My first 3 months doing the 5x5 workout as a runner

Posted on: 7 January 2024

My primary goal of 2023 was to start the 5x5 workout program: 5 exercises total, 3 workouts a week, consisting of 3 out of the 5 exercises (alternating with each workout). I had aspirations to create a modest home gym setup in my garage since moving into my current house at the end of 2020. In the autumn of 2023, I finally decided on some gym equipment and eagerly began my 5x5 journey.

Why the 5x5 workout?

I’m very new to weight lifting. It’s not something I’ve ever really done, and I wanted a simple set of exercises I could do consistently without much assistance. The 5x5 workout and its excellent accompanying online resources, seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Notably, only 3 workouts a week seemed like something I could slot into my schedule. The 5x5 workout also has a clear schedule and progression plan. It’s simple and easy to follow.

Providing you get the proper equipment, it’s also a set of exercises you can do on your own without the need for a spotter. So perfect for a home gym.

Starting out

I’ve hit my 3 workouts a week in all but 1 week due to illness. In a good week, those workouts are done on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, leaving a full weekend of recovery. But often the Friday session will be missed in favour of a Saturday.

It started out weight low weights, as per the advice. Due to my inexperience in weight training I started at the baseline recommendation of the following weights:

Exercise Starting weight
Squat 20kg
Overhead Press 20kg
Bench Press 20kg
Deadlift 40kg
Barbell Row 30kg

Starting small gives you chance to get used to the training load and work on your form; something that’s very important to get right when you get to the heavy weights.

Initially, workouts lasted up to 20 minutes. Very easy to fit into my schedule and a nice break from work. The variation from 1 workout to the next kept things fresh.


This is what I got hung up on and delayed me getting started with the 5x5 workout until later in the year. The guide states clearly you should do the workout with a power rack. This is a hefty bit of kit that is typically expensive and bulky. The kind of thing you'll find in pretty much all gyms. For a home gym though, finding the room for it can be tricky.

I couldn’t decide how much I wanted to spend on this equipment and ended up dragging my heels for a while. Eventually, I decided to get my weights sorted first. I found someone locally on Facebook Marketplace selling some plates, a bar and a squat rack for a decent price. I figured I could sell the squat rack later for a power rack.

3 months on, I’m still lifting with the squat rack. It’s not ideal, and involves mid-workout adjustments, but it’s fine for now. It doesn’t provide the ideal level of spotting protection, but with the weight I’m currently lifting, this hasn’t been a problem.

So my recommendation would be, you don’t need everything right away. Get the basics - a bar and some plates and some sort of rack - and you can go from there. Ultimately if I continue long term with lifting weights, I'll probably upgrade to a half rack.

Messy home garage gym showing a squat rack holding up a barbell weight plates on either end; a bench in the background; and additional plates on the floor next to the rack
My humble home gym setup, complete with an olympic barbell, various plates, squat rack & a bench


After two weeks, 6 sessions, of consistently increasing weight with each workout, I had my first injury. Now there’s a lot of useful information about injury prevention in the guide, but being too keen, I skipped it first time round.

One weekend I developed some quite sore lower back pain. This ruled out any exercises that used my back - squat, deadlift, barbell row. I was able to carry on pain-free with the arm-predominant exercises though (benchpress and overhead press).

After some research, I realised my form was likely the issue. Particularly with squatting, if you don’t brace your core and keep your spine straight, your lower back takes too much of the load as you squat down.

I introduced the “McGill Big 3” stretches into my routine which aims to strengthen your core. Doing this for a few weeks, and each time before starting my 5x5 workout for the day, improved my form considerably. Within 3 weeks of the initial injury, I was able to squat again without pain.


Form is a big one. How you do the exercises. You can half-arse it and get away with it up to a point. But you’ll reach a time where you can’t increase the weight anymore, or you get injured (for me, the latter).

Depending on how you best learn, you can either study online video tutorials for guidance on form, or you can get some advice in-person from a PT or physio. I didn’t go down this route but with hindsight, having someone able to correct your form in the moment would be invaluable and accelerate your progress.


So what improvement have I seen since I started? Weight increase has been incremental and reasonably consistent, although I have increased at a slower rate than the workout lead me to believe I would. There's been a lot of sessions where I haven't completed all the reps so have kept the weight the same for the next workout.

Since my lower back injury I've also increased weight more slowly on the squats, to play it safe. 5x5 mandates a 2.5kg increase with each squat workout; that's 7.5kg of weight increase a week if you hit all your reps. I've settled on a weight increase every other workout if I hit all my reps.

I have noticed a tangible improvement in my practical strength, both in general lifting and playing football. It's rewarding to have genuine feedback like this when taking on a new challenge. Visually I've got a small amount of increased muscle definition in my back and shoulders.

5x5 as a runner

Predominantly, I am a runner. I managed to go the whole of 2022 and half of 2023 without injury, so my schedule and load was working well for me. Whilst strength training is encouraged for runners, typically this focuses more on body weight exercises, not the kind of heavy weight involved in the 5x5 workout.

In my opinion, the 5x5 workout is not optimal for runners. Whilst strengthening the leg muscles will help your running in the long term, in the short term the increased load on your legs and back from lifting heavy weights alongside your normal training increases your injury risk.

Sadly this happened to me. In my first week of starting the 5x5 workout, after a particularly hard track session on the Wednesday, I felt my hamstring playing football the next day. It was tight for a few days but I was still able to run, albeit with reduced movement.

I didn’t think too much of it. The pain lessened and I pretty much got back to my typical running schedule. However months later, I was still having discomfort in my upper hamstring/glute area. It was only recently I got this diagnosed as hamstring tendinopathy; a weakness in the tendon that joins the hamstring muscle to the sitting bone.

Whilst this didn’t prevent me from doing the 5x5 workout, and wasn’t restricting me in every day life, it was and still is hampering my running. I have key races planned for 2024 and I need to seriously consider whether I should be focussing on training or rehabilitation.

Would I recommend it?

Yes I would. Weight routines can be intimidating to beginners. The 5x5 workout eliminates a lot of the confusion and hesitation around lifting weights. It provides a clear plan for improvement, with tonnes of information to help you when you inevitably hit a setback along the way.

If you are a runner or any other type of athlete with a regular schedule of training already, approach with caution and get some advice before you begin. Stretch, ease into it, and get advice on form.

If, like me, you’re treating weight training as a supplementary activity to your primary training, it’s not worth the risk of it derailing your primary goals through injury.