Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My 5/3/1/ programming

Well unless you have been living under a rock, you know what 5/3/1 is.  If you don't, I don't know what to say.  

The great thing about it is that you can run up and down the 5/3/1 ladder how you see fit.  This works great for me as I am big on doing back-off sets for my assistance work, rather than changing the movement and adding volume with something different.  

Without further ado I will talk about how I set up my 5/3/1 cycle and the reasons why.

Squat and Deadlift every other week -

This is something I have done in the past with success.  In my articles I go back to the fact that for me, I recover far better if I squat and pull on the same day, or alternate them week to week.  I made the mistake of thinking I could go back to squatting and pulling in the same week on separate days after this last bicep tear.  I thought that I would need an extra day to get my dead back up over 600 fast enough, but it really didn't take long once the confidence in my arm was back.  Then within a few weeks, I found myself dreading training and feeling tired more often than not.  I wasn't conditioning as much and soon I felt like shit again, and got a big "I told you so" from Wendler.  Whatever.

Anyway, so I knew that my recover was tapped out.  So I took 4-5 days off, then instituted the squat and pull on alternate week schedule again.  In a week and a half, I already feel TONS better.  When I walk into the gym I feel like being there again and want to work.  This is a good feeling.  

When I head over to the hills, I want to run again.  When I go into the backyard, I want to do my sprints again.  All good things.  All done because I eventually got smart again, and started paying attention to recovery again.  Because I only do lower body once a week with limited volume I don't do a deload (not that I've ever put a planned deload in my training anyway).  

The other thing I am doing is setting up the cycles like so.  

Week 1 - 3's - Hard work.  Leaving only 1-2 reps in the tank
Week 2 - 5's - Just do the reps.  Work up and back down the ladder, but just get the reps in.  So 65% 75% 85% 75% 65% all for 5 reps
Week 3 - 5/3/1 - Hard work.  Same as week 1.  
Repeat process

I program it out using about 80-85% of my "max".  So the weights are fairly light really.  For my first week of deads I did 500x8 and for squats I did 475x8.  Both of these worked out perfect as I could have gotten 10 but that would have been near max effort (did I just use that phrase?  Now I need a shower).  So I did a pretty good job of being smart in my programming. 

So my layout looks like this...

Week 1 - 
Deadlift -
Leg Curls - 4-5 sets
Calf Raises - 2-3 sets

Week 2 - 
Squats -
Leg Curls - 4-5 sets
Calf Raises - 2-3 sets

Benching - 

Benching is a little different.  I have gone back to alternating bench and incline for this cycle.  Mainly to help my elbows again, as incline doesn't hurt it quite as much as flat benching.  

The programming for bench and incline are different.  This is really just a personal preference.  

For bench I do the same as squat and dead.  I do the week of 3's first, then the 5's, then the 1's.  However what I do is just get the reps in for the top set, then I do my back off with the preceding weight.

So for the first week, I did 365x3 on bench, and then did 315x10 on the back off (easily good for 12-13 with that however the bent bar screwed me up).  This is the usual plan of attack for bench.

The next week I will incline, and I won't do a back off, I work right up to the top set and go all out, only a rep or so shy of failure.  I don't do a back off set.

These things are just personal preferences, there is no "science" or witchcraft behind them.  It's just how I like to do things.

My assistance work is as follows -

Bench -
T-bars - 5 sets
Biceps and Triceps - 6 sets

Incline -
Chins - 5 sets
Biceps and Triceps - 6 sets

Off Days - 

My "off days" consist of either hill running for 6-10 hills, or 15-20 40 yard sprints.  I also work in ab circuits, rear delt, and trap work on those days too.  This is done low intensity with light weights and not much thought.  For example I might do db. upright rows for 3-5 sets of 10 with the 40's and some bent laterals before I do my sprints/runs.  Nothing hard or heavy, just enough to work those areas.  I will throw in an ab circuit two times a week usually as well.  Again, these things are done on "off" days and only take 15 minutes or so.  But I think it's good to do a little something everyday, then do your big stuff twice a week.  This feels good and keeps me fresh.  

Don't bastardize it -

5/3/1 is good just like it is.  Notice how I'm still working within the framework of the actually principles of the program.  I don't bastardize it and do stupid shit with it, that makes it not the program anymore.  To quote Dana Carvey making fun of Ross Perot "You can't put a porcupine in a barnset it on fire, and expect to make licorice".  Don't do stupid shit with a program that works.  I use incline instead of overhead press because overhead now is too hard on my elbows.  Outside of that, the program is still in the correct framework.    


  1. Hey Paul:

    Finally gave in and started doing 5/3/1, Im saying give in because Im as stubborn as a mule. Im on my first cycle of it and am on my deload week. Question is I decided to devote my deload week solely to conditioning with mainly barbell and dumbell complexes as well as sprints....would you consider this bastardizing the program? I have decided to abandon the DL and Squat all together on my deload week.

  2. Not really. I think Scott Yard recently wrote he has been contemplating not going in on deload week at all. You don't even have to do the deload if you really don't want to. I do believe it's an optional piece. I don't deload.

  3. I think this is a nice set up for somebody like you who has far above numbers on the big exercises. But for a novice or intermediate this would be far too little work, form would get shitty and I really can`t imagine gaining on that.

    What do you think about that?


