T Nation

5/3/1 Old Army Knees

Age: 44
5-11, 175, thin frame with small bones and long legs. Not necessarily built for heavy weightlifting, but I love weight training and want to see what I’m able to achieve as far as strength goes.

History: Always been “in shape,” between cross country, baseball, West Point and Army life. But it’s always been running, endurance and calisthenics oriented, and not pure strength. Even though I lifted weights often, they were oriented around sets of 10-12. The Army never prioritized strength when I was in-it was pushups, situps, running and road marching. Glad to now see they are adding trap bar deadlifts into their testing

Started 5/3/1 in early 2018, mostly running triumvirate or FSL since I wanted to focus on strength without necessarily adding a lot of bodyweight. Mods - I used trap bar deadlift most of the time - it just feels so much better, plus it hit my weak quads better. I had to use an angled Smith machine for a while for squats, since that’s all my work gym had. I discovered its limitations as I neared bodyweight on it, as it felt like it wedged me into positions that weren’t optimal. I did make some gains on leg strength with it, though.

Injuries: I get tendonitis fairly easily - knee, achilles, sometimes elbow after too many chin ups. Finally got my own squat stands at home last year, and I have trained many squat variations to try to find out a variation/stance that felt right, that I could really progress without injury. Heavy goblet, BSS, then this year I learned the front squat and progressed it to bodyweight on the bar. Back squats have never totally felt right, but I think I’m close. I used videos to study my form, and essentially re-learned the back squat, making sure I hit depth. I’m still dealing with some knee tendonitis. I’ll have good squat days, then for no apparent reason the knees flare up a few days later. I really have to focus on pushing the knees out, and I’ve done box squats for some sessions to take some of the stress off the knees. I’ll use Chucks or lifting shoes depending on the day. Chucks feel better, but the lifting shoes have better arch support and make it easier to hit depth. But, they put more force into the knees.

Previous 5/3/1 mistakes - Trying to do too much, sometimes training 3 days in a row, running too hard on conditioning days, and letting TMs get too high. It was hard for me to accept that lack of TM increase does not indicate a lack of strength increase. Another mistake was not getting real squat rack earlier… Sometimes I would cut an assistance exercise due to fatigue or time. This time I’m doing the programs as written!

During quarantine, I got away from 5/3/1, as I didn’t have a bench at home. Instead I did Chris Thibodeaux’s OHP 12-week plateau buster, lots of pushups, learned front squat and also re-learned the back squat. Now I got a bench and it’s time to get back to 5/3/1 programming. I really didn’t lose anything on the bench during that time, which is good.

Currently running two cycles of 5s pro BBB and then PRs with FSL. I want to run through the 13-week challenge, where supplemental lifts go from BBB to 5x5 to 5x3 to 5x1. I’ve never “invested” in BBB cycles before, and I think they will pay off. I’m doing the opposite lift, since I know I benefit from doing the lifts twice a week. Started with 60% for BBB on SQ and BP, and 55% for other two. I wanted weights that would be challenging, but ones where I know I’d get the 5x10. After two weeks, so far so good. The 70% BBB sets look daunting, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to hit all 5x10 on those. I see Dan John has another method of hitting 50 reps, where you go 2-3-5-10, 2-3-5-10, 2-3-5, and people are able to quickly get 50 reps that way.

Current training maxes: OHP-120 lbs, BP-180, SQ-180, DL-225
I’ve hit 285x3 with the trap bar, but I have regular bar at home, so I’m being conservative with that lift, especially for the BBB sets.

Priorities: Squat and OHP. I’d love to hit OHP bodyweight, and my squat is a disgrace. It’s never felt right form-wise until now, plus I feel like there are lots of potential gains on the table in the squat. I want to be one of these stories where squats “fixed my knees” that you sometimes hear about.

After two weeks of BBB, I already feel better conditioned to weights - the 5x10 sets were easier on week 2, and I am taking less time between other sets. The lighter squat sets really let me focus on form and depth.

