30 Jan

5/3/1 for Women – How To


I dig 5/3/1 so hard.

I have never had so much success with a weight training programme as I’ve had with this 5/3/1. I’ve been working through it for over a year now (which, in itself, is saying something) and with it I’ve seen tremendous strength gains and I’m never bored.

I got a facebook message from a reader asking me for some more detail on how the programme works so I figured it was high time for another update on the how-to’s of 5/3/1.

What is the 5/3/1 Programme?

It’s a weightlifting programme created by powerlifter Jim Wendler that focuses on building strength.

5/3/1 revolves around the basic multi-joint lifts: squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.

The plan is based on a slow progression of reasonable and attainable strength over time.

You really have to be able to commit to several cycles to see results. It may seem slow going at first, but you are able work toward your goals while still seeing some motivating improvements that keep you going.

How does it work?

Find Your Base Loads

Figure out the maximum weight you can lift for one rep (or a good estimate of it) for the following lifts: squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press.

Take 90% of that number (eg. if your 1RM is 100lb, use 0.9*100=90lbs). This is your base load from which you will determine how much weight you will lift for every workout.

Plan Your Workout Days and Rest Days

Each Cycle of the plan is four weeks—three weeks of strength building and one week for de-loading and recovery.

The Cycle is based on 4 workouts per week—one of the four major lifts (bench, squat, deadlift, overhead press) each day. Figure out a way to spread out your workout days and rest days to fit everything in so that it works for you.

I like to workout two days back-to-back with one or two rest days in between, eg) Sun, Mon, Wed, Thu.

Week One – 5 Rep Week

You’re working in the 5 rep range this week. For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 5 reps at 75% of base load
Set 2: 5 reps at 80% of base load
Set 3: At least 5 reps at 85% of base load (if you can do more than 5, then do as many as you can)

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day, using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

Week Two – 3 Rep Week

You’ll be working heavier for fewer reps this week. For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 3 reps at 80% of base load
Set 2: 3 reps at 85% of base load
Set 3: At least 3 reps at 90% of base load (as many reps as you can)

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

Week Three – 1 Rep Week

You’ll be repeating some of the loads from the last two weeks for sets 1 and 2 then you’ll go for as many reps as possible at 95% of your base load for your final set.

For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 5 reps at75% of base load
Set 2: 3 reps at 85% of base load
Set 3: At least 1 rep at 95% of base load (as many reps as you can)

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

Week Four – De-load Week

This is your deload week for recovery. You will perform exactly 5 reps in each set with lighter weights, never pushing yourself to failure. For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 5 reps at 60% of base load
Set 2: 5 reps at 65% of base load
Set 3: 5 reps at 70% of base load

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

I’m done a Cycle, now what?

When you’ve completed a 4 week cycle, it is time to progress your loads.

Add the following weights to the one rep maximum that you determined at the beginning of the 4 weeks:

Squat + 10lb
Deadlift + 10lb
Bench Press + 5lb
Overhead Press + 5lb

(eg. if your 1RM for bench press was 100lbs, your new 1RM is 105lb)

Using these new numbers, recalculate your Base Loads for each exercise, and start a new cycle!

You can do as many cycles of the programme as you like. You could practically cycle this programme forever.

What if I didn’t hit my targets?

If you don’t make the calculated load in any of the exercises, go back and re-calculate your 1 rep max and start over.

I generally step back 2 cycles which drops my 1RM by 20lbs for squat and deadlift and 10lbs for bench and push press.

What else do I do besides the 4 main lifts?

That’s up to you.

Wendler recommends adding additional exercises called ‘assistance work’ to each workout day to supplement your 4 major lifts and assist you with your goals. These are some of the plans that he recommends:

Assistance Plans

Boring But Big. Main lift, the main lift again for 5 sets x 10 reps (50% 1RM), and another accessory exercise for 5 sets.

The Triumvirate. Main lift, and two assistance exercises – 5 sets each.

I’m Not Doing Jack Shit. Main lift, and nothing else.

