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Stronglifts 5×5 Workout Review21/04/2019
There comes a point in every would-be lifter’s day where everything in the gym feels as if it weighs triple your body weight.
You then resort to doing a few pointless exercises to escape the fact that you’re not as strong as you thought you were and leave wanting to cry to your acne-prone sister, Sally, who squats more than you.
After having a: “fuck this, I just want to be strong” moment…
I stumbled on Mehdi Hadim’s Stronglifts 5×5 routine after a quick Google search.
The principle was simple.
Lift heavy – great.
Get stronger and build more muscle mass – great.
But when you can do all THREE?
That’s when you can rip your clothes off and throw your superhero cape on…
…because you’ll be indestructible.
Let’s get into it:
Who is Mehdi Hadim?
Mehdi is the mastermind behind ‘Stronglifts 5×5’.
According to his biography on his website, he first started getting into lifting when he would lose in arm wrestling matches with his friends in school (including a girl).
To make matters worse,
Not being able to do one push up (where the one girl could) made him feel like a beta male.
When he would begin going to a gym, he would quickly plateau when trying out the latest fad workouts and eventually quit.
Stronglifts 5×5 was the antidote to all of Mehdi’s frustrations growing up.
The routine has grown in vast popularity over the years with thousands of people around the world claiming to have gained significant strength and size being on the programme.
Mehdi has also trained would-be lifters from the USA, UK and Australia as well as people from his native Belgium in his self-built, home gym.
You don’t need to be built like a colossus to understand basic human anatomy and lifting principles (unless, of course, you’re Mike Chang who literally knows fuck all).
With thousands of people raving about the programme’s simplicity and effectiveness, I was intrigued to learn more.
Stronglifts 5×5 is based off the training principles laid out by 3x Mr Universe Reg Park and his original 5×5 workout routine.
It also incorporates teachings from legendary American weightlifting coach Glen Pendlay.
Renown for it’s coherence and efficiency…
The 5×5 training programme has been around for more than half a century and has been slightly modified by Mehdi to include only the fundamental compound lifts for developing overall strength and muscle mass.
· Barbell Rows
· Bench Press
· Overhead Press
In a nutshell:
These 5 exercises are chosen because they allow you to gradually lift heavier weights and work your major muscle groups – making it difficult, but not impossible, to plateau over time.
Each workout begins with squats as this forms the backbone of the programme (bearing similarities with the 20 rep squat workout).
The Stronglifts routine is split into 2 sections:
Workout A and Workout B with each workout given an equal weighting on push/pull exercises.
Lets take a closer look.
Stronglifts 5×5 Workout
Here’s an in-depth video explaining the full details of Workout A:
Similarly with Workout A, below is a detailed video of how to perform Workout B with tips/hints to get the best out of each exercise:
Stronglifts does a great job of targeting all of your primary muscle groups.
This is ideal if you’re looking to build strength and size in a relatively short amount of time.
A common theme among old-school bodybuilding routines is a lack of focus on single-joint exercises.
This isn’t an issue if you want to get bigger, but if aesthetics is your focus, this programme might not be for you.
Stronglifts is designed for the hardworking bodybuilder who wants to lift like Brian Shaw but can only spend up to 45 minutes in the gym.
The underlying principle is that more strength means more size, but more size doesn’t necessarily mean more strength.
Mehdi argues that some of the greatest bodybuilders to ever live such as: Reg Park, Franco Columbo, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman all had a background in strength training.
This is why isolation exercises are not included as they won’t build up your strength in the same way as compound exercises.
You’ll also notice that 1 set of deadlifts is all that is required, not 5.
Deadlifts are a very demanding (yet necessary) exercise, particularly since you are also squatting in the same session.
Your lower back will begin to feel the strain and thus, fatigue a lot sooner if you perform 5 sets, so stick with 1.
Mehdi also recommends avoiding all machines and instead using free weights.
This is so your body is able to engage any stabilising muscles during the exercise(s) a lot better (and in turn, increase your strength), where you’ll often get support/go through an unnatural range of motion using a machine.
