Bill Starrs 5×5 program is one of the best programs out there for intermediate lifters and bodybuilders. Bill Starrs 5×5 program focuses on deliberate linear progression over a number of weeks and will have you performing the most effective compound exercises numerous times a week in order to build strength and muscle mass. Starrs 5×5 program places great emphasis on the squat and will have you squatting 3 times a week! Squatting three times a week!? That’s correct.
Before you completely disregard this program because squats are too hard for you (man up!) remember that the reps are relatively low and that one of these days is a light squat day and will not have you gasping for air on those last couple of reps. As well as placing a greater emphasis on the squat, Bill Starrs 5×5 program also focuses on a number of other muscle building compound movements. These are the bench press, the deadlift, the overhead/military press and the bent over barbell row. If you are unaware of what a compound exercise is, it is an exercise that stimulates more than one direct muscle group when performed. Take the squat for example. The squat will stimulate your entire lower body and is likely to leave you feeling a little sore or achy the next day.
The squat will stimulate your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and core muscles. Compare that with a normal bicep curl and you should start to get the picture why compound movements are the most effective way of building both strength and muscle mass throughout the whole body. To get started on Bill Starrs 5×5 program you will first need to base your workouts off the following template.
Squat – 5×5 – Ramping weight to top set of 5 (which should equal the previous Friday’s heavy triple)
Bench – 5×5 – Ramping weight to top set of 5 (which should equal the previous Friday’s heavy triple)
Barbell Row – 5×5 – Ramping weight to top set of 5 (which should equal the previous Friday’s heavy triple)
Assistance: 2 sets of weighted hypers and 4 sets of weighted sit-ups.
Squat – 4×5 – First 3 sets are the same as Monday, the 4th set is repeating the 3rd set again.
Incline or Military – 4×5 – Ramping weight to top set of 5
Deadlift – 4×5 – Ramping weight to top set of 5
Assistance: 3 sets of sit-ups
Squat – 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 – First 4 sets are the same as Monday’s, the triple is 2.5% above your Monday top set of 5, use the weight from the 3rd set for a final set of 8.
Bench – 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 – First 4 sets are the same as Monday’s, the triple is 2.5% above your Monday top set of 5, use the weight from the 3rd set for a final set of 8.
Barbell Row – 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 – First 4 sets are the same as Monday’s, the triple is 2.5% above your Monday top set of 5, use the weight from the 3rd set for a final set of 8.
Assistance: 3 sets of weighted dips (5-8 reps), 3 sets of barbell curls and 3 sets of triceps extensions (8 reps)
It’s important to note that this routine is ideally for intermediate lifters who have some knowledge on weight lifting and pretty much know how to perform the exercises safely and with proper form. If you are a complete beginner I would first recommend using Rippetoes starting strength program. This is specifically designed for beginners and will have you increasing your strength and muscle mass in no time. Once you have finished the program and have some lifting experience under your belt and know how to perform each compound exercise correctly and with good form you can then move on to Bill Starrs 5×5 routine. Don’t jump straight in to this routine if you still have major issues with your form when performing certain exercises because you will get injured. Once the weight gets heavy sloppy form is more likely to result in an injury.
Bill Starrs 5×5 Program – Using The Routine
To some of you the above template may look somewhat confusing but let me explain to you every aspect of the routine and how you can put it to good use. Workout Days. Your workout days will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Do NOT change or alter these in any way. The workouts allow 48 hours for your body to recover between sessions which, depending on how heavy you are lifting, should be a sufficient amount of time to recover between sessions.
The Exercises. The exercises you perform in the routine are as follows. Monday: Barbell Squat, Barbell Bench and Barbell Rows. At the end of your workout Bill Starr also allows you to perform 2 sets of weighted hypers and 4 sets of weighted sit-ups. These exercises are known as additional accessory work and are placed at the end of the workout. These exercises are optional and only there to help supplement your current training with additional sets should you wish to do so. Squats are performed as far/deep down as you can go. Always go as far down as possible and below parallel. Barbell rows are performed at a 90 degree angle.
Wednesday: Barbell Squat, Incline Barbell Bench Press or Overhead Barbell Press and Deadlifts. Notice here you can choose between the incline bench press or the overhead barbell press. If you choose to perform the overhead barbell press you also have the option of performing the push press as an alternative. 3 additional sets of sit-ups can be added to the end of the routine if you wish to throw in some ab work. Deadlifts start and finish on the floor.
