Many people have heard of the Madcow 5×5 workout, but not everyone understands why it was developed, who created it, or why it’s become so popular over the last few years. The following information explains the Madcow program, its benefits, and why lifters who want to blast through—not just get over—a strength plateau should absolutely give it a shot.
Point blank: get ready for intense results in just 90 days.
Understanding the Foundation: The Madcow 5×5 Workout
Madcow’s program is based on the 5×5 workout developed by Bill Starr. However, not everyone is familiar with what it entails.
So, what is a 5×5 workout?
In its simplest form, a 5×5 workout is an exercise method that involves performing five sets of five heavy repetitions. The sets are typically designed for lifting about 80-85 percent of the lifter’s 1RM (one rep maximum) for the core lifts: deadlift, squat, and bench press.
The workout is extremely effective at building strength and muscle helps lifters successfully push past strength plateaus they may be experiencing in their current program.
Bottom line: if you feel stuck with your current powerlifting program, Madcow is an effective way to finally start making strength progress again while building muscle at the same time.
One of the best things about a 5×5 is that it can be used in conjunction with other programs to enhance the training arsenal, and incidentally, it forms the basis of many strength training programs. Performing five sets of five reps in a specific sequence with gradual increases supports hypertrophy. In other words, if you can complete the same amount of repetitions and sets but at a heavier weight you’ve put on muscle—no question about it.
But first, let’s take a look at the very beginning—where Madcow came from in the first place.
Who Was Bill Star? Weightlifting Legend and Strength Training Pioneer
Bill Starr was a pioneer and legend. His coaching and strength training concepts birthed countless powerlifting programs today.
Case in point: Madcow’s program.
The former Olympian and Olympic Team Coach is widely considered one of the founding fathers of the ‘strength and conditioning’ industry. His “strength is a mindset” mantra still rings true for countless lifters who take it to heart. To be strong you have to have the right mindset.
This is true for any strength program. In order to be successful, lifters must be motivated to go above and beyond just the weight room: to eat properly, hydrate properly, get optimal rest, and of course put in the gruelingly work in the gym to achieve what “normal” people will never experience: true strength.
Starr was a Head Coach at Hawaii, SMU and was a strength coach for the Baltimore Colts, as well as one of the original NFL conditioning coaches. But, he was also a writer, and pretty much invented the ‘training article.’
For example, his 1976 book, The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football, still remains relevant today. Another of his titles, Defying Gravity: How to Win at Weightlifting, explains how to prepare for competitions and touches on the art of powerlifting.
In addition to being credited with creating the 5×5 workout and the coining the “big 3” (squat, bench, deadlift), his writings and methods are often repackaged as a ‘revolutionary’ new program. In reality, they are just piggybacking off of Starr’s programs.
Starr also coined the phrase “White Buffalo” reference, a term that refers to the speckles and stars lifters might see during extreme fatigue.
Ultimately, Starr’s intermediate 5×5 training program would later be adapted by Madcow.
The Basic Bill Starr 5×5 Program
Before taking a look at the Madcow program it is important to understand where it came from in the first place: Bill Starr’s basic 5×5 plan.
The basic program developed by Starr follows a specific routine and was developed as a 5×5 workout for building muscle mass.
Typically, a 5×5 system involves heavy lifting and is coupled with a high caloric intake to fuel the recovery of tissue damage that is synonymous with such high strain exercise. In other words it is not designed to be ran during a cut. And if it is, lifters should not expect to make significant gains in strength or size, but simply to maintain what strength and muscle they do have while getting leaner.
It consists of three workouts per week offering a great deal of flexibility to lifters who have busy schedules.
Under Starr’s plan, lifters start out on the first day (usually a Monday) with heavy lifting:
- 5 sets of 5 repetitions of power clean pulls
- 5 sets of 5 repetitions of bench press (later adding 10 rep sets)
- 5 sets of 5 repetitions of squats
The weight is increased each set by 10-20 pounds. The amount of weight to increase each week—and on which core lift—depends on the whether you are able to complete the previous week’s reps. If so, you increase the power clean and bench by five and the squat by 10.