Periodization Bible by Dave Tate. Main lift, and 3 exercises – 5 x 10-20 reps each.

Bodyweight. Main lift, and 2 bodyweight exercises such as the pull up, sit ups, dips, etc.

This post from Muscle & Strength gives some good examples of accessory work.

This All Sounds like a Lot of Math, Lunks don’t do Math

Errr…sure they do?

But, if you want to keep it brainless anyway then lucky for you I’m an Excel Wizard by day and came up with this 5-3-1 Training Calculator.

No calculations needed (not even the base load!). You just have to know your one rep maximum for squats, deadlifts, bench press, and push press. The calculator will figure out the rest.

Just pop in your one rep max for each exercise into the calculator where the red arrow is and it will spew out the loads that you’ll be using for the next 3 full cycles of the programme.

Easy like Sunday morning.

Click here to download the Calculator Spreadsheet

How’s it working for you?

I love it so much. I love knowing exactly how much I have to lift each day. It pushes me to work harder every single week.

Since November 2012 I’ve made some pretty big improvements in my lifts.

Squats: 185lb to 235lb (27% improvement)
Bench: 135lb to 150lb (11% improvement)
Deadlift: 225lb to 250lb (11% improvement)
Push Press: 105lb to 130lb (24% improvement)

On paper they may not look like much, but it is extremely challenging to make modest improvements when it comes to strength training, so I’m really proud.

I had a few setbacks during the year (as a result of a 3 week yoga teacher training and a 2 week vacation) and I had to step back a few cycles in order to regain my strength. Overall, though, it’s been awesome and I’m going to keep on keeping on.

I’ve already set some new goals for myself and plan on using 5/3/1 to attain them:

-165lb bench press (ie. a body weight bench press)
-275lb deadlift



If you want to know more about how the programme works, check out this post on Muscle and Strength. It’s super comprehensive.

28 Jan

Four Things

It was Matt’s BIG 30th birthday this weekend! Happy birthday husband! To celebrate, we spent Friday night with a big group of friends, an event which can be easily summed up by this photo:

Matt's Bday celebration

My gift to Matt was tickets to see Varekai, the Cirque de Soleil show that was in Windsor this weekend. This wasn’t my first Cirque show but I was still unbelievably impressed by the acrobatics that these performers pull off and make it look so goddamn easy.
It’s especially impressive when they do things that you’ve actually attempted in your life so you know how much work it takes (e.g. I can hardly hold a handstand, so it was amazing to watch this).


I really like my new agenda from PocketSquares. It’s the one I asked for but didn’t get for Christmas. I’ve never been much of an agenda person and have always been good about keeping up with my schedule in my head, which is less of a testament to my memory retention than to my non-existent social life.
No, I haven’t gotten any more social, but I have been busy teaching and it’s been helpful to have a way to keep track of it.


My agenda also gave me a place to write in this upcoming endeavour: Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training! Believe it or not, I’m going to get certified to teach yoga to mommies-to-be. It is going to be a challenge for me to get up to speed even before training starts, because my knowledge of pregnancy is non-existent. As much as I’d like to keep the mysteries of gestation and labour just that, mysteries, everyone around me seems to be getting pregnant and I really want to be able to teach them yoga too.

Prenatal Teacher Training

26 Jan

Links for a Sunday Morning

Money Is a Terrible Way to Measure the Value of a College Major – The Atlantic

“There’s also something to be said for encouraging students to study something that they enjoy, or have a natural talent for. Namely, they’re more likely to stick at it. When a bored or frustrated student switches majors, whether it’s from engineering to biology or economics to sociology, it often increases their time to degree, which in turn makes it less likely they ever graduate.”

How Inactivity Changes the Brain – NY Times

“When the scientists looked inside the brains of their rats after the animals had been active or sedentary for about 12 weeks, they found noticeable differences between the two groups in the shape of some of the neurons.”

This Incredible Chart Explains Almost All Of Recent Economic History – Business Insider

“The chart allows you to see how various income groups have thrived or stagnated over the past few decades.”

