Hey, whenever I seem to google a question in relation to lifting or 5/3/1 the best results tend to come from here so I’ve decided to join up so I can have a place to talk about the program and read others’ experiences.
Since I’m new, here’s a little history. In October 2015 I was 33, 178cms and 109kgs. I was addicted to pizza, beers, etc. You the know story. There is a strong depressive streak in me that led to me zombie-walking my way into a gym one day last year. There was a keen desire to fix myself, stop ruining myself, distract myself.
So I joined up and did hours and hours of steady-state cardio. I also decided to sit my ass down at various machines and worked on (this is how I saw it) my upper body, and the next day, my lower body. I did this all on machines because I was scared to lift free weights. I had no experience, and the guys all in a row doing dumbbell benching and bicep curls all a. intimidated me and b. infuriated me. They looked better than me, but they all seemed like such wankers. I was somehow morally and philosophically against the idea of free weights. So I sat at my machines and did my little routine and my cardio and went home. At home, I was eating a pretty major caloric deficit (about 1800 calories/day, probably more than a 500 calorie deficit.) I lost about 0.8kgs/week on average.
The most important thing comes here. I read and read and read and read. Articles and books on fitness. Reddit posts, anything and everything. I started to see that resistance training, with free weights and not machines, would better help serve me in my pursuit of a better body and mind. I became interested in fitness, and muscle, and health, and nutrition. The more I read about it, the more there was to know. You could spend hours (I did) every day chasing theories and ideas down their respective rabbit holes. The problem was, now that I’d convinced myself I had to do free weights, I had no experience. So here’s where I grew some balls and decided to fuck around in the intimidating free weights section. Grabbed a dumbbell, did some curls. Okay, pretty easy. Lifted them above my head. Found some challenging weights. Secretly copied what I saw other people doing. Eventually I downloaded an app called Jefit and stitched together a program for myself. It resembled a typical gym bro split, in that I’d do my chest, shoulder, arms, back and legs in a variety of different ways. I got comfortable with this, and started to move up in the weights I was using. I was getting doms, and I was pretty sure I was on the way to becoming awesome.
There’s an elephant in the room, and that elephant is the barbell. The king of gym equipment. There was was laying down on a bench hitting my chest from all these angles, doing flies, concentration curls, lateral raises, shrugs… getting somewhere but eventually I also realised I was kind of getting nowhere. I noticed I was maybe looking better (dropping fat, getting some toning happening) but also not getting much stronger. The deficit would have affected this obviously, but I could also sense the limitations in lifting for aesthetics. So I went back to google and came across a few articles that compared strength training to bodybuilding training (and yes I realise they are mostly entwined.)
I read about how to get stronger (progressive overload.) About how best to achieve that. And everything mentioned the barbell. Well, I thought. I’d better step up. The power rack was the one area of the gym I had never entered. From what I’d read, I knew I would need to squat, deadlift, barbell bench, etc. And add more weights each time. I decided to do StrongLifts 5X5, even though I was pretty sure 5 reps wasn’t enough to do fuck all. Clearly I had no idea. But before I got the app and started the program, I gave myself a week to fuck around with the bar. I watched tutorials and decided to be anal about form. Scared of injury yes, but I also had this new mindset (that I’d rarely had before) that if I was going to do something, I was going to fucking do it and do it right.
I ended up doing SL for a few months. I started with the empty bar on every lift. Yes, it was easy at the start. I emptied my mind and gave myself to the relentless logic of progressing slowly, focusing on form. I am so glad I did this. In the end, I had got to the point where I needed to take 5 minutes between squat sets. I could squat 100kgs, 5X5. That was incredible to me. And I loved how it made me feel. I felt puffed and shaky and overwhelmed and like I was going to be crushed. From reading about CNS training, I knew that everytime I lifted heavier, I was training my mind to recruit more muscle. That it would not get lighter, but the weights would eventually feel lighter. Towards the end of my time doing SL, I realised I would plateau because I was still eating that caloric deficit. So I went up to 2500 calories/day, a little under my current maintenance. Lifts continued increasing. So far so good. As a former fat guy (by this point I was around 78, 79 kgs bodyweight - I’d lost 30kgs) I was scared of putting on more fat. But it felt so good to eat more and lift more. And I didn’t gain back fat at all. In fact, SL was making me feel thicker and denser, even though the scales weren’t moving. I started to feel my abs like a tree trunk. Legs got thick. They used to be flabby, now they’re bulky but hard. And my glutes! No more droopy/flat fat guy ass. I could flex my ass and it kind of looked like a good ass!
So a couple of things happened after these months on StrongLifts. I couldn’t lift any more without feeling like my mind was trying to talk me out of getting under the bar. The battle is real. And I wasn’t conditioned to heavy lifting, not yet. It was fucking scary squatting 100kgs for the first time. I did it first time but stalled on 102.5kgs the next session. My bench got stuck at 70kgs. My deadlift has never stopped going up. My OHP was lame, but I was okay with it being lame because I was so form-obsessed. SL didn’t give me much upper-body mass.
