T Nation

Why I Use 5/3/1


I was asked to explain how I had stayed with exercising despite family and career as part of a larger project a friend is putting together. He asked me to write something up because (a) I’m older than college athletes (35 years) and (b) I was never a college athlete (I suspect he also knew I was never considered athletically gifted at any point :grinning: )

It’s a relatively short email, so I thought it might be useful here for perspective or for someone who’s considering this program:

What I Use:
I use Wendler’s 5/3/1 program for two reasons: it’s simple and it’s effective. When the plan is simple and effective, I can focus on my goals. Like most young people, I spent a lot of time tweaking (i.e. screwing up) plans, swapping or altering so often that looking for measurable progress was futile: Do squats because they’re king. Don’t do squats because I’m not a powerlifter. Run for distance. Run hills. Don’t run.

Why I Use It:
This program cuts out all of the white noise that exists on the internet. It cuts out the need or desire to read the articles experts are paid to post. Through two years of this program, it hasn’t changed. Other things have: my PR, my size, and the advice of the experts writing pay-per-word articles. If you can get yourself to a barbell with weights, follow (and not add to) instructions and swallow your pride, you can stick with this program. If you need a Chest Day, five variations on the same exercise, or a stability ball, this is not the program for you. If you like the idea of lifting heavy weights and running up hills and sweating, this program is for you. If you like to dance, this program may still be for you, but you probably can’t count the dancing as an activity (and I’m not going to find out).

Other Advice:
Maybe this isn’t the program for you. There is probably one out there, though. The main problem I see from people around me is the plan-hopping or the decision to use a plan that doesn’t match (a) the stated goals and (b) the lifestyle they’re willing to lead. Pick something, do it. If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t or when it stops, adjust the plan according to your needs using minor adjustments. You don’t set the barn on fire when one of the stalls collapses.

My Own Pet Peeve:
The 5/3/1 program gets criticism on the internet, but I don’t lift on the internet. Criticism doesn’t get my butt in the weight room. Whoever has an opinion about what’s faster for the gains probably isn’t going to pull a sled for me this afternoon.

I have used 5/3/1 in the following situations:

  • to get bigger
  • to get stronger
  • to get leaner
  • while prepping for extreme hiking/biking
  • while prepping for a half-marathon
  • while sick
  • when I only had 20 minutes in the weight room

Three Things I Learned:
Most failures aren’t with my plan; they’re with me.
Consistency toward a goal is the most effective solution.
People like to look at pretty pictures of abs, but I’ve been the little guy with a six pack and the bigger guy who could flex for four. I’ll take how people respond to the bigger guy. People notice him. People talk about how strong he looks. No one ever said anything when he was just a little guy.