Jason Blaha’s Ice Cream Fitness 5×5 is a program designed to maximize gains in novice lifters. But it isn’t just for new gym-goers; there is an intermediate version designed for those who have been training for at least 6-12 months already. Its proven methodologies help beginners to make tremendous progress in a short amount of time. For this reason, there are constantly new testimonials and forum posts being made on the program’s effectiveness.

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As a strength coach, Jason is very blunt about his training plan. If you aren’t willing to perform difficult compound movements like squats and deadlifts, he says to “go find some fluff and pump routine that will take you 5 years to get anywhere.” While he may be blunt, he does have a point—exercises that involve the barbell are extremely effective at packing on muscle, especially in those who are either just getting started in the gym or returning from a break.

They place a large amount of stress on your body and cause a higher spike in muscle-building hormones. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that doing squats with a barbell led to a bigger increase in testosterone and growth hormone (two very important hormones for making gains). The point is simple: do compound movements and reap the benefits.

While it is designed to build strength with the use of squats, deadlifts, and bench press, it includes a large amount of accessory work for hypertrophy which makes it a bodybuilding program—which is exactly what Blaha designed it for.

It is an adaptation of the very popular linear StrongLifts 5×5 program for beginners. The main exercises (squats, bench, deadlift) are the same, but as mentioned above a lot more accessory work is added with the goal of helping to pack on more muscle.

Ice Cream Fitness 5×5 Program: Full Body Split

The schedule for the program is simple. It is 3 days a week, with two different workouts that must be alternated. For example, if you start the first week with workout A, then the following week you would start with workout B.

Week One:

  • Day One: Workout A
  • Day Two: Rest Day
  • Day Three: Workout B
  • Day Four: Rest Day
  • Day Five: Workout A
  • Day Six: Rest Day
  • Day Seven: Rest Day

Week Two:

  • Day One: Workout B
  • Day Two: Rest Day
  • Day Three: Workout A
  • Day Four: Rest Day
  • Day Five: Workout B
  • Day Six: Rest Day
  • Day Seven: Rest Day

While day one will be Monday for most people, feel free to adjust it depending on your individual schedule and needs. Ultimately, the specific days don’t matter; as long as you are completing the three workouts each week, you are doing it correctly.

The average time for each workout is roughly 1.5 hours. However, this will vary depending on how you feel on a given day. With that said, workout A has slightly more sets and may take a bit longer.

When considering making changes to the program, Jason says…don’t, unless you have a medical reason that prohibits you from doing certain movements. As he explains, it can be easy to veer off course and wrongly switch out exercises with so many fitness options out there—but sticking the course will prove more than worth it in the end.

Lastly, the core of the ICF 5×5 program relies on the linear progression. While this may sound complicated, it’s not—it simply means adding a little more weight each session. Each workout, your goal is to add 5-10 pounds to your lower body lifts, and 2-4 pounds to the upper body lifts. To be able to progress properly on the upper body movements (by going up 2-4 pounds at a time), you will need to get microplates if your gym does not have them.

Workout A

All numbers seen next to exercises refer to the amount of sets and repetitions that must be completed (the format is sets x reps). For example, 3×8 would be three sets of eight repetitions.

Additionally, your rest time between each set should be 3-5 minutes for the heavier 5×5 sets and 1-2 minutes for the lighter 3×8 sets. With that said, you should take as much time as you need to feel fully recovered for your next set. Furthermore, one study published in 2016 concluded that longer rest periods (3 minutes) led to a greater increase in muscle strength and size compared with shorter rest (1 minute).

If you are first starting out and do not know your training max for each lift, start with a weight that feels comfortable and focus on proper form as you increase week by week. Staying safe and free of injury at all times will always lead to much more progress than if you recklessly push yourself with bad form and develop bad habits or asymmetrical muscular imbalances—and nobody wants that (having one pec way larger than the other, for example).

