Are your madcow 5×5’s taking forever to complete? Are you consistently feeling tired and beaten up for not much progress in weight lifted? It’s probably time to move on and start thinking about what to do after madcow 5×5. This article is going to cover:

What to do after Madcow 5x5

Not getting stronger sucks, so let’s get you progressing again…

Why Has Madcow Stopped Working?

If Madcow 5×5 has stopped working then it’s most likely because you’re accidentally violating the SRA (Stress, Recovery, Adaptation) cycle. Since you’ve already been lifting hard and consistently for a while now, I’m going to assume that your sleep, eating and recovery are all taken care of.

“Madcow 5×5 is either not allowing you enough recovery time between stressful sessions and/or it’s not applying enough stress to begin with”

Possibility 1 – Madcow Not Providing Enough Stress:

Madcow 5×5 offers a little weekly variation, you have a higher volume day 1, a lower volume lighter day 2, and a slightly heavier day 3 that includes a top set of 3 and a back-off set of 8. The problem is that this isn’t really that much variation, and adaptive resistance catches up, meaning that the exercises, sets, rep schemes and even the weekly structure become stale.

Possibility 2 – Madcow Not Allowing Enough Recovery:

On the other side of the coin, the issue could be that madcow 5×5 no longer allows you enough time to recover. Back when you were lifting far lighter weights you probably recovered just fine, but now that you’re stronger and lifting heavier loads, your body needs more time before it’s ready to lift heavy again.

So How Do You Know If You’re Not Getting Enough Stress or Enough Recovery?

Not enough stress: a.k.a Is madcow 5×5 enough?

If madcow 5×5 isn’t providing enough stress then you’ll probably already have a feeling that this is the case. Overall you’ll feel like you could do more total work, maybe not in any one specific session, but definitely across the week as a whole. You’ll also likely feel fairly fresh throughout the week, with little to no soreness. The weights you lift will be pretty stable, not going down but also not going up.

Not enough recovery:

Do you feel beaten up most of the week? Do you have soreness after the high volume session 1 that lasts for multiple days? Do you sometimes struggle to complete session 1 at all? Are the weights you lift decreasing? Chances are that you’re not getting enough recovery on madcow 5×5.

Both of the Above?:

Yep, unfortunately, you could be dealing with both issues at the same time. Do you feel like you could do more work in some, or all, of your workouts, but you’re also pretty sure that if you did then you’d be too sore or wouldn’t recover in time for your next training session? Are your weights waving up and down every week or two? Do you feel caught between pushing harder to make progress and then having to back off to recover? If this sounds like you then madcow 5×5 is giving you the worst of both worlds.

Looking For an Individualised Strength Program?

individual strength programme

If you want someone to take the guesswork away, why not have me (your friendly neighbourhood professional strength coach) design you a custom strength programme

We’ll have a comprehensive, detailed chat about your training and then I’ll craft your program custom for you.

No more guessing or overthinking.

I also throw in a check-in each month, just to make sure that everything is working well, and to make any adjustments if needed.


Solution Time: What You Need to Do to Progress as a Late Intermediate or Early Advanced Lifter

In order to progress, you need to solve the two issues mentioned above:

  1. You need to provide more stimulus to force your body to adapt
  2. You need to allow more recovery time in between those stimuli

“But how do you practically do that?”

To provide more stimulus than you were getting on madcow 5×5:

  • Consider changing rep schemes (5’s aren’t magic, I promise)
  • Use more exercise variations (Pauses, Tempos, 1 and a 1/4 reps)
  • Add in more assistance and accessory work

To allow more recovery than you were getting on madcow 5×5

  • More frequently include light and medium days
  • Use exercise variation and rep scheme changes to provide these lighter or medium days
  • Consider a longer-term programme that systematically changes training variables such as volume, intensity, sets and reps over time.

Possible Programme Options After Madcow 5×5

Okay, so you know that Madcow isn’t working anymore, plus you know the things you need to do to make progress. But what should a programme look like that actually accomplishes those things intelligently? Here are two of the programmes I recommend after madcow 5×5.

Option 1: 5/3/1 (+ Assistance Templates)

5/3/1 is a solid choice for late intermediate or early advanced lifters. Here’s what it looks like:

Week 1: Sets of 5 (Highest Volume Week)

Week 2: Sets of 3 (Moderate Volume Week)
Week 3: Use 5’s and 3’s to build to a heavy single (Intensity Week)

In essence, 5/3/1 takes the weekly volume-lighter-intensity structure of madcow 5×5 and stretches it out over 3 weeks. On top of this 5/3/1 also adds in ‘assistance templates’ to get in more total training volume.

