Changing the Plan

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I’ve been talking (writing) about adopting or adapting a 5×5 workout plan for a few weeks now and the switch over is becoming imminent.

To refresh your memory, this plan requires that for each (or most) resistance exercise, you lift the weight for 5 reps for each of the 5 sets you perform. That means you are using a weight that you can reasonably lift for only 5 reps per set.

That can get heavy but it shouldn’t be so heavy that there’s a significant risk of injury.

All or most of the resistance exercises are compound moves, which means they use more than one joint of the body and typically engage more than one muscle group. These are exercises such as Deadlifts, Bench Presses, and Hack Squats. This plan all but eliminates isolation exercises that use only one joint and focus on only a single muscle group. An example of an isolation exercise would be Dumbbell Curls to work the biceps (and only the biceps).

According to the article at, there are three main elements to this program.

  1. Emphasis on Compound Movements
  2. A High Training Frequency
  3. Progressive Overload

I’ve already talked about point one above. High Training Frequency just means performing the same or similar resistance lifts more than once a week. Progressive Overload means slightly increasing the weight for each exercise week over week. In other words, you are constantly challenging your body and your will as you progress through this program.

Since I’m going to experience a brief interruption in my training next week, I had planned to start my 5×5 routine on Monday the following week, which would be May 25th, Memorial Day. But I can return to the gym on the prior Thursday, the 21st. Why wait?

Okay, here’s a slight “glitch.” The program also involves frequent but not constant lifting. You really only lift three days a week, usually either Mon., Weds., and Fri. or Tues., Thurs., and Sat. I’d planned and Mon., Weds., and Fri. schedule and figured I could do some light to moderate cardio (though it’s not required by this plan and is actually discouraged) on Tues., Thurs., and Sat., maybe along with some gut work.

So if I return to the gym on Thursday, I’d have to restrict myself to ab work and some cardio and then hit the weights for the new program on Friday. As you read this, that’s less than a week away.

55 yr old man deadlifts 315 lbs
Photo credit: 55 yr old man deadlifts 315 lbs.

There are only two different workout routines to this plan and you alternate between plan A and plan B. So if, for instance, I started working out on Monday, I’d use plan A, then do plan B on Wednesday, then plan A again on Friday, and then plan B on the following Monday and so on, potentially forever and ever.

So if I start this routine next Friday, I start with plan A and then on Monday, go to plan B and so on and so forth.

I’m replicating the specific plans here so you can read them but remember, all this belongs to, not me.

Workout Plan A
Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Barbell Bench Press 5 5 Do not flare your elbows. They should be at roughly a 45 degree angle with your torso when you bring the bar down.
Barbell Hack Squat 5 5 It doesn’t count unless your thighs are parallel to the floor during the squat. Feet should be slightly wider than shoulder length apparent with the feet turned slightly outward and the knees following the feet during the squat.
Barbell Bent Over Row 5 5 This is primarily a back exercise and do NOT use the momentum from your legs to lift the weight.
Overhead Cable Triceps Extension 5 8 Use the rope attachment and focus on a full extension of the arm.
Chin-Ups 3 5-8 Perform 3 sets of 8 chin-ups with bodyweight (or work up to that). Once you can do so regularly, start adding weight with a dip belt.
Workout Plan B
Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Close Grip Bench Press 5 5 The grip should be shoulder width apart with the bar starting over the upper abdomen/lower chest. Bring the bar down so that your wrists are over your elbows.
Barbell Hack Squat 5 5 It doesn’t count unless your thighs are parallel to the floor during the squat. Feet should be slightly wider than shoulder length apparent with the feet turned slightly outward and the knees following the feet during the squat.
Barbell Deadlift 1 5 There’s only one working set so you should do at least 2 to 3 warm up sets before progressing to your working set.
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press 5 5 Dumbbells start at the top of the chest. Use a full range of motion.
Straight Bar Curl 3 8 If you’re swaying the weight with your back, it’s too heavy
bent over rows
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I’ve modified the order of the exercises and substituted some of them with alternates for a few reasons. First, I like to do all my barbell work first, since if I try to leave the bench and come back, someone might start using it in the meantime. Also, I start each routine with a barbell lift with me on the bench followed by the standing lifts just so I’m not up and down all the time.

For both plan A and B, I’ve substituted Hack Squats for traditional Squats because, as I’ve mentioned before, without a spotter, I’m not comfortable balancing a heavy weight across my traps. For plan B, I’ve substituted Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Presses for Barbell Presses because I have better stability when seated rather than standing, and have more control using Dumbbells.

There are multiple different types of Deadlifts, and I have no indication of which style is recommended here. I’ve seen both Straight Leg Deadlifts and Bent Leg Dead Lifts considered the default by different sources. I suppose I could just alternate between each type week over week for the variety.

I know Joshua Nackenson, the author of the original article, says not to substitute anything, but he’s not going to be in the gym with me to help with my training, so I’m taking responsibility for making a few adjustments for the sake of my own safety and familiarity with certain exercises over others.

In reading some of the comments under the article, Bryan DiSanto at LeanItUp replied to a commentor by saying:

5×5 is traditionally geared at strength and muscle hypertrophy. If building muscle mass and getting stronger are your main goals, go for it.

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Now, how long should I employ the 5×5 workout plan? Until I get bored? Based on something else DiSanto wrote in the comments section of the article, I think I’ll start with a two-week trial and see how my body responds. If I see favorable results, I’ll continue for another two weeks. It would be interesting to do this for 4 to 8 weeks and then to switch back to the way I’m currently working out, just to see if there’s a marked increase in strength as measured by how much heavier I can lift or how many more reps I can squeeze in.

Not sure how much more I’ll be writing here (if at all) between now and next Friday/Saturday, but once I get started, I’ll let you know how things go. I’m sure the folks at LeanItUp didn’t design this plan for people age 60 and older, so this will be a bit of an experiment.

That makes me the lab rat. Or maybe that makes me what Churchill says we are below.

We are still masters of our fate. We are still captains of our souls.

Winston Churchill

Oh, just for giggles, I thought I’d mention that 46-year-old actor Hugh Jackman, known for his role as the Wolverine in various X-Men related films, just joined what’s called the 1000 club by performing a Squat at 355 lbs., Bench Pressing 235 lbs, and Deadlifting 410 lbs (add them up, equals 1000 lbs). Watch a very brief video of Jackman doing the Deadlift at


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