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The Vigorous 5×5 Program – My Take on Strength Training for Total Beginners

Introducing my simple, No B.S. strength program for people who never did Squats, Deadlifts or Bench Presses. Create a foundation before moving on to a more serious beginner’s program.
Milos Vujnovic Posted In Training Routines

Years of lifting heavy weights (the wrong way) have taken the toll on my body – without “feeling” the actual mechanics of the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press exercises I didn’t know how good (or how bad in my case) my technique was. Additionally, I didn’t have the money to pay for certified coaches so I was left to constant research and testing out different approaches to each of my lifts – some of them were very successful, some of them were not.

Although I did have a good theoretical understanding from reading multiple books like Starting Strength and others, there were still some issues which could not be solved unless I’ve had a live training session with a strength coach (again, money was the issue).

I’d like to also mention that during my strength (lifting) journey I was lucky to meet several highly experienced strength and Olympic coaches online, learned the trade bit by bit and implement that knowledge in both live and online coaching sessions with my clients – lifting weights and coaching others is my hobby – not my profession but it’s something that I really enjoy since I’m helping others to change their current training and eating habits.

Going back to my lifting story – all of that finally came to an ending when I partially tore a muscle in my hip and herniated 2 discs (as I’ve explained in details in my About page).

So, What I Could’ve Done Differently If I Would Start From Scratch (And With A Healthy Spine) All Over Again? Well, These Were My Errors:

  1. I didn’t record my lifts
  2. I didn’t focus on dynamic warmups (after sitting for 8+ hours a day)
  3. I didn’t take things slowly (i was focused just on hitting personal records)
  4. I didn’t add supplemental exercises (assistance) to help me improve my technique
  5. I didn’t eat enough (I wanted to lose weight on a strength-oriented program…not a smart approach)
  6. Besides the last point (hint – I should’ve eaten at maintenance TDEE and let my body re-compose slowly while getting stronger) – I could’ve done things much differently as you can see from the list above.

Having that in mind, if you’re reading this – and if you’re either a someone who has never trained at the gym – or if you’re a regular gym goer who wants to become stronger, then do continue reading below.

Before I share my program, I just want to say this – I’ve composed this program so you do not make the same mistakes as I did.

Now, Let’s See The Actual Program…

Workout A Workout B
Low-Bar Back Squat 5×5 Low-Bar Back Squat 5×5
Bench Press 5×5 Rack Pulls 1×5
Lat Pulldown 4×6 DB Overhead Press 4×6
Back Extensions 3×12 Face Pulls 3×12
KB Sumo Deadlift 3×12 KB Swings 3×12
DB Curls 3×8 AG Complex x3
AG Complex
Dead Bug x6
Glute Bridge x6
Bird Dog x6

The “AG” complex was creatively named on Abs/Glutes by myself 🙂 and it’s used for the reasons which I’ve written previously.

Before I give out the details – this is based on a linear progression protocol which means you’ll increase weights to your working sets each workout, for +5 lbs for Squats and Bench Presses, and +10 lbs on your Rack Pulls.

The point of the whole routine is to get you stronger, plain and simple. The whole 5×5 sets/repetitions scheme is based on old school strength 5×5 routines created by Bill Pearl, Reg Park and other experienced athletes and coaches.

The difference between those programs and the one which I’ve created is that I’ve added assistance exercises which will focus on the following:

  • Learning the hip hinge pattern
  • Hypertrophy work for your abdominals (building muscle)
  • Hypertrophy work for your upper back (building muscle)
  • Building lower back, oblique and abdominal musculature
  • Gluteus hypertrophy (building muscle)
  • Diaphragmatic breathing patterns

Additionally, I’ve created this routine to improve the issues which I’ve noticed when working with both regular gym goers and total beginners (mostly sedentary individuals) and those were:

  • Slouched forward posture
  • Unable to contract or engage their abdominals hard
  • Overextending lower-back instead of pushing hips back

If you compare all of this to other 5×5 routines you’ll notice that I’ve removed a third compound lift – this was done because I believe that a Squat, Deadlift (Rack Pulls) and Bench Press are quite complex movements on their own – especially for the untrained sedentary beginner (NOT a college athlete).

In my opinion, adding additional complex movements like Power Cleans and Overhead Presses would not give room for the trainee to focus on improving the technique on his core lifts.

Additionally, I believe that once you’ve completed this routine (usually after 3 months) you should progress to a more complex routine like Starting Strength which next to the book I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who is serious about lifting weights and understanding the core concepts behind strength training and compound movements.

I might be creating an Advanced Novice (intermediate) routine based on Vigorous 5×5, but I need to receive more feedback… so let me know what do you think about that.

Weekly schedule and Cycle Rotation

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Workout A Rest Day Workout B Rest Day Workout A Rest Day Rest Day
Week 1 Workout A Workout B Workout A
Week 2 Workout B Workout A Workout B
Week 3 Workout A Workout B Workout A
Week 4 Workout B Workout A Workout B

So Here’s The Plan…

During the first 2 weeks, I’d recommend that you focus on doing just the first 3 lifts of each workout.