Introduction to the Madcow 5×5 Program
Madcow was a member of the EliteFitness bodybuilding forums, and he specifically developed his 5×5 modification for the purpose of “strength bodybuilding”. It was originally supposed to be an alternative for what were referred to as the “pump and fluff” routines, which were the rage about a decade ago.
The hardcore program he developed was designed to build both strength and muscle mass, without wasting time on irrelevant exercises, but it has quickly earned acclaim as one of the best powerlifting programs for intermediates.
The program on Madcow’s forum page was written by someone who is unknown, but was apparently a friend of Glenn Pendly, who was personally trained by Bill Starr.
Madcow disappeared from the pages around 12 years ago, but his method lives on.
According to various sources, he added more assistance exercises (accessories) to Starr’s 5×5, supposedly in order to stop people from meddling with the plan. The tweaked version also altered a few other elements.
Since Starr’s original program only made use of the squat, the bench, and the power clean, Madcow went a step further and developed a more holistic approach that would target the entire body.
Interestingly, what was developed just for bodybuilders has become one of the most popular programs for lifters primarily interested in achieving strength gains.
Overviewing the Basics of Madcow’s Program
Madcow’s 5×5 is a workout program that increases total body strength and begins with 4 sets of 5 reps with weight that gradually increases until the final heavy, 5th set. The weight is increased weekly, and this sort of linear periodization-defined program has been proven effective time and time again by studies.
It’s important to note that this workout program is not performed for a set number of weeks, like the six-week or eight-week powerlifting routines. While it is designed to be conducted over 8-12 weeks, you aren’t limited to that number and can adjust it for your needs.
Interestingly, the Madcow program is extremely similar in make up to Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1. The main difference is that Wendler’s design is perfect for beginners who want to develop initial strength, while Madcow is designed for intermediate and advanced lifters (and bodybuilders).
The recommended setup for the Madcow 5×5 (excluding accessory exercises that would be included in each workout) is as follows:
|Squat 1×5*||Squat 2×5*||Squat 1×3*|
|Bench Press 1×5||Overhead Press 1×5||Bench Press 1×3|
|Bent Over Rows 1×5||Deadlift 1×5, 1×5||Bent Over Rows 1×3|
- 1×5 denotes 1 heavy set of 5 reps, after using 4 sets to gradually increase to this heavy weight.
- As seen on Wednesday’s Squat, 2×5 means 3 sets gradually increasing to a heavy weight and doing 5 reps of this weight for 2 sets.
- Squat 1×3 (Friday) involves 4 sets of 5, gradually increasing weight until the last, heavy set of 3 for the final set of the exercise. However, on Friday, you also perform a light set of 8 reps.
To keep making progress it is essential to work up to a heavy and challenging weight for your heavy sets, but not reach failure. “Leave some in the tank” so that your body can recover effectively for the next lifting session.
According to research, this sort of set up—one that includes higher set counts with less reps—delivers optimal rest time, which effectively allows the muscles to recover fully and protects the central nervous system from overload.
What Are the Main Lifts Used in Madcow 5×5?
Every workout program ever developed will contain a select few movements that are crucial to the overall progression and end results.
For the Madcow workout program, these lifts are the flat bench press, the deadlift, the squat, the overhead press (or incline bench), and the bent over row. Truly, these should form the foundation of every single program you follow—they are extremely effective. Although technically the overhead press and bent over row are not powerlifting exercises, they are critical in a strength building routine.
Why Are the Main Lifts Important to the Workout Program?
The Madcow 5×5 program is all about building maximum full-body strength. In order to optimize your time in the gym, these core lifts form the foundation of the workout because they are compound exercises.
Compound movements yield higher efficiency by allowing the lifter to workout multiple muscles at the same time, which boosts the outcome.
But even moreso, the human body only has so much “recovery ability”. And wasting your recovery on isolation exercises like lat-pulldowns and delt raises (while still good exercises) is not optimal.
