A year of 5/3/1
I can’t believe I’ve been using Jim Wendler‘s 5/3/1 program for a little over a year now. In fact, I’m kinda surprised that I’ve been keeping a regular and dedicated schedule at the gym for about a year and a half. I guess getting older does that to you.
So let’s see here.
I’m presently finishing up cycle 13 of 5/3/1. My cycles have been varied over the past year. Some use of Boring But Big, Triumvirate, tweaking things to my own needs, aborted attempt at the BBB 3-month Challenge, going to 2x week. Lots of changes, but the core of course remains the same. I’m presently doing the BBB template but spread into the 2-days-per-week setup (1 cycle spread over 6 weeks, no deload). I must admit, of all the flavors and styles, I like BBB the best. It’s just so simple and straightforward. I like the work, I like the volume, I like the no-bullshit approach. I cannot deny it works because I see the progress in terms of my strength gains and modest mass gains.
I will say, my mass gains aren’t what I wanted. But I can guess at a few reasons there. First, most of my work is on 5 reps or less, which is considered more for strength and less for mass. Second, I’m not age 16-25 and just don’t have that sort of physiology any more. Third, my diet has been the toughest thing to get straight and finally I might be getting there. The past couple weeks with this dietary change — that I’m actually sticking with — is making me wonder a few things and if I’ve just not been feeding myself best all along. Oh sure, I did the 1 – 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight, but if everything else wasn’t in line, how much was I not fully contributing to growth? But we shall see. Regardless tho, strength is what I care about more than mass gains. But hey, we all want to look good… especially as we get older and more things want to sag and wrinkle.
Let’s see… numbers. Looking at my spreadsheet….
Press — 110# (wm), 8×105
Deadlift — 265# (wm), 5×255
Bench Press — 180# (wm), 10×175
Squat — 220# (wm), 5×210
The first number is the “working max” that you calculate out in the program’s formula. The second is the last set of the “5/3/1″ work set from that cycle (reps x weight), so my “max” for that cycle.
I haven’t finished cycle 13 yet, but cycle 12 put me closer to an actual “1 year of 5/3/1″, so let’s look at those numbers
Press — 155# (wm), 5×150
Deadlift — 345# (wm), 7×330
Bench Press — 225# (wm), 6×215
Squat — 280# (wm), 3×270
So what do I think?
First, I will accept that there is progress. It’s not beginner “leaps and bounds” progress, but it’s progress. For simple math, let’s look at the working maxes. Press went up 45#, deadlift 80#, bench 35#, squat 60#. That’s respectable. Is it quite what I wanted? No… but I think I’m being unrealistic too; I mean, no more “Starting Strength” level gains are going to happen at this point. But also think about this: if you get about 12 cycles per year and go up 5# per cycle on press and bench and 10# per cycle on deadlift and squat, then really, I did alright for 1 year. I have to remember I had some time off, some resets, some lack of focus, and some other things. I mean, squat didn’t go up a lot, but that had the most resetting and work. I think in the end I’m far better off because my technique has improved. Plus, I have to consider my goals.
Second, goal meeting. What WAS my goal of the past year? I may have recorded it somewhere, but I can’t recall setting any true hard goal. I think my main fuzzy goal has been to just maintain or improve my health. The fact I am a gym regular is good. I do feel better overall than I have in the past some years. In fact, get this: just a few days ago I donated blood (I strive for regular donations). There’s a minor bit of health feedback I get from it: blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, hematocrit, and cholesterol. My hematocrit is up slightly, blood pressure still very good, temperature normal, pulse up slightly (trend over time), but the best part is my cholesterol is the lowest it’s ever been since I started tracking it. None of these things have ever been into an unhealthy range by any stretch, but still to go down in cholesterol is awesome — means I’m even further from the danger zones. I do think dropping some of this fat will only help further. So hey… goal met.
I don’t think I really had a strength goal, other than “get stronger”. I do think I have a general goal that I’d like to join the 1000# club. I’m not too far away from that. I probably could test 1RM’s and join the club, but I don’t care about that. My way of joining the club is just doing my normal workout and when my actual lifted weights on “week 3″ allow me to total 1000# on squat, bench, and deadlift, then I’ll have joined. No funny math, no trying to get into the club for the ego boost so I struggle and do stupid tricks just to eek out a total. That’s bullshit. I will bide my time. I will get there. And I figure, after this the next long-term goal might be “plates”. That is, 2 plates for press (225#), 3 plates for bench (315#), 4 plates for squat (405#), 5 plates for deadlift (495#). That’ll take a few more years.
So with all that… what are my goals for the next year?
I think the #1 goal at this point is some body recompositioning. I want to drop the flab. Thing is, I can’t quantify what that level will be. I can’t say X lbs. and I’m there. But the way I can put it is I want my stomach to be flat. No muffin-top, no gut. If I stand up straight with my shirt tucked into my pants, you just see flat, no belly bulge. That if I want to try appendix IWB carry for a gun, I can without my gut pushing the grip out and thus the muzzle into my groin. That’s the goal. Note that I don’t care to have “6 pack abs”. I don’t need to have some vascular roadmap of my veins. I just want to get rid of the excess flab.
If I can join the 1000# club in the next year? That would be awesome. On paper it’s certainly do-able. However, the #1 goal is the fat shedding and that could mean strength work plateaus or even regresses. If I fail to join the 1000# club but succeed in my #1 goal? I’m OK with that.
So onward I go. I do think for the foreseeable future I won’t change the workout itself very much. Just stick with Wendler. I admit I haven’t gone back out to run the tire, because my ankle is just killing me too much. *sigh* But I have a secret hope that if I drop 20#, that might help the ankle and I can get outside. The weather is teasing cooling off as well, so it’ll be nicer to work outside. But otherwise, just keep on the path.