Posted on 30 Apr 2014
5 min read
If I could time travel, aside from using it to make millions a la Back To The Future Part II, I would pay a visit to my 15-year-old self and impart some pearls of wisdom:
Get a haircut, stop wanking into a sock, and, most importantly, forget those endless bicep curl and tricep extension repetitions, as they’re not doing anything.
Instead, and this goes for all beginners who are taking their first nervous steps into the weight room, start with a well-structured size and strength routine like Reg Park’s 3 Step 5×5 workout.
Trust me, a rounded routine such as this will do more for your gains in six months than that ‘Killer Bicep Pump Workout’ you found in Men’s Health magazine will do in three years.
The idea behind 5×5 is extremely simple.
Each session is a full-body workout where you perform five sets of five reps on a range of basic compound movements.
The beauty of 5×5 is that it strikes a balance between strength and size protocols.
So if you’re looking to gain strength AND slabs of muscle this is the ideal training routine for you.
And, realistically, who doesn’t want that combo?
It’s like having your balls massaged by Emma Watson while someone else hands you a fat envelope full of cash.
Although the principles that underpin this routine were undoubtedly in use before Reg Park, it was the three-time Mr Universe – and perennial Gymtalk favourite – who made it famous.
Since Reg Park, a number of other athletes and trainers have also championed the principles of this programme and their effectiveness for building size and strength, including Bill Starr and the popular Starting Strength, Stronglifts and Madcow routines.
Reg Park’s 3 Step 5×5 workout is the original variation and also the most famous.
First published in Park’s 1960 manual Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters & Body Builders, it comprises three phases of progressive volume and difficulty, with each phase lasting three months.
So, if you need help with the maths, that means the entire cycle will last about nine months.
|Press Off Stands||5||5|
|High Pull Ups||5||5|
|Press Off Stands||5||5|
|Bent Over Rowing||5||5|
|Press Behind Neck or Arm Dumbbell Press||5||5|
|Lying Triceps Curl||5||8|
Thanks for sharing, it’s much appreciated!
What sets Park’s 5×5 routine apart from, say, Bill Star’s or Medhi’s, is that the first two sets of five are warm-up sets.
For these two sets, progressively increase the weight at similar intervals.
The last three sets of five are your ‘working’ sets where you lift the same weight.
So, for example, your five sets on bench press might look like this:
Once you can complete that last three sets of five reps for an exercise, next workout add 2.5kg to the bar for upper body movements and 5kg for lower body movements.
Then just rinse and repeat.
First phase: three to five minutes between each set.
Second phase: two minutes between each set.
Third phase: two minutes between each set.
Park was a strong advocate of not training to failure as he believed this led to frustration and negativity which would hinder other heavy lifts.
So make sure you leave some juice in the tank while working through this routine!
For each phrase train three times per week for three months.
Reg Park prescribes lots of rest and sleep (at least eight hours every night) alongside a diet loaded with full cream milk, red meat, eggs and protein powders.
I’m a huge advocate of this routine – it’s a simple, proven and ridiculously effective way to gain size and strength.
In my view, most beginners today are fed workouts by bodybuilding magazines and fitness ‘influencers’ on social media which, while effective for a certain demographic, are not really geared towards building a well-rounded, structurally sound physique.
Reg Park’s 5×5 routine harkens back to an era before steroids flowed like water and bodybuilders trained like strength athletes – and they were all the better because of it!
I also find Reg’s model of three working sets preferable to the Strong Lifts variation of five working sets, simply as it allows for linear progression to be sustained longer as there is more room for rapid recovery.
In other words, you don’t get stuck as quickly.
Having blown the trumpet for this routine, there are, however, some issues with it, especially for the everyday lifter.
By the time you hit the phases two and three the volume of work in each session becomes stratospherically high.
In the third phase, for instance, you will be working through 49 sets per session!
You will need at least two to three hours in the gym to get through all of that.
These colossal sessions were very common back in the day – indeed guys like Park, Reeves and Grimek used to live in the gym.
Unfortunately, most of us are not lucky enough to enjoy a career which involves downing milk and squatting, which means that fitting these monster sessions around your weekly routine can become problematic.
It can be done, but it’s certainly a tough gig, especially if, like normal humans, you have family and work commitments.
To get around this, I tend to either to split up the routine between two smaller sessions or drop down to three sets on some of the exercises.
I guarantee your CNS will not know what’s hit it!
Reg Park’s 3 step 5×5 routine is a classic, highly regarded routine for a reason: it is an extremely effective way to make impressive size and strength gains, and its efficacy has been tried and tested over decades.
In fact, it’s pretty much impossible not to make huge gains during this programme, provided you’re training, eating and sleeping as instructed.
Plus, it’s simple – all you need to get started is a rack, power bar and some plates.
Ultimately, this is the routine I wish I had seen before I started my weightlifting journey!
Have you tried this routine or any other 5×5 variations?
Thinking of giving this programme a go for the first time?
Have any questions?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section below!