Does A 5x5 Program Have Too Many Sets Of Squats?

April 30th 2019

Find out whether or not you need to do 5 sets of 5 for squats in your strength training program. As you may be reminded of three times a week, your training program has you doing 5 sets of 5, frequently shorten as 5x5. Stronglifts is a very popular program that many beginners use in order to change and transform their lives. There have been many successes with Stronglifts 5x5. At the same time, there have been many complaints - injuries, and burnout are just two of the most frequent complaints. Does a 5x5 program need to have 5 sets of 5 squats, 25 reps of your working set?

Can I do 5x5 with less squats?

A 5x5 program is designed for a beginner to develop their form, strength, size and work capacity. As lifters become more efficient at squats, these athletes can eventually switch to a 3x5 routine, when they are failing to maintain progress with a 5x5 method.

I did some research about Stronglifts in order to make sure I provide you with the appropriate information. The answer does vary depending on certain factors but the overall answer is yes.

Most lifters that ask this question did not do their due diligence and bought the book. They probably did not read the FAQs of their 5x5 program and just jumped into it blindly after seeing the template. (I will admit I am also guilty of this since I also appreciate free programs).

So, what happens if that after a few months, lifters will stall out or get wiped out just from doing squats. I know but I was also on a beginner strength training program and it felt absolutely terrible to experience. But it did get me to where I am today so I am grateful for that training experience.

Deload when these two things happen

What is a deload according to 5x5?

Traditionally, a deload is usually a block of time where lifters will reduce their volume and/or intensity in order for their body to recover. With a 5x5 program, a deload is simply where you take 10% off your working set. Here are the two times you should take a deload:

  • When you failed 3 consecutive squat workouts in a row
  • When you have bad form

According to 5x5 Stronglifts, you will take 10% off your current working set and for the very next workout, do 5x5 for that. This will be considered your deload. Many lifters are aware of this and will continue the program as followed.

Several issues will appear - how often should you deload? And what to do if you have stalled at your working set after multiple deloads?

How often should you deload?

In Stronglifts 5x5, it stated that you should not deload endlessly. This is simply a waste of time. Your body cannot make efficient progress this way. The 5x5 program does not specifically mention how many times you should deload before doing something else. It does mention that if your workouts are exceeding over 2 hours long, it would be time to do something else.

In other strength training programs, like Starting Strength, 2 deloads are advised before you consider doing something else. This is, of course, taking the perspective of a true beginner who has never lifted weights before.

What to do if you have stalled at your working set after multiple deloads?

So, you took 2 deloads(or more) and you are still stuck with the same weight. This is where many lifters will jump ship on a program and claim that a program does not work. Not necessarily true. Stronglifts 5x5 has told what to do after this - you can switch to a 3x5.

And again, you will continue progress with a 3x5 until you stalled after a few deloads. Next, you will do a 3x3 and continue that way. This is at least a year of programming that will keep you busy and hungry to hit new PRs.

Special section for lifters over 40

For some older lifters, they may want to change the program since they think that this would be too hard on their body. If you keep looking down on yourself, you will always be second rate.

Yes, you are older but age is a state of mind. The better question is, how do you feel?

Of course, there are some people that let themselves get lazy and fat. As a result of decades of inactivity, they have a lot of work to do. So, they may need to take it slow at first but the expectation to grow stronger will be constant for all lifters.

5x5 is still something you need to do

For lifters over 40, the program stated that you will still do 5x5 squats. However, you will not need to wait for a deload in order to stop doing 5x5. If you start to struggle, you can switch to a 3x5 squat. At this rate, there is a much better chance for older lifters to maintain progress.

Why does a 5x5 program have you squat so much?

A 5x5 program was designed for the absolute beginner with no weightlifting experience. They will always start with the bar and work their way up slowly. So, the 5x5 program allows beginners to work on their form, build up their work capacity and to develop their size and strength.

A common downfall for many lifters is that they start off too heavy of a weight. For instance, in the first week, they may be able to breeze through their workout. But during the 6th week, they are stalling already. For many successful 5x5 results, 6 weeks is way too short. They obviously did not follow the program recommendations and have suffered as a result.

What is a good program similar to 5x5 but with less squats?

Greyskull LP seems to be a very popular option that many lifters often recommend. However, if you follow Stronglifts 5x5, you should be aware that their programming evolves as you continue to get stronger. You will not need to do 5x5 squats forever - this is not physically possible. You can do it for a long time and you should force yourself to try and conqueror that mountain. But when your time comes, it is okay and your programming should adapt to how fast your body can recover.

This is not the programs fault. The program is just there to guide you. You need to make sure that you are actively reflecting on your past training days. Otherwise, it would be wiser to get a coach to do your programming for you. It is a part of your learning that will never stop if you do decide you want to get stronger.

Growing too big because of 5x5 squats?

The lifters that complain about this issue will only do one thing - complain more. They can find all the bad views about a program while providing no solutions. As I stated before, a 5x5 program is an excellent program that can help any beginner lifter develop size and strength.

Typically, lifters who complain about this issue have been doing 5x5 for a couple of months now. They see that their legs are getting “too big.” They want to only gain strength but not as much size. What can they do?

When you gain strength, size will follow if you are eating at a caloric surplus. If you are not, it would be pretty difficult to put on more muscle. Another variable to consider is if you can grow muscle easily. If I squat 3x a week, my legs would get huge as well. Not a bad thing, not a good thing but it is just something that happens to me. And these are just two factors out of hundreds that can affect the size of your legs.

The bottom line is this, you need to focus on your goals and stop worrying about all the small nuisances. You will get bigger if you get stronger. If you get stronger, size will follow. It is just how your bodies evolved to adapt to lifting weights.

Should you switch to a different program? If you are not making any progress, first address what has worked before and what does not. Blindly switching programs without any analysis is not ideal since you did not assess your current state of fitness, mental health, stress, etc.

Final thoughts

There is nothing wrong with a 5x5 program. Many of these beginner programs also have extended sections where they discuss other alternatives if you are having trouble maintaining progress on their 5x5 program. The authors and strength coaches are available for questions and can provide you other intermediate programs for you to continue your progress.

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