This time I’ll most likely do workouts every other day, so two weeks over 16 days. I pretty much never regret taking an extra day off with 5/3/1. You end up more fresh and the weights move faster.

5/3/1 OHP and BBB BP; 50 chins, 50 abs, optional light BSS or goblet squat to stay loose
5/3/1 Squat and BBB DL with fat gripz; 50 hamstring curl or single leg RDL; 50 abs. I like firing up hamstrings before squats.
5/3/1 Bench and BBB OHP; 50 inverted rows on gymnastic rings; 50 kettlebell swings
5/3/1 DL and BBB Squat; 50 ab wheel

Calves, face pulls and pull-aparts throughout the week. Assistance will increase and change as the supplemental volume decreases. If you add something in, you have to take something out! For BBB, almost all energy is going into 5/3/1, BBB and the one relatively hard assistance for the antagonist muscle (Chinup for OHP, hamstring for squat, etc).

Conditioning: Track running or hill running 1-2 times a week, but have to keep volume down. One of my favorite workouts is an 800, 700, 600 etc down to 100 meters at increasing speed, but it is a hard workout that will be too much during BBB. The local HS football field has a blocking sled, so I push that twice a week. Not sure how it compares to a prowler in a gym, but it leaves me gassed after 30-40 yards.

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Welcome aboard!

Huzzah, another BBB practitioner. Welcome!

I would love to be 44 again and working on squat gains. At 61 and still working on squat gains it’s a different game. One suggestion that may help with 5/3/1; At your height and weight…eat. Thanks very much for your service to our great country!

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Welcome. Did 30 in the USAF, 74-04, enlisted, 65 now. Amazingly, my knees are one of the few parts that don’t bother me a bit.

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Finishing two cycles of 5s Pro and BBB. I have gradually increased the BBB weight, pushing some sets up to 65% toward the end of 2nd cycle. I have gone back to using Chucks for squatting instead of lifting shoes - they help me keep weight back on my hips instead of too much on the knees. I ended up gaining eight lbs, so it’s nice to know I can use BBB to add weight if I want to. I trimmed back the conditioning too much probably, but this is a learning process to see how far you can push things in one direction. One-mile timing last week was 8:05, so I’ve gotten slower. I like to be in the low 7’s for a mile. I found out conditioning (when I did it) actually helped the lifting for the next couple sessions, whether it’s getting me more loose, opening up the cardiovascular system, or whatever. We’ll see how the PRs in the next cycle go with the BBB base…

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Update - I decided to make my own safety squat bar with steel piping, in an effort to be a bit more upright in squats, and even out the load between glutes, low back and quads. It does that well. Straight bar squats just seemed to be all glutes and low back, even with lifting shoes. I continued to run FSL 3x5 and FSL 5x5 for a couple cycles, while linearly progressing on the SSB. For that, I would hit a 5-rep max, then set of 3 and 2, then a 20-rep set at lower weight. Then next session a 5x5 at 70% of that previous max. This worked nicely until I approached my straight bar 5RM, and I was ready for a change. At that point I was hitting new solid PRs on all lifts, and decided to run God is a Beast. I love that template - it was nice to not have pressure to hit PRs for a while, and just do the work. The 85% TM was a nice change too - I may just keep using that TM on every template. I just finished the two leader cycles on GiaB, with a vacation de-load week roughly in the middle. No single workout was terribly difficult, actually, and recovery was never a problem. I’m two sessions into the first anchor, and already hit PRs in deadlift and BP, with pretty clean, fast reps.

Only thing I’m considering switching up is squat variations. It seems like the SSB gets exponentially harder as you get close to your 5RM, with more grinding and low back involvement. You really have to muscle it up. Just wondering if rotating between say box squats, SSB, and front squat between cycles would be beneficial, or just plow through with the SSB for all main sets. Or I may just use the SSB for supplemental and push the low-bar squats for a while again.