“Once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”
– Marlene Dietrich
TMuscle.com recently posted an interesting article by former big-time power lifter and current strength and conditioning coach (and Elite Fitness staff member) Jim Wendler, discussing Jim’s 5/3/1 routine for strength. There’s a great amount of, no-nonsense, straight-forward information here.
What’s refreshing about this piece is (1) the program’s simplicity and (2) Jim’s honesty. I mean, really, getting big, strong and powerful is not rocket science, much as some of the hucksters out there would have you believe. Intense effort, proper diet, adequate recovery — really, the rest is mere commentary, hair splitting, as it were; the stuff of interesting conversation, but really, nothing more than that. Of course the further one progresses, or if an athlete needs to pin-point training, well, that’s a different story and a more nuanced approach is definitely called for. But for the vast majority — myself included, at this stage in my life — the iron game can be simplified to this: short-duration, intermittent, hard-assed work; eat properly, get plenty of rest (nightly, and between workouts), repeat. Now I’ve just let you in on the secret to muscle gain and fat loss — a secret that holds true for 99% of the population. Now, if you want to compete athletically, we’ll need to talk a bit more. Otherwise, you can use the Dalai Lama’s approach to religion — pick a pony (religion) saddle it up, and ride the thing — and apply that theory in the weight room. As long as you’ve got some intense TUL (time under load) goin’ on, hell, you’re way ahead of the crowd. Couple that with a good diet and sensible recovery and you’re light years ahead.
Anyway, back to Jim’s program. What he’s served up here is a basic, nuts-and-bolts strength (or, if you work it right, power) template — a version of which I’ve used many times in the past — and, in fact, one that I’m currently following (interspersed with versions of my favorite — 25 for a Bigger Engine). Jim has tweeked the lift percentages a bit here in this particular program (which forces a sensible weight selection), but the guts program remain founded in ages-old, proven methods. Jim prescribes hitting the core lifts (always multi-joint, complex movements) hard and progressively over a three or four week period. Take a deload week so as to give your body a chance to recoup. If the three-week “ramp-up”, one week “idle” methodology seems all-pervasive within the strength and conditioning community, there’s a simple reason — it’s been proven empirically to work. This is where the science “rubber” meets the real world “road”. It may be physiological or psychological or some combination thereof, but it seems as though one can push hard for about 3 weeks before the wheels begin to come off. Now, you can either be smart and anticipate this happening and program some “deload time” in your macrocycle planning, or you can keep pushing and suffer some form of injury-induced set-back; one way or the other, though, you will be taking that deload week.
One thing Jim really didn’t cover in the article was rep speed or tempo. The nice thing about this program, or the 25 Reps program for that matter, is that you can really snap-off the early, lighter sets and emphasize the power aspect, then, in the final reps of the final set, use a slower, consistent tempo and go on to failure — even some negative failure or forced reps, if you like. And a quick word about failure: pick your exercises wisely. I’m good with going to failure on complex movements where momentum is not a key factor (and the skill/technique component is low). Squats? Yeah, go to failure. Jump squats? No. Military press? Sure, knock yourself out. Push press or push jerk? Nope, simply not effective.
Anyway, if you’re looking for some structure in your next strength block, you can do a hell of a lot worse than to follow Jim’s 5/3/1 program, as he has, in my opinion, put together a good, solid and sensible program here. And a quick word about tweeking the prescribed (or any prescribed) program: I agree with Jim that you can’t manipulate what he’s laid-out here, and then bitch about the 5/3/1 not working for you. On the other hand, I don’t ever follow a prescribed program to the letter; I’ve to too many variables to juggle in my life and I have a narrowly defined and very clear set of goals I aim to achieve. Couple that with the fact that I’ve been in the game for 30+ years, and so I have base knowledge to allow a sifting-through of a program for the gems that I want. You gotta know the rules to know when to effectively break ’em, right?
Here’s a recent example of my utilization of Jim’s 5/3/1 routine. This is week one, and the compound exercise of choice is reverse-grip pull-ups (or chin-ups, for you purists out there). This picks up, of course, subsequent to a thorough warm-up.
Reverse Grip Pull-Ups
Set 1: 60# x 5 reps
Set 2: 67.5# x 5 reps
Set 3: 72.5# x 7 reps, failed midway through the 8th.
Lots of pop on the reps of the first two sets — more along the lines of classic power reps. The reps of the last set, especially as I made my way toward failure, were ground-out — classic, heavy, “strength” reps. I took about 2 minutes rest between sets. Then:
Bodyweight dips, 5 sets of 15 reps. About 1 minute rest between sets with the last few reps of the last two sets done in rest-pause fashion.
Bodyweight GHR, 5 sets of 10. 1 minute between sets. A lot tougher than it sounds.
Now, my next time in the gym, I may hit a 5/3/1 routine with front squats as the primary exercise, or I my opt for a 25 FBE routine; it all depends on how I feel and what kind of time I have. But for this particular primary exercise, though (the reverse grip pull-up), I’ll follow the 5/3/1 schedule (3 weeks ramping, 1 deload week) on through.
This was a fantastic workout. Nothing fancy — but then again, it doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.