9 Years of 5/3/1

9 Years of 5/3/1
From Jim: This is from Craig O'Connell - it is a post he made on Facebook and does a tremendous job of detailing what he was learned from his training journey.

I talked about this a bit in the reply box yesterday for the deadlift. Just to reiterate my training life briefly. I started training 9 years ago. May 2, 2012 I was in Fort McMurray working in the oil sands. I had an exercise bar and 50lbs plates, an old smith machine that I drilled bolt holes in to hold said bar so I could squat out of the rack. The first time I squatted with weight on my back I was shaking like a leaf under 95lbs. Back then, I had all that piece meal workout gear and a copy of 5/3/1 2nd edition that I asked my mom to print out at work so I could take it to Alberta with me. I've trained for 9 years and only one of them did I have a coach. For the sake of brevity I wanted to write things down in sections, all things I’ve gleaned from training and reading 5/3/1 so far. But I wanted to preface by saying that I am and in no way shape or form think I am more intelligent than Jim and am trying to one up or bastardize an already solid program built on stalwart principles. It’s just things from the system that I found have paid dividends for me in life and training.

Too Light. Seriously.

I can't say it enough - it's completely subjective here. Based on my body, history of injury, time to train, job and life responsibilities - I put my Training Max real low. Lower is better for the reasons that Jim has written about and also from what I have experienced.
  • You don’t get crushed by weights routinely - you crush them.
  • It builds momentum
  • You don’t break down physically
  • You don’t obsess and fear numbers - you just explode through it.
  • You can do your work day come home smash a weight session and feel good. And if you want to feel some big weights or test yourself use the plus sets and jokers. Again, time and place.

In 5/3/1 Forever this is laid out perfectly and simple. To really get the most out of 531, in my opinion Forever, and the understanding of Anchors/Leaders is a prerequisite - get that book.

3/5/1 Programming

For lack of better words - this is the way. I train this way exclusively and have for years. For me it has always worked like gangbusters. I don't much care how to characterize it - a medium 3s, light 5’s, heavy 5/3/1 week. The intensity scheme just works for me and I enjoy pushing the 3’s and 531 week for Jokers or AMPRAPS/PR's and just get the work in on the 5’s week.

More Volume

For more volume in the 531 work what I choose to do is simply this. Do the set and reps programmed and then go back down. Example:

3x3 Week
70% x 3
80% x 3
90% x 3+
80% x 3
70% x 3 or Widowmaker

Depending on where and what and why you are training - 90% for AMRAP or 70% for AMRAP again, its subjective for the why and what you are trying to accomplish.

Less Volume

Why less volume? You will be fresher for a big AMRAP set or Joker, that's the only rationale I have behind it. I don’t recommend it for everyone because in my experience most people should focus on volume for technique sake. But as an example it would look something like this:

3x3 Week
  • 70% x 1
  • 80% x 1
  • 90% x 1
  • 100-120% x 1-3 joker set
  • 90% x 3
  • 80% x 3
  • 70% x 3
So this is really putting the emphasis on a big lift or big set, and you can always get the volume by doing back off sets and albeit they will be and feel lighter because you smacked a big set previously. Good way to train if you got the time and place sorted out - but again comes with a risk.

Best Templates

There is NO shortage of templates. And where many people fall short, and I have in the past as well, is to program as much as possible, at once.

Press - Leviathan
Bench - BBS
Deadlift - Krypteia
Squat - Beach Body Challenge

All while doing it under the guise of Frequency Project 2.0 but doing German Volume Training 10x10 for ALL assistance work and running hills 3x a week. Do you follow? Do not mix and match, you get nowhere fast and nothing but a backache. Pick a template and follow it to its entirety. Learn and observe what did and did not work - understand what went south and how to make it go north. Having said that it's no surprise that the crux of off season or just general training for myself, the go to is Boring But Big.

