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531 Musings From a Hard-Headed Novice

First, huge thanks Jim for creating such a simple, effective program. It has completely changed my outlook on training. I felt compelled to post about my success using the program and to share some thoughts I’ve had along the way. None of the thoughts are new or original and most of them have been explicitly stated by Jim or one of the other contributors to this site. They will also probably make you say, “No shit, kid, do you even listen?”

For most of my college years (where I started to lift regularly), despite reading many of the articles on this site, I continued to lift using my own ragtag, hobo program and made little to no gains in the way of strength or mass. Since I started following 531 about 18 months ago, I went from:

Bodyweight: 155lbs-180lbs
Squat: 225lbsx5 - 280lbsx6
Deadlift: 265lbsx3 - 335lbsx6
Dumbbell press (still trying to work my way into barbell press, this is easier on my injurious shoulders): 50lbsx5 - 70lbsx5
Bench Press: 210lbsx1-200lbsx9

Here are my ramblings in bullet form and in no particular order:

-the friends you’ve been lifting with are idiots (in a lifting sense) and have shortsighted goals. They think 531 is stupid despite the fact that you are already now much stronger than all of them. Keep pushing this program, maybe they’ll wise up.

-get in the gym, concentrate and work hard, and get out-- there’s other life to live

-deadlifts have made my traps much bigger

-adding sets of low-rep pull-ups in between sets of everything else you do is making your back way stronger

-facepulls are making my shoulders feel much better

-the warmup is easily as important as the workout

-putting sets of a relevant explosive movement for the day (jumps for squats/deads, clap pushups for bench) is helping you on your work sets

-stretching makes your body feel better so why weren’t you doing it before?

-BBB has made my quads feel more sore than anything else ever has… once I muster up the courage I will do the 3 month BBB challenge

-don’t worry about the nitty gritty of your diet- eat lots of meat, drink lots of milk, eat fruits/vegetables at every meal, keep taking protein, multivitamins and fish oil

-when I play pickup games of basketball, I notice my vertical jump has increased quite dramatically

-2 steps forward and 1 step back is always better than 0 steps forward

-my shorts/pants fit much tighter in the upper legs

-setting a total number of reps and achieving it in however many sets it takes for accessory work is the best

-accessory work does not and should not prioritize over the main lift… you have gotten stronger more rapidly when decreasing the accessory work

-make sure you get your recovery work in, pushing the sled and riding the bike on off days helps immensely

-leave reps in the tank like Jim says to, you idiot- it pays dividends

-follow the program as it’s laid out

tl;dr

LISTEN to people that are more experienced than you and if you’re a beginner, don’t make stupid mistakes like me. Follow the program as it’s laid out.

1 Like

This is an outstanding list. Anyone struggling to increase their numbers should read this. Keep going, and you’ll be blowing away your current numbers.

^^Thanks.

Also, I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m wise, experienced or strong at all. These are all just things that I’ve learned firsthand since I started 531 and they’re all things that I should have known already just by reading Jim’s book. Relative to just about anyone that posts on this site, I’m extremely weak! But I am making slow-steady progress for the first time ever and I’m patient-- the strength and experience will come with smart, hard training and time.

Just thought this might be interesting/helpful for novices to read.

I agree with all of it, but I’ve never incorporated an explosive upperbody movement. I swear power cleans have helped with my deadlift though.

Why did you choose to do 5/3/1 as a novice? I would imagine something that has you only squatting once a week is designed for people squatting large numbers?

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:
Why did you choose to do 5/3/1 as a novice? I would imagine something that has you only squatting once a week is designed for people squatting large numbers?[/quote]

That’s how I trained. Seemed to work out pretty well. Seems to work for the beginners I train too.

[quote]Jim Wendler wrote:

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:
Why did you choose to do 5/3/1 as a novice? I would imagine something that has you only squatting once a week is designed for people squatting large numbers?[/quote]

That’s how I trained. Seemed to work out pretty well. Seems to work for the beginners I train too.

[/quote]

That’s interesting. Everyone has been telling me since I started lifting weights to stick to a linear program that has you add weight each workout.

I know alot of the strongest guys I have heard of like George Leeman and Pete Rubbish train using high rep ranges and higher volume quite a lot.

