In the realm of strength training programs for beginners, there are two widely known programs out there: Stronglifts 5×5 by Mehdi and Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe (make sure to read his starting strength book, it’s a must-have for anyone starting out in strength training). Both programs are very similar in terms of exercise type and intensity and if your goal is simply to get stronger, you can’t go wrong with either. However, since I’ve only had experience with the former, we’re going to do a Stronglifts 5×5 review in this post.
Stronglifts 5×5 is a very simple yet effective program, but it’s not as famous as it should be. The 5×5 concept was actually created decades ago by Bill Starr. It calls for 5 sets of 5 reps, not including warm-up sets. But the 5×5 method was soon forgotten in the bodybuilding industry. A Belgian lifter, Mehdi, decided to revive and popularize this method again, so he came up with a brand for the 5×5 method in what we now know as Stronglifts 5×5, which is free by the way.
The program takes pride in its simplicity and effectiveness, however, the marketing efforts to promote the program on a large scale have been rather humble. Moreover, there are only a handful of reviews or results/transformation stories about the program. So with this review, the aim would be to fill that gap and provide potential Stronglifters with an exhaustive unbiased review of the program. Also, StrongLifts 5×5 was the first program that actually worked for me as a beginner, so I feel almost obliged to write this review for other beginners out there, from a beginner’s perspective of course.
In this Stronglifts 5×5 review, I’ll take you through everything you need to know in order to decide if Stronglifts 5×5 is the right program for you. From pros and cons, useful tips, results, down to testimonies/success stories from notable Stronglifters, this review has everything you need to help you decide if Stronglifts 5×5 is worth for you. After all, that’s why you’re here reading this article – so we made sure it would be worth your read 🙂
It’s going to be a long and exhaustive read – over 7500 words – so grab a cup of coffee and sit back and relax to enjoy this review. Please feel free to use the table of contents box below should you need to navigate to a particular section of the review.
Let’s get started!
Stronglifts 5×5 Review Table of Contents
Table of Contents
- 1 About Stronglifts 5×5
- 2 Who is it meant for?
- 3 How I Came to Know about SL 5×5
- 4 My StrongLifts 5×5 Journey
- 5 What I like About the Program
- 6 Disadvantages of the Program
- 7 Lessons Learned – General Tips to Get the Most out of SL 5×5
- 8 Lessons learned in each of the 5 lifts
- 9 How long should you be on the program?
- 10 Recommendation
- 11 BONUS: Reviews from Other Stronglifters
About Stronglifts 5×5
Stronglifts 5×5 is generally known as a strength training program for beginners. However, it would be injustice to say that only beginners can benefit from the program. Anyone who wants to get stronger can give it a shot. The program claims to help you get stronger, gain muscle, and lose fat all at the same time.
The program only requires you to workout 3 times a week, with each workout lasting around 1 hour. So it’s pretty convenient for people who work long hours and can’t find that much time for the gym. The program has two workouts, Workout A and Workout B, which are done in an alternate manner.
Workout A consists of three exercises:
- Squat (5×5)
- Bench Press (5×5)
- Barbell Rows (5×5)
Workout B also consists of three exercises:
- Squat (5×5)
- Overhead Press (5×5)
- Deadlifts (1×5)
Except for the deadlift (1 set of 5), each exercise will be done in 5 sets of 5 reps, not including warm-up sets. The same weight is used for each of the 5 sets.
The program basically follows an A/B split so it alternates between Workout A and B every session. So if you choose an MWF split, Monday will be Workout A followed by Workout B on Wednesday and finally Workout A again on Friday, and so on.
Oh, and there are only 5 exercises in the whole program – squat, bench press, deadlift, barbell row, and overhead press. All the 5 exercises are compound multi-joint lifts. This might seem lacking but the catch is you’re going to have to increase 5lbs on each exercise (10lbs on the deadlift) every time you do it. And since you can’t keep adding 5lbs forever, the program will eventually get really hard.
The program follows a simple linear progressive-overload pattern where you increase 5lbs every session until you fail and are unable to crank out 5 reps with your workout weight on a particular set. If you fail, you repeat the same weight the next session. Failing an exercise 3 consecutive times means you have to de-load 10% on that lift. And the pattern continues until you plateau.
And if you looked closely, the program lets you squat every workout. Yes, every single workout! Let me just take you through the math here. So if you start at 45lbs Squat (empty bar) and increase 5lbs every workout – since there are 3 sessions per week or 12 sessions per month, you would add 60lbs to your squat within a month. That would bring you to a 225lb squat in 3 months if you religiously follow the program. So in just 3 months, you can potentially squat more weight than most people in your gym. This was something which definitely really attracted me to the program.
