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Results of 5/3/1 Variations with Added Volume


Hey everybody, long story made short.

I'm a career fireman, had a spinal injury and surgery. Been cleared for full duty, lifting and all for a couple months now. I've always been a fan of 5/3/1, and want to stick with it. But I have a LOT of catching up to do in strength and mass gain. I'm 6'1", 190, 17% body fat, weak and not in the best shape either. A few months of injured status will do that to you.

Current 1rm:
DL: 290
Squat: 275
Bench: 165 (my injury primarily de-innervated my upper right body, so bench took the biggest hit)
Military Press: 115- and this has been stuck around here for years. 5/3/1 has yet to improve it.

I've had several coaches tell me that I need some substantial lean muscle gain in order to improve my strength, and that I should do that before moving back into rebuilding my conditioning. I'm inclined to agree that hypertrophy, then strength, then conditioning is the proper order to move in.

Before I hit injured/no duty status I found doing 5/3/1 pyramid really enjoyable. Doing the top set for a PR and then the first set for a PR (or even repping out on top, middle and first set) is an enjoyable challenge and seemed to me to be a great way to get higher volume at a higher weight. I recently read Paul Carter's "strong 15" and see that he basically uses a rep scheme very similar to 5/3/1, but only rep's out on the lighter working set.

My question is- for a fireman, working 24 hours, off 48. Who needs to at least maintain conditioning for now, and then get it back to rockstar levels later. Who needs to get stronger on all fronts, and "build armor" (gain lean muscle) to take the beatings of my job better. Is 5/3/1 pyramid a good choice? Should I add in extra assistance? For example front squats on DL day, snatch pulls on squat day? Is a program like the BBB challenge a better option? Or is Paul Carter right that the single, all out set is where the growth happens?

Does anyone here have experience with the many varieties of 5/3/1 that use extra volume? 5/3/1 Pyramid? BBB? Paul Carter's Big-15? Anything else?

Thanks everybody.


Just do them all. At the same time.

J/K… You have to figure it out for yourself, man. I was a FF/EMT for a few years and really any sort of S&C will help the job. I would go with one all out set before embarking on massive volume. Volume takes a lot longer to recover from and you don’t want to be limping around when you’re fighting a damn fire or trying to save someone’s life.

Remember there’s give and take between training and the rest of your life. If you work an all-nighter, well then you probably won’t have it in you to go all out in the gym the next day. You have to take these things into consideration. I work a desk job now so it doesn’t matter how sore I get. And my job doesn’t take away from my training. You’re in a different place though. Your training has to be more intuitive (really I think every in general should be more intuitive about their training rather than follow a “work out” to the letter).

My advice: focus on getting stronger, keep the volume down, work in conditioning as often as you can (weight vest walking would be great for your job). You’re 6’1 and 190? You don’t need training to get bigger, you just need FOOD. Just do that, be flexible, and pay attention to your body.


I have a couple friends that are firemen and my best friend’s dad was a fireman too, rough job; I have a lot of respect for firemen. It sounds like you need to get good strength training in and have enough time to rest and recover from that and your job too. Jim has a two-day split in his Beyond 5/3/1 Book (page 70), may want to look at that. Using concepts like his First Set Last and Joker Sets could help you a lot.

I use a 4-day split but have put about 20lbs on my OHP is just 4-cycles, so there is potential for good gains. There is a lot of good information in the new book that you can probably find a version of 5/3/1 that works well for you. Not that the original 5/3/1 wasn’t good too, Beyond is just that much better.

Also, make sure your diet supports your training AND job.