
The fact is:
Most just simply don’t want to put in any real work and find an excuse to avoid lifting heavy weights.
Well, you’re in the right place because we’re going to be reviewing a routine so simple and basic, it’ll make you realise that everything you’ve ever done previously has been complete and utter horse shit.
Instead of devoting one session to arms, another to shoulders and one to your left pectoral, you’ll be moving from squats to presses to rows.
This ensures you’re exhausting every single muscle group, rather than chasing that ‘crazy pump’ which will ultimately build the same amount of muscle as joining a Mexican wave at your little sister’s quinceanera.
These monstrous routines were a must for every bodybuilder of the pre-steroid era, particularly the late Reg Park, whose 5×5 routine enabled him to achieve phenomenal results.
But first, here’s a backstory into the man himself.
Who is Reg Park?
Roy ‘Reg’ Park was born in Leeds, England on June 7th 1928.
In his early years, Park displayed a keen enthusiasm for football (soccer for the yanks reading) and quickly made it to the reserves team for Leeds United.
His aspiring career in football was relatively short-lived after being sidelined with a knee injury which would change the course of his life.
Whilst recovering from his injury, Park’s interest in bodybuilding was aroused by viewing a copy of ‘Strength and Health’ magazine which featured a front page photo of American bodybuilder, Vic Nicolette in a back pose showing off his wide lats.
This proved to be a defining moment for Park, who made up in his mind that he was going to have the world’s most developed body.
It wasn’t until 1944 at 16 years old that Park met a local bodybuilder named David Cohen that paved the way for him in re-shaping a career in bodybuilding.
He was fascinated with Dave’s huge physique who also introduced him to weight training (namely dumbbells, barbells and a pull-up bar) and invited Park to work out with him.
For the next three months, Park was taught how to lift properly and began sculpting his physique.
Park later joined the British Army and was stationed in Singapore where he worked as a physical training instructor.
Once Park retired from his military duties, he watched his first bodybuilding competition which happened to be the inaugural Mr Universe contest in 1948 in London.
After witnessing John Grimek narrowly defeat Steve Reeves (both bodybuilding legends in their own right), Reg Park was inspired to compete himself.
The following year, Reg Park entered into his first competition after twelve months of hard training (and with a total of five years lifting experience under his belt at this point), walking away with the Mr Britain title in 1949.
Shortly after his victory, at the age of 21, Park traveled to the United States for six months continuing to work on his body.
He was later noticed by Joe Weider, the self-appointed “father of bodybuilding” and a publisher of many popular bodybuilding magazines.
Reg Park became a staple of Weider’s many magazines, giving him wide-spread popularity throughout the country.
The following year, aged 22, Park entered into the 1950 NABBA Amateur Mr. Universe (the competition that inspired him to compete on-stage in the beginning), but managed only second place with Steve Reeves taking the crown.
After his defeat, Park knew he had to step his game up and began training rigorously for 3 hours a day, determined to achieve his goal.
In 1951, he re-entered the NABBA Amateur Mr. Universe contest and became the first non-American to win the title.
His status in the bodybuilding world was also cemented by winning the 1958 and 1965 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe titles going down as one of the greatest of all time.
Strength and Physique
Standing at just over 6ft tall and having 250lbs (113kg) of beef on his frame, Reg Park was a cut above the rest and displayed incredible feats of strength including bench pressing 500lbs (226kg) and squatting over 600lbs (272kg+).
Despite not being known for powerlifting, many people who trained with him would be in awe with how strong he was.
Power was the bedrock of Reg Park’s physique which was only achieved by lifting huge weight routinely.
In between competing on stage, Park starred in numerous Italian sword-and-sandal epics throughout the 1960’s, famously playing the role of Hercules.
He was also the first bodybuilder to successfully transition onto the silver screen, where his acting skills and big muscular frame earned him wide acclaim throughout Italy and the world.