That’s basically the program in a nutshell, but there’s a lot more important information about the program that you must know. I can’t give you that since this is just a review, so please visit the official Stronglifts website to read the official workout guides for Stronglifts 5×5. Also, the definitive guides for each exercise on the program’s website are very comprehensive and informative and they cover the correct form and technique for each movement, so I plead you to fully read them before embarking on the program.
Who is it meant for?
While the program is intended mainly for beginners, it can be used to good effect by anyone, depending on the goal. Regardless of gender, age, height, weight etc, Stronglifts 5×5 can be beneficial for anyone. If your goal is to get stronger both inside and outside of the gym, then SL 5×5 will certainly give you that. However, if your goal is merely a good looking physique or aesthetics then you’re better off with a bodybuilding program. That said, even if aesthetics is your goal, it’s always nice to get strong as hell first with a strength training program. You know, otherwise, you would just become buff and pumped with no strength to show for. Personally, I’d rather be small yet strong than big yet weak.
SL 5×5 is also perfect for those people who don’t have a proper plan when they go the gym. If you’re one of those people who just perform random exercises because of the absence of a plan, SL 5×5 can offer a simple yet structured program to follow. Having a plan is always better than nothing.
Here are some other use cases where SL 5×5 can help you:
- A skinny guy trying to add some mass to your frame.
- If you’re looking to lose weight, then you can also incorporate SL 5×5 alongside cardio workouts since heavy lifting helps a lot in fat loss.
- You want a unique program that is anti-broscience and you want to be challenged in the gym.
- If your goal is a lean and strong body; but not necessarily a bodybuilder’s look.
- You’re planning to get into powerlifting.
Finally, since the program requires considerable heavy lifting, it might not be suitable for people with existing back or knee injuries or any types of physical disabilities. It’s always best to seek medical advice from your PT if you have such physical shortcomings before attempting a program like Stronglifts 5×5.
The program is mainly meant for beginners and novices. It may not be suited for advanced lifters, competitive power-lifters, seasoned, veteran weightlifters, or advanced athletes. These kinds of advanced lifters need more complex movements to trigger progress, which Stronglifts 5×5 does not have.
How I Came to Know about SL 5×5
When you’re in the process of searching and scouting through beginner gym programs on the internet, the odds of coming across StrongLifts 5×5 are pretty high. The founder, Mehdi, has clearly put in a lot of effort into making a quality blog around the program, which makes it easy to bump into the site on search engines.
However, it was not me who found this program on the internet – my brother did. When my brother started StrongLifts 5×5, I couldn’t appreciate the program at the time as I just joined the gym and was focused on my newbie gains. I just saw it as just another program. But it was not long after that I got severely bored with my newbie workout starring lat pull downs, bicep curls, and flyes. Also, all I had achieved with my newbie plan was a few pounds of newbie gains that did not make me any stronger.
This concept was new to me as I always thought getting bigger definitely makes you stronger, but I was mistaken. When I realized I was just pumped like a balloon and my strength could only be applied in the gym and not elsewhere, I knew it was time to change things. I wanted to be strong outside the gym too. And being genetically weak to start with, my goal was always to get stronger. I also wanted a program that was more fun and challenging to keep me motivated. So I finally decided to try out the StrongLifts 5×5 program.
It was difficult at first since I had never done a squat or deadlift before and to make things worse I was afraid I would injure myself with those lifts. But I remembered my goal to get strong and I got myself to learn all the lifts over time, starting with the official Stronglifts 5×5 video tutorials and exercise guides. Now, deadlifts have become my favorite exercise.
Looking back, giving SL 5×5 a shot was one of my best decisions in the gym. I definitely consider myself lucky that I came to know about this program.
My StrongLifts 5×5 Journey
Genetically speaking, I did not have much going for me when I started SL 5×5. I was a 19-year-old skinny-fat teen with a small, ectomorphic build. An accurate description would be: small 6 inch wrists, thin neck, and a narrow long body devoid of muscular definition.
I was moderately active as a kid. Though my athletic activity wasn’t all that much, it was adequate. As far as my sports were concerned, I used to play mainly cricket, badminton and a bit of soccer and basketball. Cycling and swimming were occasional hobbies too.
