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StrongLifts 5×5 Alternative Workout

I remember how hard it was to choose a workout routine when I started and that’s what inspired me to create the stronglifts 5×5 alternative.

As you’ve probably realized by now there are hundreds of websites with their own version of a beginner workout routine.

And one of the most famous ones is the StrongLifts 5 x 5 workout.

For people who enjoy minimalist routine and don’t worry too much about aesthetics that workout will do the job.

Without a doubt, you’ll get strong as hell. But what if you want to build a good looking physique as well as get strong?

Strength vs Aesthetics

Most people I’ve talked with over the last few years have aesthetics as a goal and not just strength.

And to be fair most guys would choose a six pack, nice aesthetic chest and arms over adding 50 kg to their squat. That’s just the reality.

Of course, you’ll build some muscle with the StrongLifts 5×5 plan. There’s no doubt about it.

However, I find that the minimalist type of training and the exercise selection in the StrongLifts program doesn’t provide adequate variety to build a nice physique.

And that’s what inspired me to write an alternative workout.

I know there’s a lot of guys out there looking for a solid plan which focuses both on getting strong and having the looks. So that’s how this workout was born.

What to expect as a beginner?

First off, let’s be real here. As a beginner, you’ll make progress (“newbie gains”) for a few months regardless of which routine you choose.

Progress will happen as long as you do two things:

  • Consistency – You don’t skip workouts.
  • Progressive overload – You progressively add weight as you get stronger.

And of course things like nutrition and recovery (mainly sleep) play a key role here. You can learn a lot about these things and much more on my YouTube channel.

The key factors you want to learn more about are Calories, Macros and how to use apps such a MyFitnessPal to manage your diet.

Additionally if you’re currently “Skinny Fat” I’d suggest watching this.

Again as I said, there are over a hundred videos on my channel explaining nutrition in depth so I highly urge you to check that out. Now, let’s get into the workout.

Workout Routine for Newbies

StrongLifts 5×5 Alternative – Basic Structure

The routine will be a 3 days per week full-body workout. Based on the current body of evidence we can assume that a full body routine might lead to better results compared to a traditional “bro” split routine.

And for someone starting out with 3 days a week this will provide a well-balanced amount of stimulation to build muscle, get stronger and also recover.

The exercises in the routine are fundamental movements that have been proven over and over to yield incredible results both in terms of muscle hypertrophy and strength gains.

Having said this, it’s important to realize that movements such as squats, deadlifts, overhead press, bench press and other compound lifts such as pull-ups require learning as does any other skill.

And another key factor is that if you’re someone dealing with an injury you might want to find an alternative to some of the movements if you can’t safely perform them. (This is out of the scope of this article.)

Learning the proper technique is the key

When you’re just starting out consistency, practice and mindfulness on how you’re executing the technique will be critical.

And to see how these exercises should be done once again you can check out my YouTube channel.

Additionally, I would advise search other YouTube channels and watch as many videos as you can find on each lift until you get the form down right.

Some exercise might fall into place naturally and others might take a long time.

For example: I remember when I started training Bench Press felt very awkward and it took me months to “connect” with the movement.

StrongLifts 5×5 Alternative Workout for Beginner

– Day 1 – Full Body Starting with Upper

Barbell Bench Press 3 x 5
Lat Pull Down Machine 3 x 6-10
Alternating Sets A1/2: 2 x 6- 10 (This means: You do a Set of A1 > 1 minute rest > Set of A2 > 2 minute rest)
A1: Overhead Shoulder Press
A2: Seated Cable Row
Barbell Squat 3 x 8 – 12
Barbell Romanian Deadlift 3 x 8 – 12
Optional Abs: 1 x Plank for 1 Minutes Followed by Hanging Knee Raise 10 – 15 Reps

– Day 2 – Full Body Starting with Lower

Barbell Squat (Below parallel) 3 x 5
Deadlift 3 x 5
Dumbbell Step Ups 3 x 6 – 10 (each side)
Seated Leg Curl Machine 2 x 6 – 10
Superset B1/2: 2 x 12 – 15:
B1: Incline Dumbbell Bench Press Press
B2: Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Optional Abs: 1 x Side Plank for 1 Minute (each side) Followed by Cable Crunches 10 – 15 Reps