  • Squats: 5×5
  • Bench Press: 5×5
  • Bent Over Rows: 5×5
  • Barbell Shrugs: 3×8
  • Tricep Extensions: 3×8
  • Incline or Straight Bar Curls: 3×8
  • Hyperextensions: 2×10
  • Cable Crunches: 3×10

Workout B

  • Squats: 5×5
  • Deadlifts: 1×5
  • Overhead Press (OHP): 5×5
  • Bent Over Rows (10% less weight that workout A): 5×5
  • Close Grip Bench Press: 3×8
  • Incline or Straight Bar Curls: 3×8
  • Cable Crunches: 3×10

If you are cutting or trying to lose weight, you should change the 5×5 exercises to 3×5 instead, and change the accessory movements from 3×8 to 2×8 instead. Additionally, only add more weight every other workout session and not every session like normal. This means you need to successfully complete a weight twice before moving up.

Recovery: Am I Over-training?

Questions about overtraining are common in beginners. However, because there are four rest days each week—overtraining is highly unlikely.

With that said, practicing good form is essential to not only avoid injury, but avoid lifting too heavy. When you lift overly heavy, it usually leads to worsened form. This makes it extremely difficult to properly track your progress.

For example, how do you account for a slight leg thrust on barbell rows? By using good form on all exercises, you always know where your actual baseline is, which makes it much easier to know when to add more weight or back off.

Furthermore, if you have any pain while performing the movements, it is likely due to poor form. This can be either because you don’t know how to perform the exercises properly, or because you have muscular imbalances due to tightness or inhibition (from sitting down in a chair slouched all day, for example).

Following a proper warm-up strategy that includes the 3-point physical therapy approach is absolutely essential not just for injury prevention and better form, but for increasing your range of motion as well—which leads to more muscle.

Beyond food, the number one impact in your recovery is sleep. Increasing research shows that a healthy sleep cycle (and getting enough of it) it absolutely critical to maintaining optimal hormonal levels. In natural strength athletes like those following this plan, maximizing natural testosterone and growth hormone levels is important in helping to make the most of your genetic potential.

Not only that, as you continue to stay up late and build up a larger and larger sleep debt, your protein synthesis pathways dry up and your protein degradation pathways become stimulated—you lose muscle and strength while increasing your chance for injury.

Jason Blaha’s 5×5 Accessory Training Substitutions

If you are a beginner or novice (and you should be if you are following this plan), you do not need additional accessory exercises; you will already see massive results from the outline above.

With that said, there are exceptions that can be made depending on personal preference.

  • Adding in calf exercises is okay, but not necessary (in other words if you want to put in the extra effort, go for it)
  • Adding in lateral raises is also okay, but face pulls are recommended instead
  • Adding in more direct ab work is fine and so is doing it on your rest days; furthermore, you can substitute out cable crunches for another exercise if you don’t have access to a cable machine or proper setup.
  • Hyperextensions can be swapped out with good mornings or cable pull-throughs
  • Close grip bench press can be substituted for dips based on personal preference
  • Cardio can be done, but at a low intensity only (walking or similar); ultimately it is not necessary with proper diet and nutrition

While not explicitly stated in the original program, additional bicep isolation exercises are okay. This is because the maximum recoverable volume of the bicep muscle is very high given the poor biomechanical leverages in the arm—you can’t do much “damage” to your arms in one workout so they recover faster.

Jason Blaha 5×5 Results

There is no hiding the fact that the program is challenging for beginners. The sheer amount of volume can be difficult to recover from unless you are absolutely dedicated to following through with the plan. On the positive side, it is only 3 days a week which should be doable for almost anyone.

While you can do it on a cut, being in a bulking phase is recommended instead to take full advantage of the muscle-building hypertrophy benefits.

Plenty of testimonials for the ice cream fitness program can be found on his video, but there is also a great post on Medium by Rahul Rangnekar that has full statistics available.

During his 8 weeks on the plan, he made considerable gains. Keep in mind that all of these are improvements in his rep maxes—which means his actual one-rep-max (1RM) increased significantly more.

