Long Rambling Screed About 5/3/1
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Author:  KenDowns [ Mon Nov 24, 2014 9:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Long Rambling Screed About 5/3/1

OK, I'm not really going to "hate on" 5/3/1 (as the kids say these days), but after three years with it I can honestly say it never did anything for me. So maybe we just aren't right for each other, or maybe I did it too soon.

The short version is that every gain I made was when I was not doing 5/3/1. This includes two major "life events", separating from my wife and then having my son move in with me.

Deadlift: Started with a trainer after only 3 months of 5/3/1 and he spent a lot of time on my deadlift. Every week we did a variation, deficits, sumo, trap bar, etc. Never more than a triple, no 5/3/1. I went from 319 to 455 in less than a year, and after that we spent less training time on it because, as he said, "Just show up and your dead goes up." The only gain I've made since is after about 6 weeks of speed work, when it went up another 10.

So now would I go to 5/3/1 for dead? Why? My trainer's sorta-kinda Westside approach worked and so why not do that and get serious about speed?

So much for deadlift.

Squat: The trainer again helped a lot on technique, but my problems were fear and judging depth. The fear I overcame by replacing 5/3/1 with ramped sets of small jumps, just to get used to a gradually heavier weight and build confidence. The depth I got over with the box, doing lots of volume until I could feel where parallel was. With those two overcome I went from scared at 270 to reps over 300. Then what did I do? go back to 5/3/1! No gains since.

Lot's of rep PR's though, and that's what I think "fooled" me with 5/3/1. I've got a page of rep PR's for squat but the only gain I made in the past 20 months was when I again abandoned it and did volume. Once I got to 335, what did I do? Go back to 5/3/1! Why? Ramped sets of 3-5 has always worked for me.

So much for squat.

Press: I don't want to talk about it. No progress in 3 years. On a good day maybe 140 and I once got 151 1/2. Here I actually do not blame 5/3/1. I think the answer is what I heard somewhere, "If you want to press a lot you have to press a lot." I realize now I was chasing those Rep PR's and mistaking a Rep PR for real progress in perfecting setup and technique. Not to mention good old volume and speed work.

So let's not blame 5/3/1, but I can say it has distracting elements. After 3 years I can say I need to be trying something different, what I'm doing is not working at all.

Bench: Also no progress in 3 years. Worked on this the least with my trainer, but having just returned after a 4 month absence I realized I've been wasting time, again chasing rep PRs. My setup stinks, my grip width and bottom position do not produce the elastic energy I get in a squat, and so it is time to look at the setup and just do volume again - to get the practice doing solid reps - lots of them. For the past 3 weeks I've been working on a new grip width and am finally finding "the slot" to lower into to give the elastic energy. It seems the thing to do is 5x5, 4x6, stuff like that to seriously burn in that form with challenging weights that allow 25 reps or so in a workout.

So again I won't blame 5/3/1 but I will say it was way too soon.

So what has worked?

The best program I used was Stronglifts, but of course that's a beginner program. I knew I couldn't get any further with it, but what I did not know then was that my problem on all lifts was technique. The trainer took care of deadlift, then squat, and had begun to work on bench when I could no longer continue with him (long story and this post is long enough already).

So if the long absence has given me any clarity, it is a "back to basics" approach. 5/3/1 was too soon as I didn't have technique down and only now do I have a solid setup on dead and squat and am only now turning the corner on bench and press. If that is the case then it might be possible to "get better at benching by benching" and put the dumbbells down for a couple of months to see 5x5 (or 4x6 or 6x4 whatever) will do for awhile.

This screed is just about done. My conclusion is that, for me, a program of one top set (even with backoffs) that is not founded on solid form and a thorough knowledge of your own best setup and form is just not going to give you enough practice.

The final thought, as I said at the beginning, is that you can't really blame 5/3/1. Except that it is an advanced program, and Wendler himself says you should be lifting two years before doing it. Why would he say that when others say anybody can do it? My guess is that he wasn't talking about plateaus or numbers but maybe, just maybe, technique. Without a couple of years of solid practice, a single top set and dumbbells isn't going to get you anywhere.

That's it for the long rambling screed about 5/3/1.

Author:  Proper Knob [ Tue Nov 25, 2014 6:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Long Rambling Screed About 5/3/1

How many cycles of 5/3/1 did you run Ken?

Author:  KenDowns [ Tue Nov 25, 2014 10:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Long Rambling Screed About 5/3/1

Off the top of my head, at least 25, often 6 in a row.