Accessory Lifts and Exercises
As with all strength building routines, there are “assistance lifts” (a.k.a. accessory lifts) employed in the workout to enhance results. These reps are all about feeling the squeeze, not the weight being used. It is worth saying twice: the weight on these does not matter—save the heavy lifting for the compound lifts where it matters.
Example accessory work includes chest flies, quad extensions, hamstring curls, back extensions, front raises, cable rows, lat pulldowns, and more – each focused on isolating a specific muscle group.
Madcow has created a specific set of accessory work to complete on each day in addition to the core lifts.
This is a crucial part of the program because the body must learn to use all the muscles that are used in compound exercises synergistically and as efficiently as possible. The compound exercises allow synergy to develop, while isolation exercises target the muscles individually.
It also provides additional volume which is important for hypertrophy and putting on mass.
What Weights Should Be Used? Use the Madcow 5×5 Calculator!
When following Madcow’s workout program, it is imperative to stick with the given weights on each exercise, even if you feel you can lift more!
It’s normal to have days where you feel inclined to add weight, but that’s because the system is designed for optimal recovery. There are heavier days coming up. Stay consistent and use the given weights, or risk your progress.
Madcow was adamant about not changing the schedule or the exercises performed. So, no substitutions.
To calculate which weights should be used to start, use the Madcow 5×5 calculator or the one built into the attached spreadsheet.
What about Rest Periods?
During the workout, lifters should take as long as needed to recover from the previous set. A good rule of thumb is to take at least 1 minute, but no longer than 5 minutes to recover from the last set and prepare for the next.
This gives your body optimal time to recover and prepare moving forward to the next set.
Although there is not a set ‘recovery day’ scheduled in Madcow, Wednesday is generally considered the light day.
Finding the Right Intermediate Workout Routine
It is important when beginning any new workout program to analyze where you are as a lifter. For those who are just starting out, it would be foolhardy to attempt too much too soon and risk serious physical injury or lackluster progress.
For intermediate lifters, there are more options for building strength, while still maintaining the stability and endurance developed at first.
Overall, the Madcow program is designed for intermediate lifters – those who already have a solid foundation of stability and muscular endurance coupled with a good grasp on proper form of compound movements.
But what truly makes a lifter intermediate? It’s simple: when you stop progressing with simple linear periodization programs like the Starting Strength routine and Jason Blaha’s ICF, you are now an intermediate (Greyskull LP is another great beginner plan). Congratulations! But in reality that just means it will now take longer for you to progress.
Other intermediate options include:
- Juggernaut Method Training Program—an adaptable program using block periodization for athletes looking to get big, strong and fast!
- Sheiko Powerlifting Program—Strength training, the secret Russian way!
How Do I Get Started on the Madcow 5×5 Workout System?
- Step 1: Figure out your 5 rep max for all the main lifts associated with the Madcow 5×5 program. (There are a couple ways of doing this.)
- Step 2: Input your max rep weight for the five lifts on the inputs page of the spreadsheet document, along with the number of reps you can sustain with that weight (highlighted cells).
- Step 3: Follow the instructions to build your first week. If you are creating your own workout plan. Alternatively, simply go to each day’s page for a list of the weight you will use for each exercise.
- Step 4: Increase the weight starting with week 4. The spreadsheet automatically populates the weight increases.
- Step 5: Continue performing the program until you hit a plateau, find yourself needing a de-load/off week because you miss hitting your extra reps or fail in some lifts, or have completed the 8-12 (or more) weeks and want to try something different.
- Step 6: When your body has fully adjusted to the training stimulus provided by the program, it is time to move onto something new for a while. You can always come back to the program after a few months and begin again with your new and improved maxes.
The progression of the workout starts at roughly 42.5% of your estimated one rep max on the first Monday (or day) you begin. However, you won’t hit your max until week 4. This may seem too easy but stick to the program—it’s designed this way for a reason.
The weight is increased after that, each week, and the routine is designed to follow an 8-12 week schedule, followed by a deload period.
