StrongLifts 5×5 is a great weightlifting program for women looking to get stronger and build lean muscle. The best thing about it–anyone can start it! Here are 40 things you should know about the program before jumping in.
Things to Know Before You Begin
1. 5×5 is not just for men. Don’t let this misconception keep you from diving in. This program is for you too.
2. You’re not going to bulk up. Another common myth. Unless you start shooting steroids, you aren’t going to get massive. Instead, you’re going to lean out and shape up where it counts.
3. You may need to eat more and get more vitamins. Once you really get into the workout, you are going to find that you may actually need to increase your food intake to continue getting stronger. Bump up that protein.
4. You definitely need to sleep more. Sleep is often the most underrated part of any fitness plan. If you aren’t getting as much sleep as you should, you will kill your 5×5 workout.
5. It’s good for your bone health. Osteoporosis is a legitimate concern for many aging women. StrongLifts will help strengthen your bones by increasing density. It’s the anti-osteoporosis.
6. Olympic weights are preferred, but not necessary. If you look on the StrongLifts site, he recommends that you use olympic style weights. However, if you don’t have them, don’t sweat it. Standard will do just fine until you hit 200+ pounds on your lifts. And for most women, that will not happen any time soon.
7. Don’t start StrongLifts if you’re pregnant. While getting pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot lift, you certainly don’t want to be adding weight to the bar throughout your pregnancy. In fact, it should be the opposite.
8. Study up first. There are lots of good resources out there on 5×5, including how to properly do all the lifts. Do your homework before you dive in. You want to make sure it is really the program you want to commit to, and you do not want to hurt yourself.
Bonus: Get the right pair of shoes. Normal workout shoes aren’t ideal for StrongLifts because there’s too much padding in the heel. You need flat shoes that make you feel grounded. Chuck Taylor’s are great for this. However, if you’re looking for a better all-around workout shoe, we recommend getting a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves. Trust us – you’ll love them.
Things You Should Know to Get Started
Ready to jump into the program? Read these tips as you begin.
9. Remove rings. We’ve heard horror stories of people getting their rings caught doing deadlifts and other lifts. So if you have a big engagement ring or some other sort of jewelry, remove it. Another option is to get a silicone wedding band made specifically for exercising. It’s a great alternative to going ringless. Check them out on Amazon here (they’re cheap!)
10. 5×5 can help those trouble spots. While cardio like Shaun T’s Insanity workout or Max 30 is good for burning fat, nothing will shape your body like resistance training. In particular, heavy squats will sculpt your butt (more info on butt workouts for women).
11. Start with an empty bar. A lot of people have difficulty with this one, although we have found it’s not usually as big a deal for most women (maybe men have bigger egos when it comes to being macho?). Regardless, make sure you begin the program with an empty bar, even if you are capable of lifting more. Working your way up forces you to practice proper form before the weight gets really heavy.
12. You can still do the program if you can’t lift the bar. In some cases, a woman might not be strong enough to use the bar in some lifts. That’s okay. Many gyms have lighter bars you can substitute. You can also use a standard bar at home, which is usually only about 15-20 pounds.
What You Need to Know About Aches and Pains from 5×5 Workouts
Spoiler alert: it’s going to hurt. Learn what kind of pain you should tolerate.
13. Soreness is normal at the beginning. Feel like you can barely move after your first few workouts? This is normal. Have no fear, as this will go away once you get used to the movements.
14. Muscle soreness isn’t a reason to skip a workout. Some women may feel like they are too sore to do the next workout. Maybe they need an extra day of rest. Don’t let this happen to you. Going through your workout is the best way to relieve that soreness.
15. Just because you aren’t sore doesn’t mean it is not working. After a few workouts, you may find that you don’t feel much of anything afterwards. That’s okay. Just because you aren’t dying the next day doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Equating soreness with effectiveness is a common mistake.
16. Don’t settle for lower back pain. Lower back pain is never normal. In fact, if you are experiencing pain in your lower back during your lifts, you are likely doing them wrong. Make sure to analyze your lifts and see if you can find where your lower back may be compromised.
What Every Woman Should Know About Squatting in StrongLifts
Squats are your best friend. Find more info on them below.
17. They’re the best thing you can do for your butt. Look, it’s a trouble spot for all of us. Almost everyone has some complaint about their butt. It’s too big. It’s too wide. It’s too flat. Whatever. Bottom line, the squat attacks your glutes like no other exercise. Keep up with it and it will shape the muscles and make your butt look awesome.
18. They’re the anti-thigh gap creator. We here at WFHQ don’t believe in thigh gaps. I mean, they exist. But they’re dumb. Squats are going to do the opposite for you. They’re going to give you awesome, muscular thighs to match what they are doing to your butt.
19. Squats should go past parallel. This seems to be a difficult for many people to understand. The way to tell if you are going past parallel is to look at your thigh crease, right at your hips. That crease needs to drop below your knees to get the full effectiveness of the movement.
20. Watch for butt wink. The downside to squatting low is that some people’s pelvis will rotate in at the bottom of the squat. Known as butt wink, this can compromise the lower back. Here’s a great article on butt wink.
