T Nation

5x5 or 5/3/1

So I’ve been a recreational lifter and long distance runner for the most part of the last two years of my life. These two passions of mine have never been able to co-exist well. Anyway, I decided to cut my mileage significantly when I started 5x5 8 weeks ago, and definitely seen some strength improvements. At 5’5 140lbs, these are my best lifts since my last workout:

Squat 85kg (187lbs) 5x5
Bench 62.5kg (137.5lbs) 5x5
Deadlift 95kg (209lbs) 1x5
Overhead press 42.5kg (93.5lbs) 5x5
Pendlay row - 57.5kg (126.5lbs) 5x5 - lower back does not like this and form was terrible

A week ago I caught the flu bug so I haven’t been to the gym since. But in this week I probably spent more time trawling through T-Nation and elitefts and learning more than in my past two years of “bodybuilding”.

I had planned to resume 5x5 as soon as possible but a couple of days ago I started to read up more about Wendler’s 531, and naturally, began to compare the two. Given I’m 20 and enlisting into the army in 4 months time, I have to make a choice now.

My goals now are to get stronger and bigger and also to be able to complete the 1.5 mile run in 9:44 or so (the gold standard for the physical test). My previous best was 10:32 last September, haven’t tested it since but I am guessing it is probably 11 mins or so now without being able to run as much as I would have liked to due to squatting 3 times a week with 5x5.

With 4 months to go, I have to say that I like the relatively quicker gains in strength for 5x5, yet I realised I would be able to throw in some conditioning e.g. hill sprints and interval running with 531.

Would it be a good idea to switch to 531 for 4 cycles or continuing with 5x5 for another 4 weeks before doing 531 for 3 cycles?

Any comments/opinions are welcome

are you still making progress on 5x5? if you are then i don’t know why you would change things.

Agreed. Stick with 5x5 until you hit a wall. When you do and switch to 5/3/1, keep in mind the program is designed to be a long term deal. Doing it for 4 cycles and then stopping won’t help you meet the goals of the program. Maybe squat less on your 5x5 and throw in conditioning.

Hmm I have actually stalled on all the lifts at one point or another recently, that said, I have since broken through these stalls. It is getting challenging.

Yet one question that bothers me every training session is if my lack of strength on overhead pressing or bench pressing is due to squatting heavy before that, therefore 531 appeals to me in the sense that I’m able to focus on one major lift at a time and also actually having the time and energy for assistance work to bring up weak links e.g. back extensions, hanging leg raises, tricep strength, chins, pushups, speed work for bench and deadlift, and high rep heavy dumbbell rows which I honestly feel I’m getting more stimulation than from pendlay rows.

That said, it could also very well mean to up my food intake and sleep. Nevertheless I’ll try to milk 5x5 for all its worth and we’ll see how things go from there.

Thanks guys :slight_smile:

You’re welcome. I do think you’re being too hard on yourself concerning your bench and ohp. You only weigh 140. If you’re doing 5x5 on bench at 137.5 I’m sure your 1rm is well north of your body weight. These lifts are the slowest to gain.

your lack of bench and over head press strength not going up is not due to squating that is for sure.stick to the 5x5 program.shange your assistance work.get some pull ups in there some heavy dumbell rows for reps.hangcleans heavy shrugs and watch you numbers go up.your current maxes are way to light.you really havent gained any strenght yet.

ok seems like we have a consensus here, lets see where 5x5 will get me in 4 months time ^^

that is what i would do anyway.

5x5 does get hard. especially when you are nearing the end of your beginners gains.
i think the idea of 5/3/1 is more about slower gains over the longer haul - but i’m not sure you have much time to really reap the benefits of the longer haul.
the first couple cycles of 5/3/1 would be easier than what you have been doing, most probably.

yeah, damn overhead presses are slow to go up!!

one thing i started doing (not sure that others would endorse) is increasing the weight more slowly. e.g., increasing it for the middle set but keeping the outside sets the same. then using that increase for the 3 sets but keeping the outside sets the same. then using the increase for all the sets. or even experimenting with more of a pyramid with a heaviest middle set, two slightly lighter flanking, then two slightly lighter flanking that.

it is a deviation from the program, though. but it kept me making gains when i’d stalled.

oo so umm something like this?

40 40 42.5 40 40
40 42.5 42.5 42.5 40
42.5 42.5 42.5 42.5 42.5
42.5 42.5 45 42.5 42.5
42.5 45 45 45 42.5
45 45 45 45 45

looks interesting, did you do it for your other lifts as well?

yes like that.

i did it for military press and for front squat (i subbed front for back because i wanted to move into oly lifting). i don’t bench so i don’t know about that. i didn’t do it for powerclean because i wanted to learn as perfect as possible technique for oly lifting - so did triples where proficiency dictated the weight.

it was a way of getting to increase the weight even when i knew there was no way in hell i could go from (using your example) 40 for all sets to 42.5 for all sets the next session. doing it in 3 steps rather than 1 sometimes worked well for me, though.

no idea whether or not Ripptoe would endorse it… but it kept the beginners gains rolling along…

also… um… deviating from a 5x5 even more… i also experimented with subbing 8x3. with squats more in particular. could lift more that way. sometimes i’d sub a single (top) set in the above structure for 2x3 if i didn’t reckon i could get 1x5, too. only made that move for military press…

Will definitely give it a try. thanks alexus!