The 5-3-1 Workout Programme


Jim8The 5/3/1 strength training program is one of the most popular, and for good reason. It works really well…..
There’s a reason why many experienced bodybuilders include powerlifting in their routine. Not only is it a great way to skyrocket your strength and break through bodybuilding plateaus, it’s just plain fun.
You’ll regularly hit personal bests, you’ll feel like superman lifting huge weights, and it’s the best adrenaline rush weightlifting has to offer.

Jim Wendler’s “5/3/1″ system, which is our favorite due to its simplicity, time efficiency, and overall effectiveness, so we’ll be detailing it in full here. Wendler’s system changed the weight lifting scene completely.

Wendler’s system is one of the only strength routines that has built a following. It’s now one of the most popular strength programs out there because it’s easy to understand, doesn’t require any special equipment, the workouts are relatively short, and it’s very effective.

How 5/3/1 Works

You train 3 – 4 times per week.

You perform one of four workouts on your training days:

Workout A

Squat and assistance work.

Workout B

Bench Press and assistance work.

Workout C

Deadlift and assistance work.

Workout D

Military Press and assistance work.

You perform each of these workouts 4 times to complete what is known as a “mesocycle,” which is a fancy sports training term that refers to a training phase that lasts 2 – 6 weeks. That is, you will have 4 Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Military Press workouts per mesocycle.

Jim Wendler

Your training frequency will determine how long each mesocycle lasts. If you train 4 times per week, it will last 4 weeks. If you train 3 times per week, it will last 5 weeks and 1 day (you’ll see why in a moment).

You perform each of these workouts in “waves,” which look like this:

Wave A

Warmup, 75% x 5, 80% x 5, 85% x 5

Wave B

Warmup, 80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 3

Wave C

Warmup, 75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1

Wave D

Deload wave – 60% x 5, 65% x 5, 70% x 5

(In case you’re wondering, the percentages refer to percentage of your one-rep max, which we’ll talk more about in a minute, and “x #” means “for # reps.”)

The first week of your mesocycle involves Wave A workouts, the second week Wave B, and so forth. As you can see, each mesocycle ends with a “deload” wave, which is meant to give your body a break.

Here’s how it looks visually for a 4-day split:

4 Days Per Week

Week

Monday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

1

Squat – A

Bench Press – A

Deadlift – A

Mil Press – A

2

Squat – B

Bench Press – B

Deadlift – B

Mil Press – B

3

Squat – C

Bench Press – C

Deadlift – C

Mil Press – C

4

Squat – D

Bench Press – D

Deadlift – D

Mil Press – D

And here’s how it looks for a 3-day split:

3 Days Per Week

Week

Monday

Wednesday

Friday

1

Squat – A

Bench Press – A

Deadlift – A

2

Mil Press – A

Squat – B

Bench Press – B

3

Deadlift – B

Mil Press – B

Squat – C

4

Bench Press – C

Deadlift – C

Mil Press – C

5

Squat – D

Bench Press – D

Deadlift – D

6

Mil Press – D

As you can see, both the 4- and 3-day splits have you performing each of the workouts 4 times, and have you working through the 4 waves.

How to Calculate Your One-Rep Maxes

Your “one-rep max,” or “1RM,” is the amount of weight that you can lift for one, and only one, rep with while maintaining proper form. These are real, right now numbers—not past accomplishments or current wishes.

To follow the 5/3/1 program, you’ll need to know your 1RMs for your Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, and Military Press.

Fortunately, you don’t have to find them through trial and error—you can simply calculate them based on how many reps you can perform with a lighter weight. The math is simple too.

To find your 1RM for a given lift, use an amount of weight that allows for about 4-6 reps, and use the following equation:

Weight x Reps x .0333 + Weight = Estimated 1RM

For example, if I can squat 335 for 5 reps, then the equation looks like this:

(355 x 5) 1775 x .0333 = 53 + 355 = 408

Practically speaking, I would round that number either down to 405 or up to 410, but that’s the simplicity of it.

Now, manually calculating all your 1RMs can be quite tedious, so we recommend  you just take the time out to use one of the available calculators to do it.

Jim Wendler

Beginning the Program

Wendler recommends using 90% of your 1RMs, as calculated above, for your first 4 weeks (your first mesocycle).