This would lay the foundation for the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other musclemen to follow in his footsteps and dominate Hollywood in the decades to follow.
Reg Park was an early influence and life-long mentor to Arnold Schwarzwenegger.
After seeing a picture of Park in his early-teens on the front cover of a bodybuilding magazine, Schwarzenegger stated:
“He was so powerful and rugged-looking that I decided right then and there I wanted to be a bodybuilder, another Reg Park.”
The pair first met in the 1960’s where Schwarzenegger was training in East London in Wag Bennett’s gym when Bennett and his wife later introduced him to Reg Park.
They would soon go on to compete against each other in the Mr Universe competitions where Schwarzenegger would defeat Park, who in spite of being past his peak, would still give him a run for his money.
Despite competing with each other on-stage, the pair were best friends off-stage where Park would often help Schwarzenegger in all areas of his life, including training and getting into the movie business.
One famous example was how Park explained to Schwarzenegger that he needed to lift heavier weights to bring up his calf muscles after being asking for guidance.
Schwarzenegger saw how easily Park could pile on 1,000lbs (453kg) on a calf machine and work until failure, so he would gradually work his way up to this weight too.
By the end of his bodybuilding career, one of Schwarzenegger’s weaknesses became a resounding strength.
Their relationship is documented in a deleted scene from ‘Raw Iron’ the making of the film that led to ‘Pumping Iron’ which you can view here:
What is 5×5?
The idea behind 5×5 is straightforward.
Each session is based on a full-body workout using a range of basic compound movements performed for five sets at five reps each.
Notably, the classic 5×5 training programme has been used for generations in gyms the world over to pack on functional muscle quickly.
Whilst Park wasn’t considered the first bodybuilder to train using this protocol, he was considered the most famous proponent of this system at the height of his competitive career.
The best part?
5×5 strikes an excellent balance between building size and strength – giving you the best of both worlds.
So if you’re looking to increase your strength AND add on slabs of muscle onto your frame, then this is an ideal training system for you.
And to be frank, who wouldn’t want that?
It’s the equivalent of eating steak and getting a blowjob every single day.
Since Reg Park, a number of athletes and other trainers have also advocated the benefits and principles of 5×5 training and its effectiveness in building size and strength, developing their own variations.
This includes Bill Starr’s Original 5×5 Programme and Stronglifts 5×5.
Reg Park’s 3 Phase 5×5 Workout Review
Reg Park’s 5×5 workout split into 3 stages is the original variation and also the most widely known.
In his manual ‘Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters & Body Builders‘, Park detailed 3 phases of progressive volume and difficulty.
Phase 1 consisted of 3 basic lifts including squats, deadlifts and bench press which was geared towards beginners who were new to lifting weights.
Phase 2 consisted of more compound movements with heel raises thrown in for bodybuilding purposes.
Finally, Phase 3 consisted of even more compound movements with extra arm work added in order to develop the biceps and triceps.
Park prescribed each phase to be performed 3 times a week for 3 months. In case you need help with the maths, that means the entire training cycle will last 9 months.
|Standing Overhead Press||5||5|
|High Pull Ups||5||5|
|Standing Overhead Press||5||5|
|Barbell Bent Over Row||5||5||Deadlift||5||3|
|Behind-The-Neck Overhead Press or Arm Dumbbell Press||5||5|
|Lying Tricep Extensions||5||8|
Note that the lying tricep extensions performed during phase 3 of the 5×5 workout is performed for five sets of eight reps, rather than five reps.
Park felt that the triceps would benefit from the additional reps as the triceps are a larger muscle group compared to biceps, which means they have more potential to grow.
Thus, the reps performed on this exercise differ from others (with the exception of heel/calf raises, with the calves requiring more volume for growth).
As mentioned earlier, each phase of Reg Park’s 5×5 workout routine should be performed 3 times a week for 3 months.
Ideally, this should be performed on non-consecutive days in order to give your body enough time to recover and repair after each session.
