Bill Starr’s Amazing 5×5 Routine

Bill Starr Introduction

Bill Starr is an icon in the world of Strength training and a former Olympian and Olympic Team Coach. He was one of the original York Barbell pioneers in the 1950’s and has inspired thousands of lifters and Strength and Conditioning guru’s over the past 70+ years. To name a few; Louie Simmons, Mark Rippetoe, and Jim Wendler.

Bill Starr Quote

Bill Starr was the founder of the concept of the five sets of five reps training and ‘Heavy, Light and Medium training split.’ There wouldn’t be; Starting Strength, “StrongLifts, Wendler 531, Texas Method, and Madcow if it wasn’t for Bill Starr and his teachings.

Bill Starr wrote the iconic and legendary “The Strongest Shall Survive” book in 1976 laying the foundation for the modern day “Strength and Conditioning” training we see today.

The book is full of fantastic material and not just sample routines, it includes; stretching routines, explanations of exercises and their benefits , nutrition, muscle and joint anatomy, rehab and recovery, rep schemes, tutorials, equipment and more.

It is important to stress the book was not written for powerlifters, bodybuilders and Olympic lifters. The book was written for American football players and coaches. This is why for example it does not include the Deadlift (I talk about in the tutorial videos) and large amounts of hypertrophy training.

Quote from The Strongest Shall Survive 1976 book

Routine Overview

The lifter will train three days per week and the routine follows a; Heavy, light and medium day routine. On day one the lifter ramp’s up (or referred to as warm-up) to a five rep max weight.

Day two the lifter ramp’s up to a top set weight that’s 80% of Day one’s top five rep max set. Day three is the ‘medium’ intensity day whereby the lifter will ramp up to a weight that’s 90% of day one’s top set Five rep Max weight.

Most programs are 4-8 weeks in duration based on the routines objective and the proficiency level. The lifter can follow a Monday-Wednesday-Friday split or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday split.

Routine Overview

Rep Schemes

The normal rep scheme used is five sets of five reps whereby the first three to four sets are ramping set’s leading to a top heavy set. However, Bill Starr recommends other rep schemes such as:

  • Three sets of Five reps + three sets of three + one set of eight to ten (3×5+3×3+1×8-10)
  • Five sets of ten reps (5×10)
  • Five sets of five reps (5×5)
  • Five set of five + one set of eight to ten (5×5 + 1×8-10)
  • Five sets of three reps (5×3)

Therefore the common misconception is Bill Starr only preached five sets of five reps, he actually recommended a range of training schemes , rep schemes and training principles.

Linear Increment

A lot of the programs online claim you make a linear weekly progression for day one’s top heavy set weight of 2.5% each week for all lifts. This is not true, Bill Starr claimed the progression for the lifts are as follows:

  • Bench Press and Military Press: 10lbs (5kg)
  • Power Clean: 10lbs (5kg)
  • Squat: 20lbs (10kg)
  • Leg Extension, Leg Curls, Hyperextensions: 5lbs (2.5kg)

The linear progression is achieved by adding the stated amount of weight to the barbell each week on Day one for the top heavy fifth set.

For example; if week two for the Squat the lifters top set weight was 180kg then on week three day one the lifters top heavy set weight will be 190kg. Simple.

Bill Starr The Strongest Shall Survive 1976 Quote

In the JH Variants I tend to apply the below Increments for the lifts:

  • Pressing Exercises (Strict Overhead Press/Bench Press/Behind the Neck Press/Incline Press): 5lbs (2.5kg)
  • Pulling Exercises (Deadlift/Power Clean/Shrugs/High Pull): 10lbs (5kg)
  • Squat Exercises (Front Squat and Back Squat): 10lbs (5kg)

Exercises

Bill Starr mainly focused on the “Three Main Lifts” which for him were the: Power Clean, Squat and Bench Press. However, he also recommended other variation lifts, especially for more advanced lifters.

In addition, Bill Starr recommends a small number of hypertrophy based isolation exercises performed for higher volume but lower intensity. Bill Starr limits the hypertrophy based exercises because his routines are designed for American Football players.

Football players goal is to become stronger in the weights room and dedicate the remainder of their time to improving their performance on the field. They are not bodybuilders!

Exercises

The variation exercises are normally aligned and assigned to specific days based on their intensity level, for example:

Heavy Day: Back Squat, Bench Press, Power Clean, Shrugs

Light Day: Front Squat, Behind the Neck Press, High Pulls

Medium Day: Shrugs, Back Squats, Strict Overhead Press, Power Clean

This is because some of the above lifts tend to be lighter in loads than others, a behind the neck press is lighter weight than a strict overhead press. Shrugs are heavier than Power Cleans so a lifter might want to Shrug on Day one and Power Clean day three.

Program Download

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