I took my first step into the gym when I was 13 years old. All I did was some running on the treadmill, some lat pull-downs, sit-ups, and some other exercises that are usually dumped upon newcomers. This stretch lasted for only 3 sessions. After this point, I was away from the gym for a long time. By the time I was 16, this was when I really felt like I was turning into a man both mentally and physically. I wanted to hit the gym but was scared it would stunt my growth. So I did stretching and push-ups at home instead, in attempts to get taller and stronger at the same time.
So I finally started going to the gym when I was 17.5 yrs old, but I could only handle 1x a week as I had school responsibilities. My workouts would include high rep isolation workouts for the whole body since I was only going once a week. I did do bench presses and shoulder presses, but used the same weight all the time – I can’t remember why I did not progress on the presses.
After this point until the age of 18, I was on and off to the gym though I really wanted to go to the gym and build muscle. I was not able to go the gym regularly so whatever I did was not effective, this really discouraged me.
Eventually, I got myself to hit the gym 3x a week and I was doing a body part split routine. I did this for about 5 months but saw myself going nowhere. Most of the newbie gains and strength I had gained all seemed artificial, to be honest. As an ectomorph, I realized that I needed some heavy training to really trigger strength and muscle growth. Being genetically weak, I wanted to get stronger no matter what. And that’s when I decided to start Stronglifts 5×5.
When I started SL 5×5, I was a 19-year-old skinny ectomorph male standing 5’6″ tall and weighing a mere 55kg, at around 19% body fat. My starting lifts were as follows:
Squat – 45lbs
Bench Press – 45lbs
Deadlift – 92 lbs
Overhead Press – 45lbs
Barbell Rows – 45 lbs
Nothing much in there. I basically started with the recommended starting weights since I was extremely weak.
After 1 month into the program
I easily progressed on squats, bench presses, and overhead presses, but not on barbell rows and deadlifts. Since I had done some bodyweight squats as well as bench presses and OHPs during my 1x a week workout days, I did not have a problem with the form on these three exercises. My squat was close to 100lbs already at this point. However, I had many bad sets on barbell rows and deadlifts as I was still adjusting to the correct form.
After 3 weeks, my barbell rows stabilized and I was doing them correctly. For deadlifts, one can say that it took me a whole month before I started doing them properly. I was one of those guys who always had fear of deadlifts. Thus, I was still stuck deadlifting 95lbs.
So squats used to be my favorite lift for the first 3-4 weeks, but as soon as I reached 110lbs, my hips started to hurt and my adductors were straining like hell. I had some abs and back tightness during squats. It suddenly became hard as I realized I was leaning a bit too forward since the weight was getting heavy. My left knee tendons were also hurting. All this forced me to drop 20lbs and rewire my squat.
I also realized that Overhead presses were easily the hardest exercises of all. I failed OHP for the first time on 60lbs, and it took me two-three cycles on the same weight before I could move on.
Bench presses and barbell rows were still relatively easy, I was doing 80lbs on both. I was still correcting my bench press form though as my wrists were bending too much.
Key takeaway after 1 month:
I found strength training to be really fun even if Stronglifts 5×5 was really draining. There were many benefits that I immediately experienced. My immune system was doing better, I had more testosterone, better and denser gains, etc. The 5 lifts were helping my other accessory exercises too. For example, if you do barbell curls alongside strength training, the testosterone release from squats will help you grow bigger biceps and lift more weight on barbell curls.
Eventually, I got rid of my mild left knee pain from squats. What fixed it was not looking in the mirror. Turns out, by looking at the mirror I was pushing my knees forward at the bottom. Instead, I started keeping my head in line with the spine with my eyes looking straight. This way, I had my knees in the vision to ensure I won’t push them forward. I was also able to get rid of my hip impingement by engaging my glutes more. I did glute-burning exercises before I would squat to get them firing.
I was on Stronglifts 5×5 for 6 months before I moved onto my own custom workout regime. By this time, I was no longer the weak 19-year-old I used to be. I had gained a whopping 10kg (22lbs) of muscle onto my frame, weighing 65kg from 55kg. I became leaner too at just 16% body fat (from 19%). Also, I now had muscular definition on my frame and was no longer the long, narrow, pencil neck that I was 6 months ago.
My ending lifts were as follows:
Squat – 225lbs
Bench Press – 135lbs
Deadlift – 240 lbs
Overhead Press – 95lbs
Barbell Rows – 110 lbs
These numbers aren’t that impressive by any means, but personally, I was already happy with them given my small build and lightweight. Also, I stopped making progress on SL 5×5 so I decided it was time to move on.
