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Davis 06-15-2013 11:50 AM

531 and Volume
This is just a quick post about my thoughts regarding 531 and the lack of volume on the main lifts.

I did 531 from September of 2011 to around April of 2012. I made some pretty good progress on every lift EXCEPT for the bench press. Part of that was technique related. However, I've noticed a few things for each of the main 4 lifts since I have started lifting again. I didn't really follow a set a program. I really like the 4 days a week plan, so I have kept that ever since September of 2011 while occasionally adding in power clean days for a few weeks if I feel like it. Whatever, for a teenage kid, at least myself(I guess I'm 20 now, but I digress) the volume was simply not enough when it came to the main lifts. MAYBE with the Boring But Big template, but I never tried that. I did the trimuviate template. In that time, I added around 60 lbs to my squat and around 70-80 to my deadlift if I remember correctly. I also added about 20-30 lbs to my military press and a whopping 10 lbs to my bench press. We're talking 10 lbs in a 7 month period.

What about in the last few months? I've added around 30 to my bench from my old max(Set in earlier 2012) since March. I'm not any heavier than I was. I've also added 20-25 lbs on my squat, about 5-10 on my military press and a good 50 lbs on my deadlift since I was at my heaviest weight of 210 lbs in August of 2012. I'm now 203 lbs and having been lifting hard and consistently again since March. I didn't really lift from August of 2012 until February of 2013. I tried a few times, but I was too embarrassed working with such small weights again. (Trust me, struggling to do 3x5 with 185 on the squat is much more embarrassing the second time around)

What have I done differently? I simply added more volume around the heavier weights. More reps and more sets. I really like 531, but I don't think it is that great for a young adult male. I've got a decent bit of hormones going I'm sure, I can recover pretty well, and keeping the volume pretty low on my main lifts only proved to have held me back. Especially for the bench press. Of course, we're all different, but I would say that for many young guys out there too, a higher volume would be better. Now, if you're benching in the 300's or higher for reps regularly, the reduced volume is probably good, but come on...200 lbs on the bench press isn't heavy(even if it feels heavy) unless you weight 100 lbs.

There's not a lot to this post other than just expression of thoughts. Can we get a discussion going on this? Feel free to argue. Maybe I did 531 wrong.

linedriver465 06-15-2013 02:47 PM

Great write-up Davis.

I too noticed great progression on deadlift and squat with 5/3/1, decent progression w/ push press, and bench really didn't move much

Many people point out that bench may require more work in the 80+% range, which 5/3/1 admittingly doesn't have a lot of. Some folks try 3/5/1 for powerlifting which includes a few more heavy singles, but I think the beauty of 5/3/1 allows for flexbility if that's what your after. As long as you progress on the main lifts, you can add as much volume/additional exercises on the remaining exercises.

At least, that's my $0.02

SecondsOut 06-15-2013 03:11 PM

nice review. looking back on it, maybe that's part of why Starting Strength worked so well for me: there's a balance of lower and upper body work.
i've been there before with having to reset my squat, plenty of times. i know it's a big blow to the ego.
i'm naturally skinny, and i've found that i need constant upper body work to make any progress. plenty of programs give you a 2:1 ratio of lower body to upper body sessions, but i need 2:2. sounds like you and i are in the same boat.

GT55 06-15-2013 03:11 PM

Hi Davis,
What were your assistance lifts? I'm doing 531 for the big 4, but benching twice a week, with a rep goal on the second day. In other words, heavy squat day is volume bench day and visa versa.

WilldBill88 06-15-2013 04:33 PM

My bench and OH Press are more of a weaker area compared to my lower body lifts. The first 6 months I followed a 5x5 program My lower body lifts went up pretty quick compared to my upper body. Though the last 6-7 months following 5/3/1 my progression is similar.

I think some lifts just take time and more of a natural process. Also what a few members around here pointed out to me... when you squat/dead there are more muscles involved and bigger muscles involved compared to your shoulders/arms..

On the positive side, you are atleast progressing, may not be as much as you'd like but progress is progress.

Davis 06-16-2013 12:09 AM

@GT, I did dumb bell bench presses, pull ups(in between bench sets) and dumbbell rows. That's the same I do now(I also do some OH DB presses except on a rare occasion where I am too exhausted to keep going). I am benching twice a week now too. (After mil. presses) I'm sure that has some benefit to it as well.

@WildBill, yeah, in terms of numbers, they do take longer to get up. However, adding no more than 15 pounds to your bench press over the course of seven months is ridiculous unless you are benching ridiculous weights. I even gained a good bit of weight in that time. I was doing one heavy set a week, and that is no where near enough. Steve Pulcinella would agree. Proof:

schultzestrength 06-17-2013 02:11 AM

I think. 5/3/1 is a decent beginner program. I do however feel that it should only be used for 3-4 cycles. I feel after that you end up spinning your wheels. So either another program needs to be run or change the main lifts of 5/3/1 for the next few cycles. I just don't feel you can run it for a long time without some sort of change.

As far as volume goes, it lacks severely in my mind. I have become a big user of volume on all of my training, for all lifts.

somedude 07-06-2013 10:31 PM

When I first started 5/3/1 I did a BBB variation that had me benching/pressing twice a week and both my bench and press started to rise again.

Basically, instead of the standard BBB sets things were alternated:

Squat 5/3/1
Deadlift 5x10

Bench 5/3/1
Press 5x10


After a couple cycles of that I figured I'd switch templates and do a couple cycles of the Simplest Strength template and everything fell flat.

The two things I've noticed over my experience with 5/3/1 is a degradation in my max effort performance, which I attribute to only going 90%+ for 4 reps each month, and that without the BBB sets I don't seem to get enough volume for me to progress. I was prepared to stay the course however, figuring that a program needed to be gauged based on multi-year performance and that short term setbacks were par for the course.

I'm guessing that Wendler experienced the same problems we did since he offers answers in his new book, Beyond 5/3/1. Basically, follow the main work sets with heavy 5's, triples or singles up to 100% of my training max (or more if I want to), and follow those with back off sets that double/triple the volume of the stock program (at higher intensity/lower reps than BBB).

I won't know how things will play out until a couple cycles have passed, but so far things are looking up. I'm currently doing the Off-Season for Mass template out of 3/5/1 and merging new ideas out of Beyond 5/3/1. Hopefully it pays off.

Dray 07-07-2013 01:27 AM

I'm almost certain that the volume *and* the frequency in 5/3/1 are not sufficient for me (yeah, I did try it).

It could also just be a preference. But some lifts, I really feel that they need the constant practice, and pushing: namely, squat and bench.

To each his or her own, in the end. Plenty of routines and approaches to choose from out there - 5/3/1 is merely one of many.

MikeM 07-07-2013 02:49 AM

I would recommend 5-3-1 in the sense that it makes you see where you are strong and where you are weak. I blasted squats and bench on this template, but suffered on deadlifts.

What I came to realize is that massive volume on bench and squats were good for me, but also to stop babying my deadlifts and do them 2-3 times a week was bettter too.

Everyone is different, find your wheelhouse and rip it.

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