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5/3/1 When Conditioning is King

Hi.

I bought beyond 5/3/1 a year or so ago, and even though I’ve yet to follow it, it has informed much of my training since. I am training for a role in the military that requires extremely high endurance, whilst being able to demonstrate very good relative strength, and physical robustness. My background is in boxing, so forgive me if some of what follows demonstrates my ignorance in strength training.

Achieving and maintaining an extremely high level of conditioning is going to be my primary goal over the next year. I am 6’1, 188lbs and already pretty lean. Because of this conditioning focus, I want to scale back my strength training, to just focus on a few key movements. 5/3/1 seems like the perfect program to allow me to continue to progress on a select few movements, without having too damaging an effect of my primary goal. My other goals would be to at least maintain my current bodyweight, remain injury free, and add 40lbs to my squat and deadlift (giving me 2x and 2.5x bw resepctively), and at least 20lbs to my overhead press. I have no need of the benchpress for my goals, and will be doing a hell of a lot of pressups on the other days.

My plan is to do 5/3/1, a joker or two, and first set last for Squat, Dead, and OHP. Squats and deads I’d do a few HSPUs and pull aparts whilst resting between sets, OHP I’d like to superset with dumbell swings.

I’ll be running/rucking distance (1.5-10~ miles) 3x week. I’ll also be swimming or cycling 3x week (morning) and would look to lift in the evenings on these days, leaving energy for some brief sprint conditioning after the weights.

I already have a good base of conditioning (9:30 1.5 mile time, sub 20 3 mile), but I am looking to kick on from here and the conditioning work I’ve described is more than I do currently.

My questions are:

  1. 5/3/1 suggests the TM should be 85-90% of the weightroom max. Given the demands of my conditioning work/bodyweight/abdominal work, do you think I’d be wasting my time if I set my TM even lighter, somewhere between 75-80%?

  2. Do you think there is enough volume/work in the 5/3/1 portion to make gradual progress? I am aware that, given my priorities, progress will not be optimal.

  3. If you were trying to be constantly supremely fit over the course of a year, minimise injury, and be as big and strong as possible, given the limitations, in a year’s time, is there anything you’d change about my intended approach.

I apologise for the length of the post, and thank you for your time.

I regard 5/3/1 as one of the best overall strength programs for almost anyone. I wouldn’t change it, because it already includes variations for almost any schedule, split or application.
I am a rugby player with similar conditioning requirements to your own. Accordingly I follow a 5/3/1 2 day template during the season and at times when conditioning is a priority. Offseason I follow the more standard template.

I would not tinker with the percentages either. Calculating a true 1RM and training max on main lifts are pretty much the entire point of the program, as they set the percentages for everything else. If you’re concerned about BW exercises, Wendler has written a template with dips and PULLUPS as the assistance work after the main lift of the day. This template may be better for someone in the military who has to pass a PFT.

I’d read 531 again and then buy Beyond 531. I guarantee there is a template in there that will fit your situation. They alternative, of course, is just doing a completely different program. But if you do 531 I’d stick to one of the templates he’s layed out – percentages included…

I would do a 2-day template from the book and no activity between sets, as you are already doing plenty of conditioning work during the week. Use weights for strength, and conditioning for conditioning, and never the twain should meet.

I understand that bench doesn’t interest you, but if there is no physical reason that you cannot bench, leave it in the program, as Jim wrote 5/3/1 this way for a reason.

The two-day templates include enough volume for increasing strength, especially when used with FSL at 3-5 sets of 5 reps. You must be focused and explosive on each rep of each set, though. I would suggest the 5s Progression for you in conjunction with the 2-day template. This will provide you with enough volume for progress and save you from yourself with regards to too much volume.

I would think that 85% would be good for your TM. If you keep your training volume fairly low, i.e. main sets + FSL + minimal assistance work, an 85% TM should be workable.

Lastly, do not skimp on calories. Eat big, eat smart.

I hope I have given you some good points to consider. Good luck.

Thank you both very much for your advice.

Joey Waters, I’ll take your advice as you’ve written it (especially the eating bit), and just do the basic 2 day/week template with a TM of 85%, and add in dumbell swings on both days as assistance. I think it should suffice for volume, as I’m already doing a lot of pressups, pullups, neck work, lower back and ab work as part of my conditioning/bw training work.

Don’t worry about not including the bench press. If you’re not a powerlifter, you don’t need it. You have a very clear idea of what your goals are which already puts you ahead of a lot of people.

[quote]LondonBoxer123 wrote:

  1. If you were trying to be constantly supremely fit over the course of a year, minimise injury, and be as big and strong as possible, given the limitations, in a year’s time, is there anything you’d change about my intended approach. [/quote]

What I’m about to say is based on the assumption that you’re free to train as you want for the next year and need to peak for some sort of selection process…

I’d spend the next eight months focused on strength with conditioning on maintenance. 3 day/week full body w/FSL (no jokers) combined with mostly zone 2 cardio to build/maintain an aerobic base.

