T Nation

Biggest 5/3/1 Misconception

I posted this in another thread, but I feel it deserves a little more attention because I see it EVERYWHERE and it is always stated as gospel:

“5/3/1 only increases your max/strength by 5-10 pounds a month”

This is usually stated to newbies or early intermediates who are wondering which program is best, and they are being advised to use Starting Strength or 5x5 which more aggressively drive the load up.

Indeed, 5/3/1 adds 5-10 pounds to weight you are basing your percentages off it (the Training Max). That DOES NOT mean you will only gain 5-10 pounds of strength in that month. You might gain 20 pounds, you might gain 5, and if you are very advanced you might not gain any.

Do you think a 900 pound squatter is going to add 120 pounds to his Squat this year by simply increasing his training max 10 pounds every month? Obviously this is an extreme example, but it drives the point home that the Training Max is not a 1:1 predictor of strength gains.

Just because your training max goes from 200 to 205 doesn’t mean 205 is definitively 90% of your new 1RM. There are many examples online of people using 5/3/1 and gaining well more than the 5-10 pounds per month… And I’m sure there are many out there that haven’t gained 60-120 pounds on their lifts this year as well.

Again, it just adjusts your training weights, it does not dictate how much absolute 1RM strength you will gain.

Perhaps offering this observation is me patting myself on the back a little too hard (although I have no elbow tendinitis as many other seem to, so perhaps not), but this idea is never challenged and it seems to be the source of much confusion in the 5/3/1 discussions I have seen.

That’s not what the other thread said. It said 5/3/1 has you ‘add’ 5 lb per month. Which is pretty much accurate. The weight you use on your 95% set each cycle will be approx 5-10lb heavier than the last cycle depending on how strong you are.

Everything you said is also true about SS as well. For the 1st several months of SS you’re going to be handling submax weights. So just like in 5/3/1, you might have added 5 lbs to the bar for all you work sets, but your real max may have gone up much more than that. The difference is that you hit a wall faster in SS because its a faster progression. One that’s better suited for beginners.

5/3/1 is essentially just a spread out linear progression. It’s like three linear progressions waved into one. One for 5 week, one for 3 week, and one for 5/3/1 week. It has more freedom and is a much slower progression than SS which is why it works so well for many intermediate lifters.

You understand the TM Lonnie. It’s apparent few do.

My advice is to stop arguing or trying to explain - its 100% pointless. There is no good reason to debate. NONE. All you should do is answer the training questions given, not debate on theory. If people want to believe one thing, let them. Why try to change them? I don’t need anyone to believe what I believe in order to qualify my beliefs as “true”. All you can do is help those that want to be helped - it’s not your job, my job or anyone else’s job to convince them. Belief is only as solid as the way it was learned.

Action and experience cement the base. This takes years and should take years. It is how any solid belief system is developed.
Reading and reciting others’ (or just believing whatever is being fed to you) has weak roots and will quickly change as soon as someone/something comes along with more charisma or bigger promises.

In other words - save your breath.

The other thread was the impetus for this thread, but only because I see that claim (5/3/1 only adds 5 pounds to your max a month) ALL over the place. It is frequently cited as the main short coming of 5/3/1 in many discussions and forums, not necessarily in that particular thread.

That thread just made me reminded me how pervasive that line of thought is.

But as Jim said, perhaps its time to save my breath. It took me 10 years to reach many of “conclusions” I’m at currently, many of which might change in the next 10 years.

[quote]AMeadows21 wrote:
That’s not what the other thread said. It said 5/3/1 has you ‘add’ 5 lb per month. Which is pretty much accurate. The weight you use on your 95% set each cycle will be approx 5-10lb heavier than the last cycle depending on how strong you are.
[/quote]

And who complains? People who have years of experience? Or people who have no clue?

You can’t argue with ignorance. Thus help those that want to be helped - it is rewarding. And hopefully not be taken for granted.

[quote]Lonnie123 wrote:
I posted this in another thread, but I feel it deserves a little more attention because I see it EVERYWHERE and it is always stated as gospel:

“5/3/1 only increases your max/strength by 5-10 pounds a month”

This is usually stated to newbies or early intermediates who are wondering which program is best, and they are being advised to use Starting Strength or 5x5 which more aggressively drive the load up.

[/quote]

My biggest change in thinking over the last year or so has been a new understanding that you do not have to train at maximum capacity to get stronger. Doing 5 x 3 at 90% TM and adding weight every workout worked for a while but burned me out. Doing 70, 80 and 90 for 3 reps IS an effective strength producing dose.

Here’s another thing. Let’s say that I start with a 330 REAL max, and 300 pound TM, and use top weights of 255, 270 and 285 for 5, 3 and 1 top weights. So lets say that at the end of a cycle I can now bench 345, and my TM would be 310 based on that. Who cares? 255, 270 and 285 training weights just boosted my max from 330 to 345 so why would I want to radically change top work weights that just worked so well and produced such good results?

Logic: If your max hasn’t risen much, you shouldn’t raise your training weights much. If your max has shot up, you shouldn’t raise your training weights much.

I’d be so excited to gain “only” 5-10 lbs on the four lifts each month. That’d be 300 lbs on my total each year.

This was certainly a post-worthy clarification. To me this is the beauty in the whole system: set yourself up to always gain 5/10 lbs a month, and if you feel good and are training well then smash past it.

Don’t understand why people don’t get this and why they may be so reluctant at times to at least guarantee themselves progress. Seems terribly short-sighted to me, but hey, what do I know?

[quote]Lonnie123 wrote:
I posted this in another thread, but I feel it deserves a little more attention because I see it EVERYWHERE and it is always stated as gospel:

“5/3/1 only increases your max/strength by 5-10 pounds a month”

This is usually stated to newbies or early intermediates who are wondering which program is best, and they are being advised to use Starting Strength or 5x5 which more aggressively drive the load up.

Indeed, 5/3/1 adds 5-10 pounds to weight you are basing your percentages off it (the Training Max). That DOES NOT mean you will only gain 5-10 pounds of strength in that month. You might gain 20 pounds, you might gain 5, and if you are very advanced you might not gain any.

Do you think a 900 pound squatter is going to add 120 pounds to his Squat this year by simply increasing his training max 10 pounds every month? Obviously this is an extreme example, but it drives the point home that the Training Max is not a 1:1 predictor of strength gains.

Just because your training max goes from 200 to 205 doesn’t mean 205 is definitively 90% of your new 1RM. There are many examples online of people using 5/3/1 and gaining well more than the 5-10 pounds per month… And I’m sure there are many out there that haven’t gained 60-120 pounds on their lifts this year as well.

Again, it just adjusts your training weights, it does not dictate how much absolute 1RM strength you will gain.

Perhaps offering this observation is me patting myself on the back a little too hard (although I have no elbow tendinitis as many other seem to, so perhaps not), but this idea is never challenged and it seems to be the source of much confusion in the 5/3/1 discussions I have seen.[/quote]

well put man. 5/3/1 has built in autoregulation. As such, your strength will improve AS FAST AS IT CAN. you could increase the TM every OTHER month and this still wouldn’t change! This is true of the original 5/3/1 and even more so with the addition of joker sets.