(weight x sets x reps)

  • Squats: 85x5x5 -> 150x5x5
  • Bench Press: 95x5x5 -> 115x5x5
  • Deadlifts: 120x2x5 -> 175x2x6
  • Overhead Press (Barbell Military Press): 45x5x5 -> 75x2x5
  • Barbell Rows: 70x5x5 -> 95x3x8

Rahul finished off with a few more thoughts from his experience during the 8-week time period he used Blaha’s plan.

  • He was most pleased with his squat gains but felt that the other lifts could have improved more
  • Overall he “thoroughly enjoyed” it and “would definitely recommend it” to anyone just starting out
  • He focused on his form beforehand by doing one week of Stronglifts 5×5
  • He used a calorie deficit to lose weight during the 8-week timeline but also thought it kept him from squeezing out every last drop of gains

Another person posting on the Bodybuilding.com forum listed their results during a 2 month period as well.

  • Squats: 155x5x5 -> 280x5x5
  • Bench Press: 135x5x5 -> 190x5x5
  • Deadlifts: 185x1x5 -> 290x1x5
  • Overhead Press: 55x5x5 -> 130x5x5

One lifter from the weightroom subreddit began the program right after his 30th birthday and made significant results. It is important to note, however, that he gained a large amount of weight whereas Rahul above was eating less calories than he was burning and thus wasn’t able to maximize strength as much.

As far as long-term results, Jay Wise posted a video on YouTube with a picture after running the training plan for a total of 2 years.

progress pic showing the results after two years of following jason blaha's ice cream fitness 5x5 program
The difference after two years.

He has since moved on to the intermediate plan.

Jason Blaha Intermediate Program

He also has an intermediate plan designed for more seasoned lifters or experienced athletes in the off season. It is a total of 12 weeks instead of 8 and the specific accessory exercises are left up to each individual lifter based on their personal weaknesses and training needs.

On top of being a month longer, it includes 4 days of lifting per week instead of 3.

  • Day 1: Squats, Deadlifts, and Accessory Movements
  • Day 2: Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Overhead Press, and Accessory Movements
  • Day 3: Squats, Deadlifts, and Accessory Movements
  • Day 4: Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Overhead Press, and Accessory Movements

Split your rest days evenly between your “on” days. This will typically mean lifting on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, while resting on Wednesday and the weekend.

The plan is also based on linear periodization just like the novice version. All percentages are for the main lifts only and should be based off of your 1RM for each exercise. For accessory exercises, you should have a training log and keep track of how much you lift each session (and make sure to write down the RPE to track your gains even better).

  • Week One: 3×10 at 70%
  • Week Two: 4×10 at 70%
  • Week Three: 5×10 at 70%
  • Week Four: 3×8 at 75%
  • Week Five: 4×8 at 75%
  • Week Six: 5×8 at 75%
  • Week Seven: 3×5 at 80%
  • Week Eight: 4×5 at 80%
  • Week Nine: 5×5 at 80%
  • Week 10: 3×3 at 85%
  • Week 11: 3×1 at 90% on the first two training days followed by max testing on days three and four
  • Week 12: 3×5 at 50% to deload

When testing your maxes, do not actually try to lift the heaviest weight you can. Instead, pick a weight that is very challenging (90% of your 1RM or above) and do as many repetitions as you possibly can in a single set. When you are done, you can calculate your approximate max using the Epley formula.

1RM = (weight * reps)/30 + weight

For example, if you lifted 315 pounds for four repetitions on squats, using the calculation above your approximate 1RM would be 357 pounds: (315*4)/30 + 315.

Jason Blaha Novice 5×5 Plan vs. Intermediate Plan: When to Switch?

Knowing when to switch or move onto a more advanced powerlifting program can be difficult. In general, if you have been lifting for less than 6-12 months you should stick with the novice version until you stop seeing results. At that point you need to switch to the intermediate plan.

When to move onto an advanced program with more effective DUP is highly variable from person to person. Ultimately, it will largely depend on your goals. If you want to be as strong as you possibly can, you should move on after a few cycles of the intermediate version. If you are simply trying to keep things simple and minimize your time in the gym, there’s no reason to change things—especially if you are seeing results.