The Complete Guide To Madcow 5×5 Workout Routine

bill starr's original madcow 5x5 pictureYou most likely heard of Bill Starr’s 5×5 workout routine. He is the original creator of this program.

The first time I have heard about madcow 5×5 workout routine, I was doing the Starting Strength routine for more than 8 months in which I gained massive amounts of strength. But I got bored of that routine and I pretty much reached plateau. 

I wanted something different and so repetitive.

Introducing Madcow 5×5 Workout Routine

Madcow was a person just like me and you who was active on powerlifting and on some bodybuilding forums.

He started publishing this  madcow 5×5 workout routine on a well known free hosting platform named geocities but his website disappeared in October 2009 after a good 5 years of being up.

After you will learn everything about this method of training, if you are familiar with The Texas Method, you will see that they are very similar.

The Madcow 5×5 is mainly tailored for intermediate users who have the feeling of the weights and also possess at least 6 months of training under their belt.

If it happens for you to be in the situation in which your progress slowed down and you don’t know what to do, you came into the right place.

How Madcow 5×5 Routine Works

I will begin by saying that this is a very simple intermediate program that goes by the principles of linear progression.

I hope I’ll do a good job in explaining every aspect of this training program.

This is the exact program you will be following for the next weeks/months:

madcow 5x5 routine explained picture

The only thing you will do on this program is to take your current 5 repetition maxes and try to get them higher by increasing the weight that you are lifting, in a steady manner over the upcoming weeks.

This is not a 8-9-10 week program. The 9 week example in the excel file is just showing you how the progression is being made.

You can use this program for as long as you are progressing.

The Madcow 5 x 5 Routine Spreadsheet

NOTE: Before you begin this program, you must know your current 1 or 5 rep max.

You need these numbers for planning the progression aspect of your training. 

If you don’t know them, you can take an easy approach to find the rep maxes by testing your strength in the gym or by testing your 1 rep max and then using a calculator to get your 5 rep max.

A more flexible approach is to begin with lighter weights and progress as it goes.

The picture bellow shows you how to find your 5 rep maximum.

madcow 5x5 spreadsheet

After imputing your current weight for the 5 repetition maxes, the madcow 5×5 spreadsheet file will calculate your progression rate just like in the picture bellow:

visual representation of madcow 5x5 routine

The first 3 weeks of the madcow 5×5 program are done with submaximal weights. This means you will lift lower weights than you previously lifted.

In the week 4 of this training program, you will try to surpass your past 5 repetition maxes.

If you look at the numbers in the spreadsheet, the weekly progression is approximately 2.5% increase each and every week until you get to a plateau.

For example, if Monday you are doing 200 lbs x 5 reps, on Friday you should strive to get 3 reps with 2.5% more which is 205 lbs. And so on.

How Do I Get Started With Madcow 5×5 Workout?

  1. Figure your 5 rep max
  2. Put those numbers in the week 4 of the spreadsheet (Look at the picture above)
  3. Take out 2.5% from that weight with which you can do 5 reps until you hit week 1 (week 3 is 2.5% lower than week 4, week 2 is 2.5% lower than week 3, and so on).
  4. Do the program as listed
  5. Back off as explained when you reach a plateau
  6. Get back to your “week 4” and over it
  7. Profit !

You should take into account that the weekly progression is done if you get the Friday 5 reps that are scheduled. In case you miss those 5 reps on Friday, you will keep the weight constant the next week. 

Strive to get the 5 repetitions in the next workout.

Ramping Up The Weights

If you bench 100, take 10-12.5 % from that number and go backwards. A good example of what you will have after making some calculations with 10%: 

  1. 60 x 5
  2. 70 x 5
  3. 80 x 5
  4. 90 x 5
  5. 100 lbs x 5 reps – the 5th set

Assistance Exercises

I know that every one of you want to get the pump work for the ladies but I would suggest you to limit it to the bare minimum. You don’t want to stress your body too much because it’s already stressed from the main lifts.

madcow 5x5 workout progression chart

What makes this a beautiful program is that in case you stall on most of your lifts, you can continue working with this program for as long as you take the intelligent path in reusing it. How to do that?

