5x5: Loading for Women

Hi All,

My girlfriend recently starting coming to the gym with me twice a week. She has been a distance runner most of her life but is becoming more interested in lifting. I’m aware that ideally she’d be going more often but this is what we’re working with for now.

In any case, I’m thinking that each day would start with a lower-body strength movement (squat one day, deadlift the other) followed by a press, a pull, and some core work.

I’m a relatively novice lifter with a decent knowledge (thanks to sites and forums like these) of loading/rep schemes for different training effects in men. However, I’m out of my depth as far as women go.

I’ve read that 5x5 is effective for women looking to build strength, and that it stays effective for a while. What I’m wondering is, what is a good loading scheme for women doing 5x5? I have read that women can perform a higher percentage of their 1rm for reps than men can due to muscular recruitment differences, so I was thinking 85% (the high end of what’s recommended for men using 5x5). Would this be a good starting point?

Also, are the classic 1rm calculation methods effective predictors for women? If their 1rm and 5rm weights are closer than they would be for men, if there a different methodology for determining their 1rm?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Yes, 5x5 can be used with women. I used Starting Strength and a 5x5 scheme to start, but found I enjoyed writing my own programs and training in BBer style rep ranges more.

About maxes and percentages, maybe just get started and see how she tolerates lifting twice per week and the newbie DOMS. Adjust from there. Also, Christan T. Just put up a short article here about female training differences.

I’m 52 and female. I’m currently doing Stronglifts 5x5, since March2016. I started at bare bar, and have simply followed the weights by the app. If I stall out, I rest by 5 to 15#, and go again.
Currently, squat is 170 5x5( full range low bar squat), deadlift 185x5 (working thru a stall at 195), bench is low due to shoulder problems, at 85 5x5, and press is 70 with strict form, or 75# 5x5’as a push press.

I did buy some large half pound washers to use for micro loading when necessary.

In my opinion,

85% sounds way too high to start with, week 1, especially for someone new.

65 or 70% for 5 sets of 5 would be more appropriate.

85% would be a goal, to hit after weeks of lifting, adding a little each week. When she does complete that workout, you’ll know she’s much stronger than on day 1.

She’s actually been crushing 65% squats at 5x10. I’m a pretty much a novice and the only program I’ve ever been on is Juggernaut. A lot of the material I’ve found online says that women can perform a higher percentage of their 1rm for reps so I just took my program and added 5% to her percentages each wave.

I don’t know if I simply underestimated her strength. She’s actually kinda surprised me with what she can do since she’s timid about the weight room and is completely unfamiliar with lifting. She pulled 185 on a high-handle trap bar deadlift for several singles right after doing a lot of volume at a lower weight.

In any case I think you’re right, 85% is high. I think I’ll start her off with 70% squats (form needs work) and 75% trap bar deadlifts (I think she can handle it).

Thanks for your input everyone!

Damn Bro! Good lifts, it sounds like you have started her off right!

It’s hard to know exactly what percentages to use for beginners. They get better so fast. Also, I agree about how hard it is to judge your (well, my own)g.f.'s strength. I usually try to avoid her being uncomfortable. If I see her face scrunched up a little, I worry the weights are killing her. Then, next set she lifts way more, and I’m like, "oh yeah, she’s not made off sugar.

I think waving the weights on the 5x5 setup, instead of going straight linear is a great, great idea.