The principles behind 5/3/1 are still pretty sound, although the rep ranges aren't the best for everyone.
Here's the good:
- It's an example of micro-periodization over a month
** High(ish) reps, Medium reps, Low reps
- Average work load for the month is between 75-85%
My coach had me do something 5/3/1 like for a while and it worked well for me. It was more of a 10/8/5/3 plan, but I can take some principles from that plan and apply it to you:
- You need to train hard every session, but still recover
- Each Training in your micro-periodization should have a goal
- Common goals include:
- Volume: this is where strength is actually built
- Heavy: this is where strength is tested
- Speed: this is active recovery that helps with reinforcing movement patterns
- Bodybuilding: more focus on accessory and isolation movements, i.e. fixing weak areas
- Build your monthly pattern after these training styles
The plan you've been working with is basically a volume progression, which does work. Doug Hepburn built a career doing something like that (but with heavier weights and lower rep ranges). However, by not doing any heavy work, your body is acclimated to the way things are going. Heavy work in turn also burns you out more quickly, so it has to be balanced out by allowing a bit more recovery.
5/3/1 accomplishes this by having you work with high(er) reps and working progressively towards fewer but heavier reps, then gives you a week for active recovery. While a number of people thrive off of this pattern, it's not the only one that works.
Shaping your goals:
- You should have a target number of reps per training goal
- Volume: aim for 24-32 reps total for the week, with 8-12 rep sets
- Heavy: aim for 8-12 reps total for the week, with 2-5 rep sets
- Speed: aim for 8-15 reps total for the week, 1-3 rep sets
- Bodybuilding: chase the pump with as many reps as necessary
- You should have a target weight per training goal
- Volume: aim for as heavy as you can for those 8-12 rep sets, feel free to remove weight each set
- Heavy: aim for as heavy as you can for those 2-5 rep sets
- Speed: aim for a weight that is slightly above warmup (roughly 65% of your current max)
- Bodybuilding: go with something that will help you feel the muscle you are trying to control
Now you can decide how best to put all these together. I've seen some programs have you mix it up so each major movement is done each week, but each one has a different goal during the week. I've seen some programs where everything is on the same goal each week. Your approach should fit you best. That said, here are some common approaches:
- Linear Periodization: everything moves in the same direction. For example from light to heavy or heavy to light.
- Undulating Periodization: The weights are going up and down from week to week. Kind of like a progression where each week you are doing sets of 10, 5, 8, then 3. It's lighter, heavy, light, heavier
- Mixed Periodization: each main movement has it's own progression, but all the movements are using different focuses each week (Brandon Lilly's program is like this).
The training goals I listed are not the only things you can pursue, but just provide a starting point for conversation purposes. The main take away is that you do need some heavier work than you have been doing, but after heavy work you need some recovery.
Hopefully this is enough to get you working on your own plan.