Friday: Barbell Squat, Barbell Bench and Barbell Rows. All compound movements are the same as Monday. On the Friday workout you will also have the option of adding in some direct arm work (biceps and triceps) should you wish to do so. 3 sets of weighted dips (5-8 reps), 3 sets of barbell curls and 3 sets of triceps extensions (8 reps) may all be performed at the end of your workout. Remember, these exercises are optional. Bill Starrs 5×5 – Amount of Weight Used Before you start this routine you will need to know how much weight you will be putting on the bar.
This routine requires you to calculate your 5 rep max before you begin. This is the amount of weight you can lift before your muscles reach muscular failure on the 6th rep. Once you have your 5 rep max you can calculate how much weight you will be lifting for each set of each exercise. However, you will not be lifting your 5 rep max until week 4 of this routine. So, to calculate your lifting weight for your final set of 5 repetitions for weeks 1-3 you need to take 2.5% away from your 5 rep max. I’m going to give you an easy example using the squat.
If I calculate my 5 rep max for the squat as 100lbs I would take away 2.5lbs from 100lbs which would leave us with 98.5lbs. This number of 97.5lbs will be the amount of weight you use for week 3 on your final set of 5 reps for squats. Week 2 can then be calculated by subtracting a further 2.5 lbs from this number which gives us 95lbs for our final set of 5 reps on week 2. Week 1 can then be started using 92.5lbs for your last set of 5. Probably an easier way to calculate your starting weight once you know your 5 rep max, especially if you have trouble adding smaller weights to the bar is to simply subtract 5lbs from week 4’s 5 rep max and keep doing so all the way down to week 1. So, your 5 rep max is scheduled for week 4 and is set at 100lbs. Take 5lbs away (95lbs) and lift that for week 3. Take another 5 lbs away and lift that for week 2 (90lbs).
You get the picture. Once you reach week 4 and hit your 5 rep max on the Monday, you should then add 2.5% to those exercises on the Friday workout. On the Friday workout you will only be performing a heavy set of 3 reps instead of 5, allowing your body to adapt to the weight before hitting it for all 5 reps the following Monday. Adding 2.5% of weight to the bar is hard to calculate so to make things easier you can think of it as adding 2.5 – 5lbs to the bar. At the bottom of this article is a link to an excel spreadsheet that will be of huge help to you.
It will help you estimate your 5 rep max, your 1 rep max and help you calculate the amount of weight you should be lifting for every set. Most people are unsure of their 5 rep max coming into this routine and end up calculating it incorrectly and completely destroy the routine. If you are unsure of your 5 rep max for an exercise you should ALWAYS deliberately underestimate it for this routine. This routine is based on making linear progress every single week for as long as you possibly can by adding small weight increments to the bar and forcing your body to adapt and adjust to lifting heavier weight every week. If you start too heavy you will blow the whole routine. Ramping Weight. What Is It?
You’ve probably noticed in the above routine the phrase ‘ramping weight‘. Ramping weight basically means you increase the weight on every set. So for your first set of 5 reps for an exercise you will start off with your lightest weight. You then add weight to the bar and perform another 5 reps. Keep adding weight for every set right up until your final set of 5 reps. This will be your main, heavy working set. This is the set that counts. All the others can be seen as warm up sets if you like although will get more challenging once you start piling on more weight to the bar. I have my 5 rep max for my final sets but how do I calculate the weight I lift for sets 1-4?
Simple answer is to use the spreadsheet at the bottom of this article. Hopefully that will give you all the numbers you need in regards to the weight being used for your lighter sets leading all the way up to your top heavy set of 5. However, there is a set rule for this in the program. Each set should be ramped up using a 10-15% increase for each set. This can be set in the spreadsheet at the bottom of this article and should automatically calculate the numbers for you.
Sets and Reps
Pay attention to the sets and reps in the template as they will alter slightly especially on Friday’s workout. 5×5 means five sets of five reps. 4×5 means four sets of five reps, hopefully your getting the picture. The routine above places the number of sets as the first number followed by the number of reps. 5 (number of sets) x 5 (number of reps) is the format.
Bill Starrs 5×5 – Other Minor Details
Rest Between Sets. Rest periods between sets are not set in stone for this routine, just when you are ready for the next set. Generally between 2-5 minutes. 2 minute rest periods can be used on your lighter sets where as 5 minutes can be used on your more taxing sets. Diet. To grow bigger and build muscle mass you need to be taking in a calorie excess. Gaining weight will help you on this routine. If your adding weight to the scales each week then the better chance you have of progression and muscle growth. Altering the routine. DO NOT change the routine in anyway. You can substitute a pressing movement over incline bench press on Wednesdays but apart from that leave this routine alone and get on with it. This was developed by one of the best strength coaches out there.