Since I released the first edition of 5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Building Raw Strength in 2009, I've been asked many questions about supplemental and assistance work.
The most popular, effective, and brutal accessory plan is something I called Boring But Big.
The Boring But Big supplemental program is simple. After completing the strength work with the basic exercise (squat, press, bench press or deadlift), you perform 5 sets of 10 reps with a lighter weight. This might not seem like much work, but it'll lead to new gains in strength and hypertrophy.
The problem that most lifters have with the Boring But Big program is that they don't know what weight to use with the five sets. I've always recommended using 50% of your training max – and for the first cycle of the program that's exactly the prescription.
The second and third months of the program, however, should push the envelope, leading to some bigger and better gains.
The Basics Are Always Best
I was recently inspired by a workout by my good friend Matt Kroczaleski. He flew past the boundaries of good taste by doing 5 sets of 20 reps in the squat with 415 pounds. One set of 20 reps at 415 is pretty good, but five sets? Absolutely disgusting.
I also remember a story from a friend of mine whose father played professional football in the 1970's and 80's. His dad was a big believer in simple strength work in the weight room: squat, bench, clean, press, and deadlift.
He and a few of his like-minded teammates trained together in a small, dingy weight room, out of sight from the coaches.
One of their crew hated training, but knew that he had to do it to be the best. So while the others were training heavy and hard he just did a simple workout a couple times a week:
Squat 10 sets of 10 reps at 315
Bench press 10 sets of 10 reps at 315
Not a bad workout for someone who apparently didn't care about training and lifting. Hell, I'm not even certain of the truth of the story but it's cool to retell it. The point is, the basics are always the best.
The problem with many hypertrophy-based programs is that they leave out the strength component. You might get bigger as a result of the program, but if you don't get any stronger you're still a chump in my book. That's right, I don't care how big you are, if you aren't strong you're a sham. Having big muscles and no strength is the training equivalent of wearing a strap-on. All show and no go. End of story.
The first part of the Boring But Big Challenge is that you'll continue to perform the squat, bench, press, and deadlift with the 5/3/1 set and rep scheme. The one thing that you'll change is that you will not go for any extra reps on the last set. You'll only do the required reps and then move on to the 5 sets of 10 reps.
This will do three things:
- Because hypertrophy is the goal of the program, it will leave you fresher to perform the 5 sets of 10 reps and eventually allow you to do these at a higher weight.
- It will at least maintain your strength levels – you're still tapping into heavy weights that will keep your body used to them.
- Many lifters will get stronger when they dial back the last set. You don't always have to push to failure to make gains – this is a belief held by novices and those with limited knowledge.
The Supplemental Lifts
The second part of the Boring But Big Challenge is the 5 sets of 10 reps. Those who've done this know this is nothing to sneeze at (unless you're allergic to hard work and soreness). This is a brutal way to put on size, provided you do it correctly. And by do it correctly I mean the following:
- The first month of the program, perform the sets with 50% of your training max.
- The second month of the program, perform the sets with 60% of your training max.
- The third month of the program, perform the sets with 70% of your training max.
So after you perform your 5/3/1 squat workout, do 5 sets of 10 reps with the deadlift. You'll flip the other days as well. Workout example below.
- You may have to do a few warm-up sets leading up to your 5 x 10 weight. This is fine. Just do 1-2 sets of 5 reps and then get to it. These warm-up sets don't count.
- Feel free to superset the assistance work. This will shorten the workout time and keep you from sitting on your ass between sets.
It's important, but I wouldn't keep track of it.
In general, choose one push, pull and abdominal movement per training day. Do only 25-30 total reps per exercise per training day. Choose wisely. Check the sample workout below for the best options.
The assistance work is done after the main lift and the supplemental lift (the 5x10 movement). You don't need to kill yourself with this and none of this should be anything that really "matters." It should be effort-free.
The older, experienced lifters know exactly what I'm talking about. These are the guys that can do a biceps curl with a 20-pound dumbbell and get more out of it than a kid heaving a 135-pound barbell curl.
There's an inverse relationship between what you do in the beginning of the workout and the end – the guys pulling 600 pounds for reps seem to try less hard on the curls than the kid pulling 285 for his first double. Something to think about.
Now if you're going to embark on this quest for strength and mass, better start eating like you want it. This is not the time to be eating like a coked-out supermodel or be swept away by the newest fad diet scheme. Nor is it time to be scared of carbs or animal fats.
If you're afraid to eat, then please, don't do this program. This isn't for you, nor is it for someone that's scared one night of eating big will make his skirt fit a bit tighter.
So unless you're willing to eat big to get big, don't accept the challenge. I don't really care what your goals are; all I know is if someone isn't willing to do all that's necessary, then I can't relate to them.
Having a few extra meals a day is hardly a sacrifice. It requires very little effort. Raising a family, having a full time job, and going to school – that's effort. Shoving some food down your mouth isn't.
If you have an awesome diet plan for yourself, one that you've used before when you needed calories, then do it. You're your own best resource. The keys to eating big are nothing new.
