T Nation

Near the End of My 1st Cycle, Weaker Than When I Started


The program I was on before beginning 5/3/1 almost a month ago actually had me doing 3RMs, so I used these numbers as my starting poundages for 5/3/1 (3RM = 90% 1RM). My 3MR for squat was 240. On my third week of 5/3/1, I was only able to squat 228 two times. I’ve similarly lost strength in bench and deadlift (I’m not pressing at the moment due to a shoulder injury).

Next week will be my first deload week, and then I’m supposed to add weight to my first cycle’s poundages. So, if I began the first cycle at 240 for my 3RM in squat, I would theoretically be moving to 250. But this is ridiculous, since week 3 showed me that I can’t even squat 228 3 times. I got weaker.

Is this what’s meant by “5 up and 3 down”, and I’ll eventually regain my strength? Or am I doing something totally wrong? I’m following the plan almost to the letter (I don’t do cardio). I’m doing moderate assistance exercises, not breaking my ass or anything.

I’m 48, but have been training all my life.


Let me make sure I understand you, you used 240 as your training max for the squat? How many reps did you get on your + sets on the 5 and 3 week?

If so, you should have used 85-90% of that number, So your training max would’ve been 205lbs at 85% or 215 at 90%. You should be able to AT LEAST bang out 5 good strong reps on your 5/3/1+ day, if not your training max is wrong, its that simple.

Sounds like a case of starting with too high of a training max.

Also what does your whole program along with any assistance look like?


The book says to use 90% of your 1RM, but that your 3RM is the same thing as 90% of your 1RM. On my previous program, I had been squatting 240 for 3 reps for a couple weeks, so I used 240 as my number.

The 5 week (week 1), calls for 5 reps at 65%, 75% and 85%. 85% of 240 is 205, and I managed 8 reps.

The 3 week (week 2) calls for 3 reps at 80%, 80% and 90%. I managed 6 reps at 215.

The 5/3/1 week (week 3) had me at 95%, and I only managed 2 reps at 228 (I actually failed on the third rep).

In fact, if you use the rep comparison formula, you can see how my calculated ORM actually drops from 259 in week 1, to 257 in week 2, to 243 in week 3. Its a similar story with bench and deadlift.

My program is

monday: squats, pullups, shrugs
wednesday: bench, barbell curl
friday: deadlift, T-bar rows, incline curl

Side note: from trying several different programs, it seems to me that I often “peak” rather than “plateau”. I’ll hit a PR and then not be able to duplicate it. Another thing I notice, anytime I take weight off the bar (say, to increase volume), I can’t lift the heavier weight anymore.


How explosive were the 3 reps? How consistently have you hit 240 for 3?

You should be able to hit your TM on most bad days.


“Typically” on 5 weeks you will hit 10-11ish reps, 3 week usually 6-8ish and 1 week 5-6tops just as a rough estimate.

I’m not sure how much time elapsed between squatting with 240 for 3 and beginning 5/3/1. That could be a factor, though your 5 and 3 week reps weren’t low but were on the lower side of what reps one typically would get on those weeks with the right training max. It could be that the squat day you failed on was just a lousy training day due to some other stressor, diet, or other variable?

One thing to be clear on is that you base your training max off a number you can hit at any time in the gym using good form with appropriate bar speed (meaning no grinders on reps, see-sawing the weight or use of bad form)

The other thing to keep in mind on this program is that the training max is a tool only, so don’t jack it up too high, it only used to based your training numbers off, you want to get a lot of reps in to build strength and you can’t do that if its at such a high value that you are not getting quality reps.


Training max was too high. You’ve also got to remember if your 3rm is 240 (lbs, right?) your max is (theoretically) about 265 lbs. See how that’s only 25 lbs above your TM? It’s still a big lift for you even for a single. When I started 531 my squat TM was at or just below my 5RM (I just went with 85% of my wrapped max).


On my previous program, I had been squatting 240 for 3 reps for maybe 3 weeks. I ended that program on a friday, and then on monday I started 5/3/1.

I had looked at 5/3/1 for a while, but I wasn’t sold on it because it didn’t look challenging enough. Basically, there was only one set of squats per week (the final set, the 5+/3+/1+ set) where you are challenged. The other sets feel like warmup sets. In looking the program over, I predicted that I’d lose strength fairly quickly. It just doesn’t seem like there are enough challenging sets.

Even if my original 240 was too high, I was able to do 240 for 3 reps the week before 5/3/1. 3 weeks in, and I can only do 228 for 2 reps.

