T Nation

Advanced Novice - 5/3/1

Pretty much everywhere I’ve been people are like “oh keep milking those noob gains, and 5/3/1 isn’t for beginners”. I disagree, although it may not be the for the rank beginner, I think I can benefit from it.

I’m at a point where I can’t always add weight to the bar each session or even week and fire of a 3x5. It’s never pretty either, a 5 rep squat with my 5RM is a grind. I’ve tried for two weeks to get get 555 instead of 544 (or 534 or 543!) but then how can it be if you are trying to max your 5RM each session? My 5RM’s currently look like this:

Squat (Olympic High Bar style, that’s how I learned): 210lbs
Bench: 145lbs
Military Press (done strict, feet together): 112lbs
Deadlift: 309lbs

I’ve been training for about a year. I started off loosely trying to follow the 5x5 Stronglifts system and not really following the rate of progress. I bumped up the weight when I felt I could do those 5x5’s easily, rather than pushing sessionly and trying to eat a crap ton of food. I was then taken under the wing of somebody who wanted to train me for their goals and not mine.

I was doing Oly style lifts with lots of Press and DL variations each week whilst completely avoiding the Bench for weeks at a time (hence why I have an awesome Deadlift, a more than respectable MP, and a crappy Bench).

After a while (8 weeks ago) I said “screw it”, because Oly lifting wasn’t for me (6’1, long femured, long armed, mid 20’s… Not Russian or Chinese) and decided to simplify things wanting to focus on Strength and Bodybuilding. I began by cutting my numbers back 10% and adopting a Starting Strength format, rationalising that I should try LP for as long as possible and then switch to something I’ve always kind of believed in for the long term - 5/3/1.

Cut to today, and following almost 6 weeks of Starting Strength, I’ve finally had enough because I can’t progress every workout (or week or longer) and even though I’m eating a lot, I feel miserable and don’t look forward to going to the gym every session. Following these six weeks, I’ve added 22lbs to the Squat, 45lbs to the Deadlift, 22lbs to the Bench, and 10lbs to the Military Press. Those numbers aren’t true 3x5 reflections (as the Starting Strength cult will insist upon), rather, they represent the most recent 5 reps I’ve pulled off before hitting a sticking point - ie, I can’t improve upon them thereby adding the weight. After 2 weeks, I had to “take a light day” mid week and switch to 2x5 Squats at 80% of Monday’s work weight. Then I was looking at weekly 5lbs/10lbs increases rather than session-by-session, then it was stalling and trying to improve that by microloading… Ad Nauseam

I’m sick of resetting by 10% and working my way back up at this point, I was doing this many times whilst training Oly style and I simply want to see some damn gains!

So, is 5/3/1 with BBB truly acceptable for somebody in my position? I don’t care about having strength quickly, I’d rather be able to continually set PR’s on things like reps and work on hypertrophy (6’1 185lbs…) whilst getting stronger at a steadier pace. I hate grinding through sessions and being discouraged by my own progress when I see other people with better numbers who’ve not really followed any particular programming. But I digress

I’ve decided to start 5/3/1 on Monday and not look back, but I have some queries:

  1. Do I need to eat less on 5/3/1 compared to Starting Strength? I’m currently bulking (I currently maintain on like 3500-3700 calories a day, lifting with a somewhat physically demanding life) or trying to at least, and realise that 5/3/1 + BBB is going to produce more hypertrophy than SS or any of that ilk, but since I’m not grinding and trying for new 5RM’s every session/week, do I really need the extra calories? Or, heck, do I need more now that I’m going to be doing 5x10’s and AMRAP’s?

  2. I have a terrible bench press, I’m hoping that the increased rep work and accessory work will improve upon this,. I guess my biggest concern about switching early to 5/3/1 (if that is even a true thing) is that I’m robbing myself of building a bigger bench, even though I’ve failed to improve upon that 1 set of 5 at 145lbs and when benching less frequently (Oly days), I was never able to get above 132lbs. That brings me to my next question…

  3. Do I have to increase ONLY 5lbs upper/10lbs lower each cycle, or can I maybe do a bit more if I find I’m kicking ass with the AMRAP’s? I know it’s not doing the program, but I’ve noticed some people who’ve run the program in their logs, have made more progress numbers wise than they should have when only increasing 5lbs + 10lbs each cycle. I want to develop a bigger bench and squat (definitely a bigger bench much faster) faster, but I don’t want to have to grind through soul crushing workouts via the Starting Strength hazing method and potentially not really progress, not to mention, no hypertrophy.

