Madcow 5×5: Workout for Intermediate Lifters

Note: this article originally appeared on stronglifts.com but has since been taken down.

Madcow 5×5 is the training program which I recommend you to do once you’re no longer making progress on your Squats with StrongLifts 5×5. It’s aimed at intermediate lifters.

When to switch from StrongLifts 5×5 to Madcow 5×5 depends on your body-weight and age. A 30 year old guy weighing around 200lb (91kg) will usually have to switch after reaching the 300lb (~140kg) Squat. The lighter/heavier you are, the sooner/later the switch to Madcow.


Origins of Madcow.
 Several years ago “Madcow” was a user at EliteFitness.com who spent many afternoons on the phone with Olympic coach Glenn Pendlay MS. In 2005 he began publishing everything he learned on the defunct Geocities. Nobody knows who he was, he seemed to have disappeared from all the forums he visited around mid 2007.

The 2 most important works of Madcow were his Intermediate and Advanced training programs. It’s his intermediate training program that is now commonly known as Madcow 5×5. The program is similar to the Texas Method since Madcow spent a lot of time on the phone with the creator of the Texas Method – coach Glenn Pendlay MS himself.


Madcow vs. StrongLifts 5×5. 
With Madcow you’ll still do all exercises of StrongLifts 5×5 including the 3x/week squats. However, as you are now an intermediate lifter moving bigger weights, the program introduces 3 modifications to optimize recovery from the increasingly stressful workouts:

  1. No more 5 x 5 with the same weight. Instead you’ll do ramped up sets: increase your weight every set like when you warm-up and finish with a heavy set of 5 reps (1×5). Ramped up sets are easier than 5×5 across, especially since you should now be squatting around 300lb.
  2. No more workout to workout increases. You’ll no longer add weight 3x/week because your body doesn’t recover that fast anymore once at the intermediate level. Instead you’ll increase the weight on a weekly basis – every week you’ll lift 5lb more than the previous week.
  3. No more heavy squats 3x/week. Wednesday is a light squat day where you’ll be squatting less weight than on Monday and Friday. This light day provides you extra physical and mental recovery for Friday’s workout.

Realise that none of the above modifications will benefit you unless you are an intermediate lifter. You’ll always gain strength faster on StrongLifts 5×5 because there the weight increases by 5lb 3x/week. Forget about boosting your Squat by 120lb in only 8 weeks with Madcow. 10lb per month on your Squat is more realistic. If that doesn’t sound much, realize that it’s still 120lb in 1 year.


How Madcow Works. 
Remember 1×5 stand for ramped up sets – 4 sets of 5 reps with the weight increasing until you reach your last heavy set of 5. Here’s the template that I recommend you to follow…

MondayWednesdayFriday
Squat 1×5Squat 2×5Squat 1×3
Bench Press 1×5Overhead Press 1×5Bench Press 1×3
Barbell Rows 1×5Deadlift 1×5Barbell Rows 1×3

The 2×5 squats on Wednesday is lighter than on Monday for recovery. The 1×3 on Friday is also ramped up – 4 sets of 5 reps with the weight increasing, then a heavy triple. This is followed by a light back-off set of 8 reps.

To choose your starting weight, just insert your numbers into the excel file, you’ll automatically know how much to lift every workout, for each exercise, and on each set.

Open the Madcow 5×5 spreadsheet, go to File -> Make a Copy and create a copy of your own to edit.

Remember starting too light is better than too heavy – let it be easy the first weeks. Focus on technique and speed, and only aim to break PRs starting week 4. 

About Fraser_9to5 285 Articles
Site owner. I'm a graduate in Sports Science and have an MSc in Sports Biomechanics. I set up 9to5strength in 2015 as a resource for people interested in strength training, nutrition and fitness. I consider myself a fitness blogger and enjoy creating YouTube videos and trying out workout programs.