5×5 has long been considered one of the best workout programs to increase strength.
It is typically performed with the main powerlifting moves, i.e. bench press, squat, and deadlift, although you can use just about any compound exercise.
Plus, the original Stronglifts 5×5 program also includes the overhead press and bent-over row.
However, it can be quite difficult to determine what percent of your one-rep max you should use for 5×5.
In fact, you’ve probably heard a number of differing views of the ideal weight to train with.
In truth, I believe that most lifters go too heavy when using 5×5.
So, allow me to reveal the ideal percent of your max you should use for 5×5.
Plus, I’ll include some examples for the bench press, squat, and deadlift.
What Percent of Your Max Should You Use For 5×5?
81% is generally considered the optimal percentage of your one-rep max when training a 5×5 split. You should be able to lift 90% for a single set of 5 reps, but you need to figure in fatigue when training for a total of 5 sets. With that being said, ideally you’ll want to use a 5×5 workout program for around 8 weeks. So, it is better to start off with 65% of your one-rep max and add 5-10lbs to each exercise every single week.
The 5×5 Max Percent “Rules”
As I’ve mentioned, you’ll typically hear differing views of the ideal weight to use for 5×5.
And once more, I actually think that most people go too heavy.
Firstly, for one set of 5 reps you’ll generally want to be lifting around 90% of your one-rep max.
However, when it comes to training 5×5 you have to figure in fatigue that occurs with each rep and each additional set.
In reality, trying to lift 90% of your max for 5×5 will probably feel like 100% (or more) by the time you get to the final few reps of the last set.
Remember, your aim is to hit 5 reps for every single set.
Basically, there are no prizes for half-completed sets.
This is why the most common figure used when it comes to training 5×5 is 81%, or 90% of your 90% of max.
However, if you’re looking to train the 5×5 workout program properly I would suggest that you start even lower.
For me, the ideal 5×5 strength program will involve training for 8 weeks and progressing in weight every single week.
So, try starting off at 65% of your one-rep max, but make sure that you add 5-10lbs to each lift, every week without fail.
By following this protocol you should find that you’ll exceed the recommended 81% within a few weeks.
Plus, you may even find that you easily exceed your initial 90% max by the end of 8 weeks.
How to Calculate Your One-Rep Max
I would hazard a guess that most of us don’t know our one-rep max for the vast majority of lifts.
In truth, unless you’re training for maximal strength, you’ll probably never use a true one-rep max.
However, most of us are aware of our 10-rep, 8-rep, or even 5-rep max for a particular lift.
Basically, we train in these rep schemes more often, so we know what we are and are not capable of.
With that being said, I would class a true 10-rep max as a weight that I can just about lift for the final 10th rep.
In other words, I have pretty much achieved failure by the time I’ve done my 10th and final rep.
Once you know the specific weight to achieve a certain number of reps of an exercise you have the ability to determine your one-rep max.
The formula is as follows:
Weight lifted in pounds / (1.0278 – (reps x 0.0278)) = one-rep max
So, as an example, if my 8-rep max for bench press is 225lbs I could work out my one-rep max using this formula.
225 / (1.0278 – (8 x 0.0278)) = 279.36
So, using this example (and rounding everything up), if my 8-rep max bench press is 225lbs then my one-rep max is 280lbs.
Bench Press 5×5 Percent of One-Rep Max
Now, using some of the examples I’ve mentioned above:
One set of 5 bench press reps should be performed at 90% of my one-rep max = 252lbs.
The ideal 5×5 workout should be performed at 81% of my one-rep max = 227lbs
If I’m going to perform 5×5 for 8 weeks I should start at 65% of my one-rep max and aim to add 5-10lbs every week = 182lbs.
Therefore, if I added 10lbs every week after the first week (7 times in total by week 8) I would be performing 5×5 bench press with 252lbs.
So, I would be able to achieve this with my original 90% of one-rep max.
However, if I had started at this weight in week one it’s unlikely I would’ve completed 5 reps on every set or even progressed on a weekly basis.
Squat 5×5 Percent of One-Rep Max
Let’s do an example for squats now.
So, I’m aware that my 8-rep max for squats is 315lbs, therefore to calculate my one-rep max:
315 / (1.0278 – (8 x 0.0278)) = 391lbs
So, one-rep max for squats is 391lbs.
Therefore, I should be able to perform 5 reps at 90% = 352lbs
The ideal 5×5 squat workout should be performed at 81% = 317lbs.
However, if I’m going to do 5×5 for 8 weeks I should start off at 65% of my one-rep max = 254lbs
If I add 10lbs each week after the first week I should be performing 5×5 squats at 324lbs in the final week.
Realistically, at the end of 8 weeks the 324lbs I’m squatting should equate to 81% of my NEW one-rep max.
So, my new one-rep max will be 400lbs.
This may not seem like a great increase in weight, but I could perform a 5×5 workout for 8 weeks, take a week off, and then repeat the process another 5 times over the course of a year.
In effect, if my one-rep max goes up 9-10lbs every 8 weeks, by the end of the year I will have added approximately 50-60lbs to my squat one-rep max.
Trust me when I say that is a figure that we would all like to achieve on an annual basis.
Squat Progress – 225lbs for 5×5 @ 140lbs
Deadlift 5×5 Percent of One-Rep Max
Finally, let’s look at an example for deadlifts.
Let’s say that my 8-rep max for deadlifts is 415lbs.
415 / (1.0278 – (8 x 0.0278)) = 515lbs.
Therefore, 90% = 464lbs.
81% = 417lbs
65% = 335lbs
Admittedly, when we look at deadlifts, the starting weight at 65% looks quite low.
However, the aim is to hit 5×5 every workout and increase weight every week.
In effect, when it comes to heavier weights, and especially the deadlift, you could look to add 10-20lbs in weight every week.
Obviously, this will vary from week-to-week, but at the end of 8 weeks, your 5×5 and one-rep max would’ve increased significantly.
So, as you can see, there are a few variations of the percent of your max that you can use for 5×5.
You would typically want to perform 5 reps of an exercise at around 90% of your one-rep max.
However, when it comes to performing 5 sets of 5 reps you have to figure in fatigue.
So, the ideal number is 81% of your one-rep max for a full 5×5 workout.
With that being said, if you wish to perform the 5×5 as a full workout program I would recommend that you follow the protocol for 8 weeks.
With this being the case, it is better to start at 65% of your one rep max and then add 5-10lbs (10-20lbs for deadlift) each and every week.
Check out my review of the Anabolic Aftergrowth Workout Program. It specifically focuses on JUST bench press, squats, and deadlifts. The program creator claims that you could add 14lbs in lean muscle in just 60 days. See what I had to say about this.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.