Currently, at the time of this writing, my custom workout still includes all of these 5 lifts, but at the 3×5 set-rep range instead of 5×5. Instead of 1×5 deadlifts, I do 3×5 deadlifts to use it more as a mass gainer. I have added a few other movements like dumbbell presses, t-bar rows, pull ups/push ups, dips, flyes, tricep extensions, and several core exercises to name a few.
What I like About the Program
There is a lot to be liked about Stronglifts 5×5 program:
1. It’s simple, but it works
One of the biggest strengths of Stronglifts 5×5 is its simplicity. It focuses on the 5 basic lifts, and as they say, sticking to the basics can get you far. You just need a barbell, rack, and plates – no flowery machine exercises. The program is built around the concept of linear progression, which is scientifically proven to work. There are no unnecessary exercises but you are free to add some accessory exercises on top of the 5 main lifts especially if aesthetics is a central concern for you.
Through its simplicity, SL 5×5 gives you a plan of attack in the gym – which is better than doing random exercises. Turns out, this simple yet systematic and structured approach really works especially for beginners.
2. It’s challenging
Although it sounds easy on paper, remember that the 5 exercises in SL 5×5 are all compound lifts. They’re much more taxing on the body compared to regular machine exercises. Since the program requires you to increase 5lbs every workout, that means you’ll be going really heavy. And lifting heavy is never easy. But if you’re like me, you will enjoy the challenge it poses.
During the workout, you need to be absolutely focused and energized. Outside the gym, you need to make sure everything is in sync, from eating adequate calories, getting enough rest, to having a recharged nervous system. And if you lack in one of the mentioned areas, it will prove detrimental to your lifts.
3. Strength carryover outside the gym
Stronglifts 5×5 builds functional strength rapidly. Meaning, as you get stronger in the 5 lifts, you will find yourself physically stronger in your day to day life too. For example, when you lift heavy objects from the floor, your muscle memory from squats will help you lift correctly to protect your spine. This can’t be said for most other programs out there that only get you stronger in the gym, only giving you “artificial strength”.
When I started SL 5×5, I had no clue how to do most of the exercises. But eventually, I learned. After all, it isn’t that hard with all the tutorials out there. However, I couldn’t figure out deadlifts until the third or fourth week of the program. I could barely lift 90lbs, not because I was that weak but because my form was terrible.
Fast forward to present day, and deadlifts are now my favorite exercise. I love the intensity and challenge deadlifts provide. It gives me something to look forward to my next workout session. Without deadlifts, Stronglifts 5×5 would not be the same. Oh, and they’re also my favorite because of how quickly they can build mass if you go heavy enough.
5. The Stronglifts 5×5 App
Finally, I love the official Stronglifts 5×5 app. It helps you track and log your workouts so you can monitor your lifts over time. Moreover, it also manages weight increments for you and tells you when it’s time to de-load. The app is available for free on both Android and iOS. Overall, the program comes with really useful supporting materials like the spreadsheets, app, definitive guides, and workout videos.
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Disadvantages of the Program
With advantages come disadvantages, and Stronglifts 5×5 is no exception to this. It may have a bounty of pros, but the program does have its cons too.
Here are some things I don’t like about the program:
1. It may be too simple for intermediate to advanced lifters.
As a newbie, complexity can be a huge roadblock in your path to gainsville. So by being simple and effective, Stronglifts 5×5 does an incredible job in getting newbies stronger and bigger in quick time. However, SL 5×5 may not be that effective once you know you’ve mastered your way around mere barbel and plates.
Once you no longer wear the beginner badge that SL 5×5 would free you from, you will need more complex volume, weight, and intensity variation to sustain and increase gains. Unfortunately, SL 5×5 simply does not offer this.
That is not to say that SL 5×5 will not keep you fit and strong at the advanced level, it’s just that it would be sub-optimal at this level. You can also try other programs like Madcow 5×5, SL 5×5 advanced, Texas method, or 5/3/1, but even these may eventually become lackluster. Eventually, most advanced lifters would need specialized custom workouts to continue making progress.
2. Learning curve
For a beginner, it will take some time and coaching to learn how to perform the exercises in a correct manner – especially if you’ve never lifted a barbell before. Even when gym trainers coach beginners, they start with easy machines and dumbbell exercises. Relatively, Stronglifts 5×5 is harder as it requires you to perform free weight barbell exercises from the onset.
