Podcast #9 – Meet Your Macros: Protein

We will be running a short series of casts to cover in a little more detail the three major macro-nutrients that you should be paying attention to. First up is protein. the building blocks of your body.

If you would like even more information on what helps build up your muscles, check out some of our other posts:

Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Protein

Leucine and Driving Muscle Protein Synthesis

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Things to Consider for When the Going Gets Stagnant

By: Nicholas Meisch

So you’ve decided to try to get into better shape. Better health comes in many shapes and sizes, with some people trying to lose weight, lose size, or gain muscle, or simply improve any number of their various statistics. Run faster, jump higher, squat more, squat more often? Sure! It could be bodybuilding, crossfit, marathons, ironmans, hiking or climbing, and honestly the sky seems like the limit whenever you initially find something you are passionate about, which is great at first. Over time things get more difficult, losing weight gets harder, getting stronger or faster occurs at infantismal rates, sometimes going months or even years without progressing. You begin to get frustrated. You change tactics time and time again, varying your sleeping patterns, nutritional intake, and programming style to little (if any) avail.

So, what do you do when you lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel? When you start feeling miserable and stop loving what you used to enjoy? You start resenting attempting to do even a fraction of the things you did before, despite the level of effort.

  • What do you do?
  • What can you control?
  • What CAN’T you control?
  • What can you change and improve on?

We’ll start with some of the more basic answers. Sometimes little things can make a huge difference so we look at what we can improve upon; off the top of our heads:

  • Are you eating enough?
  • Are you eating properly?
  • CAN you sleep more?
  • Is the sleep you are already getting GOOD sleep?
  • Is your body repairing itself properly?
  • Are you giving it a chance to do so?

Each piece can cover a variety of things and if you feel that something is going on, it’s never a bad idea to look into it. Don’t just check WebMD. See a doctor or hire a trainer to assess imbalances and things of a similar nature.

Diet:

The first option is seemingly the most obvious one. Are you getting enough calories, and are the calories you’re getting optimal for you to achieve your goals? If your goal is to get as strong as possible, avoiding carbohydrates or undereating are things you want to avoid. America seems to have a problem more-so than a lot of the rest of the world, specifically in the area of things that are low-fat, or no-fat, or reduced-fat, because of the misnomer that fat is bad for us. Guess what, water is bad for you if you have enough of it. Fats aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, acts as an energy source, and provides insulation for your body, so avoiding them as much as possible tends to not be a great idea. If simply losing weight is the goal, you need to assess where your intake levels should be at a relatively healthy level, and start from there. There is no black and white answer for most of these things and everyone will ultimately do what they think is the best option for themselves but it never hurts to have a second opinion to see how optimal or sub-optimal your plan is.

Programming:

It might just be time for a change of pace. If you excel at one specific thing but come up short somewhere else then you may need to shift focus to balance things out. You might also change programming tactics if you’ve sort of “outlasted” your current approach. 5×5 Stronglifts is a great example that often works fantastically for beginner to intermediate weight lifters looking to gain strength but eventually that person is going to need something more tailored to whatever their goals may be so they look into things like Cube Method, GZCL or Wendler’s 531 or perhaps they feel that they’re strong enough and they’d like to focus on something else, so they adopt a Dorian Yates style program while bumping their cardiovascular activities up with the time they save.

Sleep:

Sleep is a huge factor in allowing your body to recover and in the case of hard training, should often be used in conjunction with myofascial tissue therapies to ensure tissue longevity. Avoiding getting that bodily repair in can lead to connective tissue problems down the road, which young lifters might scoff at but for others that potential damage is right around the corner and will be hobby-ending when it comes into play. The best starting basis for getting the best sleep is typically done by checking off a checklist.

  • Is the room dark enough?
  • Will the curtains keep enough light OUT?
  • Are your electronics turned off, to the best of their ability?
  • Are there any other soft glows in the room?
  • Do you have the proper support, physically?
  • Is the room the proper temperature for you?

All these things seem like they might be fairly straightforward but admittedly a lot of people never seem to consider them. The presence of scoliosis or kyphosis, for example, mean that certain sleeping positions are specifically worse for people with the condition. Front-to-Back scoliosis, for example, has a tendency to mean that the individual should not sleep on their stomach. For side sleepers, a sturdy pillow is usually advised between the knees to prevent strain from being placed on the outer, upper hip. The same sort of scenarios apply for people trying to correct posture issues or get the best blood and air circulation throughout the night. Foam rolling, graston technique, and other voodoo flossing work to treat muscle and joint immobility and/or pain. The idea is to relax semi-permanently contracted muscles or bunched up and knotted tissues, and improve circulation. I strongly suggest that anyone with specific muscle or tissue issues look into it.

Next up come things that are not so easily identifiable, things like having specialized blood work done, getting a full metabolic panel, assessing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, or any hormonal or glandular issues that may be present. Lots of things sound like outright common sense when they are brought up but they have to be brought up to begin with. Do you tend to avoid milk? Do you rarely go outside? There’s a good chance that you’re deficient in Vitamin D. Are you having issues getting proper amounts of restful sleep and optimal nutrition? You might have low hormone production. Various issues in your vitamin, mineral, and hormone levels can stem from lots of things within the body. Low vitamins or minerals may be something lacking in a person’s diet or they may be issues with the body’s actual ability to produce or use the substance. The same goes for hormonal production, where the person in question might have alarmingly low testosterone levels from extreme lack of sleep, for instance. Poor diet, inactivity, sleeplessness, or adrenal problems can all contribute to these things.

Personal Experiences and Moving Forward: 

Next, let’s say you get all your ducks in a row. You’re sleeping better, you’ve got your nutrition on point, and your programming is optimized. A few weeks pass and you feel better, and then a month or two, and you stall out again. You ask yourself why you’re doing the things you’re doing, questioning their benefit to your improvement and to the achievement of your goals. I’ll use myself as an example, and offer up a minor introduction so we’re all on the same page. Hello! My name is Nich, and I started weightlifting and training before I could drive, close to 12 years ago. This, at the time, was before things like Crossfit and foam rolling were commonly mentioned. I’ve had shoulder and posture issues for years, and in Spring of 2009, a week before St. Paddy’s day, I tore an unknown number of connective tissues in my lower spine. Now let’s fast forward to June of 2015, when I FINALLY began graston/FuzionFT3 therapy in conjunction with hiring a trainer for mobility, another for imbalance correction, and learning to perform myofascial release on myself with various objects. The idea being that in roughly 5-8 years (32-35), most of the connective tissue in my body would be junk, my cartilage would be mutilated, and I very possibly might have to give up weight lifting if those issues came to fruition. Every injury I’d ever had had never been properly recovered. Shoulder issues, back issues, hip and knee issues, and the lot. Every time I’d accidentally fuck something up, I’d do my best to find a work-around and keep training, which would cause problems and imbalances of which I was not aware and the next injury would compound those things with the new issues and so on until I reached a point where I was told that I have only slightly better neuromuscular connections in my body than someone who is paralyzed.

