5×5 Workout Routine To Carve Strong & Functional Muscles While Adding A Good Amount Of Mass

The 5×5 workout routine is quite popular, and for good reason. When it comes to building mass and strength it can be surprisingly difficult. You would think that the two would go hand in hand but they don’t. As I’ve discussed in some of my previous posts, strength training is actually a great way to improve muscle definition yet it doesn’t work all that well for gaining muscle mass.

Generally, a strict strength training routine will involve working out in the rep range of about 3. A good rep range for strictly mass gains is much higher, at about 12-15 reps. A 5×5 workout is great because it builds mass, strength and definition all in one workout.

5x5 Workout Routine

When it comes to carving truly great looking muscles, it really is going to take a few different phases. The 5×5 workout is probably one of the best approaches that you can do to combine muscle mass and muscle definition. Although this routine isn’t quite as effective as a purely mass building or purely definition building phase, it does do a good job at both.

About The 5×5 Workout

The 5×5 workout was brought to the mainstream by two of the most famous bodybuilders, Bill Starr and Reg Park back in the 1970’s. Eventually Arnold Swarchenegger adopted it and integrated it into his routine. Once that happened, everybody started doing it!

Since then, there have been many alterations, modifications and variations to the 5×5 workouts that these guys performed. One of the aspects that I really like about Bill Starr’s 5×5 workout is the variation on intensity throughout the week.

  • Monday – heavy
  • Wednesday – light
  • Friday – medium

This is an important aspect to the routine as it allows the body to make great gains over time.

Bill Starr’s 5×5 Workout Routine

The sets and reps for all of these exercises are, well … 5 sets by 5 reps. It’s not an out of this world workout, but it is a solid strength training routine.

  • Monday:
    • Squat
    • Bench press
    • Power clean
  • Wednesday:
    • Bench press
    • Power clean
    • Squat
  • Friday:
    • Power clean
    • Squat
    • Bench press

A Variation To The Workout

As I mentioned there have been quite a few little “tweaks” to the 5×5 throughout the years. This makes sense because it is such a solid platform to create great workouts from.

One tweak that I really like is the one that Rusty Moore adds in the Visual Impact for Men workout. I can’t go into too much detail but it is based more on progressive resistance than Star’s routine.

“… Do your first set and stop at 5 reps, wait 45-60 seconds, do another set of 5 reps, wait 45-60 seconds, attempt to do 5 reps for set 3, wait 45-60 seconds, attempt 5 reps for set 4, wait 45-60 seconds, attempt 5 reps for set 5 …” – Rusty Moore

As you can see the routine gets progressively harder as you go. That is how the 5×5 workout routine will help you build muscle!

A pure strength training routine will allow you to rest anywhere from 1-2 minutes instead of only 45-60 seconds, where a pure muscle mass routine will allow maybe only 30-45 seconds of rest between sets but with many more reps and pushing to failure on each set.

The 5×5 Workout For Strength & Mass

If you look at Sparr’s 5×5 routine you’ll see that there isn’t much variety in exercises:

  • Squat
  • Bench press
  • Power clean

… that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, these three exercises are good great and if you did only these you wouldn’t be bad off. I feel that, although not necessary, we can get away with adding a few more exercises and swap some out to hit different angles and areas of the muscles.

For this routine, we’ll use the following exercises.

  • Legs
    • Squats
    • Straight Leg Dead Lifts
  • Chest
    • Incline Dumbbell Press
    • Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys
  • Back
    • Chin Ups
    • Bent Over Rows
  • Shoulders
    • Military Press
    • Arnold Press
  • Arms
    • Barbell Curls
    • Kneeling Cable Triceps Extension

Yes, Another 5×5 Workout

Here’s another routine using the above exercises. For this routine, we’ll be doing a 2 day split instead of the traditional 3 day split. This allows us to do a larger variety of exercises over the course of the week. Also, this really makes a big difference in the amount of muscle tone you’ll get from this workout.

Day 1 — Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
Warm up with 3-5 minutes on the treadmill, bike or any other cardio exercise.

  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • Military Press
  • Kneeling Cable Triceps Extensions

Day 2 — Back / Legs / Biceps
Warm up with 3-5 minutes on the treadmill, bike or any other cardio exercise.

  • Squats
  • Chin Ups
  • Barbell Curls

Day 4 — Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
Warm up with 3-5 minutes on the treadmill, bike or any other cardio exercise.

  • Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys
  • Arnold Press
  • Kneeling Cable Triceps Extensions

Day 5 — Back / Legs / Biceps
Warm up with 3-5 minutes on the treadmill, bike or any other cardio exercise.

  • Deadlifts
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Barbell Curls

What makes a 5×5 workout so interesting is that you can approach them from a few different angles. For example, you can stick with a weight that you can perform all 5 sets for 5 reps, or you can work your way from a fairly light weight to a heavy weight as you go from set 1 to set 5.  I’ve also seen a triangle approach where sets 1 & 5 are the same, sets 2 & 4 are slightly heavier and set 3 is the heaviest.

All of these approaches are effective and produce different results. As I mentioned above, I lean towards the Visual Impact Muscle Building approach because you get the most out of the workout. You get good gains in strength and good gains in overall muscle mass — win, win!

When doing only a 5×5 workout routine, you do sacrifice a little in the amount of strength or muscle mass that you can achieve versus focusing on just one aspect at a time … which is why it is usually best to separate your workout into different phases.