Mon - Squat/press/chin + one accessory
Wed - Deadlift/bench/row + one accessory
Fri - Squat/press/chin + one accessory

Cardio Mon-Fri in AM, your choice of activity. It’s easy base building so keep things in perspective. If your killing yourself on the run and missing lifts in the evening you’re missing the point.

At the eight month mark (four months out) I’d switch gears… Ramp up conditioning volume while ramping down strength volume. 5/3/1 full body 2 days/week with no FSL and minimal accessory work.

Mon - Fast run (am), 5/3/1 (pm)
Tue - Swim/cycle
We’d - Hills or interval sprints, with or without ruck.
Thu - Swim/cycle
Fri - Long ruck/run (am), 5/3/1 (pm)
Sat - Swim/cycle
Sun - Off

(Running and lifting on the same day stacks the leg fatigue into one day and allows the swimming/cycling session to act as recovery work)

Two months out I’d drop strength to once a week (your choice of which day to cut) and up conditioning to two-a-days and three-a-days (run in am, swim/cycle or circuit train or sports in pm 5 days/week)

Two weeks out I’d cut strength and taper the cardio.

One week out I’d rest.

Lastly, I’d leave the benchpress in. The first time you have to do pushups while wearing full kit you’ll understand why.

In my opinion.

A thought on the bench press: sometimes there are hidden benefits (or detriments) to an exercise that go deeper than just “will I use this movement in my task of choice”

One example: I bench pressed a lot when I was playing football (American football, that is). Surely the squats and power cleans and plyometric work was more important to my skill and performance, but the bench pressing built a layer of “armor” on my upper body that helped withstand a season’s worth of collisions.

This can cut both ways: if you must do a lot of long-distance rucking at speed, the excess upper body mass may be a hindrance to you.

I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong here. If you’re pounding the weights hard with 5/3/1 and conditioning well you should be positioned to succeed, period. Just offering some food for thought as you weigh the pros and cons of including the bench press in your routine.

Thank you all very much for the advice, I appreciate the time and thought that has gone into all of your posts.

some_dude, your advice looks particularly tailored to my specific goals, and would be something I could implement with the time frame I have in mind. Thank you for going into such detail. I’ve copied the post across to a document, and will use it as a template for my training. I believe it will be very helpful, and fits with the sort of volume I’m working with at this point.

Thank you all again, I’ve taken something useful from every post.

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I thought I’d come back and update this as I’ve now done 3x 3 week cycles. I didn’t deload at the end of the first 6 weeks, as I set my TM quite low, was feeling good, and felt a deload would have killed momentum at a point where everything was just starting to click and feel good. I’m glad I pushed through because it was a point where I’d be tempted to make adjustments or do something daft if I left myself time to plot something new for the next cycle, in a frame of mind where I wanted to be training.

Now that I’m at the end of my 9th week, I am planning to deload. I may not do a full 7 days, as I don’t think my current strength levels require that sort of recovery, but I can feel I’m slowing down so I will take at least the next 5 days out of the gym to eat and rest up.

Progress has been excellent, and for the first time in my training, I’ve made a bit of a paradigm shift - ‘drunk the cool-aid’ as people round here seem to say. This is an excellent program and I won’t be fucking around with it or hopping to something else.

My schedule can be unpredictable, so I’ve had to make some principles I can stick to and just find a way of getting it done.

5x each week I will do some conditioning. Usually 1 - 2 x 3-5 mile run (always at least 10 hours before lifting), 1-2 x 400/800m intervals, and 1-2x met con (most often immediately after lifting). In my OP I mentioned that my 1.5 mile tested run was at 9:30 nine weeks ago. I tested it yesterday and ran 8:49, my first sub 9 minute 1.5 mile, and I could have gone faster.

In the same time, I’ve been lifting 4 days/week, doing 1 set of jokers and FSL. This is how I’ve structured my lifting:

Day 1: Bench (very slight incline as my shoulders prefer it) - 5/3/1 + 1 joker set + FSL. I’ve been doing the rep PR on the last set (before jokers) and have hit 10/7/5 reps respectively on each 3 week cycle.
I then do 3 sets of SB carry, close grip bench, and some rear delt raises. The SB work I push, the close grip and rear delt stuff I just do some high reps and work the muscles.

Day 2: Squat (bottom up from pins) 5/3/1 + 1 joker set + FSL. I’ve been doing the rep PR on the last set (before jokers) and have hit 10/7/5 reps respectively on each 3 week cycle.
I then do some SB shoulders, maybe 10 - 15 reps as explosively as I can, some rope climbs, and some curls.

