Why 5×5 Is Still an Overrated, Overhyped “Good Cop” Routine

| by Truth Seeker |

5×5 routines are supposed to be the cure for hungry naturals. They patch all the bugs that the bro splits have left behind. They are so good that if they were drugs, they would be illegal. Hence they are even better than drugs because they don’t have any side effects. You just do them and transform into a muscular monstrosity. Not only that, but you also lose body fat.

Want to gain muscle n-a-t-u-r-a-l-l-y?

No problemo. Squat for 5 sets of 5. Add curls if biceps do it for you. Done.

Want to evaporate the lard bouncing around your waist?

You can make that happen too. Just squat, bro. Do it like the 5×5 wizards.

Want to become a powerful playboy? Just squat and neg women, bro. It will work, bro.

Enough is enough.

The 5×5 propaganda has to stop.

5×5 does not produce the advertise musculature in most cases. Many of the poster boys behind the 5×5 regime were not natural. Even Bill Starr himself was not a lifetime natural. Neither is Mark Rippetoe, the 3×5 emperor. But for some reason, we have to believe that 5×5 in all of its forms is the blueprint for the ultimate natural ascension.

Many 5×5 zealots still say that squats and deadlifts are the reason why bodybuilders like Arnold were on top of the food chain. Of course, that’s nonsense. The primary reasons why the champ is the champ are genes, risk-taking and destiny, not exercises.

When it comes to squats, people often fall into the trap of attributing properties based on difficulty – we think that something is effective just because it is hard.

It’s true that all effective plans are difficult, but not all difficult plans are effective.

Sadly, for the 5×5 megaphones, their plans fall in the second category.

5×5 routines start easy but quickly transform into marathons. Doing compound exercises with a challenging weight takes too much time and juice. Routines like Ice Cream 5×5, Stronglifts and even Starting Strength transform into events rivaling Lord of the Rings in length during the final stages.

Admit that you have a fetish, bro.

You have a thing for the weird stories about the pupils of Bill Star and the likes. They were men and we are not, right? You read the manly squat articles online and curse the soy-bodybuilders. You are not going to be like them. You will be a real, Rippetoe-approved man or a strong comrade, as someone like Pavel would say. Baloney.

All those adventures are hyper-romanticized legends. You are a victim of the good cop talk. It’s not gonna work, boy. But you are too inexperienced to realize it.

It’s ok. We all believed the dream. We did our squats and broke our spines satisfying the 5×5 lords’ requirements. We all worshiped the manly and hairy powerlifters while hating on the shaved and oiled bodybuilders powered by vanity.

What happened in the end? That’s the thing, boy. Nothing happened. We didn’t “grow like a weed”. We didn’t get never-ending indications of interest from the girls. Our moms didn’t flip the house looking for steroids.

We kept on lifting only to hit a hardcore limit. Our numbers started to stall at similar bodyweight ratios. The doubt within our souls amplified.

What if we were wrong?

Of course, we were wrong. It makes perfect sense now.

Feel guilty? Time to stop!

It’s funny how the manly men get insulted when you don’t do your squats. Why are they so concerned with your status as a man? Weird, right?

Bro. The squat is the number one tool for unlocking epic gains and reaching your full potential. If you are not squatting, you are not training, bro. Maximize.”

Get lost, dude and get your squat dogma with you. There is no need to feel guilty for failing to satisfy the notions of Rippism or other lifting doctrines since none of them deliver the promised muscle slabs.

Why Is 5×5 So Effective For Noob Brainwashing

1. No need for steroids, they said.

The promoters claim that bodybuilding splits work only for roided monkeys whereas 5×5 is for the natty soldiers. Thus, the noobs see it as a way to build huge muscles without injecting steroids.

Is this true? Hell, no. No program can break the natty chains. The actual strength of 5×5 is its narrow focus and progressive mechanism. The same engine can be installed on basically any car/routine.

Bill Starr had a great physique. But where are the 5×5 zealots who actually look like that as a result of 5×5 squats?

2. Slabs of meat, they said.

We’ve all heard it. Regg Park did 5×5. There were no steroids when Park built his body. Conclusion? If I do 5×5, I will become a Regg Park clone.

Well, bro. I have a question for you?

Where are the Regg Parks of today produced by 5×5?

One would think that by now there will be an army of them. Yet they are nowhere. Most 5×5 zealots are average if not fat men with mediocre numbers for their bodyweights.

via: youtube.com; According to the 5×5 professors, the man on the left was natural while the other one was not. Logic?