Workout A and Workout B are performed on non-consecutive days.
Mehdi recommends to have one day of rest in between each workout to ensure your body has ample time to recover effectively.
A typical working week might look like the following:
· Monday – Workout A
· Wednesday – Workout B
· Friday – Workout A
The weekend is used for rest although you can do some light cardio/stretching to ease any aches, pains or improve cardiovascular health.
When you have completed your first week, you then alternate the workout as follows:
· Monday – Workout B
· Wednesday – Workout A
· Friday – Workout B
This is repeated for a total of 12 weeks until you have finished the programme.
The duration in which you should complete any of the Stronglifts 5×5 workouts should last no longer than 45 minutes.
In the above videos,
Mehdi was able to complete each workout in and around 30 minutes.
Whilst he’s certainly at an advanced stage, it’s important to take your time when starting out and to not rush each exercise.
Focus on lifting with correct form as this will yield far better results.
In the first few weeks, your rest time between each set should be relatively short.
This is because you’ll need to start this programme with lighter weights and work your way up to a heavier load later.
As a rule of thumb, however, aim for the following:
· 1 minute 30 seconds – if you completed 5 reps on your last set easily.
· 3 minutes – if you struggled to complete 5 reps on your last set.
· 5 minutes – if you failed to complete 5 reps on your last.
The downside of longer rest times is the fact that it makes your workout a lot longer.
You should only rest longer if you need to.
There’s no need to rest for warm-up sets or between exercises, just set the weights up and go.
On his ‘About‘ section of his website, Mehdi explains that since starting his programme, his PB on squats currently sits at 419lbs (190kg) and 495lbs (225kg) on deadlifts.
You won’t be hitting those numbers when you start out, but it does give you an indication of what kind of gains you can make on this plan.
The recommended increments for each workout is as follows:
· Squat: 5lbs/2.5kg – 2.5lbs/1.25kg on each side of the bar.
· Bench Press/Overhead Press/Barbell Row: 5lbs/2.5kg – 2.5lbs/1.25kg on each side of the bar.
· Deadlift: 10lbs/5kg – 5lbs/2.5kg on each side of the bar.
The goal of this programme is to lift as heavy as possible, which involves not using a spotter for any exercise.
If you need a spotter for whatever reason, you’re going too heavy.
Allow yourself to add the above incremental weights to your exercise each week.
You’ll soon enough begin to increase your strength and hit your own records.
Before jumping into the meat of the workout, it’s important to get your muscles thoroughly warmed up.
Mehdi recommends you perform several sets of each exercise using an empty bar.
You then add an additional 25-45lbs (10-20kg) of weight either side of the bar for your next warm exercise until you’ve worked your way up to your working set.
This is to ensure you practice your form and avoid the risk of injury before lifting heavy.
Ideally, your starting weight should be between 50% – 65% of your 1RM which should give you enough space to increase the load every week.
It is advised to pick a tempo that allows you to lift the heaviest weight with good technique.
The fact is:
Lifting too slow wastes strength, and lifting too fast makes it more difficult to control the weight which can throw off your form.
It’s normal to lift slower in the first few weeks as you practice the right technique.
Once you gain a bit more experience, you can start accelerating the bar during the concentric (shortening) phase of the exercise.
A good tempo to follow is 2-1-2-0.
· The first digit (2) is the eccentric (lengthening/negative) aspect of the lift. For the bench press, this would be lowering the bar to your chest for a total of 2 seconds.
· The second digit (1) is the mid-point of the lift. Going back to the bench press, this would be holding the bar on your chest for 1 second before pressing up.
· The third digit (2) is the concentric (shortening/positive) aspect of the lift. For the bench press, this would be pressing the bar off your chest for a total of 2 seconds.
· The fourth digit (0) is the time at the top of the exercise (locking out). Ideally, there should be no time spent in locking out to increase the tension in the muscles.
It’s important to take your time with each rep.
Whatever you do, don’t lift like a headless chicken fuelled by a pre-workout.
You’ll only cause yourself to plateau sooner – or worse, get injured.
