Make sure you have checked out the foundational articles in this series. Many terms are going to be used in this article that are fully explained in detail in those pieces. Without that knowledge, you may be confused as to what I’m talking about in this review.
If you’re still confused as to whether or not YOU personally are a novice, please see my full review of Practical Programming for Strength Training. In my opinion, this is the single best introductory book on proper programming for those of you who are inclined to learn more on your own about the subject.
Due to popular demand, we’ll be focusing our attention on Jason Blaha’s Ice Cream Fitness 5×5. We’ll consider how it compares to Mehdi’s StrongLifts 5×5 and Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength.
If you’d rather watch than read:
Jason Blaha Ice Cream Fitness 5×5 Overview
Okay guys, I have to admit. I’m kind of confused as to why you wanted me to review this program. Blaha makes it very clear this is a novice bodybuilding program. In fact, this program is the EXACT SAME program as StrongLifts 5×5 just with a few bodybuilding exercises tacked onto the end!
Blaha’s 5×5 alternates two workouts on a thrice weekly schedule.
Ice Cream Fitness 5×5 Routine:
Barbell Row: 5×5
Barbell Shrugs: 3×8
Tricep Extensions: 3×8
Cable Crunches: 3×10
Barbell Row: 5×5 @ 90% of Day “A”
Closegrip Bench: 3×8
Cable Crunches: 3×10
Mon: Workout A
Wed: Workout B
Fri: Workout A
Mon: Workout B
Wed: Workout A
Fri: Workout B
Planning and Periodization
Like all novice programs, this one is devoid of a competitive plan, which is fine. True novices don’t need to peak.
In terms of periodization, you’re looking at the Complex-Parallel approach. Again, that’s perfect. Novices can develop technique, muscle mass, and strength simultaneously.
The programming here isn’t bad at all… for bodybuilding. If you’re a novice natural bodybuilder, this is a great start. Some of the valid criticisms of Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5 are that they don’t include enough direct arm work and upperbody volume for optimal hypertrophy. Well, that isn’t a problem on Blaha’s program.
However, for powerlifting, most of this stuff is unnecessary. Look, I don’t think adding a few sets of arm work to the end of a strength training program is a big deal, but when you start including 3×8 of heavy shrugs, TWO days of 5×5 rows, and 3×8 closegrip bench, you’re starting to push it for the purposes of powerlifting.
Look, the program just isn’t specific to powerlifting. It was never intended to be specific to powerlifting. Blaha developed this program explicitly for bodybuilding.
In my opinion, the overall volume on this program is high enough that your intensity has to be lowered. As such, the bias is clearly towards hypertrophy… that was Blaha’s intent after all. As powerlifters, we want to emphasize strength and technique with a healthy dose of hypertrophy as a novice. It definitely isn’t our goal to emphasize getting bigger, though.
Blaha makes use of linear progression just as in Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5. One thing I appreciated is that he recommended microplates for upperbody lifts.
A lot of you guys stall too early on linear progression for the upperbody lifts because you take too big of jumps. For example, going from 135 to 140 on the overhead press constitutes a 3.6% jump. This is the mathematical equivalent of squatting 315x5x5 and trying to jump to 325 for your next workout. Unless, you’re a rank beginner, it is clearly just too much, too fast. Typically, as a super basic rule of thumb, for every 2.5% you increase the intensity, you’ll lose about one rep. It is unrealistic to think you’ll be able to improve at a rate where you’d basically be adding 1.5 reps per workout for long periods of time. Get microplates for the upperbody lifts if you’re a novice. You’ll thank me later.
I personally own these microplates:
Make no mistake about it; this program will challenge your recovery abilities as a novice. If you’re not eating to grow, I don’t think you’ll be able to keep up with the volumes. I’d honestly only consider this program as a natural bodybuilder who was willing to go on a significant bulk.
StrongLifts 5×5 already pushes it in terms of fatigue management. Blaha’s routine adds another 4 exercises and more than 100+ reps of additional work.
Eat to grow or don’t bother.
Unlike StrongLifts, Blaha doesn’t make the asinine recommendation that you start with the empty bar. He actually recommends testing for “rep maxes” and using a one rep max calculator to determine starting weights. In this manner, he accounts for individual differences at least in terms of initial weight selection.
However, as is the case with all novice programs, it is better to not allow too much individualization. Novices don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. Unless you’re willing to create a VERY clear system, giving them options generally doesn’t work out well.
Final Thoughts on Jason Blaha’s 5×5 Novice Program
Guys, this is a bodybuilding program! If you want to powerlift, look for powerlifting programs. As a natural bodybuilder, I could envision myself doing a similar sort of routine as a beginner. As a novice powerlifter, I’d be doing something more oriented towards strength.
I can’t recommend this program for the purposes of powerlifting.
If you want more information on the Blaha 5×5 program, the official page can be found here:
I’m going to review programs for the next month or so. I plan to put out a ton of them. If you’re a subscriber, and you have a request, please let me know. I’ll look into it.
That said, I do have one request for you guys. Please do not ask me to review bodybuilding programs. I am not a bodybuilder. I don’t know a tremendous amount about bodybuilding. I am honestly not very interested in bodybuilding. I am a powerlifter. I love strength. If you have strength questions, let’s rock and roll.
There are tons of guys who cover the bodybuilding stuff. I’ll leave these bodybuilding type programs up to them from now on.
If you’d like to arm yourself with the tools to be able to do these types of reviews for yourself, the best place to start is by grabbing a copy of Practical Programming for Strength Training. The book is thorough and rigorous, but the average novice will still be able to understand all of the scientific content. I can’t recommend the book more strongly.
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Table of Contents
Powerlifting Programs I: Scientific Principles of Powerlifting Programming
Powerlifting Programs II: Critical Training Variables
Powerlifting Programs III: Training Organization
Powerlifting Programs IV: Starting Strength
Powerlifting Programs V: StrongLifts 5×5
Powerlifting Programs VI: Jason Blaha’s 5×5 Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs VII: Jonnie Candito’s Linear Program
Powerlifting Programs VIII: Sheiko’s Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs IX: GreySkull Linear Progression
Powerlifting Programs X: The PowerliftingToWin Novice Program
Powerlifting Programs XI: Madcow’s 5×5
Powerlifting Programs XII: The Texas Method
Powerlifting Programs XIII: 5/3/1 and Beyond 5/3/1
Powerlifting Programs XIV: The Cube Method
Powerlifting Programs XV: The Juggernaut Method
Powerlifting Programs XVI: Westside Barbell Method
Powerlifting Programs XVII: Sheiko Routines
Powerlifting Programs XVIII: Smolov and Smolov Junior
Powerlifting Programs XIX: Paul Carter’s Base Building
Powerlifting Programs XX: The Lilliebridge Method
Powerlifting Programs XXI: Jonnie Candito’s 6 Week Strength Program
Powerlifting Programs XXII: The Bulgarian Method for Powerlifting
Powerlifting Programs XXIII: Brian Carroll’s 10/20/Life
Powerlifting Programs XXIV: Destroy the Opposition by Jamie Lewis
Powerlifting Programs XXV: The Coan/Philippi Deadlift Routine
Powerlifting Programs XXVI: Korte’s 3×3
Powerlifting Programs XXVII: RTS Generalized Intermediate Program