Again I started reading around, and thanks to that Alan Thrall video (what to do after SL/SS/beginner program) and thanks to a few articles I’d read about volume and how increasing the muscle size will help with strength, I decided to look for a new program. I spent probably about a month shopping around. Wondering what kind of level I was actually at. What would be appropriate. What I was craving was a program that increased weights but not every goddamn session. In that sense, my n00b gains had expired.
I looked at MadCow, Texas Method, etc etc. What swayed me to 5/3/1 was the slower progression, the percentages of a TM, the more intelligent framework and then the flexibility to append assistance work as appropriate. I ended up choosing 5/3/1 BBB.
Right now I’m in the 2nd week of my third cycle.
I started off with my 1RMs at:
They’ve gone up linearly each cycle, but on the AMRAP sets I’ve been hitting 10+ reps, my best results so far are (theoretical 1RMs):
This would give me a one plate press, 3-plate+ DL, almost a 2 plate bench and almost a 3 plate squat.
This blows my mind, especially since I’m only 2 cycles in, with only about 6 months of barbell lifting behind me total.
What I find 5/3/1 does for me is allows me to walk into a session and not be intimidated by the weight. I’m way more comfortable. Not complacent - comfortable. I will, from that place of comfort, work my way through the warm ups and the working sets and eventually find myself heaving with aggression as I get into the concluding AMRAP set, in which I give my all.
Since I’m determined to keep getting stronger, I’ve started eating more. I’ve put on a few kilograms (literally 3kgs) since starting 5/3/1 BBB and eating about 3000cals/day. No visible fat increase, but this new feeling of being a thicker version of me. I’m still getting used to it. The former fat guy in my mind still screams at me “what are you doing?!” but my gut is happy to continue on eating more. I know I need to, and I’m gradually able to not give a fuck about the scale movement. I’ll cut when/if I ever start to hate the way I look.
I chose BBB so I could increase volume, get bigger muscles, which would help me get stronger. I’m not doing this to be the most ripped guy in the gym, although sometimes I feel like the strongest (lifting gave me confidence…eve though a lot of it may or may not be misplaced!). In my first cycle, I went with the prescribed 50% of the TM. Second cycle I went up to 60% and now in my third cycle I am hitting 65% for my 5X10. I’m doing the main lift of the day as my BBB accessory. After DLs, I’m taking weight off after the AMRAP set, and doing yet more DLs. A lot of you have mentioned that this is too much, that this was too hard. Which kind of made me want to do it (there’s a newfound fuck off attitude in me… you can’t do it? I’ll do it then.) Today for example, I hit 115kgs for 12 reps on deadlift. Then went to 82.5kgs for 5X10. I was exhausted, yes, but I did it, and I feel fucking amazing.
After DL and squat days, I do the main sets, the BBB set of the same lift, then some simple ab work. After OHP main sets, I do OHP BBB, and the same thing with bench on bench day.
One question I have is this: everyone knows that the upper body will progress slower. It’s where I’m seeing the slowest development, both in muscle mass and lift progression. Would it be too much for me to do the following:
OHP day: OHP main sets including AMRAP set then OHP 10X5 @ 50% of TM. Assistance: bench press at 75% of bench press TM for 3 sets of 10 reps.
BP day: Bench main sets including AMRAP set then BP 10X5 @ 50% of TM. Assistance: OHP at 75% of OHP TM, again 3 sets of 10 reps.
I don’t believe this changes the BBB program. It is merely using bench as OHP assistance and vice versa. I want to lift upper body more frequently and this was the neatest way I could think of to do so.
I am fucking pooped after my squat and DL BBB sets and so the assistance work is just a bit of core action. The next day after my Squat and DL days, I’m generally a little fatigued and listless but recover very well. I rest and sleep and eat. But after days in which I train OHP or bench, I’m bursting with energy and want to give a bit more. I want to see the chest grow, and my shoulders harden up and bulge some more. Will I end up overtraining if I do BBB like this? Also please point out if I’ve stepped out of the bounds of the program. I merely want to up my bench and OHP volume somehow.
I take the deload week every cycle.
Thanks for reading. It’s nice to find a home to talk about this shit. Thanks to Jim for the program and for being one of the good guys who turn personal experience into practical wisdom for others to follow.
Depending on how I go, I plan on running 5/3/1 BBB for 5 cycles, reset to the weights from cycle 3, and continue. 5 steps forward, 2 steps back. If I can keep going linearly I will, but I know I’ll need to go backwards sometimes and I’m happy to. I plan on doing this until I’m an old man.
I’m currently 34, 178cms tall, 81kgs and when I go to the gym I might seem boring and I may not have the biggest lifts in the world yet, but strength training has become my salvation. I don’t even notice the treadmills and dumbbells any more. I just have my task and I go about it. Since I’m still new to it relatively, I’m realising how potent this is, and how it has an effect on the rest of my life. I thought you guys were all meatheads a year ago. I was wrong and I’m sorry