The therapy began, tissues got forcibly re-lengthened out and then made to stay and then worked on. One day at a time for roughly 40-60 minutes a day outside my actual training I am attempting to repair my body. The changes were quick, and in some cases drastic. I lost the ability to perform compound movements for a few months because my muscles wouldn’t communicate during the lift. Over 3 months in and deadlifting is awful and a chore. My squat is only recently coming back and I’m supposed to ignore any sort of front delt or pectoral exercises, because the tightness in them both is the cause of my posture and shoulder problems. I lost hundreds of pounds off lifts, watching my powerlifting totals slip away 1 week at a time. It might seem absurd to some, but at first things north of 500 became challenging, then 400, and finally down to the 200-300 range, which is essentially my warm up weight from a year ago. I learned that after lengthening the tissues in my forearms, not only has my grip suffered, but it has gotten so bad, that as of Labor Day, attempting to eat 4 rolls of sushi with chopsticks is near-physically impossible for me, because I cannot generate enough pressure to hold a piece of sushi between the chopsticks.

So the problem now is how to move forward. When you find yourself looking toward the goals you want to achieve, and wondering if it’s possible to get there, and wondering if it’s worth it to try. Fixing this stuff is not fun, or pleasant, and learning how to approach the subject with an entirely new perspective is something that, admittedly, is proving challenging. The goals I held previously seem off the table, like they’re near impossible to achieve, and it leaves you wondering what to do next. So when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can’t envision yourself achieving the goals you set, what do you do? Change the structure? Dig your heels in, and grit your teeth? It’s an answer to a question that I’m still seeking. If anyone finds it or knows it, I and others going through similar and often times much worse experiences await an answer. ImgurFit is a great starting place, where everyone is welcome to bring questions and concerns. We’re a forum that is never short on people who are willing to lend a sympathetic ear, and that’s often an incredible tool to have at your disposal. The only definitive ideas I have right now are “be patient” in your progressions (these things and these changes take time), do your best to find the silver lining, and remember that you don’t have to try to take on seemingly insurmountable tasks all on your own.

On the Subject of Fats: Cooking Oils

By: Matthew McKenzie

Alright, so here’s the short version, guys (if you can believe it, this wall of text really is a VERY truncated version). There are dozens and dozens of cooking oils out there, and entire wall of them at every grocery store. So which oil is the good-for-you oil? None of them. Not a single one. Now, don’t take me wrong here; I’m not saying “never use oil because it’s bad for you.” What I’m saying is that despite what broscience, pinterest or your yoga teacher have to say on the subject, there is no such thing as an oil that could be unironically classified as a health food.

All cooking oils are simply refined fats. They’ve had all of the fiber and most of the nutrients removed, resulting in a pure oil that’s about as calorically dense as it’s currently possible to make a food. +/- a calorie or two, all common cooking oils have 120 calories per Tbsp. So let’s assume you are very careful and only add 1 Tbsp. of oil to your food when you cook it. What’s happened is that you’ve added 120 calories to your intake, but nothing else. You haven’t added any fiber, minerals or vitamins. Has the addition of those 120 calories put any more bulk in your stomach or somehow increased your satiety (the amount of time you feel full after eating)? Nope. In short, you gain nothing from oil except for extra calories.

“But I heard that [oil X] has [fringe benefit]!”
Yeah. Here’s the thing about that. The US government recognizes 4 classifications of health food claim. A grade A claim is what we’d love all health claims to be, proven science that the vast majority of the scientific community agrees on as fact. After that, though, the graded claims get less proven. Grades B-D range from there being evidence to suggest that the health claim is true, but proper testing is currently incomplete all the way down to “we ran simulation after simulation ten thousand times and selected the one time that our desired result came up to present as evidence that it’s not outside the realm of physical possibility that our health claim is true.” I’m not exaggerating.

The reason I bring this up is because while the health claims themselves are graded based on having met a certain burden of proof, there is currently no mechanism in place to inform the consumer as to what level their health claim is. That means that on product packaging, there’s no difference between a grade A claim and a grade D claim; they’re all presented to you as fact. A really good and relevant example of this is the “good fats” claim that mono-unsaturated fats are heart-healthy and reduce your chance of heart disease. The average consumer reads “a heart-healthy fat” and “can help reduce heart disease” on the packaging and decides that this is a health food. “I’m doing something good for myself. This stuff’s good for my heart, so I can eat two bags of this instead of one.” But the problem is that while there’s evidence to back up the claim made on the packaging, it’s presented in a manner that’s extremely misleading. Mono-unsaturated fats do very little to help reduce heart disease. But saturated fats contribute a lot towards heart disease, so the studies have shown that a diet that makes use of mono-unsaturated fat *IN PLACE OF SATURATED AND TRANS FATS* can help reduce your chances of heart disease. See how that works?

Never believe anything printed on the front of the packaging. Assume everything that’s not in the ingredient list or the nutritional information block is lies, because the overwhelming likelihood is that it is, or that it’s heavily misleading at best.

The reason I mention all of that is because if you’ve heard some health claim about a type of oil, it’s very likely a grade D claim at best. We all assume olive oil is a health food. Why? Because it has a lower percentage of saturated fat than unsaturated. But it’s still 100% fat, 120 calories for no measurable positive benefit. Is it a health*IER* choice of fat than, say, palm oil? Yes it is, assuming you’re trying to avoid saturated fat. Does that make it a health food? No, it does not.

As I close this up, I think coconut oil deserves special mention because it’s so remarkably popular these days. All the hype that surrounds coconut oil these days? It was the same with olive oil 15 years ago. And vegetable shortening before that. If you can believe it, coconut oil has the highest percentage of saturated fat of any oil you’re gonna find on the shelf. A whopping 90% of it is saturated fat. The broscience experts will point out that is has medium-chain triglycerides and lauric acid, which taken together help offset the percentage of saturated fat. And to a point (a much lower point than they likely believe), this is true. But even taking that into consideration and ignoring a reasonable portion of the saturated fat because it evens out with the potential benefits, coconut oil still has a higher percentage of saturated fat than lard. LARD! To say that coconut oil is good for you because it has these beneficial compounds while ignoring the hefty amount of saturated fat it contains is a little bit like saying that the application of fire is good for your skin because it removes harmful bacteria (a good example of a grade D claim, actually).

So many people out there seem to be looking for some magic bullet in the foods they eat, most especially in fats. Honestly, in my estimation we all ought to stop looking for that magical version of a thing that’s somehow healthier than normal and just eat right and in moderation to begin with. Even if coconut oil worked as advertised, it’s still refined fat, which as I mentioned above, always has a calorie content right at 120 calories per Tbsp. and a shitload of saturated fat. It’s fine to cherry pick your oil based on what ratio of fat type you think is best for your particular goal (hint: it’s almost always canola/rapeseed oil), but at the end of the day, it’s still 120 kcal/Tbsp that adds only those calories and adds no fiber, no satiety and no extra mass to your food. Coconut oil is just the latest in the horrible “superfood” craze. It is not a health food. In the grand scheme of things, it rarely matters as much whether you choose olive oil or peanut oil as it does that you add minimal oil to your food.