3. A real man, they said.

The fairy tales about boys who become men through lifting get old really fast. What? You want to tell me that my grandfather was not a real man because he never did a barbell squat? Most gym brahs will not survive a day in his shoes.

You are telling me that a certain squat number is needed to earn a manly status?

Here’s an unconventional opinion.

Modern society is anti-men. They call it “toxic masculinity”. You are supposed to be a good boy and do as your masters say. Then they give you the ability to lift weights in the gym (a sterile environment) and promise that if you become really good at moving iron that does not have to be moved, you will transform into a real man. Hell, they may even give you a role in a movie for elves or something.

4. You will become athletic, they said.

Sure. Because we all know that every athlete is a powerlifter during the night.

The promoters of barbell voodoo condemn every other form of training. They say it’s for insecure idiots.

You have to be strong first?

Haha. Tell it to someone who actually competes on a high level in any non-barbell sport and you will make him laugh.

5. Strength is the most important part in life.

The modern obsession with strength shares many properties with the technological overload that we experience today.

People often mistake technological advancement for overall progress. Most of the upgrades that separate the past from the present are somehow linked to technology – computers, phones, cars…etc. All else is forgotten.

What if I tell you that we have enough technology already? I am not saying that further development is not possible. There is no limit. Technology can improve forever…until we become robots. What I am saying is that we already have enough. The problem is not the lack of technology but rather its application.

It’s similar to money. There are many people who are technically rich but don’t consider themselves wealthy because their expenses, desires and expectations are out of control.

Strength operates on the same token. How heavy does your deadlift have to become? What difference does it make whether you deadlift 400lbs or 500lbs? Seriously? In what way does it affect your daily life?

For better or worse, the chosen material cannot patch the void.

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  1. Diego

    Nice article. I’ve follow a 5×5 routine for some months with moderate results, then I turned to 3×6 or something alike. Would you tell me how a good routine for natties would be? Thanks

  2. Matt

    3×5, 5×5, etc is excellent for beginners and optimal for a wide range of goals. I don’t see why it’s so hard to see that you’re not a beginner forever. Even then, most good intermediate programs for naturals aren’t radically different than 5×5. Maybe do an exercise fewer times per week or have a light day or some other variation on the theme. Unless you want to build endurance, these programs really are in the general neighborhood of what a natural should be doing for exercise. Even many of your own recommendations are in this same ballpark. It’s not like 5×5 et. al. hold a candle to PEDs, but I think this distinction between being good for naturals and being on par with steroids needs to be made.

    1. MB

      I did 5×5 for several months and it made me stronger.
      At a certain point it became difficult to go heavier.

    2. MB

      I did 5×5 for a few months. It made me stronger.
      But at a certain point there’s a limit.

  3. Philip

    Lmao. I love reading your stuff. I’m not sure where I ever read that 5×5 was the cure all for natural lifters. No routine is. Hell your latest book you basically recommend routines that look a lot like 5×5. 2×5,2×8, 2×10….Like it matters. You can do those sets or just do 5 hard sets of 5 and guess what. You will look the same from either. It won’t matter. 5×5 is just a good and simple general recomendation for sets and reps with a load that would stimulate strength and size. It’s not a cure all but it’s a good base starting point for a noob to reach his potential. Once things stall and get boring for the noob he is no longer a noob. By the time he stalls on 5×5 he has learned some lessons in the weight room and can embark on his own journey beating his head on the wall looking for the perfect routine he will never find. But hopefully in the process he continues to learn and keeps working out in a healthy way. The when he gets older and sees the light he can jump on the nattyornot forum and be like man your guys were right. It’s all bullshit! Baha

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Very true.

      My criticism is not focused on the rep range, though. One of the technical problems would be the implementation of sets across which technically were not a part of the original 5×5 by Bill Starr. Starr recommended ramping sets – warming up to one heavy set of 5. However, the “updated” 5x5s such as StrongLifts, Ice Cream, Rippetoe’s, call for sets across.

      Another problem are the over-hyped expectations and projections involving bodybuilders and powerlifters from the 70s. Other than that, the routine is as good as any.

      It’s the “good cop” marketing that makes it annoying and unappealing to me.

