What is the 3×5 workout plan?
The 3×5 workout is a weight training program designed to build strength with the following guidelines:
- perform strength training three days a week, every other day
- traditionally Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
- take the weekend off to recover
- the meat of the program is the full-body compound barbell exercises:
- bench press
- overhead press
- power cleans
- these barbell exercises will target all the muscles of your body
- 3×5 refers to the set and repetition scheme of the program: 3 sets of 5 repetitions for the main work sets of the program.
The basic 3×5 workout plan
The squat, bench press and deadlift are the foundation of the 3×5 workout plan. These exercises are also the only competitive lifts in the sport of Powerlifting. As a result, with these three lifts, you target all the muscles of your body. Instead of focusing on strength gains in a smaller muscle group, like your biceps, or triceps only.
Smaller muscle exercises will result in less muscle strength gains than large muscles. And the full-body compound lifts like squats and deadlifts work the largest muscle groups of your body.
You will immediately understand why the 3×5 workout is so useful for athletes and anyone who wants to build muscle mass and improve health and fitness. In a typical gym workout, you might spend thirty minutes to an hour walking on the treadmill or elliptical and then do some bicep curls, tricep press downs with dumbbells.
Even some leg presses, but then you finish up, leave the gym, and wonder why after years of working out like this, your body did not change much.
However, with the 3×5 workout plan will stress the muscles of your entire body, which is then forced to adapt and grow.
And it is not only your skeletal muscles that get stronger, but also your ligaments, tendons, bone strength, cardiovascular health, and endurance as well.
3×5 Workouts A and B
There are two workouts, A and B:
- Squats – 3 sets of 5 repetitions of your work sets (aka 3×5)
- Overhead or military press – 3 sets of 5 reps
- Deadlift – 1 set of 5 reps
- Squats – 3×5
- Bench press – 3×5
- Deadlift or power clean (as you get more comfortable with pulling weight from the floor) – 3×5
You alternate workout A and workout B on your strength training days. For example:
- Mon – Workout A
- Wed – Workout B
- Fri – Workout A, and continue the Monday of next week with Workout B
As always, seek professional medical advice before starting the 3×5 workout program.
A critical component of the 3×5 workout is to increase the weight for every exercise, every training session. Even if you only increase your work set by half a pound, that is another personal victory for you.
Every day that you can push, press, or lift more weight, means that you are adding muscle and strength. Just as high-quality real food is your friend, so too is muscle because muscle keeps you functional and mobile as long as you live.
A powerful multijoint exercise like the deadlift can even help rehabilitate older people who suffer from mobility problems. For a dramatic illustration, see the story of the powerlifting grandma, Shirley Webb, who can now stand up unassisted from the floor, because she started deadlifting at the age of 75. That's right, Shirley is far stronger at age 81 than when she began deadlifting at 75.
It is never too late. Progressive resistance training can help improve your mental and physical health and fitness, no matter what your age.
Squats, deadlifts, press, bench press, and power clean are remarkable movements because they target the largest muscle groups of your body. For this reason, these exercises, along with additional assistance exercise, form the foundation of the 3×5 workout plan.
Order of exercises
The foundation of the 3×5 workout is the squat.
The purpose of squats first, and then press, is that once you get to the deadlift, your legs are warmed up for the deadlift.
Built into the 3×5 workout is the primacy of recovery:
- perform a 3×5 training session three times a week with a rest day in between, and weekends off
- so that your muscles will recover from the stress of the previous workout
- you run the risk of a chronic injury like tendonitis if you do not moderate training volume
- recovery also means that you eat quality food and get good sleep
Another advantage of the 3×5 workout is that you only need a minimum amount of weightlifting gear. As a result, you can build a garage gym or home workout area and save money on a gym membership, and time.
Here are the essential pieces of equipment you need for the 3×5 workout:
- Power rack for safety when doing squats – an excellent choice that for a home gym is the REP FITNESS PR 1000
- A flat bench with the power rack functions as a bench press work station
- Deadlift platform to protect your floor and weights, and reduce noise in your home
- 45 pound (20 kg) Basic barbell for squats, deadlifts, and bench press. (This barbell is not for Olympic lifts. You can use a 1000 pound rated Olympic barbell for Cross Training, Olympic lifting, and Powerlifting.)
- 160 lbs of bumper plates to is enough to get you started, and you can buy more plates as you get stronger
- Fractional plates so you can make linear progression, even as little as half a pound per training session
- Barbell collars for safety
- Gym Chalk improves your grip and reduces callouses
- Squat and deadlift shoes – you do not need special shoes for the bench press, but you do need squat and deadlift shoes to minimize the risk of injury.
- deadlift shin guards to protect your shins
In a structured sequence, Rippetoe persuades you why full-body compound weight training is so practical for building strength.
He tested his Starting Strength program as a powerlifter, coach, and gym owner for the last 30 years, and gives you the minimum effective dose of exercises that you need to build muscle mass.
Thirty years is a long time. Why waste time trying to reinvent the wheel? Of course, there are many approaches to strength training, but the good news is that the 3×5 workout has stood the test of time, and helped thousands improve their health and fitness.