The point I’m making is not that oil is going to kill us all or that it’s poison and should be avoided at all costs. I work for Whole Foods, I hear that shit day in and day out from some of our less-stable customers. What I’m trying to get across here is that you should never allow yourself to think of oil as a health food in any way. Just like everything else, there are health*IER* choices in oil, depending on your particular goals, but in a perfect world, you’ll ignore all the claims about this oil having omega-3 and that oil being better for your heart and base your choice of oil on flavor and its breakdown of saturated to unsaturated fat based on your particular goals, always keeping in mind the fact that at the end of the day, oil is oil and should never be confused for a healthy food.

-Chart stolen shamelessly from http://www.nutristrategy.com:

fats_chart

Not Everyone Likes It Rough: Callus Care and Prevention

By: Chris Huber

Callused hands are a common fear of many getting into lifting. The thought of rough, unsightly paws isn’t exactly appealing. The good news is that is a fairly easy problem to manage. If you are a rookie lifter, your hands most likely do need a little toughening up, but you don’t need to end up with with crusted mitts of an old sailor.

Gloves

This is my least favorite solution. I have no issue with others wearing gloves if they so choose, but I feel that other options are better if you wear them to to prevent roughed up palms. My main gripe is that they make gripping things harder. The extra material between you and the bar is just more to deal with. If gloves work well for you, then more power to ya. Just make sure to air dry those bad boys so you don’t stink up the place.

Proper Bar Placement

I believe this is the biggest offender when it comes to torn up hands. The left two images show the bar being gripped from the palm, which leads to skin being folded over when you perform a pulling motion. The right three images have the bar set into the crook where your fingers meet your palm. This placement is much more ideal and should prevent any pinching and tearing of the skin.

Grip Strength

Along with having the bar correctly placed in your hand, this is the other big factor to prevent damage to your hands. If you don’t have the strength to keep the bar from slipping or rolling when you lift, you need to take steps to work on your grip strength. If your gym allows chalk then buy a bar and use it (Tip: Even if powdered chalk is not allowed, your gym may be ok with liquid chalk).

To improve strength, on any pulling movement make sure you squeeze the bar. You should feel the strain in your forearms in addition to what your lift usually targets. If you want to focus on grip specifically, you may consider incorporating Plate Pinches into your routine. A strong grip will mean never having to worry about the bar getting away from you.

Caring for you Hands

So you do your best, but you still end up with a rough patch on your hands? Well then it’s time for some preventative care (yes, even you fellas). Women tend to be much better about this, but regularly using lotion will keep your hands softer and less prone to cracking/splitting when lifting. Your significant other will probably appreciate this step as well.

If you have a thicker callus you will need to thin it out. I personally own a PedEgg© on the rare occasions a callus builds up, but any kind of pumice or sandpaper material can be used to clean up rough patches. Be careful when doing this, going too thin may lead to tearing next time you lift, so be conservative when it comes to shaving down calluses. Taking the time to do some preventative maintenance can save you having to sit out of the gym with a hole in your hand.

Podcast Primer #2: Motivation Is a Crutch, So Stop Leaning On It

This is the 2nd in our series of commentary to accompany our podcasts; this week’s entry pertains to our podcast on Motivation (which of course I highly recommend everybody watch).

You Can’t Fall Off If You Never Got On In The First Place

Let’s get one thing out of the way; there is no bandwagon.  There is no platform or exclusive club or bus to “Gainzville”, as people enjoy tossing about.  This is one of the most often things we all see and hear about on fitness forums, articles, and even in passing conversation with people, and is one of the biggest mistakes people make right from the get-go.

Fitness and health and the pursuit of it gets put onto a pedestal.  It gets propped up onto a proverbial mountain top that people must ascend to, and therefore are as able to fall off because the footing on the treacherous path people set for themselves is unstable.

This is where motivational posters and videos tend to make themselves relevant, and by relevant I mean, something people tend to stare at and try and force them to be a starting point.

Paul Carter of Lift-Run-Bang (a man who I draw a lot of philosophical inspiration from) wrote a post on this subject and there is an excerpt from it that resonates with me:

Motivation
Motivation is bullshit. Getting better should be something you’re already about. Not
something you need to be goaded into. I’m not saying some things don’t light a bigger fire
under your ass than others, but if you have to seek out reasons to get better, you’re
losing. Meaning, If it requires some outside force to resonate with something inside of you,
you aren’t in possession of what it takes to get better all on your own.
How will you CONSISTENTLY get better if it requires the dangling carrot to do make you do
so?
At some point you have to decide that getting better is just a part of what you are. What
makes you, you. When that happens you won’t need “devices” in order to get better. It will
just be something you do. If you were isolated in a room with your weights for 10 years,
would you get better without the influence of external forces? I hope you can say yes to
that. If not, figure out how to say yes to that. 

What staring a bunch of uplifting quotes and pictures really does is externalize your drive to succeed so much you dilute or completely lose that internal drive and then you go and put yourselves into a vicious cycle of failure and stalling…

…so fucking stop that.  Right now.


Okay Then Mr. Debbie Downer, What the Hell do I do instead?

Well, since I am not a jerk and won’t leave the dear reader hanging on a negative note, the biggest thing I have stressed time and time again is to build good habits.

The good habits link above is, more or less, a really good starting point to getting started.  So let’s put it in perspective for fitness and nutrition:


Set a big goal, and lots of smaller goals to get you there.

Let’s say you figure you need to lose like, 100 pounds (or 45 kilos for those of us not using freedom units).  This is a pretty substantial weight loss goal and will probably take over a year to accomplish as sanely as possible.  Having your goals that far out there is difficult to keep things in perspective.  So, instead, set smaller goals such as; “I will lose 20 lbs. in 4 months”.   This is a smaller goal, is much more easily achieved, and keeps a solid weight loss pace (just a shade over 1 lbs. lost per week over the period).  Breaking the weight loss into smaller, more achievable portions adds up over time, keeps it in perspective and creates smaller (but still rewarding) milestones aimed at reaching the more ambitious one.


Find something you enjoy doing, and find a way to make it fit into every day

Time and time again people do things because it is effective, but not necessarily fun.  I made the mistake of this myself years ago when I was initially losing weight.  I committed to doing oodles and oodles of cardio; running 3-4 days a week, treadmill, bike, actual outdoor running…I did it not because i enjoyed it, but because I wanted to burn the most calories I could every day and didn’t think just lifting was enough.  Running became a simple means to an end.  It didn’t take long before I burned out from the effort of keeping up with it, and I abandoned it.

Nowadays I just lift and sprinkle in some sprints now and then.  I have zero desire to doing cardio, so, why the hell would I do it?  I had no real incentive to do it, and if I had kept up with it, it would have done more harm than good to my habit building and internal motivation.