Day 3: OHP 5/3/1 + 1 joker set + FSL. I’ve been doing the rep PR on the last set (before jokers) and have hit 10/7/5 reps respectively on each 3 week cycle. This is the lift that is slowing down most. I really struggled for my 7/5 reps on my 3+/1+ weeks, and also struggled to get the bar moving on the first rep. I’ve been slightly calorie restricted the past few weeks, so I’m not surprised, and I am hopeful it will get moving again as I start eating a bit more.
I then do some suitcase carries, some rear delt work, and a high rep set of rollouts.

Day 4: Deadlift 5/3/1 + 1 joker set + FSL. I’ve been doing the rep PR on the last set (before jokers) and have hit 7/5/3 reps respectively on each 3 week cycle. I find high reps on the deadlift take me a lot more recovering from than other lifts, perhaps also because it is the end of the week, so I’ve reduced the volume of my top sets slightly. My speed off the floor is better than ever and I think this is progressing best of any of my lifts.
I then do some rope climbing and some curls.

I do neck bridges 3x/ week, and on my days off I shoot for a few hundred pressups and at least a few hundred situps, plus some grip/wrist work - usually for 20 minutes or so before I shower and go to bed.

I realise I’ve written a lot there, but if there are any adjustments/tweaks anyone would make before I start my next cycle, I’d appreciate the input. The most glaring admission I can see is that I don’t have any rows, and I think I should probably swap the curls out for them.

I’m aiming to add the following to my TMs by the end of August:

Press 17kgs
Dead 15kgs
Bench 20kgs
Squat 35kgs (My current squat TM is a bit lower relative to my level of strength compared to the other 3 lifts, so there is more room for improvement)

It may be optimistic, but that level of improvement would put me at a level I have in mind as being strong for someone who is primarily training to be hard to kill, not necessarily a competitive strength athlete. I think I’m close enough to try to put a date on hitting those numbers.

[quote]LondonBoxer123 wrote:

My questions are:

  1. 5/3/1 suggests the TM should be 85-90% of the weightroom max. Given the demands of my conditioning work/bodyweight/abdominal work, do you think I’d be wasting my time if I set my TM even lighter, somewhere between 75-80%?

  2. Do you think there is enough volume/work in the 5/3/1 portion to make gradual progress? I am aware that, given my priorities, progress will not be optimal.

  3. If you were trying to be constantly supremely fit over the course of a year, minimise injury, and be as big and strong as possible, given the limitations, in a year’s time, is there anything you’d change about my intended approach. [/quote]

  4. Lighten the TM w/ that much conditioning. 70 on lower and 80 on upper.

  5. Focus on progressing on the program. The weight room is to make you stronger in your sport. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the amount of weight as much as making progress in the program as strange as that may sound.

As for volume - you can always do an extra set after the AMRAP for the required reps that day. You can pyramid down. You can do first set last for AMRAP. Just see how you feel but always hit the goal for that day so you can continue to progress in the program.

Sorry if this has already been stated.

[quote]osu122975 wrote:

[quote]LondonBoxer123 wrote:

My questions are:

  1. 5/3/1 suggests the TM should be 85-90% of the weightroom max. Given the demands of my conditioning work/bodyweight/abdominal work, do you think I’d be wasting my time if I set my TM even lighter, somewhere between 75-80%?

  2. Do you think there is enough volume/work in the 5/3/1 portion to make gradual progress? I am aware that, given my priorities, progress will not be optimal.

  3. If you were trying to be constantly supremely fit over the course of a year, minimise injury, and be as big and strong as possible, given the limitations, in a year’s time, is there anything you’d change about my intended approach. [/quote]

  4. Lighten the TM w/ that much conditioning. 70 on lower and 80 on upper.

  5. Focus on progressing on the program. The weight room is to make you stronger in your sport. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the amount of weight as much as making progress in the program as strange as that may sound.

As for volume - you can always do an extra set after the AMRAP for the required reps that day. You can pyramid down. You can do first set last for AMRAP. Just see how you feel but always hit the goal for that day so you can continue to progress in the program.

Sorry if this has already been stated.

[/quote]

Thank you for the input, it’s appreciated.

  1. Although I ended up working with 85%, I can see now that I’m on my fourth cycle that I underestimated my TM slightly, and that was a good thing, so I probably was closer to using 70&80 respectively, and it’s been no bad thing.

  2. Actually this makes perfect sense, but I only really realised it yesterday during my squat training. It was 5s week and I was a bit frustrated that I still seemed to be squatting below a certain weight, and that it didn’t seem from the numbers alone that I was getting stronger. When I did my AMRAP set, I hit my 10 reps and looked back over my log, and realised that the weight I had just hit 10 reps for was slightly higher than the top weight of my 5/3/1+ set from my first cycle (now on my fourth), which I’d hit for 5 reps 8 weeks ago.

It was an eureka moment for me, and the more I do the program as written, and trust in the program, the more I understand what I’m doing and why. It’s so simple, but at the same time it is brilliant. I’m also finding that despite the high level of conditioning, by focusing simply on making the main lift keep moving, I’ve been able to serve both masters (strength and fitness) so far.

Thanks again for your input.