5 x 5 For Vert

If you spend any time on the internet nowadays you've most assuredly at least heard of various 5 x 5 routines. I'm not sure who originally came up with the 5 x 5 approach but as far as I know the approach was popularized by Bill Starr at least a good 30 yrs ago. Starr was a skinny 130 lb non-athlete who joined the military out of high school, took up weight training, and built himself into a good enough athlete to walk on and play football at D1 S.M.U.  He then took up competitive weightlifting and later became one of the first true strength and conditioning coaches.  he was one of the very first coaches to espouse and teach strength training for sports such as football, and his influence continues  today.   

I first heard of Bill Starr when I was browsing thru the muscle magazines at a  magazine rack in my local grocery store back in 1992. He had a monthly column in Muscle Mag magazine. I read a couple of his articles and he was continually forever making reference to training in the 60's and ancient gyms, like the York Barbell club.  Being 19 and knowing everything at the time I thought to myself, "Aww this stuff is all old and outdated, I'll pass." Unfortunately, I probably could have saved myself 5 years of mostly wasted effort had I been a little more open minded and implemented his principles early on. It's obvious to me now 20 yrs later I'd have made a lot more progress relatively early on.  That was 20 yrs ago. Now, twenty yrs later and you'd still be hardpressed to find a better all around approach for building useable strength and strength for sport than Starrs 5 x 5 variations. These programs build strength and build it fast. it's not uncommon for a lifter to put 150 lbs on his squat in 6 months using various 5 x 5 templates.

The thing I love about 5 x 5 approaches is how simple and effective they are over a long period of time and how so many great periodization principles are built into the concepts. In my observations nowadays fewer and fewer coaches and athletes learn proper long term strength programming. The promotion of effective programming using basic movements has gone by the wayside in favor of a smorgasboard approach to exercise selection and a huge emphasis on injury prevention.  That's fine, but no reason one can't learn BOTH how to prevent injuries AND how to build core motor qualities. 

Back to the topic, there are a multitude of effective 5 x 5 approaches. Among them include the Rippetoe/Starting strength 5 x 5, Texas method 5 x 5, Madcow 5 x 5, Heavy, light, medium, 5 x 5 and dual factor 5 x 5.   

As important as strength is to the vertical jump and as effective as 5 x 5 approaches are at building it, people often ask me how to modify a 5 x 5 routine into a vert specific routine. I thought of making a "Vert" 5 x 5 but really all the existing 5 x 5 approaches can be easily modified for jump gains. It's simple really. Here a few tidbits to keep in mind:


1. Add some calf work: As discussed in a previous article, the ankle extensors can contribute quite a bit to the vertical jump. One can simply use progressive overload for calf gains.  Two or 3 days per week do 2-3 sets of 20-30 reps of a standing calf raise variation such as standing calf machine, donkey calf machine, one arm db calf raises, barbell calf raises, or manual donkey calf raises. As soon as you get 3 sets of 20 with a given weight, go up in weight. The calves respond with strenght increases very quickly when worked consistently. 

2. Add some jump work: You need to be efficient in your jump. Not a problem if you routinely play several volleyball or basketball games regularly, but if you're the type that spends more time in the weight room than you do on the court then you'll need to add some plyo or specific jumping work.  Try to get around 80-100 ground contacts of plyos or jumps in 2-3 days per week. 

Now here are a couple of different popular 5 x 5 approaches. First I'll give you the "raw" variation then I'll show you how I'd modify it specifically for vert gains: 

Beginner/Starting Strength 3 x 5

This is a great approach for beginners and it consists of: 

Clean 5 x 3 or Deadlift 1 x 5 (alternate back and forth each workout)

bench/standing press 3 x 5 (alternate back and forth each workout)

Squat 3 x 5

Train 3 x per week on an every other day basis with weekends off. For the bench, press, and squat work up to a moderately hard set of 5 then do 2 more sets of 5 with the same weight. Go up in weight when you get all 3 sets with perfect form. Just perform one set of 5 on deadlifts.  The idea is to add weight to each exercise everytime you hit the workout. That routine is very effective but here is how I'd modify it for vert gains:

Vert oriented Beginner/Starting Strength 3 x 5

Plyo variation: 2 exercises x 3-4 sets x 8 reps each

Bench press/standing press 3 x 5 (alternate back and forth workout to workout)

Squat 3 x 5

deadlift 1 x 5 or jump squat 3 x 5 (alternate back and forth workout to workout)

Calf raise: 3 x 20

Here you just add a couple of plyos at the beginning of the workout, replace the cleans with jump squats, and add a few sets of calf raises to the end. The extra plyos accomplish 3 things:

1. They help warmup for the weight training movements. 

2. They activate the fast twitch motor units and this has been proven to increase strength in subsequent movements.

3. They give you some specific jump training.  

I've found the average beginner will typically add 4 inches to their vert in a month with this type of program. The only caveat is some trainees may have problems recovering from 3 x per week full body training. In that case just reduce the workouts to 2 days per week.  