The moral of the story is to find an activity that you actually WANT to do.  It should be something that you are eager to do, eager to get better at, and that you find easy to integrate into your lifestyle.  If you want to do it, you’ll make it work.  So, if you want to play floor hockey, or run marathons, hike the backwoods or power lift…it doesn’t matter, as long as you find that passion that makes going out and doing it and building on the habit of doing it easier.


Shit Happens; Don’t Forget Your Coping Helmet

Seriously.  You had a few beers, maybe some nachos and…OH NOOOOOO I ATE TOO MUCH ONCE THE WORLD IS OVER.

Pump the breaks.  How awful was it that, once in a month of good behaviour, you let loose once?  You aren’t going to re-gain those 5 lbs. you lost over the last 4 weeks because of ONE night.  Take a deep breath and learn to put these sorts of problems behind you.  Even when you have a holiday weekend that goes a little awry, ask yourself if you’re really going to let that balloon up into a week and a complete disregard of the good progress you’ve made.  Don’t dread holidays, social outings or missteps.  Account for them, assess them, and move on from them.  If you fuck up 30 times in a 365 day span, what are the odds that will hold you back from your goals?  Barring you having some professional incentive in it, you likely won’t notice the effects of the hiccup a week later, let alone a month or a year later.

So, if you have a fuck up, don’t let that hold you hostage and blow up into a complete collapse of miserable bingeing and self-flagellation over it.  You need a healthy approach to your fitness journey just as much as you need to eat sensibly and exercise.  If you don’t develop the mental fortitude along with everything else then you’re missing a critical piece of the puzzle.


My Dirty Little Secret: All Of The Above IS Motivation

I know, I just beat it into your skulls that motivation sucks.  It still does, but that’s because, as I alluded to already, external motivations suck.  Building those good habits and having clear goals and a clear path to get there SHOULD be motivation enough.  Even when you’re sick, miserable or overwhelmed, the internal motivation drives you to make it happen.  Draw your desire in and fuel your own inner fire rather than seeking sparks elsewhere.  Even if you move your workouts around to accommodate injuries, life events, sickness…never let yourself SKIP the workout, talk yourself out of your goals, or let outside forces dictate your direction.  If you draw anything from the external world, it should be with the explicit end goal of becoming or re-enforcing the inner drive.  Get a little selfish and think about yourself and what YOU want first, and how you’re going to get there.

If you can master that philosophy, and walk the walk to get there, you’ll never need the bandwagon, a motivational poster or “just the right song” ever again.

-Andrew Crickmore

Why You REALLY Need To Stop Undereating

By: Chris Huber

The Reason This Needs Discussed

I know most of us want a better body and we want it NOW. This leads to the common practice of trying to speed up the process of weight loss up as much as possible. The problem is that bigger isn’t always better. To drop body fat you need to create a caloric deficit, this can be done in a couple ways. One option is to work out more increasing your total burned calories for the day. The other is limiting your calories so you consume less overall. Both of these options work in your favor for the simple principle of weight loss (Calories In < Calories Out = Lower Body Fat Percentage) and I am a fan of a healthy mix of both, the issue is taking these options to the extreme.

Why You Stall Out

When I refer to a caloric deficit, I am talking about the difference between the calories you consume versus the total amount of calories burnt through the day (TDEE). If you would like to know more about how to find these values and what I consider a smart approach to looking at your diet, you can take a look at my previous post on Flexible Dieting (https://imfitcast.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/flexible-dieting/).

TDEE Chart

Now to the crux of the issue, after maintaining a large caloric deficit over a long period of time (months to years) your body will adjust in ways that are completely counterproductive your goals. Typically no more than a 500 daily deficit is recommended, with a 200-300 deficit for weight loss being preferred, but some take this to much greater extremes. You may not be familiar with the term adaptive thermogenisis (AT), but chances are you know the effects. As you can see in the figure above your BMR is the largest portion of your TDEE. Your metabolism is not a static number, it is better to think of it as a sliding scale. AT is your metabolism shifting in response to how much you eat. If you are at a large caloric deficit, your metabolism with literally slow down in response to being starved.  This process leads to weight loss plateauing because your total energy expenditures have now dropped.

To compound in addition to the issues of AT, your body has even more ways of sabotaging your weight loss if you practice extreme calorie restriction. Low calorie diets cause several hormones within the body to change. Leptin keeps you satiated and tells your body that your energy reserves are ready to be used. This hormone decreases when you diet hard, meaning you will become hungry and feel lethargic. Similarly the hormone ghrelin will increase which triggers your appetite to increase. Another problem hormone is cortisol. Cortisol triggers the breakdown of muscle mass while also increasing water retention. Add these effects together and you will notice weight loss stalling in a hurry.

Fixing The Problem

Recognizing you are taking a non-sustainable approach to fat loss is the biggest step. The longer you continue trying to lose body fat by severely under-eating, the worse the issues above become. You can go from weight loss plateauing to ending up with hormonal issues and no energy. To solution to these issues is fairly straight forward, you need to eat more. The application of this is a bit more complicated though.

I believe the best method to repairing your body is best outlined by Sohee Lee and Layne Norton in their method of reverse dieting. The basics of reverse dieting are slowly increasing your caloric intakes over an extended period of time. If you don’t already know a rough estimate of how many calories you current eat, I would suggest taking a week and eating normally, but tracking everything to find a baseline caloric level. From here you need to determine a calorie goal, which is going to be your maintenance level. You can find this easily using the Scooby calculator explained in the Flexible Dieting article. From here you are going to start at your current level of calories and begin adding 50-100 calories a week until you end up eating at maintenance.

This approach may be considered conservative to some, but I have my reasons. Firstly, you want to minimize the shock on your body. Jumping several hundred calories in one go will almost certainly cause weight gain, and no one wants to deal with that added stress on top of already trying to fix a frustrating situation. Secondly, trying to cram more food down your throat is tough for some people. You may genuinely not be hungry, even if you body is crying for those extra calories. Slowly building up allows your stomach to adjust to the added food.

My biggest piece of advice is to be patient. It took time to get to this point and it will take time to fix it. Try not to focus on the scale and do not expect to reverse the damage done immediately. You may gain a little weight here. You may feel like you will never achieve your goals. Just remember this is a bump in the road. You are becoming healthier and setting yourself up for success in the long run. You WILL get there in time.

Parting Thoughts

My goal here was to highlight a common issue in the fitness world. Too often you see low calorie diets marketed as the quick fix to all your problems. If I can make someone realize they are headed down a bad path, then this post was worth it. Sure, if you can maintain a caloric deficit you will certainly loose weight, even when starving yourself. The problem is the long term repercussions from doing this. Eat right the from the start or work now to fix the issue and you will end up in a much better place.