21.Full squats are great for your weighted squats. The full squat (some call it the “Third World Squat”) is basically a stretch that will make your ankles, hip flexors, and hamstrings more flexible. It’s also great for your lower back (and for me, is a great way to pop my lower back). So how do you do it? Simply sit down in squat position, like a baby.
22. Low bar squats are not worse on your lower back. StrongLifts advocates that you use a low bar squat position. However some people say that is worse on your back. Myth. In fact, I’d say it’s safer. Not only that, you will be able to lift more, which will work your butt and legs more.
23. Lay off the hardcore cardio. If you are used to running mile after mile or hitting the elliptical hardcore for an hour every day, well you need to make some adjustments. Your squat will suffer if you don’t back off the cardio. Can’t give it up completely? Try something fun and not-so-extreme like the Cize workout. If you want more HIIT style, you might be interested in our article on Peloton alternatives.
24. Push up with the heels. Sometimes when squatting heavy weight, it’s tempting to push up from the front of your foot. I used to do it without even realizing it. Concentrate on pushing up through the heels to stay vertically centered and get more power.
Doing 5X5 at the Gym?
25. Stay off the smith machines. Most women I see doing squats in the gym are on the smith machine. Why? Well, it seems to be the safest option. And since it’s not technically free weights, it is less intimidating. But please don’t use it! The smith machine actually screw up your form, forcing you into unnatural movement. It also robs you of the workout your other muscles get as you attempt to steady the weights.
26. Plan your outfit. You might try some high-waisted leggingsWhen it comes to lifting, you want to be as comfortable as possible. Especially in respect to squatting, the last thing you want to worry about deep squat is whether or not your butt crack is showing. Hey, it’s worth considering! for the best comfort and compression.
27. Take gym-goers advice with a grain of salt. It’s inevitable. People are going to see you, the girl, lifting and think they need to help you. It’s nice and all, but it can get annoying. Just remember, everyone thinks they know the right way to do everything. Study StrongLifts 5×5 and follow it, despite what they suggest.
28. Let people know you’re waiting. Most of your 5×5 workout will take place in the power rack. Unfortunately, many gyms only have one or two (squats aren’t that popular to the casual gym-goer). So sometimes, people will lollygag and take up the rack foreeeever. Don’t be bashful. Let them know you are waiting and maybe they will take turns with you.
30. It’s okay to bench in the power rack. Can’t find a partner to spot for you? Drag the bench into the power rack. Set the spotting pins up to where they will catch the bar close to your chest if you fail. It’s perfectly acceptable!
31. Don’t let the guys intimidate you. Depending on the crowd, walking into the free weight area can be intimidating. It can even be intimidating for men who are new to lifting. Don’t worry, no on is judging you. Just get in there and get started. If anything, most people will be impressed that you’re trying something different.
32. Don’t substitute free weights with machines. It may seem that your gym has machines that imitate the movements of your 5×5 lifts. Don’t substitute. Machines for you into unnatural movements. You simply will not get the same results from them. Get to the barbell.
A few things in closing…
33. You have to stick with it to see results. Results will not come over night. You have to stick with it. Remember, you will feel better before you look better.
34. Don’t quit just because you skipped. I get it–life happens. Sometimes things will come up and you have no choice but to skip. But don’t let that stop you. Get back on it ASAP. Keep going.
35. Don’t substitute anything in the routine. People love to mess around with routines and switch things up. Don’t give in to the temptation. You have to follow the routine to get the results you are looking for.
36. If you get pregnant, pull back. If you become pregnant during the middle of StrongLifts, consider lowering the weight you are lifting. However, remember that there are still some benefits to lifting during pregnancy, especially at the onset. Regardless, talk to your doctor.
37. Take advantage of “period power.” It’s easy to convince yourself to skip lifts when on your period. It’s uncomfortable and painful. However, you might find that you are actually stronger on your period, so if you can, take advantage.
38. You can get support on Reddit. Need a community to back you up? Go to reddit. They have a bunch of subreddits that have people just like you who can help support you. Start at r/fitness, or better yet, for a female-specific sub, try r/xxfitness.
39. Video yourself. When it comes to compound lifts, form is everything. Being off even a little can rob you of gains. Not only that, but it could result in an injury that could put you on the shelf indefinitely. Video yourself to check form. You can also post videos to reddit and others will critique your form for you.
40. Don’t take weight off the bar as soon as you fail. Eventually you will stall. Complete that day’s 5×5 with as many reps as you can. Try it again next workout. If you fail, try it again the next workout. If you miss it the third time, then it’s time t take 10% of the weight off the bar and start working your way back up.
What If I Don’t Have Access to Weights?
If you don’t have access to weights but you want to strength train, then you’re going to have to find another program. TRX bands are one way to use your body weight to get a good strength workout. And the suspension systems are fairly inexpensive. You can see some of those TRX workouts here.
Another good option for alternative strength training is an adjustable kettlebell. It’s a good way to train strength and endurance together.
Note: Some people have asked us about a routine that focuses less on strength and more on aesthetics. For those of you who are curious, we recommend you check out our look at Strong Curves.
There it is–40 things women should know about StrongLifts 5×5. Have questions? Contact us and we will do our best to help you out!