It’s important to note that before beginning any workout, a warm up routine is a crucial element. Not only does this help reduce your chance of injury by stimulating synovial fluid to the joints, it allows you to become completely prepared for the stresses you’re about to undergo. Seriously. Just do it.
Basic warm up exercises for a strength building workout include:
- Hip and Arm rotations—circular movements with arms and legs
- Jump Rope—about 2 minutes
- Trunk twists—with arms kept in various positions to vary the torque, these warm up your core
- Jogging in place knees—bringing your knees to waist level
- Jogging in place heels—almost touch your gluts with your heel
- Jumping jacks—oldie but goodie
These may seem lame or unnecessary, but they also raise your core body temperature which helps you to perform better during your workout—thus making more progress.
How Do I Increase Weight?
The weekly progression is only conducted if you can get the extra five reps in on Friday. If you miss just one rep, keep the weight the same and try to hit it the next week.
In Madcow, you increase weight either five pounds a week (after week 4) or at a rate of 2.5 percent of your heaviest set. Use your best judgement when increasing weight. The percentage or amount you use will also depend on the lift.
- If you notice that you fail one but not the other lifts, just increase the weight on the lifts you achieved and keep the weight the same at least 1-2 more weeks on the lift you failed.
- If you keep getting stuck on the same lift, try resetting that one at a lower weight and start over.
- If you have completed 8-12 weeks of the program and you keep failing multiple lifts, you may have hit your individual plateau for Madcow, and should focus on another training option for a few months. Additionally, you should review your powerlifting diet to make sure you are eating properly to make progress.
- It’s a good idea to start lighter and build up the weight rather than starting too heavy. This will allow you to maximize the results by maintaining perfect form.
5×5 Madcow Example
The Madcow method follows a three-day schedule. The following program includes example weight (rounded off), but you will use your individual program.
Remember to use the 5×5 calculator and your starting weight 1RM, and then increase the weight each week (Starting with week 4) as explained below.
Monday is a heavy day, focusing on your core.
|Exercise||Reps||Percent Monday’s Top Set Weight||Example|
|Bent Over Row||5||50||100|
Wednesday is somewhat a lighter day (but not easier), because you change up the flat bench to incline, which is a great for building the upper (and more difficult to grow) chest.
|Exercise||Reps||Percent of Monday’s Top Set Weight||Example|
|Incline Bench (Or Overhead Press)||5||50||100|
Friday is a medium day that focuses on volume and hypertrophy. Instead of working up to a set of five of Monday’s 100 percent, you work up to three at 102.5 percent. Then, you do a set of eight reps.
|Exercise||Reps||Percent Monday’s Top Set Weight||Example|
|Bent Over Row||5||52.5||105|
Accessory Work to Complete Each Day
Each day, lifters perform assistance exercises as previously mentioned. Although you may want to substitute exercises you prefer, follow the program. If you really want to change them, wait until you’ve completed a full cycle of the plan and then make adjustments.
These are outlined as follows:
- Weighted Back Extensions (aka: Hyperextensions): Two Sets of 10-12 reps each
- Weighted Sit Ups: Four sets of 10-12 reps each
If you aren’t familiar with back extensions, you should be. These exercises are incredible for improving your deadlift because they build the glutes and hamstrings. Think of it as a hip extension drill… because that’s what it is, and it’s extremely safe.
In fact, adding this exercise as part of any powerlifting routine is a great idea.
On Wednesday, the assistance work is a little lighter. Use your own bodyweight to provide the proper amount of resistance.
- Situps: three sets of your maximum reps
- Weighted situps: three sets of maximum reps
Skipping abdominal exercises is a huge mistake that many people make. It will hold you back. Make sure to hit your abs! Point made.
On the third day, the focus of the accessory work targets the upper body.
- Weighted Dips: Three sets of 5-8 reps each
- Barbell Curls: Three sets of 8 reps each
- Triceps extensions: Three sets of 8 reps each
Weighted dips are a compound exercise that really help build overall upper-body strength, especially for the bench press because it really targets both the triceps and the chest.
When doing the triceps extensions, you can do them as a standing French press, or lying on a flat or incline bench.