For instance, if your 1RMs are as follows:

  • Deadlift: 400
  • Squat: 400
  • Military: 225
  • Bench Press: 300

You would use the following weights for your calculating your 5/3/1 lifts:

  • Deadlift: 400 x .9 = 360
  • Squat: 400 x .9 = 360
  • Military: 225 x .9 = 200
  • Bench Press: 300 x .9 = 270

And this is how Wave A would look using the above calculations (with “x #” referring to reps here):

  • Deadlift: 300 x 5, 320 x 5, 340 x 5
  • Squat: 300 x 5, 320 x 5, 340 x 5
  • Military: 150 x 5, 160 x 5, 170 x 5
  • Bench Press: 200 x 5, 215 x 5, 230 x 5

The Wendler 5/3/1 Warm-Up

You probably noticed that workouts start with a warm-up routine. This is simple, but particular. It works like this:

Warm-Up Set #1

40% of your 1RM x 5

Warm-Up Set #2

50% of your 1RM x 5

Warm-Up Set #3

60% of your 1RM x 3

You rest for 60-90 seconds in between each warm-up set.

Once you’ve performed these warm-up sets, you are ready to begin your heavy lifting.

Jim Wendler

How to Progress on the 5/3/1 Program

Slow, steady progression is the name of the game with 5/3/1, and Wendler keeps progression very simple.

You begin each new mesocycle by increasing your 1RM weights by 5 pounds for upper-body lifts, and 10 pounds for lower-body lifts.

Note that I said “your 1RM weights,” not your weights in the gym. That is, you’re increasing the numbers that you’re using to calculate your 5/3/1 lifts, not the amounts of weight you’re actually lifting.

For example, let’s say you used the following 1RM numbers to calculate your mesocycle:

  • Deadlift: 400
  • Squat: 400
  • Military: 225
  • Bench Press: 300

For your next mesocycle, you would calculate your lifts using the following 1RM numbers:

  • Deadlift: 410
  • Squat: 410
  • Military: 230
  • Bench Press: 305

You keep on increasing weights this way until you get stuck, which Wendler says will happen. When you finally do stall, he simply recommends that you drop to 90% of your current working 1RM, re-calculate, and continue on.

For example, if, over the course of several months, you’ve increased your Squat 1RM from 400 to 430 and get stuck, then you simply recalculate your next mesocycle using 90% of 430 (390) instead of trying to move up to 440.

By following this “two steps forward, one step back” approach, you’re able to keep your weights moving up over time and avoid the dreaded long-term plateau.

If the bar ain't bending! ;-)

If the bar ain’t bending! 😉

5/3/1 Assistance Work

“Assistance work” refers to exercises done other than the four the program is built around. How much assistance work you do is up to you, but it’s done for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Strengthen weak parts of the body.
  • Help increase the four core lifts.
  • Ensure your body develops in a balanced and symmetrical fashion.
  • Build more muscle.

If you’re familiar with the Bigger, Leaner, Stronger program, you’ll feel right at home with almost every assistance exercises that Wendler recommends:

  • Dips, weighted if possible.
  • Chin-ups or pull-ups.
  • Dumbbell Rows.
  • Barbell Rows.
  • Barbell Shrugs.
  • Dumbbell Bench Press.
  • Dumbbell Military Press.
  • Lunges.
  • Leg Press.
  • And more.

In fact, Wendler’s recommendations are so similar to my list of “approved exercises” in Bigger Leaner Stronger that you can just use it as a guide.

In terms of programming your workouts, the most popular assistance routine is one Wendler calls “Boring But Big.” It involves performing the sets and reps dictated by the program, followed by the same exercise for 5 sets of 10 reps, and by another assistance exercise for 5 sets of 10 reps.

For example, your Squat day might go like this:

  • Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps (or whatever you’re currently doing for your wave)
  • Squat – 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Lunge – 5 sets of 10 reps

In terms of how much weight you should use for the 10-rep sets, Wendler recommends that you start with light weights—40-50% of your 1RM—and gradually work up from there. How high you ultimately go is up to you, but I would recommend working up to using an amount of weight that allows for at least 8, but no more than 10 reps.

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I am an Independent Distributor in the UK & U.S for Arkworld. I retail the most scientifically advanced micro nutrition range available.I work closely with professional and amateur sports people and athletes alike. If you are interested in learning more about improving your sports/training performance and endurance, please don't hesitate to contact me.

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