Sources

Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Norton LE. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition11, 7

Rosenbaum M, Leibel RL. (2010). Adaptive thermogenesis in humans. International Journal of Obesity34, S47-55

Lee, Sohee and Layne Norton. Reverse Dieting. Ebook

Podcast Primer #1: The Good, Bad and Ugly of My Weightloss Journey

I F*cked Up So You Don’t Have To

By Andrew Crickmore

That’s been my mantra for a long time; at the very least since I started posting in Imgurfit.  It’s also the sub-title for our first podcast.  A lot of what I say in this post pertains, in part, to the stories told n there, so please give it a whirl.

At the end of 2011, I went through a bit of a life crisis; I was a fat, miserable and soon-to-be-divorced 25 year old that felt like I had no control over a lot of what was going on in my life.  After a brief grief period of self-loathing, I decided to take a measure of control back.  I pledged to not be fat anymore.

11 months and 109 lbs. later a thin (in hindsight, too thin) me emerged my self-inflicted trial by fire having learned a lot about how incredibly little I understood about weight loss and nutrition and a better appreciation for why people have such a hard time losing weight (and keeping it off).

So, let’s run through the not-chronological order of things I learned from my own stupidity

The Good

As much as I have painted a very awful picture of my weight loss journey, the ultimate good news is I’ve kept the weight off since 2012 and reversed all the nasty, self-inflicted damage I foisted upon myself.  So, there’s that at least.  In addition of course, I did do some good (and critical) things during my fat to fit process that has stuck with me and probably helped lead me to my ultimate success:

  1. Started using MyFitnessPal immediately and tracking calorie intake, along with weighing and measuring food for over a year to reset my base understanding of servings
  2. Went to the gym and tried, in theory, to have a balanced workout plan
  3. Never stopped reading and learning, even when the things I was reading ended up being wrong.

MyFitnessPal was (and still is) an essential tool in my tool box.  Learning how to properly track and measure portions was likely the number one reason I succeeded in my weight loss, even as I started eating some ridiculously low calorie intakes.  I measured and weighed food portion religiously and managed to hit my aggressive calorie targets 90% of the time.  It was so important to my success I still use it; I’m up to a streak of 1350 days straight (and counting).

After I started tracking my calories, I drove over to the community centre gym I knew I had a dormant gym membership at and reactivated it.  At first I just did machine circuits, but that evolved into an upper body/lower body rotational split as I was afraid of not working out all my muscles.  As much as whatever half-assed program I concocted that was, it was born from the first real attempts to learn something substantial about weight lifting and, coincidentally ties well into my third and final takeaway…

Last, but not least, I delved deeply into blogs, articles, books, videos and whatever else I could dig up for answers on pertinent questions about what I should and should not be doing.  Ideally I’d have done this BEFORE doing any substantial weight loss and exercise, but I seriously doubt I’m unique in my endeavour to throw myself into the gauntlet without even a helmet to protect me.

The Bad

It’s hard to imagine a time when I was so utterly clueless about weight loss and fitness that these things happened, but they did.  A lot of what I characterize as “the bad” in this article are the sorts of things that it seems nearly everyone is guilty of:

  1. I was way too aggressive with my weight loss, despite some early and seemingly reasonable goals
  2. I bought into the idea of working myself ‘to death’ was the best way to gain results
  3. the Numbers mattered more than anything else, including, in the end, my health.

Patience.  Patience.  Patience.  It’s all I preach now to people now who ask about weight loss and fitness results.  It’s typically my best quality, but it never was when I started losing weight.  Initially I set what SEEMED like pretty realistic goals; 35 lbs. lost between December 2011 and April 2012 initially.  This was after I’d lost a few pounds just cutting out pop and junk food, so I felt pretty good about how things were going.  Problem was, was that I started to lose weight VERY quickly.  At one point I was losing about 2-3 lbs. every 3-4 days (at least according to the scale).  Seeing that sort of initial loss was addictive.  So, I crushed that first goal by a good 10 lbs., then took it even further.

In my self-inflicted race to the bottom, I started going to the gym longer and longer.  2-3 hours was common, most of it doing half and half cardio and weights, 6 days a week.  I chased calories burned, I chased weight loss, and eventually I even started doing outdoor running in addition to all of that.  Hell, I even worked myself up to a solid 6 mile distance at my peak because the more I could burn, the better. At the same time, I was continuing to maintain a -1000 calorie deficit (or thereabouts, I was solely dependent on MFP’s calorie reduction system and never adjusted it, not even when I felt like hell).

All of this inflicted on myself because I couldn’t wait.  It was a weird experience for someone who typically is patient to a fault.  These points weren’t even the worst things I experienced, however…

The Ugly

What categorizes ‘The Ugly’ for me was the stuff that bordered on sadistic and eating disorder issues.  This is the sort of stuff that probably made me lose the most muscle mass, feel the absolute worst as my weight loss journey stretched into a year, and caused the most issues for me in struggling with my post-dieting existence.

  1. I had absolutely no idea what TDEE and BMR were, and paid for it
  2. When I got down to sub-200 lbs., my calorie deficit was so bad I felt like I had a black hole in my gut, yet I ignored it.
  3. I tried all sorts of stupid things, which included cutting out nearly all my protein intake at one point.
  4. At my lowest, I’d binge on frozen yogurt and low-fat peanut butter and feel miserably guilty about it after

TDEE and BMR used to be foreign concepts to me.  I understood calories in vs. calories out, and I understood calorie deficits, but I never really understood anything about TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) and BMR (Base Metabolic Rate) until I’d already fucked myself over.  All I knew was what MFP told me to eat, and as much as I enjoy using MyFitnessPal, they really need to change their algorithm.  At my lowest I was trying to subsist on only 1470 calories.  Keep in mind my BMR is around 1900 calories, so I was eating a brisk -500 calorie deficit on my bare minimum required calories.

This ridiculous calorie deficit really started to be a problem when I hit the sub-200 calorie mark.  For people who don’t know, if you lose 10 lbs. MFP will ask you if you want to adjust your calorie intake down by 100 calories per day.  That SEEMS reasonable, except it caps at 1200 calories, which is ridiculously low calories for ANYBODY.  As a result, I started to feel physically and mentally shittier.  Physically, I’d be weak, have difficulty sleeping, and even got jitters at some point.  Mentally was worse.  Food dogged me constantly.  I was making bargains with myself over the food I was eating and calculating how much cardio I needed to do to counter it.

I distinctly remember nights where I would stare into a jar of peanut butter and bargain with myself as to whether I would eat any more of it.   These staring contests would last anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour.  Usually I caved and would start shoveling spoonfuls of peanut butter into my mouth in some involuntary attempt to make up for the massive amount of lost calories I’d subjected myself to.  The most I’d ever eaten during one of these binge stages was an entire kilo of peanut butter, ending the destruction by scraping the bottom with my finger.  It’s amazing that I can still eat peanut butter at all honestly.  Peanut butter was the main trigger food for this, but I did it for other foods too.  Mostly sugary things mocking me from my freezer or workplace break room table.