  4. Is it worth going to Low Bar squat for the long term? I have no Olympic Weightlifting goals… Can I transition into this with my current numbers (or training percentage) as I begin 5/3/1 next week?

I believe in 5/3/1, even as a rank beginner I thought the potential of such a program was incredible. I can’t help having a doubt in the back of my mind that if I simply pigged out more often (I have to admit, this week I’ve had some caloric indiscretions because I’m bulking and also have been shooting to try and max out the 5RM’s as best I can… I failed!), went with a 10% reset and carried on slugging through SS that I’d somehow start making rapid progress again, despite EVERYBODY I train with IRL telling me I’m insane for trying to hit max every workout and that it’s not necessary to tax myself like that if I want to look better, eat well or even get stronger.

Thanks to everybody who has read this wall of text and thanks in advance to those who respond. All advice is good advice.

First off, I don’t think you are too much of a noob to do 5/3/1. I had similar issues with SS and ended up changing routines to 5/3/1. If you havn’t yet, I highly advise buying the first book v.2 and read it cover to cover. Get your 1RM set for each exercise and follow the program, DO NOT make changes. You may feel that the weight is too light, it will self regulate at you progress.

The biggest difference you will notice is that you aren’t adding more weight weekly, but at the end of each 4 week cycle (do the deloads). Don’t worry about AMRAP, Jokers or FSL if your’re doing BBB. Focus on your form and technique (take video to be observed by members here). It does help avoid boredom if you do your BBB (5x10) sets on opposite work days such as, bench after press on OHP day, deads after Squat day, etc. And make sure you are doing the conditioning work.

As to calories, eat enough so that you continue to set PR’s. If you start putting on fat, back down 500 calories. There’s no magic number. Read up, countless threads on this, on the diet forum. I’m 41, 6ft. and 216 lbs eating 2800-3000 calories. That number works for me, maybe not for you.

Anyway, you won’t regret moving to 5/3/1. As you will read on here, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint!” Don’t expect to become a beast in 3 months. I’ve been on 5/3/1 for 8 months now and have no plans on changing things up.

Happy Lifting!

  1. Yes, you need to eat. Even more.

  2. Do the program as written.

  3. Squat however you feel best - there is no right way or wrong way. There is just your way.

[quote]Jim Wendler wrote:

  1. Yes, you need to eat. Even more.

  2. Do the program as written.

  3. Squat however you feel best - there is no right way or wrong way. There is just your way.[/quote]

I’m, going to reply to Drew in detail later, but I’d just like to take the time to say thank you Jim for answering some of my queries. I own a digital copy of 5/3/1 2.0 which is favourited on all my devices so I can read it everywhere I go. I’ve been studying the program in depth for several days now and I’m going to begin it on Monday.

Like I said, I believe in the program and feel that is has the potential to be one of the greatest methods of training of the modern era, I guess I’ve just been concerned with the rubbish floating around that YOU must be a textbook intermediate to get anywhere with your program. But since the guy who created it says it’s fine, I’ll take that over ANYTHING anybody else has to say about it.

I was hesitant to switch as well due to the never going heavy principles of the original. Then, Beyond 5/3/1 came out and everything I ever wanted in a program was there for me. Read it.

[quote]Mattyb83 wrote:
I was hesitant to switch as well due to the never going heavy principles of the original. Then, Beyond 5/3/1 came out and everything I ever wanted in a program was there for me. Read it. [/quote]

I’ve got both, but I guess it makes sense to start out and do 5/3/1 vanilla with BBB as written.

What makes Beyond 5/3/1 the defining program IYO?

  1. You’re over 6 foot tall, and under 200 lbs. You need to eat more.

  2. Adding more weight to a bench that sucks is not going to fix the problem. Fix the problem first. Then add weight. Easier to do this now than to struggle for months or years with it due to terrible technique.

