The first time I heard of Jim Wendler and his 5/3/1 strength training program was when I was watching the Starting Strength Channel where Mark Rippetoe interviews different guests that have spent their lives getting strong.
He came across as a humble good guy, so I decided to do a bit more research.
Jim played football and graduated from the University of Arizona, where he was a three-time letter winner.
He’s an ex powerlifter that went on to squat 1000 pounds in competition and is an accomplished Elite lifter with a 2,375 pound total.
The original 5/3/1 came about after his powerlifting days were over.
Starting Strength from Mark Rippetoe was a game-changer for me. Learning how to perform all of the basic barbell lifts, and when I followed the Starting Strength method, my strength, size, and weight shot up.
But, there came the point where I wanted to freshen things up and try something new.
Somebody that achieves the numbers above in their Squat surely knows a thing or two about weightlifting.
So, after a bit more research, I decided to try out the 5/3/1 2nd Edition.
The 5/3/1 Method is truly for anyone that is looking to get stronger. This is not a fancy training program that requires special equipment or Master’s degree – all is required is your dedication to moving more weight than you had ever dreamed.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Who Should Use Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Lifting Program?
The idea of 531 training is to get as strong as possible without having to do a million different exercises.
If you’re a bodybuilder or a cross-trainer, then I would not recommend this program.
Wendler does incorporate elements of bodybuilding for added symmetry and to even out any muscle imbalances with the assistance exercises that are in virtually all of the 531 variations in the book.
That being said, it’s not for fitness models or bodybuilders, even though you will still look great and be strong as an ox too!
Similar to Starting Strength, Jim Wendler uses the bench press, squat, deadlift, and standing Press as his main exercises spaced out over four separate days.
The 5/3/1 Philosophy:
1.Emphasize Big, Multi-Joint Movements:
As Jim says, this advice is nothing new, but it has to be mentioned anyway.
Use the best “Bang for Your Buck” movements to get the best return possible. So instead of say using a machine chest press, you’ll be starting on the bench press for that given day.
2.Start Too Light:
I’ve done it myself, and I don’t know anybody that hasn’t. Our egos have got the better of us in the weight room at some point down through the years, and all it does is ruin any progress made.
Instead, begin lifting very light; not only is it much safer and gives your body the right amount of time it needs to progress appropriately, but it also prolongs the time it takes to get to your goals, which brings us onto the next part.
3. Progress Slowly:
Take the pressure off yourself and focus only on improving a few pounds/kgs at a time.
Instead of thinking about where you will be strength-wise in 8 weeks, focus on doing it properly, be in it for the long haul, and work for where you will end up a year from now!
4.Break Personal records(PR’s):
The program is set up for you to break a wide array of rep records throughout the year.
It doesn’t only focus on breaking your one-rep max but also focuses on improving lifts such as benching 230 lbs for eight reps when you only did it for six the previous time.
The 5/3/1 Program Outline:
The program is straightforward, laid out, and very easy to follow.
- Train 2-4 days per week, depending on your schedule and what suits you best.
- One day focuses on the Press, one day on the Squat, one day on the Bench Press, and then the last day on the Bench Press followed by assistance exercises for each given day.
- Each training cycle will last 4-6 weeks, but this will modify slightly regarding how often you train each week.
- For sets and reps: Week one do 3×5, week two do 3×3, week three do 1×5, 1×3, then 1×1 followed by a deload every fourth week for 3×5.
- After week four, begin at 3×5 again with the appropriate %’s given.
After you complete the compound barbell movements, you then have an option with the accessory exercises, and I went for the “Boring But Big” routine.
This option is if you’re looking to bulk up, whereas it is probably more useful and recommended for powerlifters, shame on me!
The primary use I bought this lifting program for was to get stronger, but with all of the options for assistance exercises, I found it to be great for adding on size too!
What You Should Know
We mentioned the foundation for getting strong using the 5/3/1 strength program above; for the main work you have two options for the % ranges you would like to use, as shown in the picture below.
The template Wendler recommends is option one for just about everyone.
You must find your true one rep training max for each of the lower body and upper body lifts.
Included also is the list of accessory work variations, and even his thoughts on nutrition, Crossfit, Rest/Pause training, and more.
- Tips when stalling in your workouts.
- How to properly execute the Squat, deadlift, Bench Press, and Overhead Press.
- How to warm-up.
- How to have stronger abs.
- Boring But Big.
- I’m not doing shit today(Yes, that’s a training method!)
- Bodyweight assistance work.
- When training for 3 or 2 days instead of 4.
- Rest-Pause training.
- Eating for Size and Strength.
- Moving North of Vag(NOV). This training includes warming up, followed by 5/3/1, and then finishing off with Prowler pushes/sprints or sprinting hills. The workout is great, but I find the name immature, not that funny, and insulting to women. Forget about the title though, and focus on what you can get from the workouts.
All of these workouts will keep you going for at least a year; you should go through multiple cycles, but to keep things fresh, there are many forms of assistance work.
5/3/1 First Impressions
It was different from Starting Strength; if I were a beginner to barbell training, it would not be my first choice.
I did like going up in weight each week, knowing that I would be doing fewer reps before the next four-week cycle.
I had never done Kroc Rows before, which Jim Wendler talks about in the book.
Kroc Rows are high reps of Dumbbell Rows that help to improve your grip strength, Lats, and upper back muscles, and they did.
We’re talking 20-40 reps for each Kroc Row Set.
I found from doing the Boring But Big assistance work that my size and muscle mess went up very fast.
I will also say that with the high Reps on the deadlift days, my knees started to feel it a bit too much.
I probably didn’t help things when I could have had a bit more patience and took things slower too. Sometimes I couldn’t wait to get the reps finished.
As the name says, though, without trying to be too cheesy, it is boring, but you will get big and look good also!
The program flat out works though, I got stronger, my confidence improved every time I got a day, then a week under my belt.
If I were doing it again, I would go for Triumvirate routine first. I would suggest that you do this routine before Boring But Big.
I would have gotten more out of the program by focusing on improving my strength as much as possible first and then later on filling out a bit more with the Boring But Big assistance work.
- I bulked up considerably adding size and a few extra kgs from doing the program over three months, but I eventually got pain in my knees from the volume after doing so many 5×10 sets of deadlifts after the main work. I did not do the program using knee wraps, so they would have made it more comfortable, and if I were a bit more patient rather than speeding up sometimes would have also helped to avoid any knee pain.
- I learned a few new exercises, including Kroc Rows, and my Good Mornings got better, too, from some of Jim Wendler’s instruction.
- Strength increased, and sequencing of exercises as well as exercise variety got better too.
The program improved my strength and endurance when lifting heavy considerably but also my appearance(without sounding too vain).
What I liked from doing this routine is that after Starting Strength, I had improved a lot with the basic barbell lifts.
So then when I began 5/3/1, and I wanted variety, I was in a position to get the most from the program because I had already nailed technique for all the big lifts!
Next time though, I will be more patient, focus on strength before appearance, and not be in such a rush to get through the day and weeks of the program.
The time will pass either way so slow and steady wins the race!
5/3/1 Rating 4.9/5
For a cheap downloadable book on kindle, you get a good year of quality training.
The only drawback is that there could have been a bit more for beginners, but then this is for Intermediate and Advanced trainees.
Jim Wendler does have a 5/3/1 program for beginners, but I would go for Starting Strength first if you’re just getting started.
You can get 5/3/1 Strength Training Program HERE
If you’re a beginner to barbell training check my Starting Strength HERE