Just reset the weight back 2-4 weeks and try to get back to your current lifts and over them.

Remember that I said if you stall on the majority of your lifts. In case you only stall on a single exercise, you can rollback the weight for a few weeks and only work with that move by using the progression chart.

Some people might argue that 2.5% increase over the 4th week is too little but picture yourself doing this routine for at least 8 weeks.

In the 4th week, you will get a new 5 repetition maximum. It should be easy and counted as a true PR because the strength adaptation is kicking in.

In that 4th week workout, you will move that same 5 rep max weight from 4 weeks ago with ease.

After 4 more weeks (8 weeks in total) of sticking with this program, you should have increased most of your weights by 10%.

That’s quite a huge adaptation if you ask me. If you keep doing it and watch your diet, you can progress even further.

If we are to look ahead and imagine 12 weeks into this program, your total increases should be 20% added to your lifts. Impressive isn’t it?

Rest time

The rest time depends on your working capacity. Let’s say it takes 2 minutes for you to recover between sets. By all means take them.

You should always listen to your body when you are doing the rest time because it knows best what it’s good for you. It’s like a biological auto-regulation system which should be listened, and even improved.

What’s next ?

Imagine yourself doing this program for a long time and you notice that something slows down your strength gains. 

You can’t progress as you used to. The simple fix would be to reset the weights and take a run with your records, change some exercises and keep milking that linear progression as long as you can.

Good things come to an end because there will be a point where progressing will be slower. You’ll hit a plateau and the next recommended step would be periodization.

The best advice I can give you is to stick with it for as long as you can milk it and don’t jump from a program to another like most of the Joes and Janes do. These are people that wonder why they are not progressing. Why they are doing this sport for years and not making any visible strength or muscle gains.

There’s a saying: “Everything works but nothing works forever”.

With that being said, I appreciate you took the time to read this and if you have any friend/person that might benefit from your share, please do so.

Also, what is your experience with this program if you are using it?

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  1. Antoine Calvan says:

    Haven’t tried it yet but looked for a good explanation of this program so this is what I needed. thanks florin

  2. I got great results in using this routine back when I wasn’t able to squat 200 lbs. I remember getting to a 400 lbs squat only with this routine! Good tutorial

  3. Do the workouts stay in the same order each week? Example: week 2 do deadlifts workout Monday and Friday and bench workout Wednesday? Just a little confused.

  4. So for each main lift, you will only 25 reps, then you move on to the next main lift, which again is only 25 reps?

  5. So with MadCow, there is only an ABA workout routine? In other words, deadlift and military is only once a week, 4×5? thanks!

  6. Hello,

    I’m currently on this routine (week 11) and unfortunately my gym suddenly closed and it’s been 3 weeks. I think I found a new home (gym) and will continue with the program. How far back should I deload?


    • Hey Jeremy. I would suggest you to restart the routine given that you took a longer break than usual

      • Thanks!

      • Hey Marinas,

        Just a feedback on this program. It’s actually working for me. I’m seeing my strenght go up! I started at 132 lbs bodyweight and I am currently at 137 lbs.

        My stats are:
        Squat = 5 RM 285 lbs I was stalling on 295 lbs (2RM)
        Bench = 165 lbs
        OHP = 120 lbs (weak I know!)
        Rows = 215 lbs
        Deadlift = 320 lbs (3rm)

        I was at week 11 but like you said since I missed 3 weeks, I will need to restart the routine.


        • At your weight, the 5×5 routine is perfect. That deadlift of 320 lbs is huge! Congrats on that! As a personal suggestion, the longer you keep consistent with your training and diet, the better your results will be. Keep it going, Jeremy

  7. i tweeted out the referral to be able to download the spreadsheet but where is the link to do so?

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