One major gap was this past summer when I was out for 4 months. Another was late 2012 when my trainer wrote me a peaking program for 8 weeks before a competition.

Author:  KPj [ Wed Nov 26, 2014 12:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Long Rambling Screed About 5/3/1

It may not of been completely useless for your squat and deadlift. I'm not particularly for or against 5-3-1, as you've pointed out the best approach is generally individual. However, sometimes we need to step back from what we're doing now and consider what we've done recently before deciding what to do next.

It's quite typical to alternate from volume focused training to intensity focused training, and this happens across multiple different approaches. Many powerlifters call a volume phase "the off season". When a competition approaches they start tapering into the heavier stuff. Some schools of thought call this Accumulation (volume) or intensification (heavy stuff) and peaking would be realisation, although different people have slightly different definitions. All the complex names can be found when learning about block periodisation, but the point is most forms of periodisation will have some way of emphasising different variables over different time frames. With your change from 5-3-1 into a more westside approach, you've really followed a similar template. You've went from more of a volume focus, to more of an intensity focus.

The general consensus is that volume "builds" strength. The way I explain this is - reps build strength, singles display strength. When you start working with lower reps at a higher percentage of 1RM, you're fine tuning how to efficiently display the strength you currently have, rather than actually building more. Some refer to this as neural gains.

So what i'm proposing is that 5-3-1 one probably built the squat and deadlift strength, and the more westside approach taught you how to efficiently display it. Or the westside approach taught you how to "realise" the strength built previously.

In a way, you've done the right thing by accident. Now that you're aware of what has happened (which is only if you agree), think about how to optimise it. Maybe you focused on volume longer than you needed to.

5-3-1 will technically eventually get you into a more intensity focused phase as the weight increases and rep outs become less glorious, but it's not really the same as doing multiple singles, doubles or triples every week.

You mentioned needing volume for practice, too, and i think this is where multiple sets at the same-ish weight are superior to just one AMRAP set. With 5-3-1 you really only get one good set to practice with a weight that matters, and ideally you stop before it gets too messy but AMRAP sets tend to bring out the competitive spirit in us and caution tends to be thrown to the wind. So 5-3-1 isn't strictly volume focused just like it's not strictly intensity focused, it's a good middle of the road approach though. I think it's a great way to learn the value of the most simple, valuable yet under appreciated factors - progressive overload.

Also you mentioned technique issues. Straight sets with same weight, avoiding technique break down - which is more difficult to avoid with AMRAP sets - are generally optimal when there's blatant technique issues that need ironed out. Technique practice at least at some point needs to be specific, too, so if a bigger 1RM is the goal, then more practice with heavier low rep sets is needed, and probably shouldn't be abandoned for too long either.

Hope that helps :)

Author:  KenDowns [ Wed Nov 26, 2014 3:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Long Rambling Screed About 5/3/1

Yes this helps. Particularly:

KPj wrote:
So what i'm proposing is that 5-3-1 one probably built the squat and deadlift strength, and the more westside approach taught you how to efficiently display it. Or the westside approach taught you how to "realise" the strength built previously.

In a way, you've done the right thing by accident. Now that you're aware of what has happened (which is only if you agree), think about how to optimise it. Maybe you focused on volume longer than you needed to.

I think for Squat this may very well be true, I'd set the rep PR's until I was stalling, then switch to ramped and make a 1RM improvement.

For Bench and Press, this brings to mind something my trainer often said, "Heavier weights expose technique." What you are suggested would have worked if my technique were better. So the volume of 5x5, 4x6 etc. will hopefully improve technique to the point where I can display some strength.

Since I can't keep track of too many things at a time, for now its technique and speed work, using the Westside notion of Max Effort + Speed as the background to the effort.

The idea is this will provide what I need right now:

- Moderate volume at challenging weights to give lots of technique practice (upper body)
- Speed work as something that just needs to get worked into my DNA
- Frequent max efforts to "display" the technique gains

For the upper body moves on Westside I'm going to just alternate bench and press, no incline, decline or other moves. So there is a 1RM attempt on bench and press every 2 weeks. This is just to keep focused on the task at hand. Run it for as long as it works.

A max effort upper body once/week is probably more often than necessary, but I'm just going to do it as written. If I keep my ego in check and attempt 5 pounds more than 2 weeks ago on bench, keeping in mind it won't always happen, I think a couple of months of this ought to show something one way or another.

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