Bill Starr’s Intermediate 5×5 Workout

Bill-Starr 5x5 workoutThis weight training routine is easy to understand and illustrates the importance of making systematic progression to drive size and strength gains. I suggest you read How to Get Big and Strong for a better understanding of how weight training works to make you bigger and stronger.

This is only one version of Bill Starr’s 5×5 workouts and is designed for the intermediate lifter. It’s important to keep in mind that training needs change with time. If you follow any routine blindly without paying attention to your body, you’ll end up stalling out.

A good way to apply this program is to do it progressively for 6 weeks, backup 2 weeks for a deload, progress for 6 weeks, backup 2, etc. like so:

Cycle 1: 1 2 3 4 5 6
Cycle 2:         1 2 3 4 5 6
Cycle 3:                 1 2 3 4 5 6

Program Basics

This program is based on weekly linear progress. Poundages are figured off your current 5 rep maxes (5RM). You work up to them systematically by increasing the weight in steady increments. You then extend your 5RM before doing a ‘deload’ where you reset back 2 weeks and start the cycle all over again.

If you miss reps, keep the weight constant the next week and don’t move up until you get all 5×5. This workout is meant to get you big and strong and training correctly.

Take 2-5 minutes between sets. I do about a 1-1.5 minutes between everything except for squats or deads, where I rest 2-3 minutes.

Before beginning it’s useful to know your real 5 rep max in each lift. If you don’t know, it might be useful to test your lifts first or start light. The whole key is not getting under the bar once with heavy weight, but getting under it frequently and systematically increasing the weight, starting within your limits and slowly expanding.

The Workout Schedule

Don’t worry if it seems confusing here; there’s a spreadsheet you can download at the end:


  • Squat: 5 sets of 5
  • Bench Press: 5 sets of 5
  • Barbell Row: 5 sets of 5
  • Assistance (optional): 2 sets of weighted hypers and 4 sets of weighted sit-ups


  • Squat: 4 sets of 5; First 3 sets are the same as Monday, the 4th set is repeating the 3rd set again
  • Incline Bench or Military Press
  • Deadlifts: 4 sets of 5
  • Assistance (optional): 3 sets of sit-ups


  • Squat: 4 sets of 5, 1 set of 3, 1 set of 8; First 4 sets are the same as Monday’s, the triple is 2.5% above your Monday top set of 5, use the weight from the 3rd set for a final set of 8
  • Bench Press: 4 sets of 5, 1 set of 3, 1 set of 8; First 4 sets are the same as Monday’s, the triple is 2.5% above your Monday top set of 5, use the weight from the 3rd set for a final set of 8
  • Barbell Row: 4 sets of 5, 1 set of 3, 1 set of 8; First 4 sets are the same as Monday’s, the triple is 2.5% above your Monday top set of 5, use the weight from the 3rd set for a final set of 8
  • Assistance (optional): 3 sets of weighted dips (5-8 reps), 3 sets of barbell curls, and 3 sets of triceps extensions (8 reps)

This workout is pre-programmed for weekly increases of 2.5% of your top set of 5 on Monday. So you do 100lbs for 5 on your top set on Monday, on Friday you’ll do three reps with 2.5% more, or 102.5. The next Monday you come back and do 102.5 for your heavy set of 5, that Friday the three reps are at 105 and so on. For the non-squat Wednesday lifts you just increase by the percentage week to week.

You continue this program until it stops working. If you’re adding 2.5% a week to your big lifts and eating enough to gain weight, there’s nothing else you can do from a program perspective to encourage more muscular weight gain. When you finally find yourself stalling, changing some variables (i.e. use 3×10) and/or some assistance lifts (front squat on Wed, lockouts instead of overhead) etc. might get you back to making gains.

Impact of Weight Gain/Loss and Experience Level:

You’ll have an easier time getting stronger and making a progression if you’re eating enough to increase you weight during the program. If you aren’t gaining weight, you aren’t eating enough calories. Eat more!

Experience level matters too. Someone closer to their potential (someone who has already been lifting several years) is going to have less progression than someone with 6 (or less) months of training.

If you’re trying to lose weight and using this program you might want to start significantly lighter or make smaller jumps week to week. The 200 pound 5 rep max squat at a body weight of 200 is a stronger lift at a lighter body weight. So if you’re losing weight, you probably want think about starting lighter because your 5RM estimates won’t be accurate as your weight changes.

Ramping Weights

This is no more than increasing your weight set to set. If your top set of 5 is 315, you might go 135, 185, 225, 275, and then 315, all for 5 reps. There are several reasons for this: warming up; getting a lot of practice; and contributing to workload without raising it so high that fatigue becomes a factor.

Typical jumps between sets can be somewhere between 10-15% based on your top set (or 12.5% and round up or down).