Another fun way to mix up the upper body accessory work or use it for your warm up exercises is to modify a very light weight arm press. On a bench, grab your dumbbells and bring your elbows to your sides at the waist. Then, with the weight toward the ceiling, palms facing each other, push your arms up straight, and then bring your elbows back down to the waist. You’ll feel this in your triceps.
Madcow 5×5 Routine vs. Standard 5×5
Because they’re similar, many people wonder if there are advantages or disadvantages for the Madcow over the standard 5×5 workout, or vice versa.
The answer is: not a whole lot. However, the difference revolves around the advancement level of the lifter.
For example, the 5×5 workout employs 5 sets of 5 reps, all using the same challenging weight, which is based off a pre-determined one rep max (1RM). It was developed by Starr when he was coaching 20+ athletes at the same time and is good general plan for lifters who need to develop strength and form.
In contrast, the Madcow workout is designed for more seasoned, intermediate lifters (lifters who have 1-2 years of solid training and have stopped progressing with linear periodization): people with aspirations of increasing muscle mass and maximum strength on major lifts by slowly building toward a single, heavy set of 5 reps.
This means the starting and ending weights used in this workout are unlike – a major differentiating factor.
|Madcow 5×5||Standard 5×5|
|Principle||·Work up to 1 heavy set of 5||·Static 5 sets of 5 reps|
|Weight Progression||·Weight is added each week||·Weight is added for each lift|
|Who Benefits||·Intermediate to Advanced Lifters||·Beginner to Intermediate Lifters|
|How?||·Increases in total body strength||·Increases in strength|
|Advantages:||·Great for intermediate and advanced lifters.
·Allows for optimal recovery time.
·Single, super-heavy set allows for higher weight to be used, offering the potential for better overall strength results.
|·Great beginning strength program.|
How Long Should You Use the Madcow 5×5 Program?
Unlike other programs that designate a specific number of weeks for heavy lifting and deloads, the Madcow workout is designed without a set number of weeks.
So, how long should you do it?
The short answer is: do it however long it takes your body to respond and adapt to the stimuli present in this type of training and you reach a steady plateau. For some people, that might be eight weeks, for others, it may be longer. It will depend on the individual.
After this happens and you cycle to a different program, give it a few months minimum before coming back to the Madcow, that way you can ensure the best gains. It will work again when you come back to it.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends cycling through a series of 5 phases of training to build stabilization, strength, and power.
This means it is not efficient to spend all of your time building maximum strength, as the law of diminishing returns will quickly apply and it will end up taking longer to reach your end goal.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to stick with the Madcow program for approximately 8-12 weeks depending on your individual progress, then cycle off for at least two or three months to focus on other components of training (stabilization, power, endurance, strictly hypertrophy and size, etc.).
When Is It Time to Take a Break from the Madcow workout?
After a few weeks of this strength building program, there’s a good chance you may fail during a workout because of the strain it places on your central nervous system.
Do not be discouraged by this. Instead use it as a signal to take an additional deload or rest week. In fact, as you build muscle size and strength, it will take longer for your body to complete the recovery process. This means you are progressing!
A deload is simply a week of using light weights (60% of your 1RM) on all exercises to encourage recovery. But you don’t want to completely take off from the gym as this will set you back—so doing a deload week is perfect to keep you in the zone while allowing your body to recover.
This will give your central nervous system and body time to reset and recover.
Often times, a week off will help lifters feel stronger when they return with stronger muscle contractions and mental readiness. So don’t think of this de-load/off week as a setback, but rather a necessary step in the journey to increased strength. You will come back stronger and ready to make more progress.
But once you aren’t seeing any strength gains after a week of deloading, you’ve reached your plateau. That is another sign that it’s time to try another workout.
What if I Keep Failing?
The Madcow training program spreads the volume out through the week, as opposed to single days each week devoted exclusively to heavy lifting. Your body may react one of two ways to this – either the stress placed on your body will be too much over time, or it will provide the perfect stimulus to induce muscle growth and increased strength.