  3. Do the program as written. Start light, progress as prescribed. You WILL be working hard, trust in it.

  4. Squats are squats. If you prefer high bar, keep high bar. That’s up to you.

And I’d like to add, 5/3/1 is perfectly fine for noobs too. Generally Starting Strength is the beginning point for total noobs, since it lets you get some respectable weight numbers on the bar in shorter order. But 5/3/1 will get you there too. The best part about 5/3/1 is that you can use it for years and years. The main lifts are always in it, and there are a myriad of options to add around it. BBB is a good starter variety for the noob.

[quote]SevenDragons wrote:

  1. You’re over 6 foot tall, and under 200 lbs. You need to eat more.[/quote]

Would you believe me if I told you I’ve been at least 310lbs previously? Your point still stands of course, Sub-200lbs for a 6ft active strength training male are unacceptable.

The amount of volume in BBB will hopefully see to me mastering my form, particularly where bench press is concerned. I’m very encouraged by the potential of the program in this respect.

That’s exactly what I plan to do, I’ve calculated my training maxes and calculated four weeks of workouts!

Will do!

Yeah, I think the idea that you have to have a 300lb Squat, 200lb Bench and a 500lb Deadlift from 6 months of Starting Strength and GOMAD before you can “earn” programming like 5/3/1 is absurd. I wish I’d visited this community far sooner…

You are definitely not too weak for 5/3/1. If you’re continually stalling and your workouts feel like shit theres no reason not to switch imo. Alternatively, if just start eating more you might start making progress on an LP again.

If you really want to get your bench up, you might try a full body template just so you can bench more often. In my experience when trying to perfect a skill frequent practice is better than a crapton of volume once a week. Theres a template in Beyond called Full Body, Full Boring that has you benching 3x a week. This only came to mind because i’ll be trying it next cycle, BBB is awesome too.

[quote]I_Bleed_Green wrote:

[quote]Mattyb83 wrote:
I was hesitant to switch as well due to the never going heavy principles of the original. Then, Beyond 5/3/1 came out and everything I ever wanted in a program was there for me. Read it. [/quote]

I’ve got both, but I guess it makes sense to start out and do 5/3/1 vanilla with BBB as written.

What makes Beyond 5/3/1 the defining program IYO?[/quote]
Joker Sets mapped out were why I switched to 5/3/1. I like heavy singles when I feel good and that was missing from the original. The 7 million template additions helped too.

Not a direct answer to your question:

In the country where I live, not adding the bar weight to your lift seems to be a trend. There aren’t many powerlifers just bodybuilders who want to be like Jay Cutler using amino. Anyway my point is that atleast for 3 years I didn’t add the bloody 20kg bar to my lifts. The day I found out that the barbell weight is supposed to be included, I couldn’t keep a smile of my face as all my lifts had gone up 45lbs in a second.

Not saying that you probably don’t add the bar weight. It’s just that your stats remind me of mine and if you’ve been training for a year maybe just maybe you’re doing the same mistake. Just sharing my experience. Good luck with your progress.

[quote]boswick wrote:
You are definitely not too weak for 5/3/1. If you’re continually stalling and your workouts feel like shit theres no reason not to switch imo. Alternatively, if just start eating more you might start making progress on an LP again.

If you really want to get your bench up, you might try a full body template just so you can bench more often. In my experience when trying to perfect a skill frequent practice is better than a crapton of volume once a week. Theres a template in Beyond called Full Body, Full Boring that has you benching 3x a week. This only came to mind because i’ll be trying it next cycle, BBB is awesome too.[/quote]

People seem to have a real shitty misconception that 5/3/1 is for advanced lifters and that you should get strong really fast. It simply doesn’t work like that, LP has many limits. I was under this misconception for a long while too.

Training is something to be enjoyed, it shouldn’t’ feel like a chore, which is what LP was doing to me.

Honestly? I’d rather eat more on 5/3/1 (which I definitely HAVE to do with BBB!) and go for PR sets each week and hypertrophy gains than aggressively trying to hit a new 5RM each session.

The bench is not that important, I’m only concerned really about being able to do it “properly” and making progress on it. I was unable to bench more than 132lbs for 3 reps for almost 6 months… I’ve since managed only to gain 5kg (at best) upon that for a 5RM.