How much of that is down to genetics, enhancement and how much of it is applicable to the general public?

An example being the OP’s beginning and ending number for the squat only changing by around 50lbs in 18 months. That seems very slow progress compared to some of the linear progression programs that regularly see people going from 180lb squats to low 300lb squats in little over 6 months.

Did you train only squatting once a month at the start of your lifting all the way to what you squat now?

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:

[quote]Jim Wendler wrote:

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:
Why did you choose to do 5/3/1 as a novice? I would imagine something that has you only squatting once a week is designed for people squatting large numbers?[/quote]

That’s how I trained. Seemed to work out pretty well. Seems to work for the beginners I train too.

[/quote]

That’s interesting. Everyone has been telling me since I started lifting weights to stick to a linear program that has you add weight each workout.

I know alot of the strongest guys I have heard of like George Leeman and Pete Rubbish train using high rep ranges and higher volume quite a lot.

How much of that is down to genetics, enhancement and how much of it is applicable to the general public?

An example being the OP’s beginning and ending number for the squat only changing by around 50lbs in 18 months. That seems very slow progress compared to some of the linear progression programs that regularly see people going from 180lb squats to low 300lb squats in little over 6 months.

Did you train only squatting once a month at the start of your lifting all the way to what you squat now?
[/quote]

I squatted once a week. You can train however way you believe is best. The original post was made by a person who tried to tell you what he learned, while admitting that he is far from experienced. He made some good points.

1 Like

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:

[quote]Jim Wendler wrote:

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:
Why did you choose to do 5/3/1 as a novice? I would imagine something that has you only squatting once a week is designed for people squatting large numbers?[/quote]

That’s how I trained. Seemed to work out pretty well. Seems to work for the beginners I train too.

[/quote]

That’s interesting. Everyone has been telling me since I started lifting weights to stick to a linear program that has you add weight each workout.

I know alot of the strongest guys I have heard of like George Leeman and Pete Rubbish train using high rep ranges and higher volume quite a lot.

How much of that is down to genetics, enhancement and how much of it is applicable to the general public?

An example being the OP’s beginning and ending number for the squat only changing by around 50lbs in 18 months. That seems very slow progress compared to some of the linear progression programs that regularly see people going from 180lb squats to low 300lb squats in little over 6 months.

Did you train only squatting once a month at the start of your lifting all the way to what you squat now?
[/quote]

Also, just to give you some background, the improvements probably would have been higher, but I had some health issues in the last 18 months, including a herniated disc from brazilian jiu jitsu, and having pneumonia/bronchitis for a solid month or so, which did really limit my progress. I decided to take a couple steps back after each of those setbacks to really make sure I was getting back into things healthy.

While training has become really fun for me, it doesn’t prioritize over a handful of other things I’ve got going on in my life-- I’d really like to be able to do this for years on end so I typically err on the side of caution so that I don’t make injuries worse/more permanent and limit my future capability and longevity.

Sort of goes back to that point of taking some steps back so that I can take steps forward again.

[quote]heliocopter8 wrote:

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:

[quote]Jim Wendler wrote:

[quote]ScholesGoals wrote:
Why did you choose to do 5/3/1 as a novice? I would imagine something that has you only squatting once a week is designed for people squatting large numbers?[/quote]

That’s how I trained. Seemed to work out pretty well. Seems to work for the beginners I train too.

[/quote]

That’s interesting. Everyone has been telling me since I started lifting weights to stick to a linear program that has you add weight each workout.

I know alot of the strongest guys I have heard of like George Leeman and Pete Rubbish train using high rep ranges and higher volume quite a lot.

How much of that is down to genetics, enhancement and how much of it is applicable to the general public?

An example being the OP’s beginning and ending number for the squat only changing by around 50lbs in 18 months. That seems very slow progress compared to some of the linear progression programs that regularly see people going from 180lb squats to low 300lb squats in little over 6 months.

Did you train only squatting once a month at the start of your lifting all the way to what you squat now?
[/quote]

Also, just to give you some background, the improvements probably would have been higher, but I had some health issues in the last 18 months, including a herniated disc from brazilian jiu jitsu, and having pneumonia/bronchitis for a solid month or so, which did really limit my progress. I decided to take a couple steps back after each of those setbacks to really make sure I was getting back into things healthy.