Having A Higher Purpose In Life Reduces Risk Of Death Among Older Adults – Science Daily

“The finding that purpose in life is related to longevity in older persons suggests that aspects of human flourishing—particularly the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and possess a sense of intentionality and goal-directedness—contribute to successful aging”

Amsterdam’s pragmatic approach to problem alcoholics: pay them in beer, let them work buzzed – Windsor Star

“The idea was simply that troublemakers might consume less and cause less trouble if they could be lured away from their park benches with the promise of free booze.”

We Need To Take Meditation More Seriously As Medicine – Time

“Researchers are increasingly demonstrating the measurable influence of meditation on the brain, proving that mindfulness programs can make us feel happier, have greater emotional resilience and take fewer sick days.”

Meditation Transforms Roughest San Francisco Schools – SFGate

“An impressive array of studies shows that integrating meditation into a school’s daily routine can markedly improve the lives of students.”

Want a better work-life balance? Exercise, study finds – Science Daily

“The idea sounds counterintuitive. How is it that adding something else to our work day helps to alleviate stress and empower us to deal with work-family issues? We think exercise is a way to psychologically detach from work — you’re not there physically and you’re not thinking about it either — and, furthermore, it can help usfeel good about ourselves.”

14 Jan

Swedish Tea Ring

This is the first recipe that I made out of my new cookbook: The Great Scandinavian Baking Book and it did not disappoint.

In the past I worked on finding the recipe for the perfect cinnamon bun.

I made Peter Reinhart’s Cinnamon Buns which I like in texture and flavour, and which were well received by everyone who tried them. They’re good (I’ve made them multiple times) but not The Best.

I made Finnish Cinnamon Buns or Korvapuustit (yes, I do have an obsession with Scandinavian baking, thankyouverymuch). I liked these a lot because of their small, cute shape, and that they weren’t super sweet but the dough wasn’t quite tender enough for my liking. And they didn’t get the same reception as Peter Reinhart’s.

Then I made Brioche Cinnamon Buns (and sticky buns) and thought that they were the most perfect and delicious thing in the world. Everyone loved them, especially me.

…and then I never made them again.

Because they are so rich and sweet and decadent they’re something that I can’t have around the house very often. Deliciously impractical, squarely dessert territory, and not at all appropriate for breakfast.

Enter the Swedish Tea Ring.

Swedish Tea Ring (2)

I think this recipe solved all my problems.

It makes a wreath of cinnamon buns that are not too sweet or too large or too decadent. They’re soft and chewy, spiked with cardamom for that Scandinavian flair, and heavily drizzled with almond flavoured glaze.

They’re a breakfast, they’re a coffee snack, they’re dessert. They’re perfect.

Swedish Tea Ring (4)

My sister said to me, with a mouth full of cinnamon deliciousness, “These might be the best things you’ve ever baked.”

If that’s not reason enough to try them, I don’t know what is.

Swedish Tea Ring (6)

Swedish Tea Ring (Vetekrans)

from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

Dough Ingredients

2 pkg active dry yeast
1 c. warm water (105*F-115*F)
1/2 c. melted butter
1/2 c. sugar
3 slightly beaten eggs
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cardamom (optional) <–this shouldn’t be optional
4 c. all purpose flour

Filling Ingredients

1/2 c. softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 c. blanched almonds, finely chopped (optional) <–I opted out of this

Glaze Ingredients

1 c. powdered sugar
2 T. hot coffee or milk
1/2 t. almond extract <– it’s a game changer


In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining dough ingredients until the dough is smooth and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll it into a 20 to 24 inch square. Spread with a thin layer of softened butter right to the edge. Mix the 1/2 cup of sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the butter. Sprinkle the almonds (if using) over the cinnamon sugar. Roll up as for a jelly roll.