If you are failing often early on, you may need to try another program first, like Jason Blaha’s Ice Cream Fitness before tackling Madcow’s.
How Much Progress Can I Expect from the 5×5?
Before discussing the results you can expect, it is important to remember that each person will adapt at a different rate to this training program and individual results are based on a number of factors.
Because the program increases weight, after week 4 every time you increase the weight you’ll be hitting a new personal best. Enjoy the small wins and enjoy making progress—lifting is truly a marathon and not a sprint. Judge yourself from month to month, not from day to day.
While the recommended time line of the program is somewhere in the 8-week range, those bold enough to make it through a full 12-week cycle will, mathematically speaking, see approximately 20 percent increases on each lift.
To put this in perspective, this means a 300-pound squat could be increased to a 360-pound squat by the 12th week!
Nutrition and Hydration
In any workout or strength building program, nutrition and hydration are key factors for success. The proper nutrition fuels your body’s performance and recovery. Nutrition is key—if your nutrition is faulty, you will not make optimal progress. This could not be stated enough times.
Typically, strength improvements require increased caloric intake. The muscles are being stressed with heavier loads, and therefore need more protein during the repair process. Likewise, higher amounts of carbohydrates and fats are needed to fuel adequate recovery.
Studies show that increased protein intake results in higher levels of muscle protein synthesis, which is the result of resistance exercise. After a certain time period (depending on the level of resistance), the increase in protein synthesis is used to generate hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy, as you know, is the term that refers to building bigger muscles. Since the Madcow program is designed to build strength, a high protein diet is essential to achieve maximum results.
The actual amount of protein you’ll need will depend on your specific body weight. According to studies, powerlifters performing ‘intense off-season training’ should consume 1.5 to 2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight.
So, a 200 pound lifter would need approximately 135 to 184 grams of protein each day during the training program.
In 1993, Bill Starr wrote in an article called “Gaining Strength The Natural Way,” where he stated, “Authorities state that no more than 15 percent of the diet should be in the form of protein, but I think this is a bit too low for hard-training athletes. I think the best ratio is 20 percent protein and 60 percent carbohydrates, which leaves the remaining 20 percent for fats.”
The sort of food Starr recommended:
- Fruits—three or four bananas a day
- Veggies—eaten raw, juiced or steamed
- Hard Boiled Eggs—Starr was big on hard boiled eggs because they are low cost and chock full of protein and amino acids
- Protein shakes made with yogurt and ice cream—these are especially good for recovery
- Dried Milk—Starr recommended dry milk over the protein powders that could be bought at the time because it was more economical
- B-Complex and B-6 Vitamins—these assist the body in metabolizing the protein.
Couple these dietary changes with adequate hydration. Research shows that just 2 percent dehydration can lead to losses in maximum strength during a workout. In other words, you’ll most likely fail your lifts if you aren’t hydrated. So drink lots of water! 1 ounce per pound of bodyweight is encouraged (about 2 ounces per kilogram of bodyweight).
Knowing your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is a good starting point for discovering the right amount of calories to consume each day. The BMR is the number of calories you would burn if you sat still for 24 hours doing nothing. Think of this as a bare minimum. You can figure it using this calculator.
Any additional exercise (standing, walking, etc.) will increase the bare minimum needed, and the more intense the physical activity, the higher it goes. Since the Madcow workout is extremely demanding, you can use the calculator as a guide.
Is Adding Cardio Necessary? Enhancing the 5×5 Workout Program
Cardio workouts offer many benefits specific to a strength gaining program, the biggest of which is helping you maintain the endurance and stamina required to recover in between sets.
Performing an additional cardio workout after the workout requirements is a good idea, but you don’t want to overdo it.
Why? Well, think of your body like an electric car. It has electricity as its main fuel source – in the body’s case: muscle glycogen. Once the car (body) burns uses that fuel, the only stores left are the little bit of gas (fat) left over, just in case you run out of charge.
So, basically, the fat is the main source of fuel for the cardio aspect, which can be accomplished on the treadmill or some other low impact exercise following a series of stages.