The squat, for example, is not a simple movement that can be learned quickly. So if you’re new to lifting, it is best to have a coach or more experienced friend guide you in the initial phases of training.
3. Prolonged usage of rack
Stronglifts 5×5 can become annoying in terms of the rack usage if performed in the gym. Most of the time, you will be occupying the rack for 1 hour straight and this can be troublesome for other gym goers.
Since you will be doing the same workout every other session, it might feel like you always do the same things in the gym with very little variety. Although this may become boring, it doesn’t mean the program doesn’t work.
4. Starting with the empty bar (45lbs)
The program requires you to start each lift (except the deadlift) with the empty bar so that you slowly work your way up. However, this can be a waste of time for those who are already experienced lifters. For example, starting with 45lbs on your squat is impractical if you are already able to squat 100lbs when you start the program. The website emphasizes this rule but personally, I think you can do away with this rule especially if you’re not a total beginner.
5. No cardio, core exercises, or endurance work
The program promises to get you stronger – and it undoubtedly does that well. However, it does not include any form of cardio exercise or core exercises, let alone other stabilizing exercises for endurance. Fitness is not only about strength, it’s also about having high endurance and being stable throughout the body.
After many months into the program, I found that my core strength was lackluster. And since Stronglifts 5×5 only requires 5 reps, I found my endurance to crank out more reps wasn’t that good either. According to the program, exercises like Squats and OHPs are supposed to bring into play your core, but don’t expect to get better endurance and core strength by relying only on these lifts. That said, you always have the option to add accessory work to the program even if it’s not there by default.
6. Squat – deadlift ratio
The program requires you to do 5×5 squats three times a week and deadlift 1×5 barely twice a week. I know there’s a reason for this, but the heavy emphasis on squats can be taxing on the body and you need to make sure you really eat and sleep well to recover properly. Moreover, having squats and deadlifts in the same workout can lead to fatigue once you reach challenging weights. Personally, I’d prefer if both squats and deadlifts were 3×5 each.
Lessons Learned – General Tips to Get the Most out of SL 5×5
- Drink lots of water to keep the hydration levels up and to support muscular growth while you’re on the program.
- To get the most out of workouts, it helps to take an energy boosting “pre-workout”. Banana, coffee, or cereal are usually my go-to options for an energy boost. You’ll need that energy when squats start to get heavy!
- If you have sweaty hands, make sure to use a towel or lifting chalk to clean your hands and wipe the bar. Never lift with wet hands as this will limit your grip strength making the entire lift much more difficult.
- As you progress on the program, the Deadlifts will get your calluses to pop out. Use a pumice stone to smoothen your calluses after every workout.
- Get enough sleep. Without enough sleep, it is very difficult for your central nervous system (CNS) to recover in time for the next workout. Lack of sleep will eventually result in loss of strength and will slow down progress.
- Eat a lot! Since SL 5×5 is quite taxing on your muscular system and CNS, you need to be eating a lot of good quality calories for optimal recovery. We’re talking high protein, low carbs, and no crappy sugars. It also helps to take whey protein after every workout, but aside from whey, make sure you get protein from natural sources such as eggs, milk, tuna, sardines, kidney beans, chickpeas, milk, chicken breast, fish, steak, or other available forms of meat, to name a few.
- Never compromise your form to lift heavier. It is very easy to let go of correct form as you progress on the program. If you can’t lift the weight with proper form, it’s too heavy. It is important to pay attention to proper form at all times instead of being complacent.
- Don’t resort to gear such as belts, straps, wristbands, etc early in the program. It’s better to build up your natural core and grip strength first, especially if getting stronger is the goal.
- As the program recommends, don’t rest between warmup sets. These warmup sets aren’t that heavy that you need to rest to recover your breath. Only rest in the working sets to save time.
- Trust the process. If a lift feels really heavy on a given day and you feel like you barely completed 5×5, it is a common mistake to repeat the same weight again or even de-load on the next session. This is wrong. If you had a hard time getting to 5×5 in a certain session, this doesn’t mean the next will also be hard. In my experience, I just increased 5lbs anyway and the next session actually felt much easier!
- If you decide to start SL 5×5, have faith and stick to the program for at least 12 weeks. Make sure to accurately follow the order of exercises, rest, etc. When you do SL 5×5, your workout will look a lot different than most others in the gym. So don’t get tempted by other people’s workout and don’t try to spice things up on top of SL5x5, as this may just end up tiring you unnecessarily. Stick to the basics. At the end of the day, discipline is very important.
