The response to the Powerlifting Programs series thus far has been phenomenal! I am stoked to see so many people asking intelligent questions regarding the science of programming. That said, if you’re a student of the game, and you’d like to take it upon yourself to amass further education on the topic, I highly recommend ProgrammingToWin. In my opinion, this is one of the best introductory texts current available on the subject.
If you haven’t seen the first three parts of this series, you should check them out now. Without that foundational knowledge, you will be completely lost once I start getting into the meat and potatoes of this review. Shall we continue with our program analysis?
If you’d rather watch than read:
Just like Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5 has two workouts: Day “A” and Day “B”.
The StrongLifts 5×5 Routine:
Barbell Row: 5×5
The two days are rotated on a thrice weekly schedule as follows:
StrongLifts Two Week Cycle:
Mon: Day “A”
Wed: Day “B”
Fri: Day “A”
Mon: Day “B”
Wed: Day “A”
Fri: Day “B”
Just like Starting Strength, linear progression is utilized. Lifters are instructed to add a fixed amount of weight to each exercise every workout:
Workout Increase Increments:
I don’t know any other way of putting this without being blunt so I’ll just say it: Medhi from StrongLifts is an internet marketer who just happens to lift weights. Though he directs credit to “Reg Park” for first writing about 5×5, the bottom line is that the StrongLifts 5×5 community “info” all comes from Medhi.
After more than a decade of training, Medhi is a guy who squats just over 400lbs, can’t pull 500, and benches less than 300. I am not criticizing his lifting ability. I am pointing out facts. Medhi is not a competitive powerlifter. Medhi was never a competitive powerlifter. StrongLifts 5×5 is not aimed at powerlifters.
If you visit the StrongLifts website, there is an abundance of free information that is actually quite good. However, you’ll notice something immediately: the target audience is clearly the general public. Medhi isn’t going after serious strength training enthusiasts; Mehdi isn’t going after powerlifters. Medhi titles his articles and videos like this, “Learn The Shocking Truth About How To Build Muscle”!
I know none of this has any direct bearing on the quality of the program he is presenting, but I truly consider it very important to know background of the source of information you’re consuming. If you do StrongLifts 5×5, you’ll undoubtedly be on that website and participating in that community. You need to know what you’re involving yourself with.
Consider that Starting Strength was written by Mark Rippetoe, a powerlifter with a decade of personal competitive experience and more than three decades of coaching under his belt. Rippetoe speaks from a place of authority; he commands some level of respect in the strength game. Can you say the same for a guy like Medhi?
Personally, I would never be able to fully “buy-in” to a program like StrongLifts for my personal powerlifting knowing the background I’ve just provided. Hopefully you understand why I felt it necessary to include this information.
Like Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5 is aimed at true blue beginners. There is no competitive plan involved. If you want to do a meet, simply skip your Friday workout and compete that Saturday.
StrongLifts Meet Prep:
Mon: Day “A”
Wed: Day “B”
Sat: Powerlifting Meet
Mon: Day “A”
Wed: Day “B”
Fri: Day “A”
I hate to sound like a broken record, but as a program intended strictly for novices, StrongLifts 5×5 doesn’t incorporate periodization in the traditional sense of the word. Besides a few exercise variations, you’re going to be doing the same thing every time you to the gym.
Remember, this is appropriate for a novice because novices easily develop strength, muscle, and technique simultaneously. They do not require periods of specialized focus like advanced athletes.
Like Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5’s use of the 5 rep set is fantastic. However, by selecting 5×5, the intensity range is pushed down more towards 75-80%. Considering the extra two sets of five as well, StrongLifts 5×5 is more hypertrophy oriented than Starting Strength. This makes it less specific to powerlifting.
The Worst Thing About StrongLifts:
The most ridiculous thing about the entire StrongLifts program is the part where everyone is supposed to start with the empty bar. This is beyond unnecessary. The reason why this is suggested on StrongLifts is to help lifters develop “proper form”. Unlike Starting Strength, which includes hundreds of detailed pages on how to perform each lift, Medhi has a few YouTube videos. Again, this is where the “internet marketer” part comes in. By telling people to start with the bar, it isn’t as intimidating for the audience he is going after.
For serious strength trainees, starting your first workout with the bar is a colossal waste of time. For example, if you start at 45lbs (the bar), and work your way up to 185lbs, that would take you 28 workouts or approximately 9-10 weeks. Personally, on my first workout of Starting Strength, I did 185x5x3. I don’t even know if I would have stuck to the program if I had to wait three months before I even started challenging myself. What’s the point?
StrongLifts 5×5 incorporates a recycling of intensity when you stall. Just like Starting Strength, if you fail to get 5×5 for three straight workouts, you’re supposed to drop 10% off the bar and work your way back up. This is the only variety in programming required during the novice stage.
“Stalling” Squat Example:
The same criticisms of Starting Strength apply to StrongLifts 5×5. There is no reason to be performing the bench press and overhead press at a 1:1 ratio for a powerlifter. The bench is more important, period. Likewise, doing ten times more squatting than deadlifting is absurd (you do two 5×5 squat workouts for each 1×5 deadlift workout). And while rows might be more useful for powerlifting than power cleans, they’re still not specific and that is a lot of back work that could be better used to do more deadlifting.
StrongLifts 5×5 employs linear progression, which is a perfect way to overload for the novice. They’re capable of new PRs every session so they should attempt them. StrongLifts 5×5 assures this by requiring lifters to add a fixed amount of weight to the bar every single time.
StrongLifts 5×5 calls for the exact same sets and reps each workout – just with more weight. In other words, “fatigue” is managed just by giving the novice a day off here and there. This is appropriate because novices are capable of going through a full stress-recovery-adaptation cycle in just a few short days.
That in mind, I think 5×5 three times a week is actually too much squatting for many novices. 3×5 is more appropriate for most. However, I do prefer the 5×5 volume for the upperbody lifts versus 3×5. As I mentioned in my Starting Strength review, most people need a bit more volume for the upperbody.
StrongLifts completely neglects individual differences. Unlike Starting Strength which actually encourages different rates of progression for different demographics, StrongLifts has EVERYONE start with the bar and work up by 5lbs. For reasons already elucidated above, this is absurd. This one idea is enough to greatly downgrade the entire program.
On our scale of “good”, “better”, and “best”, I’d personally rate StrongLifts 5×5 as a “good” program for beginners. Just as with Starting Strength, there is a clear lack of specificity for powerlifting. StrongLifts is aimed at the average coach potato not serious strength enthusiasts.
In all honesty, I just consider StrongLifts 5×5 a far inferior version of Starting Strength. I really don’t understand why anyone would be more attracted to Medhi and his message than the actual science that Rippetoe brings to the table in Starting Strength.
Ultimately, you have to make your own decisions. StrongLifts is free. You get what you pay for.
Check out StrongLifts.com for more information on the StrongLifts 5×5 program.
The next program in our line-up will be Jason Blaha’s Ice Cream Fitness 5×5.
As I said at the beginning of the article, if you are enjoying these types of program analyses, I know you’ll Practical Programming for Strength Training. The book contains hundreds of pages of discussion on these very topics. It digs into the science behind it all. You can read my full review of the book here.
Did You Enjoy The ProgrammingToWin Series?
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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