Bill Starr Intermediate 5 x 5

This is a great split for intermediate athletes. Here the goal is gaining 5-10 lbs to your squat bench, and clean each week.  


Bench 1 x 5, 1 x 8-10

Clean 1 x 5

Squat 1 x 5, 1 x 8-10


Incline press 3 x 5 with same weight each set. Stop each set a bit short of failure.

Squat 3 x 5 with 80% of mondays top squat weight

Back extensions or glute-ham raise: 4 x 10


clean 1 x 3

bench press 1 x 3, 1 x 10

squat 1 x 3, 1 x 8-10

Tidbits: On mondays workout on bench, squat, and clean you perform 5 sets working up to a top set of 5, followed by one back-off set of 10. typical poundages might go something like this:

135 x 5, 185 x 5, 205 x 5, 225 x 5, 275 x 5, 205 x 10

Wednesdays squats are about 20% lighter than mondays for 3 x 5.  

The goal in fridays workout is to do a set of 3  on the clean, bench, and squat with a weight at least 2.5 lbs heavier than your heaviest set of 5 on Monday, followed by a backoff set of 8-10 for bench and squat. Initially you might be able to add 10 lbs per week, but as you progress your weekly jumps will be smaller and smaller.  

Ramp up in weight the same as on Monday, thus, your weights might look like this:

135 x 5, 185 x 5, 205 x 5, 225 x 3, 275 x 3, 285 x 3, 210 x 10

Then, the goal for the following Mondays workout is to do a set of FIVE with the same weight you used for 3 reps on friday.  It's really simple. 

Now here is how I'd modify the program for vert gains. 

Vert Oriented Intermediate 5 x 5


Bench 1 x 5, 1 x 8-10

Snatch 1 x 5 alternated with: Plyo variation x 8-10 reps (After each set of snatches perform a plyo variation for 8-10 reps)

Squat: 1 x 5, 1 x 8-10

Calf raise: 3 x 15


Incline press 3 x 5 with same weight each set - stop each set a bit short of failure.

Jump squat: 4 x 8-10 with 15-20% of squat max

Barbell hip thrust, reverse hyperextension, or 2 hand dumbell swing: 4 x 8-10

Calf raise: 2 x 30


Snatch 1 x 3 alternated with: Plyo variation x 8-10 reps (In between each set of snatches perform a plyo variation for 8-10 reps)

bench press 1 x 3, 1 x 10

squat 1 x 3, 1 x 8-10

Calf raise: 3 x 20 (with monday's weight)


The modified template follows the same basic goals and principles but takes advantage of some slightly advanced vert specific periodization concepts. Although splitting hairs, when compared to the clean, the snatch is a bit more specific to the Vertical Jump, due to the greater inherent velocity involved.  We also take advantage of post activation potentiation and complexes by alternating each set of snatches with a plyo variation.  The jump squats on wednesday take the place of the lighter squats. We also introduce a heavy, light, medium approach to calf raises, which will quickly give you calves strong enough to lift a truck.  

What if you don't know how to snatch or clean?  You can always replace those movements with jump squats or dumbell swings. 

One extra Tidbit - Do you have to EAT so much??

Hardcore followers of 5 x 5 setups are often instructed to eat as much as humanly possible - often going on GOMAD type diets (gallon of milk a day). Experience has shown us 5 x 5 approaches (and strength approaches of any sort) work MUCH better if your bodyweight is steadily going up at least 4 lbs per month.  This obviously takes a lot of eating. The workouts increase strength and as you lift a heavier weight you stimulate muscle mass, which is supported by your caloric intake, which helps to continue push your strength up.  

The problem some vert seeking athletes have is the typical recommendation to gain bodyweight doesn't jive with what they feel is right. But don't we need to be light to jump high? Well, you do want to have a high strength to bodyweight ratio, but in the real world, given proper training, bodyweight gains are 9 times out of 10 offset by strength increases. In other words, say in 6 months you take your bodyweight from 150 to 170 and your squat from 200 to 300. Even though you gained 20 pounds of bodyweight your strength per pound of bodyweight still improves significantly. My thoughts are you can save a lot of time by letting your bodyweight go up a tad. Unless you're really overweight, strength gains typically come a lot slower if your bodyweight is always constant. Gains that might take you 2 yrs to make keeping a constant bodyweight can be made in 6 months being a bit looser on the reins and allowing your bodyweight to go up 10 or so pounds.  This holds particularly true if you're a naturally thin individual. 

Give these templates a shot and let me know how you like them!

Also be sure to pick up a copy of the new Vertical Jump Bible 2.0 to learn about anything else you'd want to learn about proper vert training and many more examples of how to set up a killer routine.  

Good luck!