Lessons learned in each of the 5 lifts
The more repetitions you perform on a particular movement, the better you get at it. With Stronglifts 5×5, you’re required to do 5×5 on each exercise aside from the deadlift almost twice a week. This gives you a good platform to master the lifts. That’s actually the reason why it’s recommended that you start out with 5×5 and then gradually move into 3×5 once you’ve mastered the form.
My technique and form on each of the 5 lifts improved significantly by the time I was a few months into the program. Below are some of the lessons learned in each of the 5 lifts that were compiled over time, which may be useful if you’re a beginner.
- Do shoulder dislocations on rest days to improve shoulder flexibility so that your grip width won’t be too wide. If you have inflexible shoulders, they will hurt if you try to grip the bar close to your shoulders, and you will default to having a wide grip which is not optimal.
- If you have under-active glutes during squats, chances are your quads or lower back are doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. Glutes are the biggest muscle in the human body so if they’re not firing you’re missing out on potential force that could add several pounds to your squat. To remedy this, do a high rep glute burning workout set just before your squats to get them firing.
- When they say go parallel on your squats, they say it for a good science-backed reason. The forces around the knee are in equilibrium when you squat just a tad below parallel. But going any further below might be detrimental to your joints. Likewise, squatting above parallel will also only do more harm than good even if it allows you to lift more weight.
- Follow these timeless cues to get the most out of squats. It will take time and practice to master these cues.
- Imagine sitting on a toilet – that’s how a squat should look like.
- Imagine a rope pulling your ass up as you go back up
- Push your feet off the ground in the ascent phase
- Maintain a chest up position throughout the lift
- Always maintain back angle and don’t lean forward. If you tend to lean forward on a weight, it’s too heavy for you.
- If you need extra strength, try to close your eyes and fully concentrate to push the ground as hard as you can as if you need to take off.
- Never look in the mirror.
- Brace hard and take a deep breath before each rep, even in warm-up sets.
- Go down in a controlled fashion, go back up in an explosive manner to generate more power.
To instantly boost your squat, you can follow these additional squat tips.
- Feel strong in your upper body.
- Push the bench with your upper back as you drive the bar away from you.
- Place your legs under the hips and push them to get that extra force from “leg drive”.
- I learned this late. Arch your lower back so the bar hits the chest higher since there is shorter distance traveled. This will enable you to lift more weight.
- After unracking the weight, push your shoulders back into the bench and pretend you’re “breaking the bar”, before doing your first rep.
- Maximize your resources to push the bar back up. Concentrate on exploding up with your chest, pushing your back to the bench, and pushing your legs to the floor to generate leg drive. This may sound easy to do, but can be tricky if you’re trying to do all three things at the same time.
- Use this mental cue:
- Lower the bar at a natural pace – not too fast or not too slow. Let gravity do what it does best.
- Never ever round your back.
- Since deadlifts use several muscles in your body, they can be very taxing on the body. So make sure you don’t overdo them. Stick to 1×5 deadlifts if you’re on the Stronglifts 5×5 program.
- Try to stick butt out and upward to get a nice hamstring stretch and a straight back.
- Chest up at all times.
- Imagine throwing up your elbows to the ceiling as you pull the bar, and at full contraction, imagine squeezing a pen with your upper back. It is important to lift the bar with your back and not your arms or hip drive. Never lift with your hip momentum!
- The grip on barbell rows can be tricky for many people as it was for me. As a general guide, the grip width should be wider than your deadlift grip, and slightly narrower than your bench grip.
- Squeeze three things before you press the bar up – your glutes, abs and the bar itself. Squeeze them really hard and tight to give you a strong foundation to press heavier weights over your head. This will also help keep your lower back out of the equation.
- It’s okay to use your willpower and spend some time in the ascent phase in your last reps. Don’t easily give up and settle for a failed set.
- OHP is freaking hard, especially if you get closer to 1x BW. At this point, I found it helpful to rest at least 3 minutes between sets.
- You have to accept that the OHP is the hardest of the 5 lifts. So bag up all the motivation you can before you start your OHP sets.
How long should you be on the program?
It varies. I can’t give you a definite duration, but I can definitely give you a minimum. The recommended minimum duration for SL 5×5 is 12 weeks (3 months). However, most people are on the program for much longer. The founder of SL 5×5, Mehdi, claimed to have been on the program for several years.