Boring But Big
  • 3/5/1 programming
  • Low Training Max
  • No AMRAP's/PR's or Jokers
  • 2-4 assistance or supplemental exercises for 50-100 reps.
Usually what I do is build up the volume over the 3 week cycle.
  • Week 1 - 3x10
  • Week 2 - 4x10
  • Week 3 - 5x10
Typically 5 sets of 10 reps on any big movement/exercise will smoke the shit out of me, that’s about the limit I’ll take it. But if I noticed no discernible difference between doing 3 sets or 5 sets - I’d stick with 3. Do the least you need to do to get stronger. Leave yourself room to grow if that makes sense.

Peaking? Strength Challenge Template

If there’s a meet I’m going to do, Beyond 5/3/1 has the Strength Template which I’ve used exclusively for the last 4 meets and I’ve never not improved. Again, no alterations to the the template aside from exercise selection on the the little stuff - I’ve always kept the big rocks in the template because they work.

My Favorite Assistance/Supplemental Exercises

Good Mornings - I like performing GM's in the BBB rep range. 135-225 is the weight that I’ve used. Squat Stance, narrow stance, paused at the bottom, Regular or SSB. I just love them because they definitely help the Squat and Dead.

Pause Squat - For the better of a year now, I’ve used the SSB exclusively because I only have so many mid-lowbar straight bar squats before my elbows feel destroyed, which in turn sucks the shit out of upper body work. SSB pause squats are crushing, literally feel like I’ll blow my head off in the hole. I use this for FSL and I PAUSE it.

Feet up Pause Bench/Spoto/DB Bench - With the feet up you really have to brace hard, I like that. Spoto is just short of touching the chest - also anytime I can go deep into a set of 100+ DB bench my ACTUAL bench has gone up.

Kroc Row - Amazing and a necessity for myself in my training. Still doing one ALL out set with at least 100lbs looking for 30+ reps no straps. For the grip and back.

Dips - Weighted or unweighted. Again when the dips are going up in volume and ease with little aggravation in the shoulder or elbow - so does the bench, I do these every upper body day on a dip station I bought off of Amazon for $70.

T-Bar Row - This has been something I’ve been doing for the last year, and it’s really helped my mid back stay strong and tight at the reversal of squatting and off the floor with deadlifting.

45 Back Extension - Another Amazon purchase, 3 sets of 10 everyday. Training or not. Glutes/Hams/Low back.

Reverse Lunges - This is one of the few lower body exercises that I can do for a lot of volume that don’t aggravate my knees for days on end. Nothing wild 30-50 reps each lower body sessions. Sometimes weighted, sometimes not.

Weighted Vest Walk - 3-5x a week, 10 minute walks with a 65lb weighted vest is currently my go to for conditioning, along side multiple 10 minute walks and also doing my work day. I have a drag sled on its way in a few days, I plan to hammer the shit out of it to bring up the training volume for my legs.


For the longest time now I could surmise my approach to diet as:
  • Meat
  • Rice
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Protein Powder
  • Junk Food
In the past I might of shot for macros and the myfitness pal, but for the most part I just eyeball it and adjust accordingly based on goals, funds, taste, appetite. I’m neither jacked out of my mind or have a physique akin to a melted candle. I want to be strong and look strong so in that case I keep the goal the goal, and make adjustments. No fads or trendy bullshit.

Recovery, nothing worthy of note. Basic stretching, mobilize what I need too, ice and Advil when necessary. I sleep like a baby once I get my nightly back medicine consisting of at least 40mg edible.

I didn’t want to drag this out, it’s not all that I had to say but again - so much of everything you want to know and arguably NEED to know is in every book and I’d definitely implore you to buy the ones you do not own and to RE-READ the ones you already have in your possession, After a good amount of time, experience, some powerlifting meets and possibly some blood - sit down and write what you know, so that others could possibly benefit from it and in turn you’ll know what you don’t know - and where you need to go, what you need to do to find out.

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