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Monday. A mild case of death.

Me, this morning.

I’m ill. Bed ridden and shuddering with something slow and fatal. It’ll be Rabies or Ebola or The Black Death or something similar. Maybe an experimental biological agent released by a shadowy secret sect of assassins. Whatever viral Chimera is currently ravaging my system would certainly kill a lesser man and yet I bare this crippling burden with no complaint except for the involuntary whimpers that escape my lips from time to time.

Zoe, as you can imagine, is ignoring me and leaves me to fester in my pit of despondency. Which is for the best, as I can crack on with the crucial tasks of reading and ipading without interruption. Although I am close to shuffling off this mortal coil and passing over to the other side I can still somehow summon up the strength for one more level of Angry Birds.

I’m actually gutted. I was supposed to be beginning a new cycle of 5/3/1. With new exercises and new target weights. Unfortunately that’s going to have to wait a day or two unless, of course, I die a slow and lingering death in the meantime.

It does give me the chance to explain what 5/3/1 is and why you should be doing it. First you need to know a little bit about it’s creator – Jim Wendler. It’s worth pointing out that I have never met Jim Wendler and he certainly doesn’t know who the hell I am. So when I tell you of the man behind 5/3/1 it’s not through personal experience but via articles purloined from the interweb.

Jim played pretty high level football at college and noted that while he trained as an athlete he was both strong and conditioned. After football he went on to compete as a powerlifter with some serious weights on the bar (1000lbs squat anyone?) but felt slow, lethargic and weak (his words not mine). He trained out of the now legendary Westside Barbell Club that was producing more world champs then any other facility at the time. The training was brutal, complicated and involved. Upon retiring from powerlifting competition Jim wanted to find a simpler and more direct method of training and developed the 5/3/1 principles.

It really is very simple.

  • There are 4 main lifts; squat, bench, deadlift and overhead press.
  • You perform the lifts once per week.
  • You use specific loads all based on percentages of your 1 rep max.
  • You follow a 4 week cycle.
  • Week 1 – 3 sets of 5 reps at 65/75/85% of your 1 rep max.
  • Week 2 – 3 sets of 3 reps at 70/80/90% of your 1 rep max.
  • Week 3 – 1 set of 5 reps at 75%, 1 set of 3 reps at 85% and 1 set of 1 rep at 95% of your 1 rep max.
  • Week 4 – 3 sets of 5 reps at 45/55/65% of your 1 rep max.
  • Repeat the cycle but add a small amount of weight to your 1 rep max total and work out your new percentages based on this number.
  • Supplement the main lifts with some accessories. I’ll give you some examples later.
  • Keep going. Don’t stop. Consistency is the key to improvement.

Choosing the right 5/3/1 program.

There are several variations on the 5/3/1 theme. All of them have the four main lifts at their core but go off on tangents when it comes to accessories, training frequency etc.

Boring But Big

 Day one.
 Squats – 3 sets done as 5/3/1.
 Squats – done again but this time for 5 sets of 10.
 Leg curls 5 sets of 10.
 Plus a bit of extra accessory work for lagging body parts if you want/need.
 Example – Face pulls – 3 sets of 15. Curls – 3 sets of 10. Ab roll outs – 3 sets infinity.

Day two.
Overhead press – 3 sets done as 5/3/1.
Overhead press – 5 sets 10 reps.
Pull ups – 5 sets 10 reps.
Bonus accessories – Fat bar rows – 3 sets 15 reps. Pushdowns – 3 sets 10 reps. Back extensions – 3 sets 10-20 reps.

Day three.
Deadlift – 3 sets done as 5/3/1.
Deadlift – 5 sets 10 reps. (This would be the death of little ol’ me and so, deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, would opt for Romanians here. Obviously you won’t have to as you are not 114 years old and your back is without problem or fault.)
Hanging leg raise – 5 sets billions of reps.
Extra accessories if you dare – Glute bridges – 3 sets 15 reps. Sit ups – 3 sets 10-20 reps (I know spinal flexion is supposed to be bad but after that many deadlifts I’d like to include some trunk work moving in the opposite direction to deadlifts.)

Day four.
Bench press – 3 sets done with your 5/3/1 weights and reps.
Bench press – 5 sets of 10 reps.
Dumbell rows – 5 sets 10 reps.
More, you don’t have to do these but you can, accessories – Dips – 3 sets 15 reps. Fat bar curls – 3 sets 10 reps. Some kind of anti-rotation exercise – 3 sets of 30-60 seconds.

On top of that do 2 days of hard but brief cardio and don’t forget to include proper warm ups for each day, making sure that your activation exercises compliment the the rest of the sessions lifts.

Triumvirate

This is basically the same format as Boring But Big but you swap out the second exercise for something that is different but similar to the main lift. So on Day one instead of this –

 Squats – 3 sets done as 5/3/1.
 Squats – done again but this time for 5 sets of 10.
 Leg curls 5 sets of 10.
 Plus a bit of extra accessory work for lagging body parts if you want/need.
 Example – Face pulls – 3 sets of 15. Curls – 3 sets of 10. Ab roll outs – 3 sets infinity.

You would do this –

 Squats – 3 sets done as 5/3/1.
 Front squats – 5 sets of 10 reps.
 Leg curls 5 sets of 10.
 Plus a bit of extra accessory work for lagging body parts if you want/need.
 Example – Face pulls – 3 sets of 15. Curls – 3 sets of 10. Ab roll outs – 3 sets infinity.

Or something along those lines.

5/3/1 Bodyweight

I really like the sound of this one and might try to talk Rhod into giving it a whirl for at least one cycle.
It’s as simple as it sounds. Do your 5/3/1 movements spilt over 3 or 4 days and then the rest of your workout only uses bodyweight style exercise (pull ups, dips, pistol squats, press ups etc). Do at least 2 bodyweight exercises each session and perform at least 75 reps on each one. Feel free to add resistance if you wish.

5/3/1 Full Body

This is what we are doing at the moment and have been for ages now. It’s a brilliant way to train and I’m going to need an excellent reason not to continue on this program. It is, as I’m sure you have already guessed, where you train the full body each workout. Every session starts with a squat and then you do a push and a pull as well. This is our current plan.

Monday –
Squat – 3 sets 10 reps using the safety squat bar.
Bench press – 3 sets of 10 reps.
Deadlift – 5/3/1 sets and reps.
Pull ups, dips and press ups – 3 circuits.

Tuesday –
Cardio

Wednesday –
Front squat – 3 sets 10 reps.
Bench press – 5/3/1 sets and reps.
Romanians – 3 sets 15 reps.
Pull ups, dips and press ups – 3 circuits.

Thursday –
Cardio.

Friday –
Squat – 5/3/1 sets and reps.
Overhead press – 5/3/1 sets and reps.
Dumbell rows – 3 sets 15 reps.
Pull ups, dips and press ups – 3 circuits.

These are just a few of the widely followed 5/3/1 programs out there but what makes 5/3/1 so fantastic is it’s adaptability. You could keep the core four exercises in place but bolt almost anything else on to the end of it to make up your own routine. Bodybuilding, Powerlifting and even Crossfit could easily be retro-fitted with a 5/3/1 template. Give it a go. Who knows, you might even get the results that you’re not getting with your current workout.

Thanks for reading,
Dave Carter.

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