I put off reviewing Nsuns for years despite numerous requests because it looked…. daunting. It claimed to be inspired by 5 3 1, but the program had long runs of varied reps that seemed disconnected from each other, with set and rep schemes that were needlessly jumbled.
In scrolling down the Boostcamp app (check em out here for FREE access to Kong and Bullmastiff!) I saw how popular the Nsuns program was; there were more people running that than any other program on the platform! So, I decided to suck it up and do a thorough review.
The first website I came across summarizing the program began as such:
“Nsuns is a program inspired by 5 3 1 and Sheiko.”
Oh, boy. Off to a rough start.
First thoughts: 5 3 1 and Sheiko are diametrically opposed as approaches to training; they emphasize training variables that are inversely related to each other, meaning if one is high, the other is low.
-5 3 1 trains once per week, Sheiko is high frequency
-531 consists of 1 set done as an amrap (not counting other Wendler add-ons), where Sheiko features many sets done quite a ways away from failure
-531 relies on the main lifts where Sheiko utilizes a ton of variations
-531 is a linear progression and Sheiko is periodized
-531 is designed to be simple enough to explained on a cocktail napkin, whereas Shieko templates are highly varied, highly randomized and weren’t specifically written for the masses
You see my concern? At first glance, these programs mesh together about as well as mustard and birthday cake.
My initial thought was that this was the kind of melding of two ideas that you see as part of the normal process of learning. Early creativity in children involves taking two things that are familiar and well defined and smashing them together. It’s when you get more mastery of the subjects you are trying to represent and you’ve had thousands of hours of practice with such mash ups that you actually stumble across something new, interesting or useful.
That’s great when you’re writing fiction or learning to paint, but for systems that exist to produce predictable outcomes, not so much. With any discipline that concerns itself with the physical world, medicine, architecture, martial arts, and lifting, learning happens by copying what the best do until the fundamentals have been mastered. Only when the concepts are ingrained into your being are you justified in stepping out of bounds to experiment with something new.
Reading the original archived reddit post from nSuns:
“This is what I used to go from 900 to 1215 total after 10 years of not lifting”
Rapid growth after an extended layoff is completely expected. It’s newbie gains squared. It took me 10 years to get close to a 600lb squat; when I broke my leg and had to stay off of it for 90 days, the bad leg atrophied to nothing. My first squat workout back was a sketchy 405 x 2 but In 3 short months I checked 600 off the list.
These are also numbers that are just getting into intermediate territory. 450 squats and deads along with 315 benches are held by recreational crossfitters, gym bros, bodybuilders, football players, even some manual laborers. They are important bench marks in strength that separate you from the rest of the population, sure, but not remotely in need of deliberately crafted strength programs in order to be acheived.
I can’t dog the op too hard. He’s part of an online community where everyone shares their experiences in an attempt to accelerate their training knowledge. Lifting specifically uses a pretty informal approach to learning, since so many things work and adherence to the BIG things is typically the only requirement for progress.
The problem is that, in trying to meld two existing things together without having a firm handle on why they work the way they do, we ended up with a convoluted monstrosity that appears to feature the worst of all worlds.
The simplicity of 5/3/1 that made it easy for casual lifters to progress has been swapped for the randomized number soup that is Shieko progressions, a level of complexity that isn’t warranted for the non-powerlifting focused and amateur lifters.
And the volume and frequency of Sheiko that requires modulated intensity with carefully selected working weights now is at odds with the amrap sets and the linear progression that aims to just increase weight with them every single week.
It tries to be high frequency and high intensity and high volume and linear and periodized…..
The thing is that this bowling ball of adaptive stress will cause growth. In the same vein as Smolov, Bulgarian or any haphazard gym bro workouts from young lifters trying to kill themselves in the gym, just doing ALL THE WORK can work.
But it isn’t sustainable, and that’s the problem that any good program should address. Causing enough stress to grow is just half the battle, and it’s actually the easiest one. Appropariately pacing volume and intensity with the rate of progression and the frequency of rest periods, especially with a program aimed at a broad audience, is the hard part.
531 addressed that issue, as did Sheiko in his templates. But nSuns takes those solutions and disposes them in the name of ‘something new’.
Programs should be made from the ground up, by starting with the list of important variables and a firm understanding of how they work together, and moving forward by logical decisions that manifest that understanding. They shouldn’t come about the way a teenager makes a suicide at 7 11.