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5/3/1 Workout Intensity?



 I generally trust the best advice out there, so I am currently following the 5 3 1 plan with bodybuilding assisted lifts (yes, I'm trying to get the best of both worlds and understand that this will hurt my gains.  It's a balance and a trade off).  I just want some perspective about intensity.

 Back in the day (late 80s, 90s) I followed a program from the football coach that had us doing bench press (for example) 2-3 days a week.  Our program was very similar to 5 3 1, except a little more intense.  5x5 one week, 3x3 the next, and 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the next.  All had similar progessions to 5 3 1.  Later I had added 5, 3, 1, 3, 5 to my rotation.  

 Being used to this kind of lifting, 5 3 1 does not feel very intense.  In fact, yesterday I did 3x3 and last week I did 3 x 5.  The first two sets still feel like warm up sets.  On top of that, I'm only doing it once a week per major lift.  

 So I trust this is a good program.  I'm just looking for people to tell me that when I was younger, clearly I was pushing too hard and that big, short, and boring combined with rest and a good diet will lead to bigger gains.

 On a side note:  in the late 90s I switched to something similar (one day a week), but the heavy sets were still a bit more intense, took in a lot more calories and I did see amazing gains compared to the old program.

Thanks for the input!


Are you actually going for max reps on the last set like you're meant to?


Do you mean lift to failure? So far, yes. For example, my 3x3 was a little light yesterday, so I was able to crank out a 4th rep. I do not, however, do more than one assisted lift nor do I do negatives or the old struggle for 2 minutes on the last rep while a guy screams "come on baby, you can do it! Feel that burn!" ; ^ )


One thing the author recommended was doing the following, it was mainly for bench press but would work on all lifts, I would use it only on lifts you felt necessary. This is 5 total sets instead of 3 for the main lift.

After the 3rd AMRAP set repeat the 2nd set with only the minimum reps, then finally repeat the 1st set for AMRAP. So Week 2 would be the following

70 x 3
80 x 3
90 x 3+ (track your progress based only on this set)
80 x 3
70 x 3+


I would get the book it is explained really simple and clear. The gains are slow, but steady and there is a variety of variations to arange the template, from balls out to just doing the main lifts for a month and then going back to balls out. He has a built in deload for super accumlation so that you can recover. I found if you want to get big eat a ton train your ass off for 3 weeks and take the deload. Do it consistently and you will be cool


I agree, 5/3/1 is on the light side, if you follow it to the minimum. But that last set, and whatever follows it, is exactly as intense as you want to make it. That's actually an important facet of the program. If you aren't lifting well, do that minimum and go home. If you are feelin good, hit that 3+ set for a rep PR for 8. Then do some more heavier triples on top of it, or scale back down like that previous post, or any other number of options.

Theoretically speaking, on your first wave of 531 on the last 3+ set, you should get about 7 reps. Ex: 1RM of 400, 90% training max of 360, last 3s set is 90% of that, 325. 325x7 gives you right around 400 estimated max. 325x4 in this case, is indeed a pretty light set.


I have been doing 531 now for almost a year now and am very pleased with the results. I find it important to vary the assistance work from cycle to cycle. E.g. one cycle I might do 5x10 (60%) on assistance moves. Next cycle I might do 10x3 with a heavier weight (75-80%) or switch to other exercises. This keeps it stimulating, both for the body and the mind.

However, don't change assistance moves every week within the cycle.
So the 531 lifts are fixed, taken to the limit and that's what I use to measure progress whilst the assistance work is the varying factor. I do at least 2, max 4 assistance moves per workout.

Also, don't drive the assistance work to failure. Think more volume here. Should be hard but not driving it to the limit.


I did it for about 4 months last year and then took a break from it, then came back to it about 6 months ago now. I love the system and am not likely to change to anything else again. It delivers results. You have to be a little patient with it at first but after a while it seems to gain momentum. I'm getting to the point know where my 3x3 and 5/3/1 worksets are what my initial training max was, so I've made good gains.

Like another poster mentioned above, doing a pyramid type thing works well (wk2 3,3,3+,3,3,3 for example). The Bench Press isn't as taxing for me personally as Deadlifting and Squating can be. I also do Power Cleans and that's not easy either, especially on 5/5/5 week.


Forgive me if I dont understand your answer but im not sure you got the point of the program. Given the initial training maxes are based off of 90% of your 1rm you should easily be able to crank out more reps than the required on the final set of the main exercise.

For instance in my last cycle (had to put 5/3/1 on hold for a month) in the final set of my 5's week I got:

Squat: 137.5kg x 12
Dead: 160kg x 10
Bench: 90kg x 10

Realistically when you start the program:

5's week - look for 9-12 reps
3's week - look for 6-8 reps
1's week - look for 4-6 reps.

You can do the minimum but you should probably do more.


Just re-read page 8-9 and page 22.


I'm 36 years old. I do (mostly) full body 5/3/1, and I thought at first that it wasn't hard enough. I was hesitant at first, because it seemed too easy. But everybody I read who tried it said it works, and I didn't have anything to lose, so I tried it too. In February, I benched 225 for 9 reps, which was an all out maximal effort after a few months out of the gym. Last week I did 275 x 10 during my '3' week, and left at least one rep in the tank. This week I did 290 x 6 after working up to 325 and 335 for singles (*I know, it's not in the program). I'd never, ever, ever benched 315 before I started 5/3/1; now it's an easy triple.

The reason it works, I think, is that it eliminates training inertia. How many people do you know who go into the gym and load the same weights on the bar week after week after week? I was one of them. You can get stronger that way, sure, but it's a slower adaptation because you rarely provide the body with new and different stimuli. 5/3/1 shows your body different stimulus every week- you get aerobic stimulus, increased load, a reason not to sit around between sets. Then you do work to make you better at the big 4 lifts. It's simple and easy. It keeps you from being "too smart" for your own good, too. You go in, do the prescribed sets, hit the last set hard, do some accessory stuff, and go home. No changing lifts every three weeks because you don't feel like it's working (as if three weeks is long enough to tell).

I will note that if I followed 5/3/1 to the letter, I still wouldn't have benched 315, because it doesn't show up in the percentages until a couple of months from now


You're NOT doing 5-3-1...don't kid yourself


Great advice...if he had bought the book he wouldn't have this "issue"


OP, are you on your first cycle? If so, it shouldn't feel very intense. 5/3/1 starts purposefully low and builds incrementally. It's not an "Add 50 lbs to your bench in 8 weeks" program, it's an "Add 200 lbs to your bench in 3 years" program.

Buy the book, it's cheap and well worth it.


Ditto. It is a slow build up, especially compared to others. However, its where do you want to be in a year, 2 years, as opposed to 2 months. After several cycles, the rep maxes will be intense. BBB template is also intense.

Some fun days were repping out on my last set of squats, and then alternating between 5x10 leg press and 5x10 goodmornings. Those were the times I barely push the clutch to the floor, have one of those dizzy and sweating bouts of fatigue once i get home and pass out before i can even make my protein shake.


If you read the book, you wouldn't be asking about this. BUY the book, and READ it.