Switching to 5/3/1, but When?


Some history: I made the switch to strength trainee about nine months ago after losing obesity fat (roughly 80 lbs) via cardio and diet. My starting numbers were something like, at 5 foot 8/~175lbs: 225 deadlift, 185 squat, 155 bench, ??? press. I was untrained and very weak. I’ve put some weight back on and am now at a much more muscular ~205lbs.

For about the last six months, I’ve used my own program of something similar to 5/3/1, only with maximal efforts. Every session, I try to, and majority of the time do, beat my old maxes (5RM, 3RM, and 1RM) using three different week templates (1. 5x5 2. 5to8x3 3. 5x50%/3x60%/2x70/1x80%/1x90%/1x100 of new target 1RM) and follow with relevant accessory work. I simply add five lbs to my upper body lifts and 10 lbs to my lower body lifts. Sometimes, I’ll feel great and go even higher than intended. When I fail, it’s usually a recovery or mental block and I attempt again the next month. Every fourth week I take a deload week. It’s really that simple.

My current 1RMs are 170lbs Press, 275lbs Bench, 405 lbs squat (405lbs RAW Squat - YouTube for legitimacy), and 435lbs deadlift. They have all seen solid, consistent progress.

The continual PRs make me believe this system has been/will continue to be very beneficial to myself. I foam roll and stretch multiple times a day, typically, and get adequate sleep and likely more than adequate nutrition. Nagging pains and postural issues I started out with are gone and all that remains is minor carpal tunnel syndrome in my left wrist. It may seem oxymoronic to say I train safely with constant maxes, but I feel I do.

I want to do 5/3/1 when I inevitably make the switch. I’ve read the second edition and bought/read Beyond 5/3/1. My hesitation from making the switch is that my maxes have been going up so frequently that I question if switching to 5/3/1 now would be a waste of what “noob gains” I have left, and I guess I’ve convinced myself to make the switch once the PRs become a rarity instead of the norm. The thing that keeps holding me back is the training max seeming too light for me at this stage, even if the money set is for reps and other limit-pushing factors exist, such as joker sets.

Am I wrong? Would switching to 5/3/1 likely slow or speed my strength boosting progress compared to what I have been doing? When should I make the switch to submaximal/periodization training? Is there a set threshold or weight range? When the noob/intermediate gains run out and I hit that plateau? Now?

I guess I’m looking for answers and for pokes in my rationale; perhaps even a humbling. Thanks for letting me “think out loud” and any feedback is appreciated.

Welcome to T-Nation and congrats on getting in better shape. I’d start 5-3-1- tomorrow if I were you, no time like the present right? You have mentioned your noob gains you have left. Well guess what that may happen in 2 weeks 2 months, 2 years, but it will go away. Who cares. IF you are in the iron game for life, those 2 weeks, months, even years now are just laying the groundwork dude. Soon we will welcome to the real world where you fight for every pound on the bar. Why not start now with a system that has proven itself thousands of times over? Get on the awesome train now, you won’t regret it. There enough accessory programs with 5-3-1 for the pickiest of lifters.

I’d recommend you start with something real simple such as BBB to get the principles of the system nailed down. when you “get it” feel free to experiment a bit with the other templates to find the one that best suits you at your moment in time.

It’s stupid to switch if you’re still making progress. Personally, those lifts look way above beginner level, but you should milk those “noob gains” for all they’re worth.

Why add weight every month (Wendler) if you can add it once a week (Madcow, Texas Method)?
But then why add weight every week if you can add it every workout (StrongLifts, Starting Strength)?

Keep it simple, don’t make it any more complex than you need to. Save more advanced programming for when you need it.

[quote]DAVE101 wrote:
Save more advanced programming for when you need it.[/quote]

5/3/1 is advanced? Please tell us more.

My beat advice (take it for what its worth) try different programs and find out for yourself which method/program suits you. Give whatever program you choose a chance though, at least a few months. Also READ up on anything you can get your hands on. Once you do this you will have a better understanding of your physical needs ams your higher knowledge base of programs/training will allow you to formulate your OWN method…i think what you will find is that you will have full circle… Keep it simple, get in the gym and do the things you dread first.

Don’t do it. You doubt the program and will have horrible results. Belief is such a key component to life (and training).

When there is a doubt, there is no doubt.

[quote]StrengthDawg wrote:

[quote]DAVE101 wrote:
Save more advanced programming for when you need it.[/quote]

5/3/1 is advanced? Please tell us more.
Where did I say it was advanced?

Madcow and Texas Method are intermediate programs, adding 5 lbs/week to your lifts. 5/3/1 is less advanced than those? Please tell us more.

Heres my two cents. I get that you want to continue making progress, who doesn’t? But with linear progression there eventually will be stalling. Thats why 531 is perfect for someone coming off a linear progression program. I did stronglifts 5x5 for around a year when I first started lifting and saw amazing progress.

I stalled on everything and even did the resets Medhi describes. Eventually I switched to 531 because of the stalling. I get that you dont want to face setbacks but you’ll face them no matter what program you are on. Jim is right you have to believe in what you’re doing to be successful with it. I have been doing 531 for the past 4 years and have stalled, plateaued, and damn near given up but since I believe in this program I have broken through all of that.

