Stew’s Favorites: 5 x 5 x 5

A staff sergeant performs a bench press with dumbbells.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Weller, readiness noncommissioned officer with the 170th Support Maintenance Company, Wichita, Kansas, performs a dumbbell bench press during annual training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, May 23, 2019. (Sgt. Michael Steed/U.S. Army photo)

As the weather gets cooler, we typically transition from the higher-rep calisthenics and mileage of runs, moving toward the heavier lifting cycles, some cold-weather rucking and indoor swimming for a healthy mix of non-impact cardio. If you do not have a pool and cannot swim with fins for 1-2 miles of cardio, try the stationary bike, elliptical, rower or a spin class. Here is our first 5 x 5 workout of the season.

Normally, when powerlifting for strength, you will pick a weight about 75%--80% of your one-rep max. But since this is the first 5 x 5, do some experimenting over the five sets and find a weight that you can do five reps with, but likely would fail on the sixth or seventh rep. As November turns into December, we will learn what our one-rep maxes (1RM) are in these lifts and can figure out the standard 75%--80% 1RM weight.

This is the workout mixed with a cardio rest session that we call: 5 x 5 x 5 minutes.

Repeat five times.

  • Cardio five minutes (Tabata intervals, pyramids, or easy pace on bike, elliptical or treadmill)
  • Squats 5
  • Bench press 5
  • Deadlifts 5
  • Pull-ups (weighted, 25 pounds) max
  • Abs of choice 50 or one-minute plank pose

(rest as needed between sets)

Light cardio cooldown: Run, bike, ruck, swim 30 minutes for distance. How far did you get?

Add any auxiliary exercises you prefer: dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX, etc., to work arms, shoulders, core ...

I rarely miss an upper-body workout without doing the Light Weight Shoulder Workout. (video)

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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