Other stupid shit I did?  For one, I went vegetarian for a week.  Problem with that was I basically just cut out all my protein intake.  I cannot describe to you what soreness without protein intake is like when you insist on working out anyways.  I did similarly miserable things with carbs and fats, all with equally dismal results.  I beat salads to death, weird curry dishes to death, cheat days to death, spicy foods to death…really, I tried every coping mechanism I could to trick myself into eating less calories or feeling “full” on less calories.  The slop I’d eat just to minimize my calorie intake was as ridiculous as it was intense.

What the Hell Should I Learn From All This?

First and foremost, Despite my fuckups I’ve managed to keep the weight off going on 4 years (as of October 2015).  This in itself is a huge accomplishment.  That doesn’t mean any sane person should try what I did, yet my experience isn’t exactly an outlier.  plenty of people on imgurfit and elsewhere continue to subject themselves to well-meaning but extremely poor choices.

So, if you skipped all the way down to the bottom of this post for some reason, here’s what you should do;

  1. Develop or practice patience.  Slow and steady is better than aggressive and fast when it comes to weight loss
  2. Don’t try stupid shit.  Calculate your calories, eat enough food and at the right macronutrient ratios.
  3. Eat for your level of activity.  If you run and lift and do all sorts of other things, eat lots of food.  You’ll still probably lose weight.
  4. Develop a healthy relationship with food. even when trying to cut calories.  Don’t degrade your mental and physical health to the point where you’re binge-eating regularly to compensate for your poor health.
  5. Keep reading, keep learning, and become nutritionally and physically literate.
  6. Track your god damn calories and macros.

Thanks for Reading, and Keep an eye out for future Podcast Primer Posts pertaining to the things we’ve discussed.

-Andrew

3 Years of Wendler 5/3/1, Part 3: Beyond 5/3/1, Hitting My High Note, and Leaving It Behind

By: Andrew Crickmore

When I switched to Beyond 5/3/1 sometime in the summer of 2014 I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had just read through Wendler’s e-book on it and decided to construct a template for it and run it.  If you still haven’t read it, I recommend you do so RIGHT NOW, but the biggest draw of it as compared to other versions of 5/3/1 was the auto-regulation and the volume level, both of which I craved.  

When I talk about auto-regulation, I am referring to the idea that you, the user of a program, have the authority to pick the pace of a workout; in the case of Beyond 5/3/1, you work up to your training max (which is, like in 5/3/1, calculated off your real max) and then decide how far you go from there.  

So, let’s assume you’re trying to progress your Bench Press on this example (we’ll use my “real max” of 265 lbs. for the template):

Rep Scheme: (all in lbs.)

0%:10xbar

10%:3-5x 45/bar

20%: 3-5x 50

30%: 3-5x 70

40%: 3-5x 95

50%: 3-5x 115

60%: 3-5x 140

70%: 1-3x 160

80%: 1-3x 185

90%: 1-3x 205

100%: 1x (or PR set) 230

You start with the bar, and work your way up by 10% for each set and never above 5 reps (until the end).  Wendler does say that you can skip to the 30% portion if need be because, as you can see, the difference between 0% and 30% is very low in terms of weight jump and that makes them expendable reps.  At heavier weights for squats and deadlifts these percentages are still a lot more useful.  In theory you could stop here and be done, but then you’d be not exploiting the best part of the auto-regulation.  Having a good day?  GO FURTHER!

Joker Sets

105%: 1x 240

110%: 1×250

115%: 1×260

120%: 1×275 (PR!)

 

Joker Sets are simply going above your scheduled “max” for the day and dependent on how you feel during your workout.  Do they work?  Absolutely.  Joker Set utilization is how I set my current bench press max; I felt great one day, and worked up aggressively to a PR of 265.  I’ve only been able to match it once since, and have not set a new PR since utilizing joker sets previously.

 

We’re not done here though…maybe you didn’t feel great about the joker sets, or maybe you just want some extra volume.  Well, look no further than…

 

Down Sets

3-5 sets for 5-8 reps @ 75% (170 lbs.)

3-5 sets for 5-8 reps @ 70% (160 lbs.)

 

Down sets are typically a higher difficulty than just doing Boring But Big, and on days that I really wanted to camp out on the bench I did do these, albeit not often, because I did a great deal of bodybuilding accessory work after my compound work.  On that note…

Lastly, Beyond 5/3/1 doesn’t provide accessory templates.  Wendler, through this expansion on his program, is telling people to really embrace auto-regulation.  Whatever you do for accessory work is dependent on your goals and weaknesses and, ultimately, how you feel on a given day.  However I do recommend you develop a plan and, like the reps for the main movement, track it for maximum progress.  During Beyond 5/3/1 was when I got to play with the most bodybuilding work and really got to exercise my still-developing programming muscle.

 

Wendler Stops Working For Me and Where Do I Go From Here?

Beyond 5/3/1 worked extremely well for me. In the 6 months I ran it, I set a massive (and my current) Deadlift PR (495 lbs.), my old squat PR (360 lbs.), my old OHP PR (175 lbs.) on it as well as a respectable bench PR doing it (265 lbs.) all at a bodyweight around 182-185. Additionally I hd some tremendous hypertrophy gains on this program because I was able to let loose with some great isolation work at my own discretion. I have yet to see even remotely similar results on any previous program.  So, why the hell did I quit doing it?  It was to try a powerlifting variation on 5/3/1, but alas that’s where I really started to stall.  

The last Wendler program I ran was 3/5/1, which is one of Wendler’s powerlifting variations (although not his powerlifting specific programs).  To give a quick summary, 3/5/1 is a rearrangement of the rep scheme (doing 3s week, then 5s week, then 5/3/1 week) as well as building in heavy singles work at approximately 110% of your training max for that session.  I ran this for a solid 4 months during my winter school semester and, enjoyed it immensely; the problem was that, either mentally or physically, I was no longer responding well to the rep scheme and progress began to slow significantly.  Couple this with a late-december back injury (which took a solid month to rehab from before I could deadlift properly again), it became obvious that I was starting to fatigue on the program, but not necessarily physically.  I was always well-rested, well-fed and consistent with my diet and workouts.  

I didn’t completely stall, however; I did hit an OHP PR of 180 lbs. in January 2015, and then a modest squat PR of 365 lbs. in April 2015.  Despite this though, I knew I needed something new and something to push myself a lot further; I had, in essence, lost the discomfort necessary for real progress on the standard 5/3/1 format.  

This begs the question…why didn’t I just go back to Beyond 5/3/1?  Mainly because I wanted to try something completely different from my comfort zone, as there was always a real chance that I’d just “settle” even with the aggressive auto-regulation in place in Beyond 5/3/1.  So, I settled on trying Candito’s Intermediate/Peaking 6 Week program and, even though I haven’t finished it yet, I have set new rep PRs in squat and deadlift, and have done some unprecedented heavy volume with bench press.  It is, at least in terms of early results, exactly what the doctor ordered.  The rep scheme and overall protocols are extremely uncomfortable for me, and that’s exactly what I needed right now.  I will be running at least 3 full cycles of this program before deciding where to go from here…maybe back to Beyond 5/3/1, maybe working out a GZCL template for myself, or seeking some other ambitious program.  Either way, I have gotten what I could out of 5/3/1.