Grease a baking sheet and place the roll on the sheet, shaping it into a ring. Pinch the ends together to close the circle. With scissors, cut almost through the ring at 1/2″ intervals. Turn each piece so that the cut side is exposed.
Let rise until almost doubled. (Umm…. I just noticed this step as I was copying the recipe from the cookbook. It goes without saying that I skipped it. I might have to have a recipe redo, just to perfect it even more . . . and to eat more cinnamon buns).

Preheat the oven to 375*F. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just golden. While the ring bakes, mix the glaze ingredients. Brush while hot with the glaze.

This recipe was submitted to Yeastspotting
12 Jan

Links for a Sunday Morning

Doctors Claim Meditation Can Beat Pain and Depression – Daily Mail

Scientific studies have now shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability. This means that when distressing thoughts arise, they dissolve away again more easily.

How Body Size Shapes our View of Exercise – NY Times

Overweight women’s brains were put off by exercise. . . Emotionally, the brain scans suggested, they anticipated disliking physical activity much more than they expected to disdain sitting.

16 Reasons to Go to Detroit Now – The Delicious Day

Yes, Detroit has a side of it that is in an incomprehensible state of decay, but it also has absolutely amazing corners, people, food, architecture, culture, art, music, diversity and all things that make great cities – great. 

Instead of Dressing Her Daughter as a Princess, this Woman Dressed her as 5 Distinguished Ladies – Jaime C. Moore

It started me thinking about all the REAL women for my daughter to know about and look up too, REAL women who without ever meeting Emma have changed her life for the better.

Does Prince Charming Really Need to be Reinvented – The Atlantic

What the Prince Charming fantasy does is encourage girls to aim for good guys. It is aspirational, the way superhero films encourage boys to emulate honor and honesty. Unfortunately, though, it has become all too common in our culture to shame girls for their fantasies.

How Much Weight Should You Lift – Stumptuous

Middle-class North American ideas of what women “should” be doing have no basis in physiological reality. In other words, we are told by “celebrity fitness trainers” and fluffy “fitness” magazines that women “should” only lift a few pounds at most. And that is total. Bullshit.

Yin Yoga 101 – Mind Body Green

Yin Yoga is unique in that you are asked to relax in the posture, soften the muscle and move closer to the bone.

It Was So Cold In Canada, the Ground Exploded – Gizmodo

Even before the polar vortex put large swathes of the US into a deep freeze, subzero temperatures in Canada were causing frost quakes. 

09 Jan

Arches National Park – Favourite Places

This is part of my series on Visiting Utah in November including Zion National Park and Moab.

Arches National Park is absolutely gorgeous. The landscape is so varying that you can see ‘petrified’ sand dunes, snow capped mountains, hoodoos, buttes, desert brush, and rock fins all in one sweeping vista. Oh, and arches too.

La Sal Mountains

Most of the hikes in Arches aren’t overly strenuous. There are the ‘Devil’s Garden’ hike which is a day-long hike with steep inclines and declines and lots of scrambling as well as the ‘Fiery Furnace’ which is a challenging ranger-guided hike, but aside from those the other hikes are pretty tame.
So hike here for the views and not necessarily for the challenge.

Park Avenue

Park Avenue 2
Park Avenue

A simple and easy stroll, this was surprisingly my favourite. It’s only about 3km (out and back) from the Park Avenue parking area with little change in elevation overall but the views make it worthwhile.

Park Avenue
Park Avenue

The trail takes you through a canyon with sheer, towering rock structures that are imposing and awe-inspiring and give you a sense of the grandeur of nature. I’d walk here over the real Park Avenue any day.

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch
Sand Dune Arch

A flat, easy trail from Sand Dune Arch parking area only about half a kilometre from the parking lot. I liked this one because the arch was located basically in a sand pit that was secluded by sandstone fins. It felt like a secret place (although I’m sure during the busy season it doesn’t quite feel this way).

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

This is probably the most popular arch in the park; it certainly photographs well. The 5km out-and-back trail and the arch itself were very busy with people of all capabilities which surprised me considering that the path to the arch is nearly entirely uphill, which can be strenuous, and the last 100m or so are along a steep rock ledge.
Seeing the arch standing alone and surrounded by nothing but sky, makes it worth the hike.

