Glenn Pendlay is one of the main 5x5 guys now, and he's expounded (but not really changed) much on Starr's original 5x5. here's a collection of things he's said:
there are really so damn many ways to squat, even to squat with 5 sets of 5, or 6 sets of 4, or 4 sets of 6, or any similar thing, that there is not really any one program... im always hesitant to even write it out as a "program" becasue i dont really know what we will be doing in 4 weeks when we start such a thing... it kind of adapts as it goes.
but there seems to be some confusion as to the pyramid version or the non-pyramid version, so ill try to briefly explain the differences.
the EASIEST method we use for squats, and the one which rip used for beginners, is a simple pyramid program, the weights are pyramided BOTH monday and friday... and another leg exercise is used for wednesday, usually front squats for the young and athletically minded, sometimes leg press for the old and feeble.
say a person tests at 200lbs for 5 reps on their initial workout. well then monday they might do the following sets for 5 reps, 95, 125, 155, 185, 205. fairly equal jumps, ending with a 5lb personal record. if the last set is successfull, then on friday they will go for 210 on their last set, with adjustments on the other sets to keep the jumps about even as needed.
the average beginner can stay on this exact simple program for anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months, as long as they continue to improve at least 5lbs a week, most can do this for quite a while.
when they stop improving, the first thing he does is to drop a couple of the "warmup" sets down to one or two reps, to decrease fatigue and allow a few more personal records on the top set... so that 200lb top set of 5 workout at this point would at this point have the 155lb set at maybe 3 reps, and the 185lb set at one or two reps, then try for 5 at 205.
this change usually lets people get new personal records for another 2-3 weeks, sometimes more.
at some point, of course, this doesnt work anymore. so now we change the monday workout to 5 sets of 5, still with heavy front squats or for some lighter back squats on wednesday, and the same pyramid on friday, trying for one top set of 5. the 5 sets on monday with the same weiight will be some amount less than the current personal record for one set of 5.
usually with this raise in volume, the weights are set somewhat lighter than they were, and people are given a few weeks to work back to their personal records, then try to go past them, invariably they will pass them, and invariably eventually they will stall again...
at this point we usually lower the volume of training, raise the intensity, in some form we will go with lower reps, lower amounts of sets, cut out a day of squatting, something to allow a raising of the numbers... again, the numbers will raise for a while, then stall again.
a this point, another raise in volume is needed, and at this point we will go to the program that most usually associate with the "5 by 5"... squatting 5 sets of 5 with the same weight 3 times a week, lighter on wednesday and heavier on mon and fri. you are all familiar with this i think, we raise the volume for 2-4 weeks, then slowly cut the volume aned intensity of most workouts, going for a big workout every 1-2 weeks, might be a single, a single set of 5, or even one big 5 sets of 5 workout. with people cycling down for a big contest at thsi point we might go for lower reps and try for the big singles.... with someone not at a place where a big peak is needed, its just cycling down to less sets but keeping the reps at 5, and trying to make a pr on a set of 5. this can be repeated several times over and over, but at some point you have to have a period of lower intensity training for a while in between cycles.
i will add that often, for the people with higher goals who want to really train hard, i will start right in with the 15 hard sets a week version, but with weights low enough that they can endure it, and when they get in condition and get used to the volume, will then go back and start at the normal place where rip starts right from the beginning. i find that people who have been athletically active, who have been training on other programs, etc, usually do well with an initial 4-8 weeks of high volume lower intensity training to get them mentally and physically used to this sort of training, get their form changed to a good squat, etc.
this post describes as much as a year of training for most people, with some that adapt well it is stretched to two years.... two years from when they start their initial "pyramid" workouts, or their initial month or so of conditioning with 15 moderate sets a week to when they get through their first real cycle with heavy weights and 15 sets a week cycled down to a peak.
i know this question was aimed at people who have used 5X5 and not me, but id still like to make a couple of comments... there are so many versions of the "5X5" training style, and they are so different. i use this type of training for the people i train all the way from beginners to really good lifters but the program changes over time for each person. generally it starts out in the first week of training with finding your max set of 5 and then very simply working up to one max set two times per week trying to add weight to that one set, with one ther workout in between that is most likely front squats. simple as this might be, it usually works for several months and i am convinced that it is about the fastest way for a total beginner to make progress. at some point this stops working and we go to a slightly different version, probably the one most well known, and also probably the one most usefull to a large number of people. 5 sets of 5 on monday with a set weight, then lighter squats on wednesday or front squats, then on friday working up to a max set of 5. there are some things we do here when it isnt possible to just add weight every week, but for a lot of lifters with minor variation this keeps the squat going up for another year or two. like everything else, it eventually stops working, and we start to add in some more long term variation like loading and unloading. we might do 5 sets of 5, pretty heavy, on all 3 squatting days for 3-4 weeks as a loading period, then back off the volume for 3-4 weeks by squatting for lower reps and only 2 days per week as an uloading period. we might add in speed work or dynamic effort work, using 5 sets of 5 on monday, fronts squats on wednesday, and dynamic effort work on friday. when a lifter is really near the top of their genetic potential, they cant do 5 sets of 5 consistently with heavy weight. for example, i dont think kyle gulledge could do this. hes squatted 700lbs with belt and knee wraps, so i estimate his raw squat as around 625-650lbs, probably pretty close since he did a chain squat raw last week with about 650lbs total weight, with a lot of that weight taking the form of hanging plates attached to the chains that came off the ground all at once right at the sticking point, a very hard way to do it. its normal for a lifter to be able to do 5 sets of 5 with around 82-87% of thier max squat. 85% for kyle would be 550lbs or something like that. i dont think thats something he could benefit from doing week in and week out. hes almost superhuman, but to recover from this weekly and still be able to train other lifts would take a cape and tights, almost superhuman wouldnt cut it. so for a guy like this, we wouldnt use it all the time, we would do 5 sets of 5 with lighter weights for 3-4 weeks, working up to one really heavy workout trying to break our record, then move on to a more westside style of training, with max effort work one day and dynamic effort work another day, much easier to recover from if you are pushing really heavy weight.