Are You Ready To Get On The Wendler Wagon?

Wendler’s program is predominantly for people in the “intermediate” stage of their strength development; odds are you’ve capped out your weekly progress on 5×5 programs and need something with a longer cycle to make further progress.  People coming off Stronglifts or Starting Strength type programs are really set well for 5/3/1.  Having said that, there is a Beginner’s Template available for people who just want to run Wendler right from the word GO.  Since I’ve never used it, I’m not going to tell you how effective it is, but I am pro-Wendler in all things and it probably couldn’t hurt to try it as a new person.  You’ll make great gainz either way and will benefit from the structure.  

 

So ask yourself, “Do I want to be strong?  Do I want to be able to crush the power rack and push some heavy ass weight?” I you answer, yes, YES, or HELL YES, then 5/3/1 is for you.  

 

3 Years of Wendler 5/3/1, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

By: Andrew Crickmore

The Program, Variations, and My Recommendations

If you have read any of 5/3/1’s multiple volumes (which is highly recommended obviously) then you would know that Wendler spends the majority of his writing on variations of his program to help people tailor the training to their goals and their restraints; he has templates for 2-days-a-week, for powerlifting specifically (including a whole volume put out for PL training on its own) as well a multitude of versions that incorporate other training templates into his own structure. He has also been known to create 3-month challenges for people to attempt to help them for bodybuilding or peaking-specific goals.

The reason this is possible is because the main structure of 5/3/1 only addresses the compound lifts; he purposefully leaves the choice of accessory work up to the user of his program. So, to put in in the simplest terms possible, if you do the 5/3/1 base, that’s all you REALLY need, but we know that, for one, it’s not enough for most people from a personal and actual progress standpoint, and two, you probably want to do some curls anyways, so you’ll pick a template or two and roll with them.

Here are all the different templates I have tried, all for a minimum of 4 months;
– Boring But Big
– The Periodization Bible
– The Triumvirate
– Simplest Strength
– 3/5/1 for powerlifting
– And lastly, Boring But Big + Bodybuilding work (my own accessory template)

So let’s look at how you’d build a few of these templates, just to give everyone a good idea of what a full workout would look like. I won’t break down every single one, but I will pick a few of them and provide some sample workout templates to give people an understanding of the variety possible with Wendler’s program, and some reasoning for why I selected them.

Boring But Big:
Boring But Big is just 5×10 of either the lift you did or the complementary lift (upper or lower) as the accessory you do that day. So, if you were to program a BBB cycle, it would look like this:
Monday
– 5/3/1 OHP
– 5×10 OHP or Bench Press @ 30% of 1 RM. 
– 1 choice of Lat work (Chins, pull ups, rows)
Tuesday
– 5/3/1 Squats
– 5×10 Squats or Deadlifts @ 30% of 1 RM
– 1 choice of Leg work (leg curls, hamstring curls, good mornings etc.)

Thursday
– 5/3/1 Bench Press
– 5×10 OHP or Bench Press @ 30% of 1 RM
– 1 choice of Lat work (chins, pull ups, rows etc.)
Friday
– 5/3/1 Deadlifts
– 5×10 Squats or Deadlifts @ 30% of 1 RM.
– 1 choice of Leg Work (leg curls, hamstring curls, good mornings etc.)

This is the most popular template because of its simplicity; it provides lots of volume for someone coming off of a more simplistic linear program, but also starts off with weight percentages that allow you to work on form and ramp up the difficulty over time. This particularly template lacks variety (hence the name) but it being so straightforward makes it easy to program for and register progress on. This is one of the templates I ran more than once when I was starting out; however I always did the “opposite” 5×10 to my 5/3/1 compound; so if I did OHP 5/3/1, I always did bench 5×10. That was entirely my own preference. 
The Simplest Strength Template
Simplest Strength is a lot more of a power-building-centric template. There’s a lot more accessory work, and a lot of it is isolation. All of it is still, in theory, designed to drive your main lifts up, but it is more balanced than BBB and similar templates.
Monday
– OHP 5/3/1
– Accessory work is all 3×10, not factoring in warm up
– Close-grip bench press 
– Barbell Rows/Lats 
– Upper back (such as shrugs or face pulls) 
– Triceps
– Biceps
Tuesday
– Squats 5/3/1
– Accessory Work is all 3×10, not factoring in warm up
– Stiff-Legged Deadlift
– Hamstring work
– Lower back work
– Abs
Thursday
– Bench 5/3/1
– Accessory work is all 3×10, not factoring in warm up
– Close-grip bench press 
– Barbell Rows/Lats 
– Upper back (such as shrugs or face pulls) 
– Triceps
– Biceps
Friday
– Deadlifts 5/3/1
– Front Squat
– Hamstring work
– Lower back work
– Abs

The Simplest Strength template was the last template I ran before I started experimenting with my own accessory work template, and pushed me to acclimate to higher volume levels than I’d previously experienced. I’m not sure I’d recommend doing it unless you’ve run some of the lower volume versions first, OR you start fairly light.

Now, the template that I made for myself, in which I went for some pretty sweet volume and saw some pretty noticeable hypertrophy gains from, even when I only really hit a 5 lbs. squat PR and 10 lbs. OHP PR on this program. The premise of the program was to attack with good volume, but also try and do a lot of lat work and the usual vanity muscles. Power-building was the goal, for a lack of a better way to phrase it.
All Accessory work was 5×10, unless listed otherwise
Monday
– OHP 5/3/1
– Bench Press 
– Meadows Rows
– Tricep pushdowns
– 2 H Lat Pull-downs
– Rear delt flyes (one handed)
– Bicep Curls (bar)
– Dumbbell or cable Side Lat raises (hit middle delt as target)
Tuesday
– 5/3/1 Squats
– Pin Squats (worked up to heavy 3-5 reps for 5 sets)
– 1 Legged quad extensions
– 1 legged hamstring curls
– Abs (woodchoppers and other twists, optional)
Thursday
– Bench 5/3/1
– OHP
– Barbell Rows
– Barbell Shrugs
– 1 Handed lat pull-downs
– Overhead tricep extensions
– Hammer Curls
Friday
– Deadlift 5/3/1
– Pause Squats (warm-up and worked up to heavy 3-5 reps for 5 sets) or 5×10 squats
– Barbell Glute Bridges
– Abs (woodchoppers and other twists, mandatory)

Some other template options include;
– Bodyweight accessory work
– More Squatting
– Full body
– Two and three day cycle options
– A German Volume Training adaptation
– Various bodybuilding templates
– A Beginner’s version
– 3/5/1
– Powerlifting for Mass/Strength/Conditioning
…and these are only the main options. The books themselves lay out dozens of variations, challenges and suggestions on how to utilize the 5/3/1 program to your goals, your constraints, and to your preferences.

