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What Is Strength Training? A beginner’s guide to 5x5 training

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Everyone wants a sculpted, lean, and muscular physique. Everyone would love to have a body they are proud of, which reflects their dedication and hard work in the gym. But how do we achieve this? What is the best way to get big muscles?

According to the legendary weightlifting coach Mark Rippetoe, the simplest way to make your muscles bigger is to lift more weight than your previous workout. By improving your squat from 135 lbs to 405 lbs, you’ll develop bigger muscles in the process.

It’s a pretty straightforward answer to a complicated question, right? But a simple solution doesn’t mean it’s simple to achieve. While lifting heavier weights, you need the proper method that guides you with the right schedule and exercises. Moreover, you need a plan that focuses on building muscle strength instead of muscle hypertrophy.

Yes, you need strength training.

What are the differences between strength training and weight training?

Strength training is part of weight training. But it is a training method that focuses on increasing strength, not size. It’s a small but critical difference from the weight training method we just looked at.

Mark Rippetoe also said, once you have more strength, your muscles eventually get bigger—but not as big as a bodybuilder's muscles. Think about Olympic weightlifters; they have relatively smaller muscles than bodybuilders but lift heavier weights. Why? Because their training method focuses on muscle strength.

Developing more strength is required for better performance in any type of exercise. Thus, strength training can also be considered an essential part of all activities.


A beginner’s guide to strength training

Here are the four things you should remember when you start strength training. But keep in mind that there will be plenty of other things you need to learn once you get into the advanced levels of strength training.

1. Remember the ‘Big Four’ exercises

First of all, you need to own the ‘Big Four” exercise as you own. The squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press are the best strength training exercises—period. Don't start strength training if you can’t perform these exercises using proper form yet. Strength training pushes you to the maximum almost every session, so you need to know the safest form of the ‘Big Four’ exercises to avoid injury. Other exercises like chin-ups and barbell row are also great moves, but they are still assistance exercises that will be additions to your routine that maximize results.

2. Befriend the barbell

You don’t need any other fancy types of equipment for strength training. Strength training starts and ends with the barbell. Barbells let you load a lot of weight, and lifting heavy is the first step towards strength training. Once you are done with your training and have no more strength, you can grab the dumbbells and train more specific body parts.

3. Start logging

Write down your exercises, sets, reps, and other notes for each workout. Keep track of your best lifts and the most reps you’ve done with a specific weight for an exercise. Constantly strive to improve those numbers. Progressive overload is the primary key to strength training—logging will help you with progressive overload.

4. Five sets

Keep in mind that sets of five seem to offer the best blend of muscle size and strength gain. Most of the strength training programs you’ll see on the Internet are based on sets of five. This means you can adjust the program freely if you know the fundamentals of strength training.


5x5 workout training

You may be wondering how to get started with strength training. If you’ve ever searched for a workout routine, you probably know how overwhelming it can be to choose a workout plan.

The 5×5, also known as the “StrongLifts 5×5,” is a simple and effective workout plan for building strength and muscle at the same time as a strength training beginner.

A 5x5 workout comprises compound barbell exercises, such as the squat and deadlift. As the name implies, the 5x5 workout usually consists of 5 sets of 5 repetitions.

The goal of the 5x5 workout is to build strength and muscle by adding more weight every time you do the workout. Most routines based on the 5x5 are scheduled three times a week, as a rest day between workouts is crucial for muscle recovery.

In order to do the 5x5 workout, you should know how to perform these five exercises with the proper form to avoid injury.

Barbell back squat

(How to)

  1. Spread your feet shoulder-width apart and place the barbell on your shoulders, behind your neck.

  2. Squat down while pulling your hips back and keeping tension on your core (abs) to prevent your upper body from leaning forward.

  3. Maintaining the upper body posture, push against the ground with your feet to return to the starting position.

Barbell bench press

(How to)

  • Lay on the bench and grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

  • As you feel the relaxation of the chest muscles, lower the barbell towards your chest while bending your arms.

  • Squeeze your chest muscles and push the barbell away from your body.

Barbell deadlift

(How to)

  • With your feet slightly narrower than the shoulder-width apart, grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Make sure your knees and arms do not overlap.

  • While maintaining your upper body position, keep your back straight and lift the barbell while pushing against the ground with your feet.

  • While keeping your abs tight, raise the barbell so it touches your body while lifting.

  • Stand up straight and contract your glutes.

  • Lower the barbell to the floor and return to the starting position.

Barbell overhead press

(How to)

  • Grasp the barbell shoulder-width apart and place it in front of your shoulders.

  • Push the barbell up while flexing your back muscles and keeping your chest open.

  • Lower the barbell slowly using the same motion as in step 2 and return to the position in step 1.

Barbell row

(How to)

  • Place your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart.

  • Bend over and grab the bar without locking your knees while keeping your hips high.

  • Pull the bar up towards your lower chest or abs, depending on which muscle group you want to target.



There are literally hundreds of workout routines based on the 5x5 workout. Once you reach a certain fitness level, you can create your own routine with 5x5. It’s that simple.

As a starter, here are two different weekly cycles we suggest that allow for an equal number of each exercise when compounded over a period of 8–12 weeks.

5×5 weekly training schedule (Basic)

Week 1

Week 2

Day 1

  1. Barbell back squat—5×5

  2. Barbell bench press—5×5

  3. Barbell row—5×5

  1. Barbell back squat—5×5

  2. Barbell overhead press—5×5

  3. Barbell deadlift—1×5

Day 2

  1. Barbell back squat—5×5

  2. Barbell overhead press—5×5

  3. Barbell deadlift—1×5

  1. Barbell back squat—5×5

  2. Barbell bench press—5×5

  3. Barbell row—5×5

Day 3

  1. Barbell back squat—5×5

  2. Barbell bench press—5×5

  3. Barbell row—5×5

  1. Barbell back squat—5×5

  2. Barbell overhead press—5×5

  3. Barbell deadlift—1×5

Week 3 will repeat the structure of week 1, adding between 10~25 lbs, depending on the exercise and your condition. Week 4 will follow week 2’s structure, adding exactly the same weight as week 3.

You may notice that the squat is included in every workout day.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. The squat is that important—In strength training, squatting is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do.

  2. It trains your core—Every exercise in strength training requires stabilizing your core. But none of the exercises actually target the core itself, except squats.


Need an easy way to track your routines and workouts?

If you want to save yourself time and energy while logging your workout, check out BurnFit. It’s the most intuitive and straightforward workout tracker & planner you’ll find. It’s designed to help you get bigger, stronger, and more athletic. Whether creating your own workout plan pre-workout or following tailor-made strength programs, BurnFit provides everything you need to get better results from every workout.

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