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5×5 Workout for Over 50 Years Old
What It Is and How to Start It

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 10, 2021

There’s no question about whether or not the 5x5 workout can help those over 50 to build muscle.

But whether or not it's safe for them to do so is another question to keep in mind.

Stick around until the end to find out more about the truth behind the 5x5 workout and whether or not it’s right for you.

What Is The 5 x 5 Workout For Over 50?

man working out outdoors

The 5x5 workout is a training program where users perform a total of 5 sets of 5 reps of different weightlifting exercises per week.

If you have been around gyms and fitness junkies, chances are you’ve heard about the 5x5 workout for over 50.

More than just a myth, the 5x5 workout has helped individuals that are 30, 40, and even 50 years of age with muscle building and strength.

The author and creator, Bill Starr, invented this workout program throughout his bodybuilding career and is considered a legend amongst athletic trainers.

There are two 5x5 workout programs you should alternate between for maximum results.

For example, you can perform workout A on Monday, perform workout B the following Wednesday, and back to workout A on Friday, with rest days on Tuesday and Thursday.

By implementing this cycle per week, it prevents your muscles from becoming accustomed to the exercises and plateauing in results.

Here’s what each type of workout consists of:

  • Workout A: Squats, Bench Press, Barbell Row
  • Workout B: Deadlifts, Overhead Presses

What Makes The 5 x 5 Workout Program So Effective?

big guy working out with a barbell

5x5 workout exercises don’t use isolation exercises, dumbbells, or any type of machines, Instead, it focuses on  compound barbell movements like stronglifts and the deadlift for a good reason.

These exercises focus on making you lift the heaviest amount of weight your body can handle, making each repetition very intense.

According to research, exercising in this manner stimulates your body to create muscle mass at three times the speed, compared to performing regular resistance exercises.

With each 5x5 workout activating all the muscles in the body, alongside the intensity of the exercises, you’ll gain strength in no time at all![1]

Additionally, you’ll also increase the weight as you gain more muscle, quickening the rate at which you’ll see results.

The Principles Behind The Workout

1. Perfect Form

adult male in a squat position

Following each exercise with precision is unnecessary. You can alter them just like how you can alter through every workout on subsequent days.

The one thing that cannot be changed, however, is the position of your squats.

How you squat and how well you maintain good form will determine whether or not your efforts are worth it.

When doing 5x5s, improving squat strength is very important.

Doing so prevents your knees and joints from getting damaged and increases your one rep max on the bench press.

Why does this matter?

Exercises like the one rep max increases your natural testosterone levels and promotes faster muscle growth.

As men tend to lose a large majority of their testosterone through the aging process, boosting those levels back up will aid greatly during workouts.

As you perfect your squat, you’ll also see improvements with other exercises as well. If you want to achieve optimal progress, it’s time to get comfortable with the squat rack.

2. Resting Is Just As Important As Exercising

black man wiping his sweat while chugging water

When it comes to building muscle, keep in mind that it isn’t a race.

Anyone at older ages  should focus on minimizing injury over performing a successful lift.

Make sure to get plenty of rest in between each set to give your body a chance to catch up.

How long should you rest for? Each rest period depends on the type of weight you are exercising with:

  • Rest 30 to 90 seconds if you are lifting light weights
  • Rest 90-180 seconds if you are lifting weights that are somewhat challenging
  • Rest 180-300 seconds if you are lifting the maximum level of weights your body can handle

Resting systematically allows your body to fully prepare for the next set of the 5x5 exercise program.

During the resting period, the level of oxygen in your body recuperates as you breathe deeply and without interference.

This creates higher levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is responsible for energy storage and transportation.

The more ATP your body produces, the most likely you are to successfully complete each workout routine.

