Book Review: 5/3/1

5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength by Jim Wendler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The program works. I’m only a month in an already seeing strength gains and weight loss at a caloric deficit. The writing is real casual so it feels like less like a book and more like a live-action broscience sermon dispensed between sets of BB curls in the only squat rack.

It could use a good, thorough edit. The most extreme contradictions are Wendler’s wildly pivoting stance on protein powder and placement of workout volume. In one chapter, he says to avoid protein powder and eat real food, which is sound advice. Later, he says if you’re trying to lose weight, just drink protein before every meal, and you’ll eat less. This also seems like good advice, though not very credible since he’s kind of porky.

Throughout the book he stays a major proponent of simple, compound-centric programming with incremental advancement over time, in an effort to keep his readers from becoming those lifer curl bros who have been benching 225 since high school but won’t risk changing their routine, lest their progress slow down. I’m on BBB right now and not only am I seeing gains, I finish each day inside of 45 minutes (my record being 26 minutes on a chest day). That’s awesome, but he’ll also recommend a thousand sets of accessory exercises without specifying where they go in the program. The best example is the ab circuit: weighted crunches, side bends, and hanging leg raises, one after the other. Two sets each the first week, three the second, four the third.

Cool. Where do we plug that into BBB? As of now I’m scheming on getting rid of the 5×15 hanging leg raises and replacing it with these circuits, but was that the dude’s intention? Unknown. If you ask him, though, he’ll say, “Of course it is, dumbass. Don’t overthink it.” This is his go-to response for most of the questions in the book.

What he takes to be obvious and instinctual very well may be, if you’ve been a competitive powerlifter for twenty years or whatever. For journeyman lifters, they’re seeking out books on the subject specifically to build a database of background knowledge, not to be shamed for not having it yet.

Still, the casual irreverance and bluntness, to say nothing of the stilted locker-room talk, are all facets of the jock ethic. They lend the book an air of legitimacy beyond the knowledge that this dude can squat a thousand lbs, because it shows he’s just a run-of-the-mill meathead. Not a dumb guy, but neatly checking the rest of the boxes.

At the end of the day, who cares how gruff and antiquated he sounds? The dude is strong as an ox, and his program works for all levels, continuing into the long term, which enough opportunities to back off and deload that you’re never going to get injured so long as you’re not an idiot about it. Don’t lift with your ego. That’s what your blog is for.

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