If your doing 5 sets on monday, lighter squats on wed, and one set on friday, or something like that, you would be trying to do your one set on friday with more weight than you used on monday.
its important that you approach it in a systematic way, start with weights that are easy to handle. just for example, if you are capable of doing say, 300lbs for a set of 5, you might start with 225lbs for 5 sets of 5 on monday, 200lbs for 3 sets of 5 on wednesday, and then 275 for one set of 5 on friday. you could then try to increase the monday and friday weights by 10lbs 3 weeks, and the wednesday weights by 5 lbs. that would give you a PR of 305 for 5 on week 4, and depending on the person, you might be able to get 310 or 315 for 5 on week 5. if friday of week 4 feels like you just might be able to get a PR the next week, you might try dropping the monday workout back to 225 monday of week 5, and letting yourself recover a little more preparing for week 5 friday.
there are lots of options for the next cycle... for instance, you could choose to push the monday workout hard and not push your single set of 5 quite so hard. a good goal here would be to do 5 sets of 5 on monday with your previous best single set of 5. you would then start your monday workout in week one with a weight that is say 40lbs below your best single set of 5... keep the wednesday workout similar to the first cycle, and on friday simply add 5 or 10lbs to mondays weight, roughly the same weight you will try for 5 sets the next monday. given steady 10lb increases, if you started with 270lbs on monday, you should have a good chance of doing 310 for 5 sets of 5 on monday of week 5.
options for the next cycle would be to change the number of reps... say to the same number of sets but 3 reps... or you could run another 4-5 week cycle similar to the first with lower numbers for the monday workout, say this time starting with 235lbs, but trying for 320-330lbs for a single set of 5 on week 4 or 5, or you could start with lower weight and make bigger jumps if you feel your getting tired around week 3 or 4 on the previous cycles. starting lower and making bigger jumps takes some of the fatigue factor away.
OR... two things we have done that work really well, have been to do a cycle with monday and wednesday the same, but take fridays workout and turn it into either 5 singles, or into a westside style DE day. If the friday workout is 5 singles, then you again have the choice of doing the 5 singles with a weight that is say 20lbs above mondays weight and trying to make a PR 5 sets of 5 mark at the end, or of keeping the 5 sets of 5 at a slightly lower weight than maximal, and pushing the singles up to a PR weight at the end. If you choose the second option, you can also try decreasing the number of singles each week by one, so that at week 5 you are going for a true max single. If you are doing this, increasing mondays workout by 10-15lbs for the first 3 weeks, then decreasing it by 10-15lbs a week for the last 2 weeks is a good option.
If you use the westside DE day as fridays workout, you again have several options. you can use 6 weeks as your cycle length, and do 2 of the 3 week waves that louie likes on friday, incorporating a higher weight single into each workout at the end of fridays DE work, and trying for a new max single on friday, OR you can keep the DE work fairly light, and push mondays training hard and try for a new max 5 sets of 5, or 5 sets of 3, or whatever scheme you are doing on monday.
whatever you choose eventually, you should do it the way i initially described it for the first cycle, and probably should follow with my second recomendation for the second cycle. if you have never done this style of training before, keeping the weight relatively low on monday and concentrating on a higher single set of 5 on week 4 or 5 will help you get used to it without the strain of all out training with 5 sets of 5 when you are not really ready for it. after a 4 or 5 week introduction, you will be ready to really push the harder monday workout, and should be able to really make gains by doing so. going straight back to the first cycle for your third time thru is usually the best option from what i have found. after really pushing the monday 5 sets for a month, you should be ready to make a much bigger single set of 5, and backing off of mondays weights a little and pushing the single set on friday will help you realize your new potential for a big single set. from here its anyones guess, but you should by this time be familiar enough with how your body is responding, how tired you are getting, etc, to know what to go to for your next cycle.