Figuring out my 5/3/1 system

Franco Columbu

Franco Columbu (courtesy Wikipedia)

I’ve done my first six workouts using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 as a guide and it’s beginning to make sense. The basic framework is workouts built around four lifts: squat, deadlift, shoulder press and bench press with a different exercise as the main focus of each workout. The framework includes doing 3 sets of 5 reps of that exercise plus a PR set each workout in stage 1. Stage 2 is 3 sets of 3 reps plus the PR set. The workouts also include a warm up and assistance exercises. According to the author, one should be able to be in and out of the weight room in 30 to 35 minutes.  The workout can be structured for 2, 3 or 4 days per week. The basic set is followed by one PR set where you go for as many reps as you can. Following this are assistance exercises. I’ve been adding three different exercises for three sets but I suspect that I should be doing about 5 of these exercises. Also this plan calls for maintaining some level of aerobic fitness outside of the weight room. Both the New Rules of Lifting for Women and the Female Body Breakthrough were more designed to use the resistance exercise as Interval Training and counseled against maintaining an aerobic regime in addition to the lifting.

I will need someone to spot my bench presses eventually which makes this less convenient for me as someone who typically works out alone or I will have to modify the routines to incorporate some other kind of chest workout. And while I like the freedom to do the assistance exercises I feel like doing in a particular workout I am also concerned that it may not force me outside of my comfort zone. In New Rules of Lifting there were some exercises I really didn’t like. Of course typically I don’t like an exercise because I don’t do it very well which is because I need to work harder at it. So my challenge with 5/3/1 will be choosing assistance exercises other than my favorites.

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Periodization

A Trabant 601 Limousine. Trabants were manufac...

A Trabant 601 Limousine. Trabants were manufactured in East Germany between 1957 and 1991, and exported throughout the Eastern Bloc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing the field of sports is good at is taking perfectly good English words and giving them new, obscure meanings.  When I started considering following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 strength training program I jumped on Wikipedia to see what “periodization” meant. It’s defined as: “the attempt to categorize Universal History or divide time into named blocks.” So in this context it means giving  names to time periods such as the “Late Middle Ages.” Thank goodness there was also definition on Wikipedia for “Sports Periodization” which is “an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period.”

This monograph by Frederick Claro tells us that periodized sports training was developed in the 1960’s by the Eastern bloc countries. “Periodization of training,” says Claro  “had much to do with the superiority of eastern athletes over their western counterparts for more than two and half decades and in numerous sport activities.” (sic) It sounds pretty good to me.

It seems to me that the workout programs I’ve been doing for the past couple of years—New Rules of Lifting for Women with workout by Alwyn Cosgrove and Female Body Breakthrough by Rachel Cosgrove—take this concept into consideration in their design but don’t trouble the reader with thinking about it very much. My 5/3/1 book arrived just two days ago and I have only scratched the surface.  I like the idea that pursuing the goal of getting stronger in the four major lifts and the work that it takes to do that will address the ancillary objectives I have for my health and appearance. It’s nice to have something simple, though of course not easy, to work on.