Other Factors

If you get stuck early it’s because you started too heavy. While there’s no negative to starting a bit more conservatively, starting too aggressively can kill the whole thing.

In regards to the squatting, if you haven’t squatted at all, or don’t squat full range, it can be an issue. It’s not that people can’t squat 3x per week – anyone can. It’s a matter of conditioning someone to be able to do it at the volume and intensities that this program calls for and acclimating to it. If you start to get a chronic aching and soreness in the joints/tendons/muscles etc… you need to back off. That doesn’t mean you get a little sore in week 1 and quit. Just lighten the poundages until your body gets acclimated.

The Lifts

  • Squats – these should be full range squats – that means as low as you can go, which for almost everyone is past parallel. If you think this is bad for your knees, you and whoever told you that are relying on an old wives’ tale. Anyone who knows human kinetics will tell you that below parallel is MUCH safer on the knees. Parallel and above put all the stress right on the joint and don’t allow proper transfer of the load to the rest of your body. So go down until your ass scraps the floor!
  • Bench Press – Lie flat, tuck your glutes, arch your back, and pinch your shoulder blades together. Lower the weight slowly, touch the chest, and then press upward. Press steadily and evenly to complete lockout without hyper-extending your elbows or lifting your shoulders from the bench.
  • Deadlifts – each rep is rested fully on the floor. No touch and go. This is called the ‘dead’ lift because the weight is ‘dead’ on the ground. You can touch and go warm ups but that’s it.
  • Military Press – standing overhead presses, not seated. Supporting weight overhead is a fundamental exercise and stimulates the whole body. Even better, do a Clean to Press, which I added in the second version of the spreadsheet.
  • Barbell Rows – Bend to 90 degrees and accelerate the weight into your body. If these hurt your back, you can do seated rows on a machine.

Common Sense

You should know how to do the lifts before starting the program. Start light and learn. Don’t include brand new compound lifts that have you training near your limit. Compound lifts load the entire body and are very effective. If you have a weak link, you’ll find it, and it might result in you getting hurt.

Time Between Sets

Don’t be lazy, but don’t rush. Maybe on the lightest sets you take a minute, but most sets will be 2-5 minute range with 2 being between fairly easy sets and 5 being after a heavy set in preparation for another very serious effort.


This depends on whether you’re trying to gain muscle or lose fat. If you want to gain muscle, you need to eat! Most people go wrong here. If caloric excess is present and your training stinks, you gain fat. If caloric excess is present and training is good, you gain muscles.

There’s nothing any program can do to make you bigger if you don’t eat. For the purposes of getting big and strong, it’s better to eat McDonald’s and KFC all day long than not eat enough Zen clean ultra pure all natural food. Eating like a slob will work better than not eating enough. If you choose to eat squeaky clean, kudos to you, but it’s not critical to putting on muscle.

This is a mass GAINING program, not a slimming down one! As you become more experienced with it, you can adapt it for shaping and weight loss later.

Substituting Exercises

Don’t mess with the exercises. Every weight lifter I know seems to have an overwhelming desire to customize everything and an egotistical belief that they know better. Don’t listen to the naysayers who show up to the gym 5 days a week and look the same as they did 2 years ago.

The guy who is responsible for this program (Bill Starr) is of the best on the planet at bulking lifters and making people stronger. If you want to chin on Wednesday or do a few sets of pull downs/ups that’s fine. Core work is always fine. Cardio is fine. In a nutshell, put your trust in some of the better coaches on the planet and enjoy the results.

New or Beginner Lifters

This is not a beginner program. You’ll make faster progress with less workload on a true beginner program. I recommend Rippetoe’s Starting Strength for beginners. It’s critical to learn the lifts correctly and get started on a good program. Rippetoe is the man at coaching beginners and putting muscle on them, with 30-40 pounds in 4-6 months being quite normal. The book will teach you all the lifts. The book covers everything to get you set up on a program that is time proven as one of the best beginner programs available.

Advanced Lifters

For someone who’s been lifting a longer time, linear progress doesn’t work as well. You want to do this for as long as you can. That means resetting and running at your records, changing some exercises, rep ranges, whatever, just keep trying to get some linear progress as you want to milk this kind of progression for all it’s worth. After a while it will become pretty obvious this doesn’t work for you any more. Welcome to periodization. But that’s another topic….

You’ll need Microsoft Excel or a compatible spreadsheet program to view these files. If you don’t have Excel, you can download Excel Viewer for free.

Sample Template

Here’s a downloadable Microsoft Excel file that calculates your poundages and plots out what this program might look like.

NutriBody Addendum:

Here’s another version of the spreadsheet where I added in Clean to Press for shoulder work. This spreadsheet only lists exercise poundages; I didn’t include tonnage as in the original above.

Good luck and get bigger!

This article is compiled from Madcow’s original post on Geocities, which is now gone. Props to Madcow!


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