Start with a 5 to 10-minute warmup and immediately go into one minute of a Zone 2 Heart Rate. After 1 full minute, transition into Zone 1 range for 1 to 3 minutes (the less time spent in this zone the better).
Do this cycle 2 more times and transition into a 5 to 10-minute cooldown to bring your heart rate back down in a safe fashion.
- To calculate what your Heart Rate should be in Zone 2, take your Max Heart Rate (220 minus your age) and multiply by .76.
- Then take your Max Heart Rate and multiply by .85. This is the range of beats per minute that your heart rate should sustain in order to keep in Zone 2.
- To Calculate Zone 1, use the Max Heart Rate multiplied by .65, then multiplied by .75. Stay in
It is important to note that with increased cardio activity, you’ll need to increase your calorie intake. But doing cardio is not bad—it’s actually great for any program including one focused on strength and size. Just don’t overdo it and focus 90% of your efforts on low-impact cardio (going on long jogs is what you want to avoid).
5×5 Powerlifting Program
Powerlifting has always boiled down to moving the most weight possible for a single repetition. Lifting heavy weights using low reps delivers the best results for gains in muscle strength. This is the case for a variety of reasons.
For one, your brain has to become accustomed to contracting muscle fibers for optimal strength for a short period of time. This is one of the reasons it’s important, in an effort to increase your neuromuscular control, to practice with heavy weights.
Plus, research has discovered that performing five sets of five repetitions has offered the most efficient way to increase strength for lifters using a long term (8+ weeks) program.
A 5×5 workout program, which perfectly meets this requirement, when paired with great nutrition and optimal recovery offers powerlifters balanced strength gains with the side perk of size.
Madcow vs. Texas Method
While the Madcow program is touted as one of the better weightlifting programs out there to build maximum strength, there are other contenders for the title. The Texas Method is also based on a 5×5 routine and has been reviewed by hundreds of weightlifters as another great way to build total body strength.
The main differences between the Texas Method and Madcow are the addition of supplemental volume training and the use of power movements in the Texas Method.
This allows for intermediate lifters to ensure their progress in muscular development is not lost when focusing solely on strength increases.
While this can be viewed as a positive, it also means that the strength building is not the sole focus, so increases in Madcow are achieved relatively quicker when compared to the Texas Method.
Both methods offer simplistic approaches to the problem of increasing total body strength, but the Texas Method is more cautious of losing muscular size.
In this way, the Texas Method can be viewed as the more balanced approach of size and strength, while Madcow can be viewed as the program for those looking for the clearest way to increase total body strength, especially for intermediates.
Below is an example workout schedule showing how the Texas Method differs from the Madcow 5×5:
Madcow (Heavy day)
- Squat 1×5*
- Bench Press 1×5*
- Bent Over Rows 1×5*
Texas (Volume day)
- Squat 5×5 @ 90% of 5 rep max
- Bench Press 5×5 @ 90% of 5 rep max
- Deadlift 1×5 @ 90% of 5 rep max
Madcow (Light Day)
- Squat 2×5*
- OHP 1×5*
- Deadlift 1×5, 1×5*
Texas (Recovery Day)
- Squat 2×5 @ 80% of Monday’s weight
- OHP 3×5 @ 90% of 5 rep max
- Chin-up 3xBW
- Back Extensions 5×10
Madcow (Medium day with volume)
- Squat 1×3*
- Bench Press 1×3*
- Bent Over Rows 1×3*
Texas (Intensity day)
- Squat working up to one single new 5RM
- Bench Press working up to one single new 5RM
- Power Clean 5×3/6×2
*Working up to one heavy set with the number of reps listed above.