While training has become really fun for me, it doesn’t prioritize over a handful of other things I’ve got going on in my life-- I’d really like to be able to do this for years on end so I typically err on the side of caution so that I don’t make injuries worse/more permanent and limit my future capability and longevity.

Sort of goes back to that point of taking some steps back so that I can take steps forward again.[/quote]

Hey man,

I just want to clarify I was in no way trying to blow over your achievements, I was just curious about beginners doing the program because I have had nothing but recomendations for things like GSLP, SS, SL etc.

I know a few people who started using 5/3/1 at my gym but they are more into bodybuilding and typically do their leg day on squat day, traps and delts on OHP day, back and biceps on deadlift day and chest and tri’s on bench day.

I was just suprised to hear Mr Wendler say he only squatted once a day as most stuff aimed at novices is 3 days a week, lots of squatting and pressing and minimal pulling from the ground.

No worries, I didn’t think that you were at all. I just wanted to give you some context so that you could see where I was coming from, personally. I think since there are also so many variations for the program, you can really tailor it to your goals and constraints. So I guess for someone like me, I really like that I can get in the gym and get out rather quickly using a very simple template and still see consistent gains, without taking away time from the other things I love to do in my life.

Since I know little about you people, I will just say:
@ ScholesGoals,

180 to 300 is a 70% increase and attainable by most beginners on most programs - their modest beginning weights allow for this. The difference here is where the average beginner program will stall, this program comes with built in anti-stall protection that allows the user to keep on progressing. (Specifically the principles that drive the program as outlined in the books) IMO, that is where this training approach separates from the rest. It works real well for people like myself (46) who have experienced the difficulties of getting stronger AFTER reaching a true max. AND, it works for people like Helio. 

The key point in his post was that he made little to no gains before, came over to the dark side, and added 75 pounds to his squat (per the rep max formula we use). I personally couldn't care less about beginners making progress, most make gains regardless of the program - I care about the people that have hit the proverbial wall, or who are just weak in the first place, and have figured how to get strong despite their limitations. Eventually we all run into this. Some quicker than others. 

From 0 lb increase to 75 lb increase works for me.

I second tmiller…

Nice job Helio.

Horses for courses. A beginner isn’t a beginner isn’t a beginner.

I considered myself a sort of experienced beginner when I started with this program. I’m in my late 30s and have done some lifting on and off in the past but never had a real program and made it up as I went along. I made some gains but nothing lasting or impressive. And at the time, my goals were largely aesthetic. I was in my 20s and trying to get laid.

Now I’m not. Well, I’m still trying to get laid, but any married guy will tell you that can be every bit as much or more of a struggle than getting laid when you’re single. I digress. The reason 5/3/1 makes a lot of sense for a beginner like me is that I’m older, I don’t recover as well, my gains come more slowly than they did 10 years ago and I don’t always have time to sleep 10 hours or sit around the house eating and recovering. I get injured more easily and it takes a lot longer to repair, if I do at all. The littlest niggles turn into long term aches and pains. This program has allowed me to make slow, steady gains and reduce the risk of injury.

Moreover, the “5-forward, 3-back and reset” approach produces not just the ability to push a particular weight 5x3 or whatever, it makes you go back and produce a real strength base at submaximal weights, generating endurance and something more like the sort of strength one needs for manual tasks in every day life in my experience.

As Jim might say (paraphrase), while improving your max is great (and who doesn’t like smashing a PR?) if you go from being able to move 70% of your max 5 times to 15 times, you’re a hell of a lot stronger. So, by using the PR method on last sets, there is what I might call “horizontal” progression built in to the system.

In my nearly 40 years of experience flying around the Sun, it’s that kind of strength and endurance that matters. And getting it while not spending weeks or months screwed up from injury or burnout is crucial.

[quote]Boomka wrote:
Horses for courses. A beginner isn’t a beginner isn’t a beginner.

I considered myself a sort of experienced beginner when I started with this program. I’m in my late 30s and have done some lifting on and off in the past but never had a real program and made it up as I went along. I made some gains but nothing lasting or impressive. And at the time, my goals were largely aesthetic. I was in my 20s and trying to get laid.