– Day 3 – Full Body Starting with Upper

Barbell Bench Press 3 x 6 – 10
Assisted Wide Grip Pull-Ups 3 x 6 – 10
Incline Dumbbell Fly 3 x 8 – 12
Dumbbell Pullovers 2 x 8 – 12
Bulgarian Split Squat 2 x 8 – 12 (each leg)
Single Leg Hip Thrust 2 x 10 – 15 (each leg)
Optional Abs: 1 x Sit-Ups 10 – 20 reps followed by 45-degree side bend 10 – 20 reps (each side)

StrongLifts 5×5 Alternative – Frequently Asked Questions

How to Schedule the Workouts?

Most people prefer to do workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

And the general rule here is that you should have 1 day of rest between workouts and no more than 2 days.

Which weight do you choose for exercises?

For each set, you want to use the weight that you could have only done 1-2 more rep at the end of it. So you wanna have 1-2 reps left in the tank.

And this is very important. You should NOT go to complete muscle failure.

How to Progress?

For the BIG 3 compound movements (Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift) that have 5 reps as the target for the day simply add weight any time you feel like you’re no longer 1-2 reps shy of failure.

You can expect to add weight on a weekly basis for the 5 rep exercises.

For other movements in the rep ranges higher than 5 use a *Double Progression Scheme*

Example for rep range 8 – 12, you add weight only when you hit the top reps of the range for all of the sets.

How would that look:

Example: Barbell Bench Press with 3 sets of 8-12

Week 1:
Set 1: 90 lbs for 8 rep
Set 2: 90 lbs  for 8 reps
Set 3: 90 lbs  for 8 reps

Then some future week might be like:
Set 1: 90 lbs for 10 reps
Set 2: 90 lbs for 10 reps
Set 3: 90 lbs for 11 reps

The soon it might be like:
Set 1: 90 lbs  for 10 reps
Set 2: 90 lbs  for 11 reps.
Set 3: 90 lbs  for 11 reps
etc..

You would only increase the weight when you get to
Week X:
Set 1: 90 lbs for 12 reps
Set 2: 90 lbs for 12 reps
Set 3: 90 lbs for 12 reps

Week X +1:
Set 1: 100 lbs x 8
Set 2: 100 lbs x 8

Then Week X + 2 would be back to 8 reps for all with higher weight.
Set 1: 100 lbs for 8 reps
Set 2: 100 lbs for 8 reps
Set 3: 100 lbs for 8 reps

How much should you rest between sets?

– Heavy Compound lifts for 8 reps and below.

Rest up to 3 minutes between sets for exercises that require using multiple large muscle groups like Bench Press, Squats, and Deadlifts.

– Isolation or Single-joint movements for 8 reps or above.

Rest about 60 seconds – 2 minutes between sets of isolation movements like Lateral Raises, Flyes or Machines.

You can time yourself with a watch, smartphone or read a wall clock.

The rest period doesn’t have to be exact, but it’s a good practice to time your rest periods so that you don’t rest too long or neglect adequate recovery time.

– Supersets

Perform the first exercise and immediately follow it with a set of 2nd exercise. Then rest 60-90 seconds after the 2nd set and repeat until all sets are completed.

Note: If you can’t super-set because the gym is busy then just do them as straight sets. After you finish all sets of exercise 1 go to exercise 2.

What to do if you’re Feeling Tired or very Sore?

If you feel tired on a specific day then simply reduce the weight by 5-10% and focus on form. Additionally, you can also reduce the number of sets if it’s 3 to 2.

Listen to what your body is telling you and if there’s a specific muscle group that’s very sore and tired take it a bit easier.

You’ll come back stronger next time.

How to Move Weights?

Control the weight on the negative portion but you do control it so it doesn’t free fall.

When contracting the muscle be as explosive as you can.