Here's a simple, sample diet plan for this workout. This is entirely adjusted to my tastes. Keep in mind my palate hasn't progressed much beyond the second grade.
- 6 whole eggs (scrambled with cheese or hard boiled)
- 1-2 cups oatmeal
- 1 apple
- 10 oz. steak
- 6-8 red potatoes
- Bag of steamed vegetables
- 2 chicken breasts
- 2 cups Spanish rice
- Bag of steamed vegetables
- 2 chicken breasts (or 10 oz. steak)
- Large bowl of pasta and marinara sauce
- Bag of steamed vegetables
Metabolic Drive® Protein, Mag 10 or whatever kind of protein your stomach can handle or you can manage to drink on a regular basis.
The larger your appetite grows, the more you should increase portion sizes. If you want to add some more protein into the diet, I highly recommend having a few Metabolic Drive protein drinks.
Three, three-scoop servings of it will add 180 grams of protein to your diet. These can be mixed in a small amount of water (I use about 10-12 oz. of water for 3 scoops). Milk can also be used; 16 oz. of milk works well for 2-3 scoops.
This is one of my favorite supplements for the simple reason that it allows me to sleep longer and without waking up. Furthermore, I swear it helps me have larger amounts of ejaculate. And you can't put a price tag on that.
Flameout or other high quality Omega supplement
I take two Flameout capsules, three times per day. The benefits to your health are amazing – this should be a staple of your diet no matter what you do in your training.
Although I'm no doctor (and I'm sure they'll frown on this), I take about 6 grams of Vitamin C every day. I believe this helps my recovery and helps alleviate soreness. You aren't going to be free from soreness but I find it helps.
Whenever a book or article touches on recovery, they have some snappy saying like, "You do your best growth outside the gym."
Still, I see most of the world in "recovery" mode and they all seem pretty weak to me.
But if you're going to invest time in the weight room, you might as well reap the results by being big and strong. So let's touch on a few simple things that will help you recover:
Diet This is nothing new. See the outline above.
Sleep Again, I'm not breaking any ground here.
- Supplementation This has also been covered. You may have a few tricks up your sleeve, so use those too.
- Cold showers or ice baths These things suck but can sometimes alleviate soreness
Ice bags Icing your shoulders, elbows, and knees (and other problem areas) is a great way to get rid of joint soreness. Also a good excuse to sit your ass down in front of the TV and not move.
Stretching Do a 10-minute stretching routine, three times a day. Easy to do, you can do it anywhere, and it'll do wonders if you're tight.
- PVC/foam roll Hitting problem areas like the hamstrings, quads, hips, piriformis, and IT band has saved me a lot of pain and discomfort in my hips, legs, and knees. A lacrosse ball can also be used to really dig into your upper back and piriformis.
I'm not going to sway on this one at all. I recommend the following conditioning options with this program:
- Walk 2 miles, 4 days/week.
- Walk 1-2 miles, 4 days/week while wearing weight vest.
- Walk two miles, 2 days/week and push the Prowler twice a week. The Prowler workout is as follows, done on asphalt: 10 x 40 yard pushes (sprints or walks) with 90 pounds added to Prowler. The walking sessions can also be done Manly Style, i.e. with a weight vest.
The Prowler is great for this program because it allows the lifter to get a quality "hard" conditioning session in without a lot of soreness. The Prowler is the best conditioning tool I've ever used. It's great for athletes and especially older lifters.
Nothing can compare and there is no substitute. Pushing a plate on a towel across the gym floor is not the same thing. The conditioning days can be done whenever it works into your schedule.
The Program in a Nutshell
Month one: 5 sets of 10 reps at 50% of Training Max (TM).
Month two: 5 sets of 10 reps at 60% of TM.
Month three: 5 sets of 10 reps at 70% of TM.
- 5/3/1 sets and reps are explained in the 5/3/1 book.
- Last sets on the 5/3/1 are not taken to failure; only the required reps are done.
- All other assistance work should be kept to a minimum.
- This is a 4 days/week program, not 3 days/week or 2 or 5.
- On upper body days, be sure to do some kind of pulling (rows or chins) exercise.
Exercise substitution will not be tolerated. Ask me about it and I'll pray you catch gonorrhea.
Press - 5/3/1 sets/reps
Bench Press - 5x10
Rows/Dips/Ab work- 25 total reps/exercise
Deadlift - 5/3/1 sets/reps
Squat - 5x10
Weighted Push-ups/Curls/Ab work- 25 total reps/exercise
Bench Press - 5/3/1 sets/reps
Press - 5x10
Rows/Dips/Ab work - 25 total reps/exercise
Squat - 5/3/1 sets/reps
Deadlift - 5x10
Weighted Push-ups/Curls/Ab work - 25 total reps/exercise
If you don't understand some, much or any of this you should really get the book. You'll be more educated. Start with a more basic program, there are many to choose from and you'll be far less likely to fail. Build a base and come back to this.