Pros And Cons of The Workout Program

Pros
  • It is very simple to follow. All you need to do is to alternate between the two workout programs consisting of 5 simple exercises
  • Progression is easy. Add around 2 kg – 2.5 kg to every lift workout. This leads to faster results.
  • The program itself promotes a hefty diet and uses big compound movements (stronglifts) for maximum effectiveness.
Cons
  • Starting the exercise program without a barbell is difficult. Individuals who are average in size and training will find it difficult to create muscular adaptation.
  • You might have to start de-loading lifts. This will slow your muscle gaining process, thus being quite demotivating.
  • The program is too simple. Some people may find the workouts boring after a few months of training.

What Exercises You Should NOT Do After 50

woman in a therapy session

Working out the same way in your 50s as you did in your 20s and 30s is nearly impossible.

Throughout the years, your body will have undergone massive changes, making it more challenging to do an intense workout. If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s going to hurt—a lot.

As we age, our bodies lessen in flexibility, bone density, and muscle mass. Unfortunately, this means that the recovery process for those over 50 will be agonizing and long-lasting.

To minimize injuries and protect those sensitive joints, here are some workouts to avoid if you are over 50 years of age.

  • Sprinting

Even though it is okay to increase your workout’s weight and intensity, sprinting is just not an option. Running at high speeds after 50 can put you at great risk of injury.

  • Heavy Weights

Lifting weights after 50 comes with a long list of benefits. However, lifting weights that are too heavy can create issues. Your body’s bones and muscle groups are more fragile, making it more risky to lift heavy weights safely.

  • Plyometric Exercises

Plyometric exercises are those that utilize the legs and bodyweight for jump training and other sudden explosive movements. If you value your kneecaps, avoid these at all costs.

Some Useful Tips

woman warming up outdoors

Results will typically slow for beginners starting the 5x5 exercise program.

As a result, you may be tempted to increase the weight to quicken things up - don’t do this!

For beginners over 50, overdoing the workout is the quickest way to tear a muscle or strain a tendon.

Lift lighter weights and add heavier weights only after your body has adapted for better long-term results.

Additionally, stretching plays a key role in preventing burnout and optimizing muscle development.

Stretching before and after a workout will prevent cramps and reduce muscle pain. You’ll feel the difference once you put theory into practice!

Lastly, use a belt for better effectiveness if you are a beginner at lifting weights.

After training yourself, you can remove the belt or continue using it to compensate for increasing amounts of weight.

FAQs

Is 5x5 Good For Building Muscle?

Performing 5x5 weight training alongside compound lifts will lead to a variety of muscle gains and benefits.

Can You Still Grow Muscle At 50?

It’s never too late to build muscle! Sticking to the 5x5 program after 50 will result in improved strength and bigger muscles.

Is It Healthy For A 50 Year Old To Lift Weights?

Lifting at any age gives back great results. Doing it after 50 can even change your life. It can extend your life expectancy, prevent illness and even increase flexibility. Not to mention, you’ll feel a lot younger!

How Often Should A 50-Year-Old Lift Weights Per Week?

The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends people over 50 to lift weights no more than 2 or 3 times per week.

Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Use A 5 x 5 Workout?

Arnold used a 5x5 method for many years. Because he was an Olympic trainer, he experimented with more intense versions besides just doing 5 sets of 5 reps by doing 6 sets of 4 and 8 sets of 3. Your version may vary and should be customized to your needs.

Can You Do A 5 x 5 Workout Everyday?

If you have just started the 5x5 training program, it’s better to focus on quality, not quantity. There are little downsides to doing it every day, but for optimal performance, stick to 3 times a week.

Is The 5 x 5 Workout For Over 50 A Good Choice?

When it comes to building muscles, the 5x5 workout is a staple amongst bodybuilders and powerlifters.

Its core training principles boil down to lifting heavy weights and incorporating strength training exercises for fast progress.

For individuals over 50, it’s a great way to get back in shape.

You’ll want to prioritize safety and good form during your training routine, overperforming lifts to prevent injuries.

Set your goals and stick to a solid workout plan to build up those biceps, triceps, and calves, to overcome age-old limitations for a brand new physique.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562558/

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