How To Warm-Up:

Do easy 5 minutes cardio on a treadmill or on a stationary bike to get the heart rate up and wake up the body.

The warm-up is not supposed to make you very tired.

Then after that cardio:

2 Sets for Warm-Up for the first exercise of the day.

Example:

* Empty bar for 10 reps
* Add 5-10 lbs on the side and do 4-5 more reps

and 2 sets for Warm-Up for Squats before you do them.

These sets are not supposed to make you super tired (maybe they will initially for first 2 -3 weeks) so keep it light.

How long should you follow this program?

Follow it as long as you’re making progress.

One of the most common mistakes beginners make is changing programs in the never-ending search for what’s “optimal”.

I was no exception to this mistake. As long as the program is working and you’re getting stronger keep doing it. Follow the progression schemes and you’ll be fine.

As a beginner, this program will work great for the first 4-6 months.

You should be able to progressively add weight to the bar every week or every second week.

Conclusion

As a beginner, the stronglifts 5×5 alternative workout will allow you to build a great looking body. The important thing to remember here is training consistency and progressively getting stronger are they keys to success. And if you combine those 2 things with a solid nutrition plan with plenty of protein you’ll undoubtedly build a massive amount of muscle with this workout plan.

If you have any questions simply leave them in the comment section below.

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  • Will have to try this. Did Stronglifts a while back but progress kinda petered out around week ten or so.

    • You’re gonna love it bro. Cheers!

  • Joseph Summers

    Mario, thanks for this! I’ve certainly fallen victim to jumping between routines. Decided to give this routine a shot and stick with it. 2nd week (cutting) and already looking promising, will report back. Sound advice as always Mario!

  • Marcus

    Can this be done with only dumbells? I frequent the gym at my work as it pushes me to go, but they don’t have a barbell, only EZ-curl bar, dumbells, and some kettle bells, as well as your typical weight machines…

    Thanks!

    • It could as long as you can progress with weights and get stronger. The beauty of barbells is that they allow for tiny increment of weights so you can progressively get stronger which is the key.

  • JM Sobrevilla

    So my bro likes it when the aircon is on and I like it off while we workout. Is it better if the aircon is on or off. Thanks Mario!

  • Iman Martin

    is it possible that you PLEASE make a video on YouTube with exactly everything you spoke on here. I know it’ll be easier for you as well, due to the fact you know your stuff well. I’m a visual learner as well. I really want to get it and make sure I’m doing it right..also for the workouts those are split up for Monday, Wednesday and friday?

  • randomguy100

    Why are there no arm exercises?
    Any substitutes for Wide grip assisted pull ups?

  • Vince

    Hi Mario,

    As I train at home and only have access to barbell and dumbbells – Is it possible for me to substitute the following exercises:
    – Replace ‘Seated Rows’ and ‘Assisted Wide Grip Pull-Ups’ with ‘Bent-over Rows’
    – Replace ‘Seated Leg Curls’ with ‘Stiff Leg Deadlift’

    Also, is it compulsory to do some of the sets as ‘alternating’ or ‘super-sets’? The problem is because I only have one barbell, it makes it very difficult to alternate workouts unless I’m using the same weights.

  • Nikosbak

    Hey Mario,

    I’m doing this workout (and I have 3months lifting experience) and I want to add a fourth day which start with leg and then goes to arms who are missing from the main days workout:

    How can I add this 4day in this workout ?
    I’m thinking something like this:
    Squat
    Leg press
    RDL
    DB step ups or DB lunges
    leg curl machine
    Ez curl/ Hammer curl
    French press/ Cable Rope Tricep Extension
    ABS

    Is that good/optimal?

  • James Lim

    hey Mario
    I am going to try this workout schedule. my question is that I am skinny fat(I have watched your skinny fat youtube video) my goal is to have a body that is lean but muscular (ex. brad pitt from fight club) in this case, do I need to add cardio on top of this workout program?
    thank you

  • Lucas P

    If I adapt this routine to use dumbbells in place of the barbell, should any additional adjustments be made, or should I be fine?