For some people, the program duration may be a downside as you usually find gym programs being only a few weeks long. But that’s what it is, Stronglifts 5×5 requires you to follow it for a relatively long duration. So if you would not be able to commit for a long duration, Stronglifts 5×5 won’t work for you.
I was on the program for 6 months as I felt I already got to the strength level I was aiming for. After which, I moved on to my own customized program, which still involved all of the lifts from Stronglifts 5×5, with the addition of a few other exercises and a different structure.
It really depends on a lot of factors. But as a general rule, stick to the program as long as:
- You’re able to increase weight on your lifts at a decent rate (5lbs increase a month is perhaps the slowest acceptable rate). There’s no point sticking around if you stop improving.
- You’re enjoying the program and feeling yourself get physically and mentally stronger with each week passing by.
- You’re injury free.
At the Stronglifts 5×5 website, there are recommended programs to follow once you’re done and dusted with Stronglifts 5×5. There’s this program called Madcow that comes in after SL 5×5, and after Madcow, you move on to Stronglifts 5×5 advanced. The idea is SL 5×5 is for beginners, Madcow is for Intermediate lifters, and SL 5×5 advanced is for advanced lifters.
However, it is up to you if you want to stick to these programs or move on to something new, or even better, create your own customized program that suits your training needs.
Stronglifts 5×5 is an excellent program if you’re a newbie/beginner who wants to get stronger. The program says it will get you stronger and help you build muscle, and it does that really well. As long as you’re fit with no medical conditions or injuries and are not overweight, I would definitely recommend this program.
However, for lifters who are at the intermediate or advanced level, the program might not be the best option. At this level, you would need a different kind of complexity and programming to get results. Also, if you’re after aesthetics only, Stronglifts 5×5 would not be the right program for you. You’re better off with a bodybuilding program if aesthetics is your goal.
It would be an understatement to say that SL 5×5 really changed me. The program made me more healthy, confident, and of course, stronger both physically and mentally. Also, SL 5×5 trained and taught me how to do hard things in life and I found that my willpower had greatly increased. So if that sounds like a desirable goal to you, then SL 5×5 will definitely help you reach that.
BONUS: Reviews from Other Stronglifters
We wanted to give you more than a beginner’s perspective in this review, so we reached out to other Stronglifters from the unofficial Stronglifts 5×5 community fan group on facebook. You should definitely join the group if you want to network with other Stronglifts 5×5 members and get to learn more about the program.
Here are some testimonies from notable people who have tried and tested the program and were willing to share their thoughts on SL 5×5.
Wanted to hit the gym after going Keto. Research led me to focus on strength. Liked Starting Strength, and StrongLifts seemed to be a more approachable alternative. If I could afford a coach, or if I had one near me even, I’d have likely pursued SS.
Got stronger and lost a ton of weight. Moved on to Madcow. In my second Madcow cycle now, and will likely do a hypertrophy block next, either 5/3/1 BBB or something of Jeff Nippard’s.
– Zack Allen
I discovered SL after becoming bored and dissatisfied with the 6 day a week gym routine I was doing. All this work and I wasn’t getting stronger at all. I weighed 135kg and needed to change. I’ve always been a big guy but a built big guy that everyone thought was strong but I could barely squat 70kg! Thanks to stronglifts I can bench 110kg, squat 165kg and deadlift 140kg. I haven’t lost much weight because I love beer and pizza but, I have toned up a lot! If you’re looking to get strong you’d be crazy if you go past this program and not give it a go.
– Jamie Roll
After 2 years of pointless lifting and lingering in the gym, I found Stronglifts 5×5 and decided to give it a go since it was a simple and structured program. Within 6 months, I put on 8kg of muscle onto my ectomorphic 60kg skinny frame. Better yet, I am now able to squat 255lbs for 5 reps – having started at 45lbs. In no time I became stronger than so many people in my gym. Outside the gym, SL 5×5 left me with the ability to achieve hard things with ease.
– Rudolf Peters
I’d been exercising on and off for a few years, generally following some bodybuilding style split workout that I found in mens health. Then I found stronglifts and really started enjoying training. I’ve followed the program (inconsistently) for 9 months. My strength in the main lifts has doubled, and I’ve put on muscle for the first time in my life. My posture has improved, I stand taller and I’m more confident. I just wish I’d been more consistent with my training and I would have seen even better results in a shorter time frame!
– Stuart Hutchinson
Stronglifts 5×5 Community Survey
Finally, we also conducted a short survey in which over 100 Stronglifters from the Stronglifts 5×5 community participated. Through this survey, some useful statistics were gathered to give a bigger picture and overview about some features and characteristics of the program. If you’re a newbie and want to know more about Stronglifts 5×5 to see if it is indeed the right program for you, then the numbers below would be very informational.
