My New Program: 5/3/1


As of this week I am revamping my training program. It’s time for a change, and I’ve been hinting or mentioning that in post after post lately. I have four desires for the new program: (a) It should support a higher level of conditioning. (b) It should provide a routine that can allow me to make consistent and measurable gains in strength over a longer training horizon. (c) It should provide a greater variety of movements, supporting general physical preparedness and hardiness. (d) The workouts should be doable in an hour or less.

The program philosophy that best meets these desires is 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler. This is a famous and widely recognized program that has been used, successfully, to support strength and conditioning, by many athletes.

At its heart, 5/3/1 is an intermediate powerlifting program, designed to help intermediate or even advanced powerlifters simplify and focus their training. It uses sub-maximal weights and higher volume, but promises to keep a lifter in a position to enter competitions and still lift heavy. It cycles intensity in a logical mathematical progression, building in a natural curve of increasing intensity followed by periods of deloading, to assist in recovery and longevity in the program. Yet it is also designed to let powerlifters bring some balance to their programming, including conditioning and “bodybuilding” auxiliary work for symmetry and muscular development.

I’m not a true intermediate, in terms of my strength. At best I’m advanced novice. But at nearly 44 years old, having spent most of my adult life as a slow-distance runner and a skinny-fat academic with a dysregulated diet, I perhaps present a special case for programming. I do think that 5/3/1 is the way to go. It is probably the way to go for most lifters who may not be advanced, but who have advanced past their 30’s and that life-stage where they have a peak capacity for muscle building, recovery, and athletic attainment. In other words, 5/3/1 promises not only to be a young man’s intermediate/advanced program, but an older, experienced lifter’s program too.

In my case I have three days a week to train. That is it. My schedule isn’t ever going back to five days a week, like it was when I got “really into CrossFit.” In other words: I’ve tried “training more” as a path to greater fitness and, it just burns me out. So now what? Well, I’m stronger now than when I left CrossFit (in the spring of 2011), because I’ve been training the basic powerlifting lifts consistently for 18 months. But at this point I’ve played out the various other approaches I’ve tried and I need something that I can follow, adhere to, and make progress with, at least over the next 12 months. Up until now I feel like I’ve tapped out several programs: I did what I could with a simple 3 x 5 starting strength regimen. I’ve tried self-designed “intuitive” beginner linear progressions. I’ve tried maxing out all the time (a “Bulgarian” approach) for about 15 weeks… and in truth I didn’t respond all that well to it. You’ve seen the charts on this, most recent experiment. I got stronger but once I’d stalled out, it was like banging my head against a brick wall. In every case, these non-periodized, high volume, do the basics all the time approaches tend to lead to me injuring myself in some way, getting sick, burned out, bored, whatever; bottom line is, they have stalled out for me.

I have hope for 5/3/1 and, at least during the next year, until my 45th birthday in January, 2014, this is my new program. We’ll compare where I was in Jan. 2012 with Jan 2013 with Jan 2014 at that time.

Let me know what you think...