What is Wendler’s 5/3/1 Workout?

jim wendler 5-3-1 workout information5/3/1 is a strength training program developed by Jim Wendler, and is one of the most recommended exercise programs for novice to advanced lifters.

5/3/1 has numerous benefits that led to its popularity. It is simple and easy to follow. The program is laid out for you, and all you meed to know is your 1 rep max for each exercise (if you don’t know your 1RM we will cover how to find it later).

Secondly, workouts are short and sweet, generally taking 45 to 60 minutes, so you’ll be in and out of the gym without having to be there for multiple hours a day to see results.

Finally, 5/3/1 delivers results. There are countless reviews of people who started 5/3/1 and stuck with the program and became much stronger and more muscular.

You can follow this simple program and accompany it with a solid diet and become the strongest version of yourself you can imagine.

How does 5/3/1 work?

The 5/3/1 routine focuses on building strength through core compound movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, and the standing military press.

There are numerous 5/3/1 options from power lifting to bodybuilding, but they all focus on these core lifts followed assistance work that depends on the program you’re running.

For each exercise, you need to know your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you can lift for one repetition with good form. If you’ve never tried maxing out on your lifts, you can use a 1RM calculator to estimate your one rep max or you can use the following calculation.

A recommended formula is:
Weight x Reps x .0333 + Weight = Estimated 1RM

So if you can deadlift 285 lbs for 5 reps, your calculation is as followed.
(285 x 5) x 0. 333 + 285 = 1425 x 0.0333 + 285 = 47.45 + 285 = 332.45 1RM

It is recommended to round down, so your 1RM would be 330 lbs.

When determining your 1RM, think smartly and use your best judgement. It’s better to start lighter to ensure proper form and allow for maximum growth through the program then using an estimation that is too heavy and that can cause you to burn out because you can’t make consistent progress.

Now that you have your 1RM, you’re ready to begin the workout.

The base program has you working out 4 times a week. Each day you’ll hit a different core lift followed by assistance work. A typical week looks like:

Day 1
Warm Up
Overhead Press
Assistance Work

Day 2
Warm Up
Assistance Work

Day 3
Warm Up
Bench Press
Assistance Work

Day 4
Warm Up
Assistance Work

But how much do I do on each day?

Workouts progress through a 4-week mesocycle (a fancy term for a training cycle) where weight and reps change depending on the phase.

Each week, you follow the weekly rep and weight scheme for each core lift. As you progress through the mesocycle, the weight increases as you get closer to your 1RM.

Week 1
1 – 65% – 5
2 – 75% – 5
3 – 85% – 5+

Week 2
1 – 70% – 3
2 – 80% – 3
3 – 90% – 3+

Week 3
1 – 75% – 5
2 – 85% – 3
3 – 95% – 1+

Week 4
1 – 40% – 5
2 – 50% – 5
3 – 60% – 5

Note: 5/3/1 uses a training max of 90% of your 1RM to allow for full development during a cycle.

So for week 1, you will be doing 1 set of 5 repetitions at 65%, 75%, and 85% of your training max. This will allow you to complete 3 sets of 5 total.

On the last set, you may have noticed a 5+ on the 85% set. This is considered an As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) set. On this set, you want to push as hard as you can past that 5 repetition mark and see how many reps you can possibly do with GOOD FORM until you can’t do another rep.

If you’re having a strong day, you may blow through 8 or more repetitions on this AMRAP, but its okay if you only get 5.

Again, you want make absolutely sure every rep is completed with GOOD FORM.

On week 2, the weights increase, but the reps decrease. You will be doing 1 set of 3 repetitions at 70%, 80%, and 90% of your training max each for a total of 3 sets of 3 reps total. Again, the last set is an AMRAP set, so strive to get as many reps as possible.

On week 3, the weights increase again, but this time the rep scheme is different as well. You will complete 1 set of 5 repetitions at 75% of your training max, followed by 1 set of 3 repetitions at 85% of your training max, and finally 1 AMRAP set of at least 1+ at 95%. This is your last heavy week in the cycle.

Week 4 is considered your deload week, where you lower the weight and allow your body to recover from the intense mesocycle. This is important for your success in the program as it allows your body to recover and for you to practice your form with lighter weights.

How to increase weights?

After you complete week 4, you’ve completed the entire mesocycle and are ready to begin a new cycle with a higher training max.

You begin each subsequent mesocycle by increasing your training max for lower body lifts by 10 lbs and your upper body lifts by 5 lbs. This steady increase will slowly improve your strength. You continue to increase your training maxes if you complete every rep and set for the week.

What happens if you get stuck?

If you can’t complete the required sets and reps for any exercise during the mesocycle, Jim Wendler recommends you decrease your training max by 10% and continue on. Stalls happen. Don’t worry about it and maintain your focus. You’ll be back to blasting through PRs in no time.

Assistance Work

Jim Wendler recommends the following assistance work for the program:

Day 1
Dips, weighted if possible
Chin-ups or pull-ups, weighted if possible

Day 2
Good Mornings
Hanging Leg Raises

Day 3
Dumbbell Rows
Dumbbell Bench Press

Day 4
Leg Press

And that’s that!

The simplicity of the program is the key to your success.

You’re not going to instantly get super strong, but over time with dedication to the program and a good diet, your strength and size will be keep going up.

If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend picking up Jim Wendler’s own book for a more complete explanation of the program from the creator himself.


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