As you’ll be lifting heavier than you’re used to, it’s important to control your breathing.
You should take a big deep breath in before doing any of the exercises, hold it and breathe out once completed.
This is the preferred way of breathing for this programme since holding your breath will ensure your abdomen is kept tight during each rep whilst protecting your lower back.
Avoid inhaling during the negative phase of the exercise and exhaling during the positive phase, as this will weaken your abdomen and make you more prone to injury.
It goes without saying:
You’ll need to eat big in order to get big.
Eating in a calorie surplus (ideally 400 – 500 calories above your maintenance level) each day will ensure you’re continually fuelling your body to grow and benefit from the progressive overload.
You can get away with being in a calorie deficit the first few weeks (particularly if you’re a novice) since your body will need to adjust to the resistance.
Over time, though, you’ll plateau if you don’t eat enough.
Your body will require more food for recovery which you simply won’t get being in a deficit.
A good calorie intake for Stronglifts is 3,000 calories for men and 2,500 for women.
You can dirty bulk if you so choose, although it will be detrimental to your health.
Opt for whole foods such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits (avocados are very calorie dense), vegetables and wholegrain varieties.
This will ensure all your bases are covered as you’ll be getting a lot more fibre and micro-nutrients from a wholesome diet which will benefit your recovery.
You’ll also need to keep on top of your protein intake to get back through those gym doors faster.
After speaking with some of the best fitness experts in the industry, it is recommended you get between 1.6g – 2g of protein per kg of body weight to build muscle effectively.
Stronglifts 5×5 is a solid workout routine for those who are just starting out in lifting weights.
Over 12 weeks, you will build unprecedented size and strength, naturally.
The best part?
The programme lays a solid foundation for you to build and develop from which can only serve you better in your quest for more gains.
For the experienced or seasoned lifter, it will be a lot harder to see any noticeable differences in your body composition being on this programme.
The lack of isolation work will make you feel like a flaccid penis: useless and unappealing.
The areas most affected will be your arms, traps and calves.
The good news is:
There are variations to the original Stronglifts 5×5 plan that incorporates extra arm work.
For instance, you can add the following exercises to your workout:
· Workout A – Dips 3×10
· Workout B – Chin Up 3×10
If that’s not enough,
You can also try the following instead:
· Workout A – Weighted Dips 3×5, Skullcrushers 2×8
· Workout B – Weighted Chin Ups 3×5, Barbell Curls 2×8
It is worth noting that any variation will result in more time spent in the gym.
If you’ve got extra time to kill, you’ve got nothing to lose.
As a side,
My only gripe with the programme:
Don’t get me wrong, I love squats. But doing them 3x a week for 12 weeks straight with no deload will begin to take its toll mentally and physically.
Even with the day of rest in between, 8 weeks into the programme I was already experiencing some joint pain in my knees.
I decided to drop it down to 2x a week and add in a Leg Press instead which reduced the load on my knees.
Even before making this switch, my legs had grown considerably that I still struggle to buy jeans.
Everyone in the fashion world seems to think that the general population are on a skinny diet.
Stronglifts 5×5 is an honest, easy-to-execute workout routine for developing strength.
The programme will not only challenge you physically, but your mental resolve will also be tested too.
It’s a continual battle to conjure up the mental strength to train your legs 3x a week.
Especially when your average gym rat will do this once a week (if that).
Having completed the 12 weeks, I managed to increase my strength on all of the compound lifts.
Even some 3 months on, I’ve still not managed to beat my PBs set on Stronglifts.
Having said that,
A few weeks in, it quickly becomes a state of mind when all you’re doing is smashing the previous week’s lifts.
Mehdi has truly invested a lot of time, effort and research into this workout plan (and it shows).
Jesus, he’s even written a 40,000+ word guide to support the programme which includes a full breakdown of each workout, plateaus, recovery, common mistakes, faqs and more.
If you want to give this routine a try, check it out. If not, don’t bother.
Did you enjoy this review?
Have you tried Stronglifts 5×5?
Hit me up 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.