If you doubt the program then dont do it. If you believe and know that it will work then jump right in

@ dave… The OP’s question was should he switch to 5/3/1, specifically. You stated that switching was stupid and then gave a laundry list of programs which inferred that the program he was doing was simple and that the list you provided was more advanced and something he should graduate to once his noob gains were exhausted. That’s how I took it anyways which doesn’t matter because this reeks of a thread where the op asks a question then never chimes back in while the other people bicker about minutia. I should have “kept my mouth” shut, so I bid you all adieu. lol

I agree with Jim and Dave. First, if you don’t fully believe in something your acceptance of it will be low and you will not be very successful. Secondly, it sounds like the OP is making good gains with what he’s currently doing so why change? Ride the wave until it crashes and then start 5/3/1.

I just want to thank everyone for their replies, especially Jim. I did a lot of introspective thinking this week. It’s both a deload week in the gym and the last week of my semester (going home today). I’m 23 so I think I was kidding myself into the “all the gains right now” mindset. It wasn’t as much that I doubted 5/3/1 as much as I doubted my goals, I think. I feel like right now, I’m an obviously much lesser version of the Jim Wendler, who didn’t consider himself strong when squatting 1000lbs because all I can do is lift intermediate/mildly advanced numbers by EXRX standards and not much else.

Previously, when reading 5/3/1 and trying to incorporate some of the ideology into my own program, something I couldn’t grasp was including chins and other stuff between pressing sets. That weakened/tired me out whenever I tried it. I think the training max will be conducive to a stronger/larger back just by allowing me to work those in between pressing sets and not have it tarnish my 100% readiness needed for a max set.

I also got honest with myself and reviewed my training. I’ve actually failed my 175lbs press the last three times I’ve attempted it. My 275 bench took three tries and it wasn’t pretty when I hit it. My squats and deadlift 1RM tries either clear cleanly or I fail at 90% warmup. The moral of the story? I think I am plateauing and I never want to plateau if possible.

The third part of 5/3/1 i.e. the conditioning is also something I need. I’m a little unhappy with my body fat level right now and I haven’t done any conditioning in months. I want to be conditioned. I’m very flexible and mobile and lifting is my passion, but as I said, I’m a heavier 205lbs now at five foot 8. The stuff I have been doing has left me both under-recovered and too tired to do any conditioning. After reviewing Beyond 5/3/1 I tried some conditioning this past week. I ran track sprints, did a barbell complex, and did an intense cardio machine/skip rope circuit this week and I’m less than pleased with how hard it all was. 5/3/1 will allow me to get conditioned.

I re-read version 2.0 and Beyond 5/3/1 and let the principles sink in. Instead of haphazardly throwing together my own program, training six or more times a week at times, I will train a set four days a week and condition at least three times a week. I no longer doubt the program and have made the decision to start my first cycle tomorrow (recording with a handwritten journal instead of on my iPhone).

All that’s left to do is pick a template. I’m thinking the Simplest Strength template for now but am open to suggestions for a first timer looking to simultaneously get in better shape. Thanks again, everyone.

The biggest mistake I made when starting 5/3/1 is that I didn’t listen to Jim’s “Start Too Light” principle. I set my training max too high because I didn’t want to take a step back from where I was at the time.

Within three cycles I was barely making the minimum reps and by the 5th cycle I was failing to make minimums. I was too obsessed with the short term quest for numbers that I lost sight of the long term quest for strength. The end result was that my poor decisions were setting me back instead of moving me forward.

My recommendation is to pick a template and do the program exactly as written for a few months. I liked the BBB 3 month challenge because it was all spelled out for me and required no additional thought on my part, plus physically doing it taught me more about the program than I ever learned reading internet forums.

^ Manitoba, eh? Nice, me too!

Just an update if anyone cares:

Started my cycle with Deadlift.

435 Max
390 TM


Money set for 5+ @ 335lbs. This set locked me into the program, I believe. I repped out 10 and stopped at fatigue but not failure.

Feeling like a million bucks, I rested and did Joker sets. I successfully hit 5x370, 3x390, and 1x410.

Using Simplest Strength, I did my 10 rep sets at 50/60/70% Front Squat, followed up with some GHR and decline situps and called it a day.

LOVED this workout. Such a refreshing change of pace. Consider me a believer.

[quote]Mattyb83 wrote:
I rested and did Joker sets. I successfully hit 5x370, 3x390, and 1x410.[/quote]

It looks like you are trying to adapt Jokers to make this program your old maximal routine. From the book: “Joker sets are simple - after you push the last set, increase 5% or 10% from the last set and perfrom 5 reps, 3 reps, or 1 rep DEPENDING ON THE WEEK.” “Once you cannot get the resp, you are free to keep adding 10% jumps for singles.”

You are not intended to work to a maximal set of 5, 3 and 1 every session. I may be way off here, but I’m getting a feeling this might become a habit for you (also considering your prior training preferences).

Yes, that’s a good call. I was aware of that at the time when I shot for the triple, being that it was five week. Call it excitement or a poor choice but I will be mindful of this going forward. Thanks.