T Nation

5/3/1 Beginner Progress

I’ve been lifting for about 9 months (after a 6 yr layoff); I bought and started 5/3/1 with the BBB assistance 3 months ago. I fucking love this program and I keep setting weight/rep records, which feels awesome. The main reason why it is working so well is because it is an actual program that I can follow and log numbers instead of just doing my own thing or whatever my trainer says to lift.

After three cycles, I feel like my progress is good except for in the Bench Press. I’ve improved by the following estimated 1RM by the following amounts in three months:

Deadlift: 40# improvement
Shoulder Press: 5# improvement
Squat: 12# improvement
Bench Press: 2.5# improvement

I’m not really sure why my bench isn’t going up at a similar rate to the other lifts, especially since I’m really just a beginner and didn’t have years of base work to begin with. I’m curious to see what others progress in this program has been like, and also if anyone has any advice. Like Wendler says, I’m taking it slow and starting light…so that may also have something to do with it. Even during cycle #3, on my 5/3/1 days (week 3) I am repping out at 5-7 reps for my “1 RM” lifts.

Usually the bench goes up more than that in beginners just with practicing better technique. Do you use an arch and keep tight while driving with your legs while you bench? You don’t have to have a huge arch, but you do need some arch to be able to use leg drive. What assistance lifts are you doing?

Maybe you need to adjust your max bench higher if you are repping that much.

[quote]smallmike wrote:
Usually the bench goes up more than that in beginners just with practicing better technique. Do you use an arch and keep tight while driving with your legs while you bench? You don’t have to have a huge arch, but you do need some arch to be able to use leg drive. What assistance lifts are you doing?

Maybe you need to adjust your max bench higher if you are repping that much.[/quote]

I’m tight, arching, and making sure my legs are driven into the ground. I’m sure my form can use some work as my elbows are probably flared out a bit much. For assistance, I’m doing the BBB at the weight/reps prescribed, but I’m doing it on an incline with dumbbells.

All of my lifts are repping out at 5-7 on my 1RM days, and I think I’m just gonna stick with that and make my increases as recommended by Wendler. I’ve been tempted to adjust my max on all lifts except Shoulder Press, but I’m sticking with the plan.

It seems that a lot of people have had experiences similar to yours where the bench is the slowest to progress on 5/3/1. However, my experience has been quite the opposite. I’m in my third cycle right now. I haven’t taken any true maxes (either before the program or during), but my rep maxes have gone up.

Squat: +8 lbs
Deadlift: +20 lbs
Push Press: +11 lbs
Bench Press: +52 lbs

These are all based on the 5/3/1 formula for calculating rep maxes. I think that the biggest thing that has helped my bench go up has been working on maintaining upper back tightness and leg drive. That’s helped me grind out heavy sets at 10+ reps. My reflex on a long set is to let my shoulders hunch forward and my scapula to protract at the end of the set. If I fight that I get extra reps. On my last 1+ set for bench on got 9 reps. The cycle before that I only got 8 reps at 5 pounds less. I should qualify this by saying that I’m definitely built to press with t-rex arms. My deadlift sucks.

Obviously, I can’t really speak to how much my 1RM is improving since I am not testing it. However, I am making real progress, so I intend to ride this out for as many cycles as I can.

[quote]Silyak wrote:
I should qualify this by saying that I’m definitely built to press with t-rex arms. My deadlift sucks.

[/quote]

Good point… I keep forgetting my bench will lag because I’m 6’3" with very long arms. Long way to go…

[quote]Silyak wrote:
Obviously, I can’t really speak to how much my 1RM is improving since I am not testing it. However, I am making real progress, so I intend to ride this out for as many cycles as I can.
[/quote]

Same here. I don’t plan on doing a true 1RM max for a while. I like Wendlers idea of slow and steady progress, especially where I’m at with lifting experience.