Program Review: Boring but Big

Here?s a look at the template for 5/3/1 called Boring But Big. I ran the program for four cycles (four months) of 5/3/1, not realizing that one is supposed to switch up templates for 5/3/1 every two-three cycles. Here?s the numbers:

Squat: 310 lbs ? 380 lbs

Bench: 205 lbs ? 230 lbs

Deadlift: 315 lbs ? 405 lbs

Bodyweight: 165 lbs ? 165 lbs

Edit: Two and a half years later, I ran Jim?s tweak of this program called Beefcake Training. A not so great powerbuilding program, but a couple of great ideas to make the best 5/3/1 template even better. Read my whole review of Boring But Big Beefcake Training after you?re done here.

What is Boring But Big?

A template for 5/3/1, Boring But Big (BBB) at its core is a volume program to just do a bunch of the big four lifts: deadlift, squat, bench and overhead press. After finishing the normal 5/3/1 lifts, you deload your bar down to 50% of your training max and do that for five sets of ten (5×10). In the variation I did, I swapped the lifts to be slightly less boring: squat 5×10 on the day I do 5/3/1 deadlifts, overhead on bench day, etc.

I added on just a little more assistance work in addition to this to keep myself well rounded based on Jim Wendler?s Boring but Big Challenge. I didn?t do the challenge (though I think I will this Fall). But for this stretch, in addition to the BBB lifts, I did chin-ups, triceps pulldowns and facepulls on overhead day, ab wheel on deadlift day, dumbbell rows, dumbbell curls and cable crossovers on bench day and hanging leg raises on squat days.

On days off from the gym, I often did an ab routine with some yoga that was mostly hollow body holds, planks and various yoga I picked up from taking classes.

My Lifting Background Up to This Point

I started the program at 35 years old. I had been program lifting for 18 months. First six months of Stronglifts 5×5, then a year of Greyskull LP (during which I injured my back and spent months in recovery, losing a lot of deadlift and squat progress). Before that, I had been on fuckarounditis for two years of varying intensity and absolutely no progression plan in an apartment building gym similar to a hotel level gym. I spent my 20s largely an out of shape obese guy after being a very athletic teenager.

I should also note this is the first time I started tracking my protein instead of doing guess work with it. I have been drinking morning protein shakes for years, and getting in lean protein daily, but now I actually tracked it.

Impressions of the Program

I personally didn?t find this to be ?boring,? but I view my time in the gym as a break from my life and a chance to just listen to heavy music and focus on myself. It was taxing though, especially on days I did the 5×10 squats. I found that my bench BBB sets felt too easy, and the progress bares that out. Given the chance to do it again, I?d probably do bench at 60% or even 70% of my training max, rather than 50%.

That said, I made amazing progress on my squat and deadlift. Part of this was probably the increase in ab work, something that I was starting to do on the advice of my chiropractor who was helping me recover from the previously stated back injury. She saw my core was garbage and so my lower back was doing all the bracing work on both deads and squats. So, I attribute the volume work and the extra ab work I was doing both in the program on and days off to that.

However, most lifters are fairly familiar with both 5/3/1 and Boring But Big, so I do want mention what makes my progress a little unique: doing it at maintenance level eating. I made sure at minimum every day I ate 135 grams of protein, but would often eat more. I hovered between 163 lbs and 168 lbs body weight for most days, so my calorie counting was fairly accurate. I would do about 2000 calories on days off and 2500 on days at the gym. The result is a change from about 15% body fat down to about 12% bodyfat.

I did this program after a cut from 188 lbs to 165 lbs (I had a 170 lbs goal, but blew past it mostly on accident). I was super pleased with the progress I made at maintenance and I think it was a perfect time in my training to try a body recomposition. From here out, making progress is going to be a lot more difficult and bulking (and cutting) will help me progress more at this speed, though I do expect an overall slow down regardless.

I decided against a bulk for two reasons, one being I?m very new to eating strategically. And two, with summer and the beach coming up, I did want to have my first time with abs not to go away on me. While I likely will do a bulk this Fall into Winter, I still have a lot to think about long term. I do think I?d like to competitively powerlift in locals next year, and deciding what weight to go in at is something I?ll need to think about. I like the way I look and perform at 165, but it?s possible I?ll like being something else too. That said, as a former fat guy, it will be a little tough to convince myself to go back up in weight, even though I know in my head it works when done right.

Conclusions and Other Thoughts

I can?t argue with the results. I got much better 1RM numbers from doing this program for only 2 months. The progress is pretty insane compared to Greyskull LP, even when you factor for the back injury. And when you consider I was eating at maintenance the entire time, I think it?s even better. I didn?t do it exactly as Jim lays out, which I know he basically shuns people over, but fuck it, it worked great for me.

I think if I ran it again, I would though in a First Set Last (FSL) in on bench day before heading over to the 5×10 overhead press. My bench has always been poverty though, so it?s not surprising that didn?t change with my time in this program.

I am thinking for my bulk coming up this Fall, I am going to do the actual Boring, But Big challenge that Jim laid out. I think the squats will murder me, but I am looking forward to challenging myself that way.

In the mean time, I am enjoy my first summer of my life having abs and an adonis belt. I am currently doing a hypertrophy template program for bigger muscles and really just letting my vanity get the best of me. I added a FSL bit to the bench here on the second cycle of this program because, like I said, my bench has always been poverty and I?m looking to fix that.

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