I’ve had this issue with other programs. I don’t know if its psychological or not, but if I remove weight from the bar, I can no longer lift that weight. For example, my previous program was the Texas Method, as described by Mark Rippetoe in his book “Practical Programming”. I was deadlifting 365 for 1 rep, just one set. I took weight off the bar to increase volume for a couple of weeks. So over the next few weeks I did 325 for 5 reps, one set. Then 330x5x1. Then 335x3x1. Then I tried a one rep max, and I couldn’t get 345 up. This was just 5 weeks after doing 365x1 consistently.

As soon as I remove weight from my ORM to get some extra volume, I lose my ORM.


Sounds like you don’t understand 531 very well if you don’t think it offers enough challenge.

Also, again assuming all your loads are in lbs you’re kind of weak. That has a big impact on how percentages really feel. Right now, your 3RM squat is probably about 25 lbs less than your max. That’s a very, very small difference.

If you don’t like 531, don’t do it - but chances are if you run it properly you’ll get much stronger over time.

Believe me, I used to think had to regularly approach my max to keep getting stronger. It just isn’t true for virtually everybody. You’ll get stronger by recovering from smart training over time.

I’d suggest setting your squat TM at about 215 lbs and push the plus sets hard. Add in a few FSL sets for good measure.


Notice how Markko and I both suggested your training max be at 215?

You are also right in that it’s psychological the program you will succeed on is the one YOU fully invest, commit, and believe in fully.

It’s quite possible you burned yourself out with consecutive weeks doing 240x3 with no time off before jumping into 5/3/1.


Your TM is too high

You didn’t follow Texas Method and it looks like you will not follow this program

Your expectations are out of whack

And you are blaming the program.

Did I miss anything?


And, you’re program hopping .

Stop it.

Trust me, I speak from experience.


From a dude your age, OP, who is stronger than you are.


Hmm. The general consensus here is that I started out too high and that I should drop the max. Here’s why I’m not convinced: if you start a new program and three weeks later you have lost strength, you either A) trained too much or B) trained too little. Given the low volume of 5/3/1, I highly doubt that its the former. So, take even more weight off the bar? How will that help?


Bar speed is important. Recovery is important.

Sprinters don’t run sub-10 second 100m through their prep phase. Katie Ledecky isn’t breaking world records in every practice. I train with my DL TM at 80% of my PR, and that PR has gone up significantly.

We’re trying to help. On one hand you have people that followed the principles and got stronger, on the other side you have someone that modified the plan and got weaker.

It doesn’t seem like you can be convinced that you need our help. So why bother? If you think your path will lead you to the promised land, by all means, push forward with what you think is best.


You are taking weight off the bar but you are doing more reps in the right intensity zone as a result. Everyone here is saying the same thing but you continue to question it. Don’t be your own worst enemy you haven’t given it a chance.

How much one lifts doesn’t necessarily make them qualified or unqualified to give advice but I have some years of experience with this program with myself and others. My PRESS training max is the same as your SQUAT just to say I’ve had some time under the bar.

One thing that may help to know is what do you weigh? Just wondering if you possibly lost weight recently?


OP, besides lowering your TM and making sure you’re doing the last set of the main lift properly you need to get your assistance work sorted. It seems like you should be doing some version of BBB or Triumvirate for assistance instead of what you’re doing now. For example, last week I hit 7 reps of 320# on my 1+ week of squats. After that I hit 5x10 of 150# on front squats (I was doing BBB for that cycle). I then hit the ab wheel, some hammy curls and calf raises. That’s plenty of volume. In fact, I have about the same total reps for each main lift as most of the guys at my gym hitting each lift multiple times a week. And FWIW I’m 50 and have been doing 531 for almost 3 years now.


Because you’re unwilling to accept that you are most probably wrong.

Follow the advice, or don’t. Just reflect on the fact that virtually every single person who has run 531 properly has gotten stronger.


One cycle is not enough time to make a judgment call! However, I know people who have had great success with 531 and I know people who have had minimal to no success with it. I have run the program twice for about 6-8 cycles and found it was not a good fit for me from the standpoint of increasing my 1 RM on the platform.


Just out of curiosity, how did you run it? The only issue I can imagine having with 531 to increase my max would be if I never hit jokers. Did you find absolutely no increase in limit strength at all?


I did the very basic program years ago. Then ran it with BBB the second time. After three cycles when I would be approaching what was my true 1 RM at the start of the program, I could only get one rep or even fail that. Repping submaximal weights doesn’t seem to translate into an increase in my 1 RM. It could be psychological, untrained nervous system, doesn’t really matter. I’ve been training and competing long enough to know that bumping up against my max more frequently is a far more effective way for me to make gains. Also, I’m kind of old. And I just cannot train deadlift with any frequency or rep out deadlifts anymore with any appreciable weight.