Training

Why I Am Currently Doing 5/3/1 For Strength And Longevity

February 13th 2020

If you are a beginner, you might be wondering what kind of results you could get from 5/3/1.

While all lifters start off at different strength levels, we can all find a common ground when we are faced to handle a weight that has not been done before.

We need to face our challenges head-on.

So, without keeping you waiting, here are my 5/3/1 results so far.

My 5/3/1 results

Though I am not a beginner, I often treat myself like one.

I am constantly learning and want to improve as often as I could.

However, when you have been training for years, you know that if you improve each session, some of the following things might happen:

  • You succeed but face even tougher challenges. You are forced to eat more and gain more bodyweight
  • You succeed and go to hit harder weights. You choose not to eat and plateau
  • You get injured trying to push your limits. You need to tweak all your programs in order to continue training hard.
  • Slowly push your limits, but you will not see results for weeks, months or even years

For me, I no longer see that it is worth it to gain more weight for strength.

I am 5’7”, 170lbs. 

10lbs would be the max I should gain in order to be “competitive” with other lifters. 

Plus, I have bulked up to 190lbs before and it was not a great experience for me.

If I can and have the opportunity to go for a once in a lifetime record, I know I have the willpower to eat more and bulk up.

But for the everyday grind, I am unwilling to put myself through that.

This led me to the 5/3/1 philosophy and if you do not have the book, you are missing out on a lot of the explanations and alternative 5/3/1 leaders and anchors that can better fit your schedule.

View it as an investment for lifelong learning.

First cycle of 5/3/1, first program

I ran it with an online calculator because I was skeptical.

I read about its low volume and how it is not very good for powerlifting.

At the time, my goals were to get the biggest squat, bench press and deadlift I can.

This program seemed to not promise that.

However, I was making my own program and recently failed to hit any PRs after doing a mock meet for myself.

I thought I was getting weaker and I felt a bit lost with no guidance.

So, I was desperate to try something new and I found 5/3/1.

What I did not know is how much the 5/3/1 philosophy aligned with my own, to lift for a long time and to make progress so that you do not get injured.

This was essentially my first template:

 

 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Set 1

65% x 5

70% x 3

75% x 5

40% x 5

Set 2

75% x 5

80% x 3

85% x 3

50% x 5

Set 3

85% x 5+

90% x 3+

95% x 1+

60% x 5

 

I used 90% of my “real” max which is also known as the training max, which is the number used in order to calculate your working set.

The reason for the 90% is because if you use your real max, your strength levels will fluctuate throughout the coming weeks and months.

One of the worse things that could happen is if you fail a working set because you did not have a buffer in place for a “bad” day.

Each program will typically contain three cycles. Each cycle is 3-4 weeks of training.

Here were my training numbers:

 

Lifts

One Rep Max (lbs)

Numbers to Use (lbs)

Bench

230

207

Squat

350

315

Deadlift

415

373.5

Standing Military Press

155

139.5

My bench press accessories were close grip bench presses and barbell rows, 5 sets of 10 reps

My squat accessory was high bar squats, 5 sets of 10, and weighted planks, I did 5 sets of 30s

My deadlift accessory was a regular deadlift, 5 sets of 10 reps and bodyweight planks, 5 sets of 30s.

My overhead presses accessories were wide grip overhead presses and wide grip barbell rows, both 5 sets of 10 reps.

 Week 1

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

135

5

155

5

175

10

233

Squat

205

5

235

5

270

7

333

Dead Lift

245

5

280

5

315

8

399

Standing Military Press

90

5

105

5

120

10

160

Week 2

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

145

3

165

3

185

8

234

Squat

220

3

250

3

285

5

332

Dead Lift

260

3

300

3

335

7

413

Standing Military Press

100

3

110

3

125

11

171

Week 3

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

155

5

175

3

195

7

240

Squat

235

5

270

3

300

3

330

Dead Lift

280

5

315

3

355

7

438

Standing Military Press

105

5

120

3

135

8

171

First Cycle Reflections

  • I used all my real training maxes and my squat sucked. Deadlifts were hard as well too.
  • Upper body lifts felt easy and I decided to gamble and increase them for the next cycle.

2nd cycle, 1st program

 

Lifts

One Rep Max (lbs)

Numbers to Use (lbs)

Bench

235

211.5

Squat

315

283.5

Deadlift

425

382.5

Standing Military Press

160

144

My bench press accessories were close grip bench presses and barbell rows, 5 sets of 10 reps. 