This might include:
- Sunday – Rest
- Monday – Train
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – Train
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Train
- Saturday – Rest
Or the following instead
- Sunday – Rest
- Monday – Rest
- Tuesday – Train
- Wednesday – Rest
- Thursday – Train
- Friday – Rest
- Saturday – Train
With such a high volume of work required on this programme, it wasn’t uncommon for this workout to last anywhere between 2 – 3 hours.
This was typical of the training in Park’s era and certainly requires a huge amount of dedication.
Thus, if you are looking to try this programme, be sure you have the free time in order to commit to it.
What sets Reg Park’s 5×5 routine apart from other 5×5-based programmes is that it includes two progressively heavier warm-up sets.
This is then followed by three ‘working’ sets at the same weight where Park suggested increasing the weights at the same interval.
So, for example, your five sets on squats might look like this:
- 1 x 5 – 90kg
- 1 x 5 – 100kg
- 3 x 5 – 110kg
To get the most out of this routine, Park was a huge advocate that you must progressively overload the muscles in order to avoid plateaus.
Once you can successfully complete the last three sets of five reps at a given weight, you should look to add more weighted plates onto the bar for all five sets during your next workout.
For upper body movements, add 2.5kg to the bar and for lower body movements, add an extra 5kg.
For example, your bench press might look like the following:
Bench Press – Week 1:
- 1 x 5 – 80kg
- 1 x 5 – 90kg
- 3 x 5 – 100kg
Bench Press – Week 2:
- 1 x 5 – 82.5kg
- 1 x 5 – 92.5kg
- 3 x 5 – 102.5kg
And your deadlifts might also look like the following:
Deadlifts – Week 1:
- 1 x 5 – 100kg
- 1 x 5 – 110kg
- 3 x 5 – 120kg
Deadlifts – Week 2:
- 1 x 5 – 105kg
- 1 x 5 – 115kg
- 3 x 5 – 125kg
Park was strongly against training to failure as he felt it encouraged a negative mindset and led to increased frustration that would hinder performance on other heavy lifts.
So, be sure to leave some extra energy in the tank when working through this routine.
Park did, however, encourage testing your one-rep max at the end of each phase.
He recommended two warm up sets, followed by three progressively heavier attempts at a one-rep max on your chosen exercise.
Going back to squats as an example, this might look like the following at the end of a given phase:
Squats – One Rep Max (1RM) Attempt:
- 1 x 5 – 140kg
- 1 x 3 – 160kg
- 3 x 1 – 185kg
Park would then recommend taking the next 4 days off from the gym, before beginning the next phase of 5×5 training.
When performing the prone hyperextensions (otherwise known as 45-degree back extensions), you should begin this without any weights.
Once you can comfortably perform all desired sets using your own body weight, look to increase the weight for each set whilst continuing to hit all sets and reps as you work through each phase.
Park and his training partners would often start of with 60kg (135lbs) for the first set, move onto 80kg (175lbs) for the second set, 100kg (215lbs) for the third and wrap up with 110kg – 115kg (235lbs – 255lbs) for the fourth set.
Park prescribed different rest periods depending on which phase you were working through.
Phase 1: three to five minutes rest between the final 3 sets of each exercise.
Phase 2: two minutes rest between each set.
Phase 3: two minutes rest between each set.
For Park, it was important for the muscles to fully recover from the previous set to ensure each new set begins with the right amount of energy/intensity to complete with excellent technique.
So, be sure to heed this advice, and avoid rushing back into a working set for risk of causing injury.
Park recommended a lot of rest and sleep.
Thus, it goes without saying:
Make sure you’re getting at least 8 hours of undisturbed kip a night and ensure you’re keeping stress levels to a minimum for maximum recovery.
Alongside getting enough sleep, Park also prescribed a lot of whole-based foods on his 5×5 plan.