Here are the results of the survey:
The result of this question was not that surprising. For most people of normal human anatomy, deadlifts are the lift where the most weight can be lifted. So it is understandable why a good 45% voted it their favorite exercise. The squat is a close second as 36% chose it as their favorite. The reason being the same – one can lift relatively heavy on the squat.
Aside from squats and deadlifts, the other three lifts did not seem to get much love. Bench press only got 9.4%, which is surprising considering the widespread love for the exercise. OHP and Barbell rows are just hard to do well on, whether it is in terms of weight, form or willpower needed. So those two got the bottom-most spots.
Which one is your favorite?
Well, well, well – we have a clear winner here. A good majority of 70% consider the OHP as the hardest exercise on Stronglifts 5×5. There’s no surprise here as it is common knowledge among seasoned lifters as to how difficult overhead presses are once you start going heavy. OHP is performed primarily with the shoulders, triceps, and core which are all small muscles. This makes it harder and more exhausting to easily increment the weight.
Personally, I consider OHPs and barbell rows to be equally difficult. After the OHP, squats came in second as 12% chose it as their hardest lift. Lastly, the easiest lift is apparently deadlifts, for obvious reasons.
Does your ranking pretty much align with this too?
This is easily one of the most frequently asked questions about the program. Many people don’t know how long they should stick to the program. While it mostly depends on personal progress, preference, and consistency, it is helpful to benchmark with the duration most Stronglifters are on the program.
It is evident from the area chart that most people do the program for 3 to 6 months. The recommended minimum is 12 weeks or 3 months, at which time you can get your squat up to potentially 225lb for 5 reps. Once you can do this, you’re no longer a beginner. And since Stronglifts 5×5 is a beginner’s program, it may be time to move on to an intermediate program after this duration.
However, the correct duration will be dependent on you. As long as you can keep increasing your lifts without failing several times, you should continue the program and maximize all the strength you can get out of it.
Now let’s get into stuff that really matters – numbers about body weight transformations. A lot of people come to Stronglifts 5×5 looking to build some mass on to their frame. Based on the survey, the numbers look promising. A total of 73% increased their body weight up to 30lbs after SL 5×5, 40% of which got gains up to 10lbs. On average, the program gave an 8lb increase in body weight. This really tells us that SL 5×5 is adept at adding layers of mass to the body within a short span of time.
However, a significant number of people also lost up to 10lbs on the program. What happened here? Well, remember that SL 5×5 is a build muscle-lose-fat-get stronger program. Which means that a lot of fat and obese people also come to the program to lose weight. We noticed based on the respondents’ body weight that the majority of the people represented in the red bar were obese to start with.
So if you’re skinny and trying to gain some mass, this program will definitely work well for you provided you eat properly as well.
The chart above shows the average starting lifts (for 5 reps) of the respondents when they started SL 5×5 and how much on average they were able to add to their lifts after SL 5×5. What’s important to note here is that the green bars are almost the same length as the gray ones in all of the lifts. This signifies almost a 100% increase in the lifts. Meaning, on average, Stronglifters are able to almost double their lifts when they end the program. They get twice as strong, basically.
This statistic shows us that the program is indeed effective in getting you stronger. And if you take a close look at the red circles, you’ll notice that those lifts are at the intermediate-advanced strength level (e.g. 260lb deadlift). So if you want to quickly get strong, this program could be perfect for you.
Let’s be real, everyone loves muscles.
There is a rumor out there that Stronglifts 5×5 doesn’t get you muscular, only stronger. It looks like our survey totally debunked that. Literally, all of the respondents said that they were more muscular after the program. Here’s the thing: maybe you won’t get the same muscular definition you’d get with a full-on bodybuilding program, but the strength gains that Stronglifts 5×5 has to offer is hard to match.
Again, would you rather be big, muscular but weak? or lean, with adequate muscular definition, but insanely strong? I think the latter should prevail every single time.
Lastly, 81% also acknowledged that they got leaner or lost some fat after the program. This is a healthy majority. This shows that the program will in most cases make you leaner alongside getting you bigger and stronger. The program’s promise of its threefold benefit (build muscle, lose fat, and get stronger) holds true based on the survey results.
What’s the fun in getting stronger and better alone? If you liked this post, go ahead and share it with your friends.
Overall Review Score