  4. Philip

    The biggest sham of rip (which you touch on) is the exaggerated low bar squat. Fucking shoot me. Every time I see someone overloaded and basically doing a good morning with a weight way to heavy for them I cringe for their spine. The chase for the biggest weight at the best leverage at expense for form is so irritating. You know what is fucking beauty in the weightroom. When you see someone do a deep perfect high bar squat with an impressive weight that is Controlled the whole way. You just know deep down that guy is doing things right. If they squat like that they probably do pretty much everything else the right way also.

  5. Louis

    This piece is infinitely more entertaining than the hard truths revealed to me long ago but arrives at a similar reality.

    To wit—any reasonable Program holds a portion of the truth: 5×5; 2×5; 3×10; barbells; even machines; 2 weekly workouts or 5x weekly; to failure training vs. not; drop sets or straight sets. Hairy or shaved.

    The biggest reality is the least accepted—that genetics are the greatest *intrinsic* determinant of the end product. More time and energy are spent hypothesizing and arguing about differences that matter not one wit—like programming variables between otherwise reasonable approaches, that all lead to the same outcome, assuming one can apply honest assessment.

    Pick any reasonable programming approach—you prefer. Try first the one that demands less time (say, 2 sets, not 5, or perhaps only one heretical top set) as this helps compliance. Do it consistently with a reasonable amount of effort in perfect form and you (“you” meaning most anyone) will likely get good results compared to your untrained state.

    And—all other variables held equal—similar results likely follow when compared with a dramatically different program, belief systems and acute responses to program change aside.

  6. Scott

    I’m 46, I tried 5×5 and was making progress 2x a week. Now I’m doing MadCow which is meant to be 3x a week but I just can’t make that commitment.

    Personally, I think all the training programmes are a load of crap. I just try and lift heavier than what I managed last week, in 5 sets. This “challenging the muscle” approach with different exercises is shit too.

  7. MB

    Hello Truthseeker.
    Can you make an article about women powerlifting / bodybuilding?
    There is happening a lot too. There were changes in competing rules. They made divisions. Then some of the contest removed the female bodybuilding division.
    On social media there are a lot of female bodybuilders too with fame.
    Almost all articles are about male bodybuilders, but there’s a lot to tell about women in fitness too. It would be interesting to see an article about it.

  8. Nj

    Screw programs. I just do whatever I feel like doing in the gym. In that way, I enjoy training and not feel like it is a chore to do. Sometimes, I can’t go to the gym due to prior commitments and that’s no big deal. Lift heavy, eat meat, sleep, repeat.

    1. licornenoir

      Thats the attitude I’m adopting more and more! Sick and tired of the phoney ‘natural’ arseholes spreading their opinion.

  9. Daniel

    Neither Rippetoe nor any of his pupils look like they lift.

  10. licornenoir

    I think squats and deadlifts are totally overrated.(For me anyway) I dumped squats a couple of years ago and bought a (cheap) leg press machine online. This despite my intermittant training has made more difference to my legs then the bloody squats ever did for years before! (I am not against squats or deadlifts and might take them up in the future again!) I talk as a tall 193cm ((6’4″) male, long torso shorter legs.

  11. John Southern

    “Sets across” is more of a bodybuilding method, the intensity is lower. Ramping to one heavy set is more strength oriented, intensity higher.

    Since most people want hypertrophy with some functional strength, sets across is a good strategy.

    For ideal hypertrophy, studies that I’ve seen show that you want to be in the neighborhood of 30 total reps, give or take. You could do 5×5 or 3×8-10 to accomplish this.

    3×5 works too, you build a little more strength and a little less muscle. For me, I do 3×5 because I’m already pretty big, I’m just detrained. I don’t need the hypertrophy of 5×5 just yet, I already have enough muscle to bench 225 and squat 315, I’ve done it before.

    It’s easier to progress in weight with sets of 5 or 3, the only downside is that they take longer resting 3 minutes between sets.

    As far as starting strength and stronglifts, the main weaknesses of those programs are:

    1. Too much squatting
    2. Progression too fast unless you are taking steroids or making yourself fat
    3. Not enough accessories for balanced development.

    1. Squat and deadlift on alternating days instead of squatting every day
    2. Progress 5lbs on lower body lifts each session, 2.5lbs (or 5lbs every other session) on upper body lifts.
    3. Add 2×10-12 “assistance exercises” to build up areas known to lag on these programs.

    You can end up with a pretty decent program making these mods.

  12. Steve

    Most of your articles need to end with a reference to good books by Marx.

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