2024 Lifting Recap: Frustration & Learning

2022 was the year I began lifting at home, and it was a year of consistent progress and wins. 2023 was… different. I switched from a Starting Strength based Linear Progression to a 5/3/1 based program , and was also fully self-programming with no coach, and it was a year of ups and downs. In the end I learned that I had a lot to learn, and feel ready to get better in 2024. My quantifiable lifting improvements for the year are minimal compared to 2023 though.

What I did

At a high level I used 4 5/3/1 templates throughout the year.

Jan-April: “Classic 5/3/1 Boring But Big”

This was the first thing I saw with 5/3/1 and what most people seemed to do so I tried it. This is a lot of sets of 1-5 reps and even more with 10 reps with lower weights than I got used to from starting strength.

April-Early June: “Krypteia (aborted early)"

Krypteia is a heavily super-set focus variant of 5/3/1. It’s intended to be a conditioning focused program without sacrificing strength and size (too good to be true?). I quickly got injured doing this, though it was related to longer term problems not just Krypteia. I switched to Morning Star at that point

June - September: “Morning Star”

After I picked up a shoulder injury that was making benching dicey, I decided I wanted to shift to focus on strength and specifically Squat and Press. Morning Star was a way to do that which felt a bit more familiar to me. Overall these were the cycles I made the most progress in terms of strength numbers, and felt the healthiest.

September-December: Squat/Push/Pull Full Body / 1000% Awesome

I’d liked the full body feel from the summer with Morning Star, so I decided to move back to that, continuing to keep emphasis on the Press and Squat but reincorporate Bench Press and Deadlift.

What I learned

5/3/1 and Starting Strength have very different philosophies:

Starting Strength: Focus ~exclusively on 5 big compound lifts (Bench Press, Deadlift, Press, Squat, Power Clean)1 and try to make progress as quickly as possible on a 5 rep max

5/3/1: Focus on overall strength and conditioning with a goal of slower maintainable progress across a wider range of fitness indicators (multiple RM targets and general preparedness / conditioning)

I started 5/3/1 programs like they were Starting Strength (started with weights that were in retrospect too aggressive, didn’t do the accessory work, and ignored conditioning recommendations) and ultimately it led to a path of feeling like I’d stopped making progress and then getting injured.

The lessons for me:

Understand your program’s philosophy if you’re coaching yourself

5/3/1 was initially not effective for me because I wasn’t really doing the full program, I wasn’t really thinking of progress in the way the program encourages, and I wasn’t disciplined in how I progressed.

Slow progress without injuries > fast progress followed by injuries

That’s obvious in retrospect but I set up myself for injury specifically by pushing for heavier weights without focusing on discipline of having good quality reps, and by over focusing on push-style exercises (Press + Bench Press) without corresponding pull / shoulder health exercises to provide balance. The net result was I tore up both shoulders at points in the year, and have had to spend a few months on PT/rehab to get them back to feeling ~normal.

Progress Made

My 5RM numbers made embarrassingly little progress in 2023 relative to where I was in January.

Bench: 240 -> 240 Press: 145 -> 150 DL: 385 -> 400 Squat: 320 (low bar) -> 335 (high bar)

That said, I did hit PRs at a number of other rep ranges, I can do a lot more reps at high intensity during a workout without feeling aches and pains the next day and the quality of my reps is much higher both in high intensity low rep ranges like the above and at moderately lower weights with more reps. And while I only really started taking the conditioning portion seriously in December, I’m seeing some progress there as well as I’ve started running again.

Looking Ahead to 2024

I’m starting off 2024 with a major focus on conditioning, and also on keeping my workouts efficient as I’m going back to work after parental leave and continuing to spend time on PT recovering from my shoulder injury. In that vein, I’m mixing 3x a week of Krypteia Redux with 2 running days a week from now till the end of April. Still deciding what I want to do after that, but currently thinking that I’m going to return to “Boring But Big” and do it right this time.

  1. The program does include chinups in its 3rd phase as well, which I never worked in to my detriment ↩︎

Ben McCormick @benmccormick