Modifications to StrongLifts 5×5

I’m inspired by fitness professionals that can make very complex science palatable to those they’re influencing.  People like Mike Boyle, John Romaniello, and Dan John have the ability to “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  Some jerk named Einstein said that a few years back. My boy’s wicked smaht.

By nature, we over complicate things.  We like change.  We like variety.  Exercise is no exception.  We want to enhance endurance, develop strength, reduce fat, build muscle, and learn how to juggle.  All at the same time.  We also want to do it from home in 19 minute per day.  It’s no wonder that ‘variety’ in programs like CrossFit and P90X are popular.

Then there are programs like the Strong Lifts 5×5 program.  It may be the damn simplest program ever.  There are two workout templates, and you alternate which one you use, every other day.  This is it in it’s entirety:

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 5.07.00 PM

The only thing that may be simpler than this program would be not training at all, but that’s not an option.  At least not for us.

StrongLifts 5×5 is a great program, but it’s just too minimalist for me.  It leaves out important exercises such as push-ups, and there’s no unilateral work or direct core exercises.  I was recently advising a friend who wanted to start with but make modifications to StrongLifts 5×5.  He’s trying to serve multiple masters (hypertrophy, fat loss) and while that is possible, I feel there are some changes that can be made to the original StrongLifts template that are better suited towards  towards movement needs and overall progress.

My modifications are simple.  You’d follow the same schedule as you would for the original template

I paired each of the main exercises with a non-competing strength exercise as well as a filler.  The filler is used to reinforce good posture, or to prepare the body for one of the two strength exercises.  Each day, I’d recommend including a small dose of HIIT at the end of each session.  Easy-peasy.

Here’s an example of what some of these modifications might look like:

Workout A

A1) Squat 5×5
A2) Chin-Up 5x??
A3) Squat to Stand with Overhead Reach
B1) Bench Press 5×5
B2) Goblet Reverse Lunge, 4×8 per leg
B3) Half-Kneeling Face Pull, 4×10
C1) Barbell Rows 5×5
C2) SHELC Variation
C3) Single Arm Dumbbell Press or Anti-Rotation Push-Up variation
4-10 hill sprints, Prowler pushes OR 30 second HIIT

Workout B

A1) Squat 5×5
A2) Suspension Trainer Inverted Row, 5×8
A3) Quadruped Rock Back or Thoracic Rotation
B1) Overhead Press 5×5
B2) Single Leg Squat Variation, 4×6 per leg
B3) Half-Kneeling Single Arm Cable Row, 4×10
C1) Deadlift 1×5
C2) Pull-Up
C3) Eat Bacon / Don’t complain about grip strength
^ Just kidding.

4-10 hill sprints, Prowler pushes OR 30 second HIIT

Eating bacon may be counterproductive on that last grouping.  If deadlifting and pullups are grip intensive, and bacon is greasy… you might want to use some chalk.  Or use a fork.

The premise of the StrongLifts 5×5 program is progressive overload, slowly adding weight to the bar.  That’s some good shit.  I like that.  Your body likes that.  It wants to move well and get strong.  Let it get strong.

Some programs focus on fluctuating weight based on percentages of 1RM, which is great if you know your 1RM, and if you’re comfortable taking max effort sets.  (If not, read THIS.)  The 5×5 program isn’t to take max effort sets, but to make steady progress.  Small increases in weight are not insignificant; they can quickly add up.


See how gigantic those weights are?! This guy took it nice and slow.  Oh wait…what’s that?… he’s a baby?  Crap.

I believe that developing strength is one of the most important factors to continued progress in an exercise program.  The StrongLifts 5×5 program is great at cutting out the fluff that fills most training programs, but I think it leaves some things out.  The modifications that I’ve made are designed to include those missing movements along with the corrective drills that most of us require.

I’m curious as to what you fine folks think about these modifications, and I’m working on a “Part 2” for my next post.  Let me know what you think!

One Reply to “Modifications to StrongLifts 5×5”

  1. Gee, thanks, I already spend a good 40 minutes doing the basic Stronglifts program, I’d sure love to be at the gym for another half an hour doing pointless stuff that will tire me out for my big lifts.

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