My squat accessory was high bar squats, 5 sets of 10, and weighted planks, I did 5 sets of 30s

My deadlift accessory was a regular deadlift, 5 sets of 10 reps and bodyweight planks, 5 sets of 30s.

My overhead presses accessories were wide grip overhead presses and wide grip barbell rows, both 5 sets of 10 reps.

On my 3rd week and deload, I replaced barbell rows with barbell curls on my bench day. 

I replaced planks with weighted crunches on my squat and deadlift days.

For my 4th week percentages, I also changed them to 70%, 80% and 90% since I reeducated myself on what I needed from a deload.

Week 1

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

135

5

160

5

180

9

234

Squat

185

5

215

5

240

15

360

Dead Lift

250

5

285

5

325

9

422

Standing Military Press

95

5

110

5

120

12

168

Week 2

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

150

3

170

3

190

7

234

Squat

200

3

225

3

255

12

357

Dead Lift

270

3

305

3

345

7

425

Standing Military Press

100

3

115

3

130

9

169

Week 3

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

160

5

180

3

200

5

233

Squat

215

5

240

3

270

9

351

Dead Lift

285

5

325

3

365

6

438

Standing Military Press

110

5

120

3

135

8

171

Week 4

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

150

5

170

5

190

1

196

Squat

200

5

225

5

255

1

263

Dead Lift

270

5

305

5

345

1

356

Standing Military Press

100

5

115

5

130

1

134

 

Second Cycle Reflections

  • Everything felt great.
  • I wanted to add more volume on each day, so for my 3rd cycle, I will add joker sets and first set last. 
    • In order to do this, I had to do a 3/5/1 routine instead of the regular 5/3/1/

3rd cycle, 1st program

 

Lifts

One Rep Max (lbs)

Numbers to Use (lbs)

Bench

240

216

Squat

325

292.5

Deadlift

435

391.5

Standing Military Press

165

148.5

My accessories each day varied tremendously. 

I believed I was so excited with being challenged with heavy weights again that I stopped what was working for me and just went ham.

Some days, I did lightweight circuits. 

Some days, I would do floor presses on my bench days and Strongman accessories like lifting sandbags.

Other days, I used fat gripz to train my grip on the bench press or overhead press.

 Week 1

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

150

3

175

3

195

5

227

Squat

205

3

235

3

265

11

362

Dead Lift

275

3

315

3

350

7

432

Standing Military Press

105

3

120

3

135

8

171

Week 2 

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

140

5

160

5

185

11

253

Squat

190

5

220

5

250

15

375

Dead Lift

255

5

295

5

335

10

447

Standing Military Press

95

5

110

5

125

10

167

Week 3 

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

160

5

185

3

205

4

232

Squat

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Dead Lift

295

5

335

5

370

5

481

Standing Military Press

110

5

125

3

140

7

173

Week 4 

 

 

Set 1

 

Set 2

 

Set 3

 

Estimated Max (EPLEY)

 

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

Weight

Reps

 

Bench

150

5

175

5

195

5

227

Squat

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Dead Lift

275

5

315

5

350

5

408

Standing Military Press

105

5

120

5

135

5

157

3rd Cycle Reflections

  • Injured myself on week 2 after doing 15 reps on my 250lbs squat, an all-time best for me
  • Set a lot of training personal records in week 2
  • Also extremely motivated by Dinosaur Training, which promoted lifting heavy singles for multiple reps
    • Started to implement it once I was looking for a solution to squat without knee-pain
  • Very ambitious with my training and it led me to my injury and how I should rethink my training strategy

Where am I today with 5/3/1

I am currently on my 4th program, 1st cycle, 2nd week. 

These are my current training maxes:

 

Lifts

One Rep Max (lbs)

Numbers to Use (lbs)

Bench

230

207

Squat

310

279

Deadlift

395

355.5

Standing Military Press

165

148.5

 

You may immediately notice that my training maxes are still right under what I started about 9-12 weeks ago.

I started way too high back in the past.

But now I know, my injuries crept up on me for 9 weeks...

It took 9 weeks to take me out of the game.

I didn’t really understand that my training maxes to use were too high until my 3rd program. 

It was only then I drastically cut back in order to fully understand 5/3/1.

So, in a way, you could say I only did 5/3/1 successfully with one program.

The current variation I am doing is “LEVIATHAN”.

I am also using Strongman accessories at the end of each training day.

If I get enough sleep on my deadlift day, I will also do extra farmer’s walks, sandbag carries and atlas stones.

