On Life and Love

A Month of 5/3/1

Back in December, I ran across and fell in love with the idea of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. After my weights arrived, I wasted no time crafting up a plan spreadsheet and getting rolling.

Again, wow.

As a refresher, the program focuses on four main lifts–military press, deadlift, bench press, and squat–one per day. Add assistance exercises around those to complete the workout.

Core Lifts

I’ve had to make some interesting adaptations over the month. I have no bench and no squat rack, so those are the two exercises I’ve had to be the most careful with. I hunted for a way to avoid learning how to do a power clean in order to do the squat, but I haven’t found a good way around it. And really, it’s not that bad (scary picture aside), although I still worry when the weights come off my chest a bit in the process of doing a front squat. I think my elbows aren’t high enough, resulting in a lower and less stable bar.

I tried the hack squat as an alternative, but it turns out my body really isn’t structured for that. The best I could manage was a sumo (wide-stance) squat that was awkward, wobbly, and very bad for my shoulder’s bone spur. A combination of short arms and wide hips made it impossible to get the bar up and down without scraping every bit of skin off the back of my ankles, bowing my back terribly, and rolling forward and down my shoulders. Screw that. I’ll take my chances with the clean + front squat, thanks.

The barbell, set up for bench press.
My bench press 'setup'.
For bench press, I’m doing a floor version. The good thing is, it’s very nice on my shoulder, because I don’t bring the bar down to my chest, where the stress on my shoulder would be worst. On the downside, that lower half of the range of motion is where I’m weakest and could use the most work. I’ll be adding in push-ups as an assistance exercise in my upcoming cycle to address that.

The military press (an overhead movement), hasn’t bothered my shoulder much at all. I still need to ice my shoulder after any of these workouts, and the military press doesn’t make that any worse, unless I’ve already had a rough shoulder day.

The deadlift has been perfect as-is, and has helped me learn better form for lifting things, particularly in keeping my hips low and driving up through the heels.

Assistance Exercises

I’m definitely trying to keep these to about 2-3 per major lift. I still get quite sore, so I’m not killing it too hard on the assistance work. Here’s some of my assistance regimen:

I’m aiming for balance here, but there’s an important exercises that I’m missing: a “pull” back exercise, like chin-ups/pull-ups. That’s a hefty portion of my back that isn’t really getting worked, but I have no chin-up bar (yet), and no table suitable to use to work from the floor. We got gift money for Amazon for Chrimmus, so I may get a bar.

I started my second month yesterday, and the only things I’m shifting around are to put the tricep work with military press (to keep that day all upper-upper body), and add a few little sets of pushups to the bench day.


Blah, blah, exercise lists! So how’s it really going, right?

Excellent. Superb. Amazing. I recommend it to anyone who wants to be better at picking up and putting down heavy things.

Not only is it fun, but I’m getting significantly stronger, most noticeably in body weight stuff like the self-assisted ham raise, but also in my core strength and posture, my chest/shoulder/arm endurance, and my running power. The degree of change in my lower-body strength is slightly less, but I’m limited in my ability to squat by how much I can safely clean (get off the floor) and keep up on my chest. Being a quad-heavy person, though, the deadlifts and good mornings (OMG again!) have done wonders in balancing my leg strength.

Do I sound like I’m raving? I feel like I am. Eep.

Maybe just stark raving mad.

This month, the max on the upper body lifts go up by 5 lb, and the max on the lower body lifts go up by 10 lb. We’ll see how it goes.