The staples of his diet included whole (full fat) milk, whole eggs, red meat, freshly squeezed orange juice, salads, protein powders (of which he would sprinkle on his cornflakes in the morning) and natural wheat germ.
Even when Park was cutting for a contest, the above foods will still remain in his diet (despite the high calories), but would be consumed in smaller portion sizes.
Reg Park’s 5×5 routine is a no-frills way to effectively build mass and strength.
This has been proven through decades of training undergone by competitive bodybuilders throughout the years who have used this plan to their advantage.
Most beginners today are often fed workouts by fitness magazines and so-called ‘influencers’ on social media, with the likes of this routine neglected from the noise of synthetic chemicals, isolation exercises and hypertrophy bunkum.
Whilst these ‘workouts’ can be effective for a particular demographic, they are not really focused on building a well-rounded physique which was always Park’s main focus.
Park believed that in order to get bigger, you needed to get stronger.
His 5×5 workout goes back to an era before steroids flowed like bottomless prosecco at a Tory immigration-bill brunch party, and bodybuilders trained like strength athletes.
I find Park’s protocol of having 3 working sets (with the first 2 used as a warm-up) preferable to StrongLifts‘ variation of 5 working sets, as it allows for greater linear progression over a longer period of time with ample rest in between.
In other words,
The likelihood of plateauing on this routine is significantly reduced which means more gains overall.
Nonetheless, there are a few fundamental flaws with this routine, particularly for the average lifter.
By the time you reach Phase 2 and 3 of this programme, you’ll be performing anywhere between 38 – 49 sets per session.
This is why it was normal for routines like this to last 2 – 3 hours, although the likes of Park, Reeves and Grimek all used to live in the gym.
Not all of us get to enjoy a career that involves downing pints of milk every few hours and squatting ridiculous amounts of poundage, so fitting in these monster sessions around your daily/weekly schedule can be tough.
However, that’s not to say it can’t be done, it just takes a lot of dedication particularly if you have family and work commitments.
To get around this, one way that I have used to reap the full benefits of this programme is to either:
1) Splits Phase 2 and 3 into two smaller sessions (rather than 1 complete session).
2) Perform 3 sets instead of 5 on some exercises.
Of course, by modifying this routine, you are effectively performing a ‘bastardised’ version which means you are no longer following the plan as it was originally developed.
Whilst it may not be ideal, or even fun to perform in the long-haul, when was the last time you had a merciless session and really tried to destroy yourself at the gym?
Chances are, probably never.
So every once in a while this routine could be your go-to to really ramp up your training, especially if you have a free day or two with nothing else to do but lie in bed, eat steak and have a Netflix marathon.
Finally, whilst this routine doesn’t necessarily have the same level of intensity as workouts such as German Volume Training (GVT) or Squats and Milk, the sheer amount of volume does command your respect.
Guaranteed your body won’t know what’s hit it once you start getting into the thick of each phase!
Reg Park’s 3 Phase 5×5 workout is a classic bodybuilding routine which is highly eulogised for a reason:
It’s a structurally sound way to develop size and strength, with its efficacy grounded in decades of blood, sweat and tears across many gym floors.
In fact, it goes without saying,
It’s nigh on impossible not to develop some impressive gains when using this programme, provided you are training, eating and recovering to the letter.
It was one of the few routines Arnold Schwarzenegger employed in the early days of his career to develop a solid foundation to build on.
The rest is, as they say, history.
Ultimately, this is the routine every beginner should start on before branching out to other plans if size and strength is the goal.
And this is also the routine I wish I started out on before starting my quest for building muscle mass.
What Do You Think?
Have you tried this 5×5 routine or any other variations?
Have any questions?
Let me know in the comments section below!
Joseph is the Founder and Editor in Chief of CheckMeowt. When he is not sat at the computer guzzling down the nearest thing with protein in it, he can be found pulling up the world in the gym. Occasionally, he is best described as socially unreliable and easily distracte.