T Nation

New to 5/3/1 - Old Dog, New System, Got Questions

Greetings, I am new to the 5/3/1 system and trying to wrap my head around some concepts. I am from the old school era of endless reps/sets and or a few but brutal sets ala Yates and Mentzer. Decades ago I had nearly a 500 DL, 350 bench, and probably the same for squats. Have a history of a herniated disc and I am tall 6’3 (and likely have weak spinal erectors) with long arms and torso. For some reason DL never really hurt my back but squats did (so I didn’t push them). I am for sure an ectomorph.

Anyway, here I am decades later. Been really just “exercising” the past few decades with a healthy mix of lifting weights, hiking, biking, skiing and outdoor activity. Now I am looking to put back some size and get strong and reading came across the Wendler stuff.
I’ve read 5/3/1 and just got forever. So far I totally dig the idea and wish I had this knowledge years ago! I did about 2 cycles of the BBB and really liked it until I got sick and it killed everything. For sure I started too high with the TM on OP because I struggled to get 3 reps on the “1” week. This was before I saw I should be getting 5 solid reps 100% TM.

Anyway to the actual question. How hard should these sets be? What sets should be hard, and are grinders ever allowed? I understand that you should be able to get 5 “solid” reps with 100 TM, with good speed. Is that correct? Then take somewhere from 80-90% of that for the programs? Maybe it’s just from my old school mentality of going to failure and beyond, but sometimes just doing the prescribed reps felt “easy”. Then I read about people getting 9 reps or more on the “1” week.

I’m pathetically weak and understand I need to focus on the “majors”. I am just trying to wrap my head around how hard, or difficult my sets should feel. Also, for the supplemental work is this simply getting reps or should there be some struggle here? Seems to me if you are going to get stronger there is going to be some hard work involved (or course, at some point…but the cycled implementation of it makes total sense). I don’t want to over train, but not under train either! Looking forward to the input from those of you who have used the system sharing your thoughts and experiences.

I currently run the original system with daily pr’s. I track pr’s from 1-20, and try to beat those every week. I don’t “grind” any reps, but the last few definitely slow down.
I know many people now run 5 pros and focus on rep speed. As Jim frequently states, the main lifts are for power,so focus on rep speed if runnings 5 pros system.

Welcome to Jims Universe :slight_smile:

As you have read Jim says do 5’s pro and FSL 5x5 to get started. I have tried it, and it didn’t really click.
2 cycles of that followed by a deload and one cycle of PR’s.
If Jim says it’s good, it is. NO questions asked here.


I would suggest doing 5/3/1 Original style.
That’s the same as Cincy is doing.

That’s how you get 5/3/1 under your skin.
Do that last main set for reps, record your reps and when that weight shows on the bar again try to beat it.
Your 1’s week weight will soon be the 3’s weeks weight and then the 5’s week.
Depending on recovery do 3 - 5 sets of 5 with FSL.
Keep the rest short here, just enough so bar speed doesn’t suffer to much.
That was the Main work and the supplemental work.
Does are the one that matters.
There are all kind of supplemental choices.

The ones often used is BBB between 50 - 75%
FSL as PR set or multiple sets of 5 - 8
SSL as PR or multiple sets af 3 - 8
Squat the widowmaker set at 50 - 75 % is popular.
The supplemtal could be a similar lift.
Bench: Close grip or incline bench
DL: sumo or deficit or rack pull
Squat: front squat, high bar, SSB, wide stance, narrow.

Now it’s time for assistance.
Jim says: about 50 for each category.
Push: dips, pushups, DB bench, press, triceps
Pull, Chins, pull ups, rows, pull aparts face pulls
Single leg/core: lunges, split squat OR ab work.

OHH and most importantly:
Do a lot of mobility work, do some jumps and throws, after the warm up, get some cardio work and some sprinting in every week just to balance everything out.

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Thanks for the input. So the take home message I hear is when the bar speed starts to slow, (especially if it is considerable) the set should be done. With most of the sets I should not be seeing a significant slow in bar speed except maybe if I chose a routine where I am shooting for a PR. I have been lifting a while so kept a steady tempo. If I am slowing it’s because the work is getting hard not because of any inconsistency.

It will be a little odd, yet refreshing not shooting for failure all the time or grinding out the last rep or two on work sets. Hope I am getting this right.

Sounds like you have it. As Jim always states, keep your training max low and track pr’s. If you are not competing, don’t worry too much about 1-3 rm

You can use 80% of your 1RM. And remember, that’s not your max; it’s the weight you can own any day of the week.

For example I thought I found get 275 on bench any day but it turns out that some days I don’t so I use 265 to get my TM. From there I used 80% and I hit 14, 12, and 10 on my PR sets through the cycle.

If I didn’t just have hip surgery then I’d add 10 lbs and start again.

No need to start out sprinting.

The sets are taken to technical failure and I’ve seen Jim say numerous times, “no grinding”. Since you’re consistent with your tempos and pretty aware of them then I’d suggest you stop when you see the bar slow down significantly. I’d guess you could get 2 to 3 more reps once you notice the first decline in bar speed.