Stronglifts 5x5 Review, The Pros and the Cons.
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Okay so quick intro time. Stronglifts 5x5 is a programme popularised and marketed by a guy called Medhi. The programme looks something like this:
Workout A - Barbell Squat - 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Press - 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Row - 5 sets of 5 reps
Workout B - Barbell Squat - 5 sets of 5 reps
Shoulder Press - 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlift - 5 sets of 5 reps
So it's a really simple layout.
Also, before we continue, you might be interested to know that I'm a professional strength & conditioning coach, and I've worked with dozens of elite national and international athletes, so I'm not just some internet random giving his opinion. (I've also put together a free 40 minute video training all about "How to Get Stronger, Look Great & Learn Perfect Lifting Technique," which you can check out here.)
Now, if you’ve ever googled 'Strength workout' then Stronglifts is probably the first programme you’re going to come across. The website and the information is all very much designed with the strength beginner in mind. A few cheeky name drops of Arnold’s mentor Reg Parker later and most strength enthusiasts will be pretty excited to get started.
To help you out, I'm going to give you my experience running the programme for 5 months myself, as well as my thoughts as a qualified strength and weightlifting coach.
So here’s what I like about Stronglifts:
The programme is really easy to follow, just two alternating workouts and only 5 different movements. This keeps things really simple and easy to record. Plus all of these movements are free weights based, which is great for developing stabiliser muscles.
The progression is also really simple, you’re just aiming to add 2.5kg to each lift every workout. This means progressive overload is applied consistently and you WILL get stronger.
It uses big, compound movements and encourages plenty of eating. (Both big winners in my book)
The 5 sets of 5 reps weight scheme is a nice hybrid, offering strength with a bit of size as well.
Unlike lots of other strength programmes, Stronglifts comes with spread sheets, apps, a sizeable online Q&A section and plenty of other tools to help you along the way and clear up any confusion.
And here’s what I don’t:
The idea of starting the programme with an empty barbell is ridiculous. For an average size male trainee with even a small baseline of strength this simply won’t offer enough to generate any muscular adaptation. Starting so low is only really advisable if you’re completely new to the gym, or completely new to free weights and need to focus on technique.
You’ll eventually start having to de-load lifts more often, slowing your progress. As you get stronger you will hit plateaus more frequently. It's not so bad at first but I found it got quite demotivating.
The programme’s simplicity is also a drawback as it can get really boring after a few months. I know some people are fine with this, but as a coach I do think that motivation is a training variable.
There is no accessory work, meaning there’s no way to focus on certain aspects of your lifts and get rid of sticking points. This also means there's not much potential for adding muscle size, which can end up limiting long term progress.
Being a strict ‘cookie cutter’ programme means there’s no room for individualisation or auto-regulation. So if you feel battered you're still expected to hit the same weights as when you feel perfectly fresh.
Complete reliance on bilateral movements means that muscle imbalances can occur. Some of you may never have this problem, but I personally found that the dominant right hand side of my body always got a little bit more work! A little unilateral work could sort that right out!
As the weights get heavier and you approach your true 5 rep max the session will be taking an awful long time. 15 sets per workout with an average rest of 4 minutes means a 1 hour and 15 minute session not including general warm up, warm up sets, cool down, stretching or any core work. With all those things (which almost every coach will recommend) you’re looking at 1 hour 40 minutes and more. Personally I began to find that as the sessions got longer I struggled to hit each lift with the same focus and intensity.
As strength routines go, Stronglifts is a good bread and butter, cookie cutter programme designed to introduce you to the major lifts with a good amount of frequency and volume. It was the first strength programme I used and I made some good progress with it. Simple is effective.
However, there's nothing magical about Stronglifts. You would do equally well on a programme like Starting Strength or Greyskull.
Fundamentally this programme is a good start to strength training, but there will come a point when it stops being as effective. I found that my progress slowed after a few solid months of training. I also found that I wanted a programme with a bit more flexibility that could address my weaknesses as a lifter.
My advice to you is to run Stronglifts, Starting Strength or Greyskull for as long as possible, as this is the fastest progress you're ever going to see as a lifter.
For most people this will be 4-8 months.
After that you'll want to start looking at intermediate programmes that allow you to recover better, as well as develop some muscular size and build your strength potential.
Mistakes, Coaching and Speeding Progress up
You're probably thinking that 4-8 months is a big range, and to be fair it is. There's a huge array of factors that will impact your performance on the programme, and you're probably going to make some mistakes along the way.
Getting strong is a science, and to truly speed up your progress you should be ready to invest in a coach. Someone who has been there and done what you want to do, and who has coached dozens of people to do exactly the same thing.
That way you know which weights to use, if your technique is right, when to deload, when to alter your programme etc.
If you're serious about your training and you're ready to make an investment (not as much as you might think) then you can get in touch here I'll be in touch to discuss your goals and see if you're a good fit for coaching.
Now go and lift something heavy Your Coach Alex