Partition Arch

Partition Arch
Partition Arch

This is just a stopping point on the trail to Double O Arch, but for me it was a destination in itself. I thought it was the most perfect place, a window to the beautiful landscapes beyond. I wish that we had brought some food to picnic here because I felt like I could just sit under this arch all day and soak in the views. We didn’t stay for long, but this was by far my favourite place that we visited in the park.

The trail to Double O Arch is 6.4km round trip and takes you past Landscape Arch, the widest in the park, and then becomes more challenging as it takes you up steep rock before leveling off. There are small side trails that lead to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch (also worth seeing). Then the trail to Double O crosses narrow rock fins. If you’re okay with heights the views are amazing.

Because of the snow and frost on the slickrock, we had to turn around just before making it to Double O but what we did experience was fantastic.

Landscape Arch
Landscape Arch

Rock Fins
Rock Fins


07 Jan

All the Cookbooks

I was fortunate to receive so many awesome gifts this Christmas from my husband, my family, and my friends, many of which were cookbooks. I’m up to my ears in cookbooks right now, baking books to be more specific, and I like it.

All the CookbooksAll the Cookbooks

500 Desserts

My mother-in-law bought me 500 Desserts which has a recipe for pretty much every dessert that you can imagine. This will be a good reference when I need a dessert idea on a whim, since there are so many to choose from.

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Layered Lime Sponge Cake with Lemon Frosting, Rich Chocolate Pots de Creme with Coffee Cream.

The French Baker

Just before Christmas I received a review copy of The French Baker from which I’ve so far made one recipe. The book is full of recipes for classic French breads and pastries and even some hearty French meals. I’ll do a full review soon and post a recipe.
Between this and the Bouchon Bakery cookbook I foresee my kitchen pumping out a lot of French baked goods in the near future.

Recipes in Progress: Sourdough starter. The author is a proponent of sourdough breads so many of the bread recipes are based on homegrown natural yeast (ie. sourdough).

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Bouillabaise, Death by Chocolate, Croissants

The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

I also received The Great Scandinavian Baking Book from my Secret Santa Micaela which has been on my must have list for a while. There are even more recipes in this book than I expected including recipes for breads, both savoury and sweet, cookies, and cakes. Each recipe is introduced with a little cultural information about the food and how or when it is eaten, and I like having that kind of background. I’ll be sure to post as soon as I try a recipe.

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Norwegian Browned Butter Cookies, Icelandic Jewish Cakes, Swedish Soft Spice Cake, Swedish Ham Pie with Mushroom Sauce

Bouchon Bakery

Matt splurged on the Bouchon Bakery cookbook for me which I have been talking about for the last year. I’ve already made the oreos in the past and I’m looking forward to making a few more cookies from this book. But it’s not all cookies; there are recipes in the book for cakes and tarts and macarons and breads (yay!) and quite a few extraordinarily-complicated-looking treats which I am looking forward to making over the next little long while. I like that the instructions are very detailed and the authors tell you why you’re doing something, which means you actually learn the significance of the recipe steps and don’t just follow recipes blindly, hoping for the best.

Recipes I’ve Made:

Pear Feuilletés. This recipe involved so many steps and components (including homemade puff pastry) that it was a several day process. I made them for a New Year’s Eve dinner party but I forewarned my friends not to ask questions if, in the end, I showed up without them.

Pear FeuilletesPear Feuilletes

Luckily, they were a success, although I wish I had a larger cookie cutter to make big ones that could hold more of the delicious filling.

Bran Muffins. Probably not the first recipe people jump to when they open this cookbook, but because they use a small amount of the pear filling from the aforementioned feuilletés I decided to make them.

Bouchon Bran Muffins

They’re good. Matt liked them and he hardly likes muffins, let alone bran ones.

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Better Nutters, Pain Palladin, Tropezienne, Caramel Nut Tart, Croissants