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Beginners 5×5 Workout – Alternative to the Five Exercises

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The traditional 5×5 workout program has you do five barbell lifts: the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and bent-over row. You split the five movements into two workouts (A and B), which you alternate. For example:

  • Monday – workout A
  • Wednesday – workout B
  • Friday – workout A

On the second week do two B workouts and one A, allowing you to complete the cycle and start over. The set and repetition range is simple: do five sets of five reps.

While practical and effective, the 5×5 program might not be the best option for beginners. The five barbell lifts take time to master, and doing only barbell training can overtrain you. With that in mind, let’s explore some alternative movements.

5×5 Alternatives Exercises

Traditional 5×5 Exercises Alternatives/Modification Exercises 
SquatGoblet squat: The movement is less intimidating for beginners and works well because it reinforces a more upright torso (1). As you hold onto a dumbbell, your upper back, core, and erector spinae work hard to keep you in position.
DeadliftRack pull: With this movement, you elevate the bar on racks or blocks, which allows you to practice the top half of the range of motion. Rack pulls can be beneficial for beginners to limit leg fatigue and practice the hip hinge pattern to build back strength and proficiency.
Bench Press Dumbbell press: The dumbbell version is more welcoming for beginners because it feels more manageable. But using dumbbells forces you to use both sides of your body equally. Doing so improves your techniques, improves core stability, and helps you work up to a barbell bench press (2).
Overhead press Seated dumbbell press: This overhead press variation works well because it’s simpler for beginners to start doing. You don’t have to worry about stability due to the seated position (3). Instead, you remain stable as you practice the proper overhead press technique.
Bent-over row One-arm dumbbell row: This rowing variation is an effective and less intimidating alternative. You get to train with a lighter weight, support your torso with your free arm, and practice good rowing technique. As a result, you can build some back strength before transitioning to a bent-over barbell row.

Building Up to the Full 5×5 Workout 

The 5×5 program is one of the simplest programs you can use to build raw strength and muscle. Doing the workouts and following the progression scheme is predictable and straightforward. Of course, simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, especially for 5×5. The program is demanding, and you might want to build up to five sets of five reps over several weeks. For instance:

  • Week 1 – 5×2
  • Week 2 – 5×3
  • Week 3 – 5×4
  • Week 4 – 5×5

Alternatively, start with five reps, but gradually increase your sets until you’re doing five:

  • Week 1 – 2×5
  • Week 2 – 3×5
  • Week 3 – 4×5
  • Week 4 – 5×5

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