So now to wrap things up let’s talk about some of other additional work you can do with the program outside of the templates themselves. This is where Beyond 5/3/1 really kind of kicks off, but these concepts are not exclusive to Beyond 5/3/1, and I’ll cover more of that particular variation in detail for Part 3. I digress, back to the topic at hand.

First, we’re going to talk about Joker Sets. Joker Sets are simply doing over and above sets above your prescribed reps for that day. For example; if you reach the peak week (5/3/1) and, on your 1+ rep of squats for 315 lbs., you hit a very solid set of 3-4 reps. This is probably a clear PR for you, and, if you are feeling up to it, you can add 5% of your working set weight and keep going.
I’ll lay it out for you;
315 for 1+ ; you hit 4 reps. 
You then do…
330 (105% or 1 RM for that day) x1+
345 (110% of 1 RM for that day) x 1
360 (115%) x1
380 (120%) x1
At this point you can continue on until you cannot do any more reps. Potentially you could work all the way up to an outright PR, which is usually about 120% of your rep max for that day. The decision to do so is part of Wendler’s attempt to provide some auto-regulation to the program to take advantage of you having a really good day in the gym.

Pyramid Down with 5/3/1
Pyramid workouts are nothing new, but in the context of 5/3/1 are a good supplement to increase volume in your template without going with a BBB-style accessory setup. You work up the 5/3/1 working sets, then back down all the way through your warm up sets, if you so choose to do so.

First Set Last with 5/3/1
Another volume-centric add-on is to repeat your First working set after your maximum work-set for as many reps as possible. The idea is that deloading down to that first work set weight will allow you to push out a significant number more reps than you might have otherwise; having experimented with this I would regularly do at least 8-10 reps of my first working set, often pushing up to 12 if I had enough gas left in the tank. Again, another good addition to add volume without doing a 5×10 BBB template. This can also be done for multiple sets.

That wraps it up for Part 2; for the 3rd and final part, I’ll discuss running Beyond 5/3/1 specifically, as well as what has lead me to stop doing 5/3/1 entirely after all this time. 

3 Years of Wendler 5/3/1, Part 1: A Wendlerite is Born

By: Andrew Crickmore

Part 1: Overview
Wendler’s 5/3/1 has been the foundation for my training since I discovered that I really did want to get stronger and chase PRs in the Big 4 (I include OHP even though it isn’t a comp lift). The question as to what to do next started to bubble up as I got closer to my goal weight. I read more and more articles and testimonials about rebounding back to one’s old weight after particularly massive weight loss, and at that point I was hovering within spitting distance of the 100 lbs. lost mark.
Over the course of a couple of weeks I read through several different strength books, including Juggernaut Method (original, not 2.0), Starting Strength, Stronglifts, Mad Cow, Texas Method and, of course, 5/3/1 (volume 2). In all honesty, I should have gone with Stronglifts or Starting Strength, but in my hubris I decided to do something more substantive, because I wasn’t a “total noob” to lifting.

Regardless, the only one that truly stood out to me was Jim Wendler’s program.
What stuck out for me (besides the program itself) was the preface of Wendler’s book on training itself; he’d been killing himself for years doing intense powerlifting regiments, all while being extremely fat and basically only being able to waddle up to a monolift and squat heavy in a suit. He goes on to talk about watching a lady, in excellent shape, simply walking on a treadmill. What stood out for him (and for me) was the idea that you don’t need to go out and destroy yourself to reach your goals and improve your numbers. Basically, Wendler has a work smart, not hard philosophy that he embraced after being burnt out from powerlifting.

The program itself preaches a monthly increase and steady progress, even to the point where Wendler recommends you use 90% of your 90% max; start light, build momentum, and then before you know it you’ll be using your old maxes as your rep outs on the easy days.

From the start of this program to the last PR I had on 5/3/1, my number progression looks like this:
OHP: 95 lbs. to 180 lbs.
Bench: 195 lbs. (not even with chest touch) to 265 lbs. (full touch)
Squat: 205 lbs. (not even to depth) to 365 lbs. (below parallel now for sure)
Deadlift: 285 lbs. to 495 lbs.

Additionally: body weight went from 156 lbs. to 192 lbs. at my peak, all while staying relatively lean in the process.

Anyways, now that I’ve laid out what got me going on it, let’s actually talk about the program itself. The TL;DR on 5/3/1 is that it is a monthly periodization-based program in which you do a 5’s rep week (3 sets of 5), a 3’s rep week (3 sets of 3), and a 5/3/1 rep week (a set of 5, a set of 3, and a set of 1+), followed by a deload week (more on the deload later). The last set of the program is really and AMRAP set; you do as many as possible and set a new Rep PR for that weight. More weight moved equals you getting stronger. Simple! You apply this rep scheme to Overhead Press, Deadlifts, Squats, and Bench Press, all on their own dedicated workout days (although there are variations addressing doing less than 4 workouts a week as well).
Example Rep Scheme using Deadlifts (via black iron beast’s calculator)

(5s week)
Deadlift: 1 RM = 495, Training RM = 446
Warm up:
180×5
225×5
275×3
Working sets:
290×5
335×5
385×5+
(3s week)
Deadlift: 1 RM = 495, Training RM = 446
Warm up:
180×5
225×5
275×3
Working Sets:
315×3
360×3
405×3+
5/3/1 week
Deadlift: 1 RM = 495, Training RM = 446
Warm up:
180×5
225×5
275×3
Working Sets
335×5
385×3
425×1+
After you’ve run the 5/3/1 week and, hopefully, hit a new PR at the calculated weight, you add 5 lbs. to the upper body lifts and 10 lbs. to the lower body lifts (giving you a new training max) and then take a deload week OR jump right into the next 5s week; personally I deloaded rarely, and whether that was a detriment or not I honestly do not know. Even Wendler has acknowledged in his most recent book that most people don’t need the deload until they’ve run at least two cycles, whereas he originally recommended one every 4th week.
If you do take a deload week on the program, you can either just not go to the gym, or just do the warm up sets on the compounds and then move on to your accessory work. The idea is, along with the rest of the program, to let you stay fresh enough that your progress is extremely consistent.
Last note; if you fail the last reps on any of the weeks, it’s recommended you repeat them. If you fail again, re-do two to three cycles previous, then work back up. You can also re-configure the program with your new calculated or actual 1 RM, which gives you a fresh starting point. I ended up doing this myself twice during my run and it worked out well both times.
In the next part I will go over some of the accessory templates in detail that I have run, as well as some PROs and CONs of running 5/3/1.
Part three will be me talking about Beyond 5/3/1, as well as why I’m NOT running it anymore, along with anything else I may have missed.

If you wish to drop a few dollars on Wendler’s e-book, you can check our his website and buy it direct.  It’s a worthwhile purchase and it supports a dude that has created an amazing program.