This is because just by having 3 lifts to focus on (especially the compound movements) you’ll have room to work on your technique and understand the basic mechanical patterns behind each exercise – especially the Hip Hinge.

Additionally, I’d advise that you try out Box Squats instead of regular squats – if your gym has a box then feel free to use that. If it doesn’t, just take one of the benches from the free weights area and place it in the power rack. From there on you can perform your squats – just keep these things in mind:

  • Have your butt just touch the bench and then go back up immediately
  • Don’t relax at the bottom and literally sit on the bench
  • Keep your core braced strongly all the time during the movement

After you’re done with the first 2 weeks you can continue adding weights to your lifts, removing the box and perform regular squats, and do the workouts with all exercises which are listed.

As a reminder, I’ve created printable (and digital) sheets for this strength program with which you can track each of your workouts – and a warm-up weight calculator is included. Click here to find out more about this.

Compound movements in this program are composed of 5 working sets of 5 repetitions – before starting on your work sets you’ll perform warm up sets gradually working up to a weight which will you perform during your main work sets. You can use an online warm-up weigth calculator to calculate your warm up weights.

Start your first workout with an empty bar and test the working weight – you should do your work sets (with that working weight) without technique breakdown and generally easy. The actual starting work weight which I use (when coaching recreational athletes) for male beginners is 90 lbs (or 65 lbs for females) but please do to test out lower weights until you’re comfortable since each person is different by many variables (age, weight, athletic background, etc.).

Regarding the technique form i.e. performing the actual exercises – since there is a lot of information which can be found online I won’t write about form for now (although I do plan to release series of blog posts i.e technique series with my coaching cues). I hope that this is not a deal-breaker for you 🙂

Progression On Compound Movements (Bench Press, Rack Pulls, Squat)

Each new workout you’ll add +2.5kg or 5 pounds to your work set weights. This will start a form of adaptation which in layman’s terms forces your nervous system to work better by adding hypertrophy (muscles) to lift more heavier weights. If you want to learn more about this process I recommend reading the Starting Strength book.

Progression On Assistance Exercises

Once your technique is on-point I’d recommend decreasing rest times between working sets (from 90 seconds to 60 seconds) or gradually adding more weight.

The latter works better in my opinion for assistance exercises. Also – I don’t believe that you should include variations like back off sets or drop-down sets considering that this is a total beginner routine so please keep that in mind.

Why No Deadlifts

I for one believe that deadlifts are one the best exercises you can do for your body. Although they are quite taxing, they also require good skill to be executed properly – and this skill is made by deadlifting more of course.

However, as you know, the goal for this whole routine is to have you focus on just few compound lifts so you can master them correctly without having to think about 3 technical lifts for every workout – I’ve added rack pulls instead of deadlifts since they will prepare you to experience one part of the deadlift movement while still having small to virtually no chance of injury if they are performed correctly and without technique breakdown…

…and also to mention that your back and abdominals will be well developed from the rack pull which puts you in a favorable position when you start performing deadlifts – and also considering that one of the biggest form breakdown points happen when the athlete relaxes his upper back (or just has weak upper back as a whole).

If you still decide to do deadlifts instead of rack pulls, a word of precaution – you’ll be doing deadlifts just after a heavy set of squats, which means that your posterior chain will be already pre-taxed and tired. With that in mind (apart from the other things mentioned above) in no way I’ll be recommending replacing rack pulls with deadlifts in this particular strength program.

A Word About Rack Pulls

Rack Pulls in this routine should be performed with the bar just below the knee as a starting point. you can perform rack pulls in the power (squat) rack (hence the word “Rack” in the name of the exercise) – however you can also perform them with blocks or by stacking 45lbs weight plates on the floor.

If you decide for this option, it’s usually 2 or 3 stacked plates on each side (depending on your height) – what’s important is that once you stack them and put the loaded bar over them, the bar should be just below your knees.

Things To Keep In Mind

I’d advise 3-5 minutes overall of rest time between each working set. I believe that it’s much more important to be rested and perform 5 quality repetitions with good form instead of rushing to complete everything quickly thus worsening your technique each time and ingraining bad movement patterns.

Regarding calorie intake, I recommend using one of the calculators on my Resources page and eating at your TDEE (maintenance) level.

If you’re planning to lose fat, you can slowly re-compose (lose fat and build muscle) while eating at maintenance level. If you want to see faster results, drop 200 kcals from your TDEE and continue with the routine.

Personally, I’d advise going with the maintenance route since you’ll make steadily strength gains while also slowly (but surely) losing fat in the process.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that this strength routine will help you to get started on your personal journey to improve mobility, get stronger, and train smarter in the long term… and to NOT make mistakes which I’ve done of course 🙂

Let me know how your first week went!

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