These changes mean that you get more stimulus for the targeted lift per session, you build some muscle, and then you get longer between similar session types to allow for more recovery.

Coach’s Thought: This is a solid choice for your next programme if you want a great blend of volume and intensity, whilst still lifting in a way that feels somewhat familiar to madcow 5×5. It’s also a decent option for masters lifters. For more information, I’ve written a full 5/3/1 review right here.

Option 2: Candito 6-Week Programme

The Candito 6-week programme is a fantastic late-intermediate or early advanced training programme that makes a good introduction to linear periodisation. You start with higher reps and slightly less weight, and you move towards lower reps with slightly more weight.

Week 1: Muscular Conditioning (6-10 reps)

Week 2: Muscular Conditioning with Hypertrophy

Week 3: Linear Max OT Phase

Week 4: Heavy Weight Acclimation

Week 5: High-Intensity Strength (1-4 reps)

Week 6: Test Maxes then Deload, or go straight to Deload

Coming from madcow 5×5, the different rep schemes and exercise variations will provide you with plenty of new stimulus for growth, whilst the intelligent weekly changes and planned deload every 6 or 7 weeks will help to reduce fatigue build-up and allow for more recovery.

Coach’s Thought: This is a good programme option if you want to try a different training style, especially if you’re feeling burnt out from repetitive 5×5 type training. You can download a copy of the programme right here.

What Programme Would I Suggest After Madcow 5×5?

5/3/1 or the Candito 6-week programme are both solid options. However, if you’ll allow me a couple of minutes to offer you some coaching advice, I would say that now is the time to start thinking about your training in the longer term.

So instead of thinking about which programme you’re going to do next, you should start thinking about the bigger principles of training (specificity, overload etc) and periodization, i.e. how to intelligently vary your training over time.

Ask yourself, do you need more muscle mass? Do you need more time practising the skill of lifting heavier weights? And then start thinking about how to plan this into your training.

For Now, Here’s What I Would Recommend:

Design and follow a properly periodised strength programme using the overall structure shown in the table below:

Each phase can be anything from 3 to 8 weeks long depending on your individual situation and specific needs. As a coach, I tend to start most strength athletes off with around 4 weeks per phase.

If you need extra muscle mass you’ll spend longer in the hypertrophy/GPP phase, whereas if you need more exposure to heavier weights you’ll spend longer in the peaking phase.

The benefits of this approach are:

  1. You proactively make changes so that you don’t spend weeks banging your head against a wall trying to make progress with stale training methods.
  2. You get stronger, as periodised programmes have been shown to outperform non-periodised programmes (Williams 2017)
  3. You get less injured as the extra variation and appropriately timed stimulus changes stop you from slogging out grindy, messy reps just to complete sessions.

So you’ll be getting stronger, with fewer soul-crushingly hard sessions, and fewer injuries. Sounds like a better approach to me.

What to Do After Madcow 5×5: Frequently Asked Questions

How effective is madcow 5×5?

Madcow 5×5 is an effective strength programme for most intermediate lifters. However, no programme works forever, and it’s eventually you’ll outgrow it.

How long should I do madcow 5×5?

You should do madcow 5×5 for as long as it continues to produce results, for you this might mean a full year (with a few deloads) or it might mean 2-3 months before you hit a wall. Assuming you’re eating and sleeping well, it mainly depends on your genetics.

When should I stop madcow 5×5?

You should stop following madcow 5×5 when you can no longer make weekly progress despite trying small shifts in the rep scheme and taking planned deload weeks.

If you’ve used slightly altered rep schemes and you’ve taken deloads every few weeks, but you still can’t seem to hit weekly PR’s, then it’s time to start thinking about what’s next after madcow 5×5.

Can advanced lifters use 5×5?

Advanced lifters can use 5×5 as a rep scheme, but not as a programme. For example, they might perform 5×5 for a single session, but then have multiple lighter or moderate sessions for the rest of the week. Advanced lifters should not attempt to perform 5×5 three times per week for the same movement.

Next Steps

Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for some action…

1) Try out 5/3/1 or Jonnie Candito’s 6 Week Programme. Or if you want a bit more guidance, consider having me create a custom programme for you.

2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.

3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.

‘Til Next Time


Strength coach

Alex Parry, MSc, BA

Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.

His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.


Williams, Tyler & Tolusso, Danilo & Fedewa, Michael & Esco, Michael. (2017). Comparison of Periodized and Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 47. 10.1007/s40279-017-0734-y.