  4. Paul,
    Since you are alternating movements each week, for your programming do you do one movement at a particular level then the other movement with the same reps scheme the next week before moving on? For example, SQ 3's, DL 3's, SQ 5's, DL 5's, SQ 1's, DL 1's, etc...? Just wondered because I alternate between BP and OHP on my upper body day and was thinking of doing the same for the SQ and DL, but wanted to see exactly how you programmed it?
    Also, how many days per week are you doing hard conditioning? I'm in much better shape than I was, but still have to tinker a bit so I don't kill my lower body with conditioning.


  5. Franz - You are correct. This split works well for me. I think a beginner or novice needs more time under the bar personally.

    Sean -

    I think what you'r asking is if I am running the 5/3/1 with the same percentage scheme for squat and dead at the same time. Yes.

    Week 1 - deadlift - 3's hard
    Week 2 - squat - 3's hard

    Week 3- deadlift - 5's just get the reps
    Week 4 - squat - 5's just get the reps

    Week 6 - deadlift - 5/3/1 hard
    Week 7 - squat - 5/3/1/ hard

    I usually condition hard 3 days a week.

  6. Hey Paul: Is excessive soreness ever a problem for you when you only squat or DL once in two weeks? I've thought of alternating the same way, but hesitate for that reason. Does your conditioning help in that way? Or, maybe I'm just an out of shape, old man wuss.

    BTW: Your "Lessons Learned" and "Westside Explained" offered great perspective. Together they cover about 95% of the Q/A Jim Wendler gets over at EFS.


  7. The conditioning definitely helps me. The longer you sit around on sore legs the worse they get, however as you're really only doing 1 top set on the hard days, it's not a degree of soreness that I mind. But your mileage may vary. I like a decent amount of soreness. I would say today is about right two days after my squat workout.

  8. Good to see this post, just last week I modified my 5/3/1 to something similar. It will probably take me a while to get the assistance lifts. I do like your idea of the 5's week where you basically do 5x5 but with the difference percentages. I will keep that in mind if I ever need to switch. This is what I am doing now.

    7 Weeks total, Week 7 is deload exactly as written in 5/3/1 book.

    6 Weeks alternating squat/DL once a week and doing order of 5s, 3s, 1 as the original program says. Always max reps, at least for now. If I feel the need to switch I'll try exactly what yours is.

    2 back to back 3 week cycles of Bench/MP to cover the 6 weeks then deload on the 7th.


  9. Paul, you usually work up to a heavy single before squats and deadlifts. How do you estimate the weight?

    I am currently doing something similar to your training (work up to a fast "heavy" single, followed by one to three rep sets, depending on the exercise.) I do one rep set for deads, three for strict and bench pressing and three for squats.

    Getting good results again.

  10. That depends on if I am preparing for a meet or just training. If I am just training I just go by feel. No straining. Something I might could 30-40 more pounds to and still be ok.

    If it's for a meet I generally have some numbers I like to hit over each week.

  11. Hey Paul,

    Great blog you have here. I like your ideas for 5/3/1, seem to match mine a bit.

    I'm curious if you also put your singles in week 1 and 3? As you talk about pushing it those weeks. Does that mean you both push the reps and do singles after?

    Would you recommend alternating deads and squats to "intermediate" guys or do you feel that the stronger guys would gain more benefit from it?

    Have been doing a few cycles myself with deads and squats on the same day and really liked that. But I think that alternating them might be a bit better in some ways.


  12. I am not doing singles right now. I am doing rep work to give myself a break from singles.

    I don't really recommend alternating squats and deads for what I would call "intermediate" guys because I think a good squat/dead day or squat 1 day and pull another day in the same week will work and they need more practice. But your mileage may vary.

  13. Ah I see, reading the 2 comments above mine after reading your post confused me. Was already thinking I need to man up a bit, because pushing the reps and do heavy singles after would kill me haha. But that makes sense, for me it's kind of backwards, have been doing rep work for 6 cycles and would like to do some heavy singles for a few cycles now.

    Yea, that's true.
    Well, I'm pretty confident in my squat technique, deadlift also pretty much, but could use some improvements and more consistency. But I'm definitely not strong enough (read: I'm pretty weak) for a squat/dead day or both in the same week to really burn me out, I can still recover good from those options. So one of those two will probably suit me better than alternating.

    The way I'd do it if I'd alternate dead/squat probably solves the problem of not doing them frequent enough though.

    I've been doing BBB for the most part of my 6 cycles and the last few cycles I did it this way (which seems to be used a lot):
    -5/3/1 Squat + 5x10 Deadlift
    -5/3/1 Deadlift + 5x10 Squat.

    I really liked that setup of a heavier squat with high rep dead (or variation) and heavier dead with high rep squat (or variation). So that's what I was thinking of doing when alternating the lifts. This way you still have a good squat/dead day every week.

    Of course you can say that you might as well do a "normal" squat/dead day then, both 5/3/1. But the reason I think I'd like the other one more is that with doing 5/3/1 for both lifts on the same day, you go heavy 2 times in one session. Not that it is a bad thing, have done it for a few cycles and it definitely works, but you got to lower the weight of the 2nd lift a bit or be really careful not to injure yourself because you're already worn out from the first heavy lift. Besides that I just like to throw in a few sets of high rep on lower body lifts (after one heavy lift). Also just read that Wendler kind of likes the idea of even higher reps on squats here: and thinks it might work pretty good, so found that pretty interesting.

    Sorry for the long post, I tend to ramble on when talking about these things haha.


  14. I read how Marty Gallagher used to reduce the weight 25% of the top set and perform 3 static back off sets. Would this be ok to do instead of BBB or would that be bastardizing it?

  15. Awesome idea. Marty is a smart guy.

  16. What reps would one hit if doing the 3 static backoff sets?