Now I’m not. Well, I’m still trying to get laid, but any married guy will tell you that can be every bit as much or more of a struggle than getting laid when you’re single. I digress. The reason 5/3/1 makes a lot of sense for a beginner like me is that I’m older, I don’t recover as well, my gains come more slowly than they did 10 years ago and I don’t always have time to sleep 10 hours or sit around the house eating and recovering. I get injured more easily and it takes a lot longer to repair, if I do at all. The littlest niggles turn into long term aches and pains. This program has allowed me to make slow, steady gains and reduce the risk of injury.

Moreover, the “5-forward, 3-back and reset” approach produces not just the ability to push a particular weight 5x3 or whatever, it makes you go back and produce a real strength base at submaximal weights, generating endurance and something more like the sort of strength one needs for manual tasks in every day life in my experience.

As Jim might say (paraphrase), while improving your max is great (and who doesn’t like smashing a PR?) if you go from being able to move 70% of your max 5 times to 15 times, you’re a hell of a lot stronger. So, by using the PR method on last sets, there is what I might call “horizontal” progression built in to the system.

In my nearly 40 years of experience flying around the Sun, it’s that kind of strength and endurance that matters. And getting it while not spending weeks or months screwed up from injury or burnout is crucial. [/quote]

I am not questioning the validity of the 5/3/1 program. I am asking why someone would use it when they have very low numbers as it will takes way longer to reach reasonable strength numbers that way.

I don’t think anyone reccomends you use a linear program forverer and of course stalling is an eventuality on those programs, but thats the point.

Get your squat in the low 300’s, bench in the mid 200’s etc then end linear progression and start a program like 5/3/1 where progress is slower but you make continual slow progress.

That is what seems to be promoted by most people. That was why I was curious about Mr Wendler reccomending beginners using the program.

Slow progress (slowly increasing TM every mounth) doesn’t mean slow strength gains…people should realize that.

I gave you several reasons. I imagine there are others. It depends on the lifter, their goals, etc.

[quote]PHGN wrote:
Slow progress (slowly increasing TM every mounth) doesn’t mean slow strength gains…people should realize that.[/quote]

There you go. Doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out and this has been answered so many times, all you have to do is a 2 second search on the Google.

Again, if you feel “linear” is the way to go, do it. Too many people worrying about everyone but themselves. No one here is trying or should try to convince anyone to do “X”. And again, the TM and “slow gains” is ridiculous.

Seems to me an important difference between the basic “novice” linear plans (X sets x 3 or 5) and 5/3/1 is that 5/3/1 is uncapped. With the last set always being AMRAP, if you are on a weight that is somewhat light you can push the reps high. That’s the growth.

Not saying it’s better or worse than a strict X reps setup. Only different.

I have been using the 5/3 way, and when I drop back I find I can usually beat previous best at that weight by a rep or two. Not always, but often enough to make me think I might have increased my strength ever so little…

ScholesGoals…

Comparing linear progression to 5/3/1 is like deciding whether to drive or fly from point A to point B. Flying might get you there faster, but it’s not necessarily the best choice for everybody. What’s important is getting to your destination.

The ideal candidate for linear progression is teenager to 20s who gets enough sleep, is not stressed out with work and kids, and is willing to eat enough (within reason) to facilitate the rapid gains. If this is you, and you want to do linear progression, then follow AS WRITTEN any of those linear progression programs you referred to.

Both 5/3/1 and linear progression will get you stronger if you follow it as written, work hard and stay with it. If you want to do 5/3/1, Jim has a variation that adds more bench volume and squat volume throughout the week for a beginner. Also, see the second link for a great article about a beginner who used 5/3/1/ with tremendous success.

I will co-sign 5/3/1 on all points. I was plagued with following various programs and thought I was “strong”, 5/3/1 was a gut check in the sense of something so basic that got me better results than anything fad or magazine washed related. I am by no means anywhere near what I personally define as strong but as a former athlete I can say this has been a Godsend program for me and even with BBB challenge I am nowhere near bored, as you can see progress damn near on a daily basis…Just my 2 cents