The 5/3/1 Philosophy
The 5/3/1 philosophy is more important than the sets and reps. Whenever I feel like I’m getting sidetracked or want to try something different, I revisit these rules to make sure I’m doing things the right way. Even if you decide this program isn’t for you, these basic tenets have stood the test of time. Take these things to heart, and you’ll be greatly rewarded.
Emphasize Big, Multi-Joint Movements
This really isn’t any secret. Beginners have been told to do this for years, and advanced lifters swear by these movements. Multi-joint lifts are lifts that involve more than one muscle – i.e., not an isolation exercise like leg extensions – and allow you to build the most muscle. These lifts are the most efficient for building muscle and strength. Examples are the squat, deadlift, bench press and power clean.
Start Too Light
My coaches emphasized this to me when I was in high school, but unfortunately, I didn’t listen. Hopefully you will. Starting too light allows for more time for you to progress forward. It’s easy for anyone – beginner or advanced – to want to get ahead of themselves. Your lifts will go up for a few months, but then they’ll stall – and stall, and stall some more. Lifters get frustrated and don’t understand that the way around this is to prolong the time it takes to get to the goal. You have to keep inching forward. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most lifters. They want to start heavy, and they want to start now. This is nothing more than ego, and nothing will destroy a lifter faster, or for longer, than ego.
This goes hand in hand with starting light. Slow progress might not get you the best rewards today, but it will tomorrow. The longer you can progress, even if it’s by one rep or 2.5 pounds, 9 the more it means that you’re actually making progress. People always scoff when I want their bench to go up by 20-25 pounds their first year. They want the program that will put 40 pounds on their bench in 8 weeks. When they say this, I ask them how much their bench went up in the last year, and they hang their heads in shame. I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want progress – even it’s just 5 pounds. It’s better than nothing. It’s progress. The game of lifting isn’t an 8-week pursuit. It doesn’t last as long as your latest program does. Rather, it’s a lifetime pursuit. If you understand this, then progressing slowly isn’t a big deal. In fact, this can be a huge weight lifted off your back. Now you can focus on getting those 5 extra pounds rather than 50. It’s always been one of my goals to standing press 300 pounds. In the summer of 2008, I did just that. When someone asked me what my next goal was, my response was simple: “305 pounds.” If you bench press 225 pounds and want to get 275, you have to bench 230 first.
Break Personal Records (PR’s)
This is where the fun of this – and any – program begins and ends. This program allows you to break a wide variety of rep records throughout the entire year. Most people live and die by their 1-rep max. To me, this is foolish and shortsighted. If your squat goes from 225x6 to 225x9, you’ve gotten stronger. If you keep setting and breaking rep records, you’ll get stronger. Don’t get stuck just trying to increase your one rep max. If you keep breaking your rep records, it’ll go up. There’s also a simple way of comparing rep maxes that I’ll explain later. Breaking personal records is a great motivator, and it’s also a great way to add some excitement into your training. When you do this, the sets and reps carry much more meaning. There’s something on the line. You’ll have greater focus and purpose in your training. You’ll no longer have to just do a set of 5 reps. You’ll focus on beating the number and beating the weight. All of the above concerns are addressed in this program. Even if you don’t follow this particular program, I believe these things should be emphasized no matter what you’re doing or why you’re training.
The 5/3/1 Program
This is a very easy program to work with. The following is a general outline of the training I suggest. I’ll go into detail on each point in the chapters to follow.
This pattern of assistance work is inspired by an article Dave Tate wrote called The Periodization Bible, Part I. This is the piece that launched a thousand box squats, speed benches and good mornings, but very few deadlifts. That was a joke.
You can change exercises however you see fit. This won’t make or break your program. You need to do enough assistance work to keep you balanced, strong and big – but not enough of it to break your performance on the big lifts. There are no real disadvantages to this kind of assistance work.