How I recovered from my injury using 5/3/1

My entire 2nd program was dedicated to healing my knee injury.

Here is what I did:

  • Pin squats (ATG) - this did not cause me pain until the very last week before program 3
  • Box squats
  • Heavy squats - everything I did, I tried to load it up so that my body can work. And these heavy box and pin squats did not cause me any pain.

I worked up to 415lbs box squat (2” above parallel) and a 280lbs pin squat from the bottom of the hole, 10 sets of 1 rep.

This is what caused me pain

The only thing that did not work was trying to do full range of motion squats.

I would try them with 135lbs and it would give me pain.

I knew once I felt that sharp pain, I was done practicing and I would just do pin or box squats.

I did not wait and try to mobilize my knee more.

I just called it quits at that point and will try again next week.

Current Goals With 5/3/1 

Here are some of my current goals for this year with 5/3/1 Forever.

Keep lifting injury-free for this year

Injuries derail your progress.

Plain and simple.

Yes, you can bounce back but that does not take away from the fact that you had to rest and recover from an injury for however many weeks.

For me, my knee injury last year as a wake-up call to take care of my health.

Yes, I want to get stronger.

But if this means I can get 50lbs on my squats and deadlift only to get injured, that would not be worth it for me.

I would rather improve 10lbs over 5 years while not sustaining any injuries.

When I was younger, I would really do a lot for strength - lift like a madman, lift heavy singles.

But at what cost now?

It is time to break the cycle of gains -> injury -> rehab ->repeat.

Now, I want more than just short term progress.

I want my gains to last forever.

Get stronger

That is a vague goal.

But I should try to quantify it in some way.

I figured out the perfect measurable goal for my strength - I want to lift my program 4 training numbers for 1 set of 10.

I have never done that before and it will definitely show that my strength has increased. 

Would I Recommend 5/3/1 For Beginners?

No, I would recommend you do Starting Strength first for at least 6 months. 

Progress, struggle, fail, deload, repeat.

Once you deloaded at least 3 times and failed to break your previous plateaus, then I would recommend you do 5/3/1.

Why this way?

Because you need to know what hard training is.

5/3/1 will not push it to know what hard training is - a true novice beginner program would.

You need to get some training experience under your belt and I believe Starting Strength is very appropriate for newer lifters.

Then, depending on how difficult your 5 rep training sets were in Starting Strength, take 90% of it and make that your training max for 5/3/1.

It is better to start off way too light than to start heavy and fail or even worse like me, injure yourself because you think the program is “too easy.”

However, here is why 5/3/1 might be superior to Starting Strength

5/3/1 teaches lifters about strength training principles and systems.

They do not chase numbers.

And many beginner strength training programs like Starting Strength are always marketed to people who want to gain strength as quickly as possible.

And for a vast majority of the population, this is a very good thing.
It is one of their first introductions into strength training and they have dramatically improved their quality of life.

What more could you ask for?

But hang on, 5/3/1 proves that it not only works for 1 program (3-4 weeks) but it continuously works throughout the test of time.

Lifters 10 years ago and now can talk about how 5/3/1 changed their lives based on not what numbers they hit in the gym but how they learned from 5/3/1 to grow their strength.

You do not learn how to just hit your maxes in the gym.

You learn how to build strength over a long period of time without any setbacks.

And for a beginner, if they learn the fundamentals of strength training early, this is one of the biggest golden nuggets you will ever find for practically for free with Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Forever book.

Closing Thoughts

Beginners should do Starting Strength before 5/3/1.

However, if you pick the hardest variation in 5/3/1 and test your limits each workout, I really do not see how 5/3/1 will be efficient in helping beginners get stronger and bigger the quickest.

Because let us be real, everyone wants results quickly.

Everyone does not want to waste any time.

For most people, they do not want to stay in the gym any longer than they should.

Starting Strength has the template and training methodology in order to help you get to your goals quickly and efficiently.

And unless you have laser-focused willpower (how can you if you never trained hard in your life), then running 5/3/1 will be great for a beginner.

Though your progress will not be as quick as someone who runs Starting Strength, your grasp of strength training concepts in order to build strength with time will far surpass someone who just read about Starting Strength for 5 minutes and started doing 3x5 sets in the gym the next day.

While you continue to build real and true strength over time, Starting Strength lifters will eventually reach a plateau and start to program hop (I am guilty.) 

But the most important thing you can do is to make a decision and stick by it 100%.

Do not change the program as I did - you may get hurt.

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