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How to Train for 5x5 Squats

By Jack Kaltmann

To increase muscle mass and strength, exercisers often turn to a routine of five sets of five repetitions. This results in myofibrillar hypertrophy, or the creation of more muscle tissue. You'll need to determine your one-repetition maximum, or 1RM, to set up your 5x5 squat program.

Determine Your Maximal Load

Warm up your muscles by squatting with an empty barbell for several sets of five repetitions with no more than 15 seconds' rest between sets. Your goal is to do as many light squats as necessary until you break a sweat and have increased your breathing.

Increase the weight by 10 to 25 pounds and complete three reps. Rest for two minutes. Continue adding weight in 10- to 25-pound increments until you begin to lose form on your third repetition. Ideally, you should reach this point within 10 sets.

Increase the weight in increments of 5 to 10 pounds and complete two reps. Rest for two minutes between sets and continue adding weight until you lose form on the second rep. This weight is considered your maximum weight.

Multiple your maximal weight by 0.8 to determine a starting point for your 5x5 weight. For example, if the most you could squat for two reps was 300 pounds, then your 5x5 weight would be 240 pounds (300 x 0.8 = 240). This weight is not set in stone and is simply a guideline that you will adjust after using the 5x5 protocol for a few sessions.

5x5 Protocol

Complete a warm-up by squatting an empty barbell for three sets of five reps. Increase the weight by 25-pound increments for multiple sets of three reps until you reach your starting weight for the 5x5 protocol.

Do five reps at your starting weight and rest for two minutes before starting the next set. Keep the weight the same for each set.

Increase the weight by 5 to 10 pounds in your next session if you were able to complete five reps in each of the five sets with proper form. If you were not able to complete all five reps, keep the weight the same for your next training session.


Losing correct form on a squat occurs when your back is rounded, or more frequently, your squats become shallower. You should be squatting deep enough that your butt is almost touching the ground at the bottom of the squat. If you find that you are doing three-quarter or half squats, then you've lost form and need to reduce weight.


If you experience any knee or low-back pain, stop squatting. You should be able to go into a full squat without any weight before attempting a 5x5 squatting program.

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