Note the Key Differences of the Texas Method:
- Inclusion of a power movement (power clean)
- A single day that is intense and record-setting (Friday)
Additional Pros and Cons
- Volume is spread out over the week, which is easier for some lifters
- Ramping sets can be easier instead of doing the sets “straight across”
- Gaining steady strength on lifts
- Some lifters think there isn’t enough volume to cause adaptations for muscular zie
- Workout tend to be a little longer than other programs
Texas Method Pros:
- Balanced upper-body training
- Built-in recovery day to help ensure you hit a new PR on the target intensity day
- Adaptable when the volume and intensity relationship is understood
- Volume day is a killer
- Heavy sets can be hard to recover from, but that’s why there’s a recovery day
Madcow 5×5 Reviews
There are plenty of success stories with the Madcow system. The following reviews are only a small glimpse of its effectiveness and results.
Reddit user RedRaiderOne was “skeptical” before he tried Madcow. However, his gains were impressive. He wrote:
“The program seemed too simple for the kind of progress I would supposedly see at the end of the cycle. My progress went as follows and all the following are for a 5 rep max:
- BP 195 went to 240
- Sq 200 went to 290
- OHP 135 went to 155
- DL 275 went to 380
- Ht 5′ 9” Wt.175 lbs—->184lbs
“As you can see it really helped me out in a lot of ways. I realized a lot of what was holding me back was the fear of trying heavier weights, but in Madcow you do a heavy set for 3 reps. This really helped me get the confidence to go up because mentally I did not feel like a failure for only doing 3 reps, after all that’s what the program called for…. I DO NOT count calories or do anything nutrient related. You could probably do a lot better than I have if you do nutrition correctly.”
Many people agree about the reps and consider that aspect as one of the best of the Madcow program.
Achieving Optimal 5×5 Workout Results
Another poster, buschbr1, described his incredible results over eight weeks.
He wrote, “I was starting to stall on the compound lifts, so I decided to test my 1RM and see where I was at as I wanted to be able to gauge my progress when switching over to an intermediate routine. At that time my 1RM maxes were:
- Squat 410
- Bench 275
- Deadlift 415
- Total 1,100
“Ignore the fact that my deadlift was barely more than my squat…I ran the program for 8 weeks. By that point I was starting to stall on bench, push press, and deadlift (my squat was still increasing every week, but it was getting very close to the point of stalling). So I decided it would be a good time to test my 1RM again for those lifts and see how much improvement I made:
- Squat 460
- Bench 295
- Deadlift 455
- Total 1,210
Such increases are typical with the program, especially when it’s performed as it’s written.
Torpstar711 reported his “amazing” strength gains as:
- Deadlift: 5×345 ——-> 5×405
- Squats: 5×270 ——-> 5×325
- Strict Standing OHP: 5×130 ——–> 5×165
- BB Rows: 5×185 ——–> 5×225
- Bench: 5×180 ———> 5×205
Everyone’s results will be different, but when paying close attention to the nutritional aspect, massive gains like these are pretty standard.
Poster so1id admitted performing the workout for over a year, with incredible results.
- Squat: 115 went to 310
- Bench: 85 went to 195
- Deadlift: 135 went to 315
Another user posted his results on Reddit after just six weeks, writing “Before Bench: 185 x 5, Squat: 225 x 5, Row: 150 x 5, Deadlift: 290 x 5, Incline BP: 155 x 5.
He added that he “started with OHP, but after week 3 I switched to incline BP” in order to work on the chest. His progress went to “Bench: 200 x 3, Squat: 255 x 3, Row: 170 x 3, Deadlift: 310 x 5.”
He also explained that he was consuming about 2700 calories on workout days, and around 2200 on off days. He had a protein intake of a minimum of 150 grams per day and higher.
The returns this user experienced demonstrated the key role that nutrition plays in your strength building routine.
Is there Anyone Out There Who Shouldn’t Try Madcow’s system?
The short answer is yes.
Periodization delivers excellent and visible returns much faster than you’d see by just ‘working out,’ because it builds on the previous work.
And, this really can’t be stated enough: form is crucial for maintaining both progress and safety.
Deadlifts and other core lifts provide effective results, but only when performed correctly. One wrong move can lead to a serious injury, so unless a lifter is confident their form is perfect, beginning with Madcow’s system would not be a good idea.
Likewise, strength athletes preparing for a competition shouldn’t use Madcow for that, but can use it for preparing during the off season.