Jim Wendler’s 2-Day 5/3/1 Program!


Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is one of the simplest and most effective training programs of all time. One of the great things about Jim’s program is that it is extremely customizable. You can train 4, 3 or even 2 days per week depending on your recovery ability. If you want to run Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program with 2 workouts per week then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The 5/3/1 Training Split
  • Part 2: The 5/3/1 Training Cycle
  • Part 3: Sample Training Percentages
  • Part 4: Sample Workout Templates

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how to become freaky strong using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program with just 2 workouts per week.

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is a simple strength program designed to help you make rapid progress in the squat, bench press, overhead press and deadlift.

Jim believes you can make progress with almost any training program. The key is to find a program that helps you make consistent strength gains over a very long period of time. Here is Jim talking about the importance of making consistent, long-term progress:

“The game of lifting is a lifetime pursuit. If you understand this then progressing slowly isn’t a big deal. In fact, this can be a huge weight lifted off your back. Now you can focus on getting those 5 extra pounds rather than 50.”

Jim Wendler is living proof that his training philosophy works. Jim uses his 5/3/1 program to put up massive lifts in the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press. Here is a great video of Jim squatting 545 pounds for 7 reps in training:

What an unbelievable squat! This wasn’t at the end of some fancy powerlifting peaking cycle. This was just a normal workout for him! Jim Wendler designed his original 5/3/1 program with 4 total workouts per week. His program uses a 4-day upper / lower split that is based on the Westside Barbell training split. Check it out:

Jim Wendler’s Original 5/3/1 Training Split

  • Monday: Bench Press
  • Wednesday: Squat
  • Friday: Overhead Press
  • Saturday: Deadlift

With Jim Wendler’s 4-day split you perform 1 workout per week for the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press. This 4-day split works great for many athletes. However, some people find that they cannot recover from 4 heavy workouts per week. For these people a 2 days per week training split may be a better option. Check it out:

“Sometimes, instead of what you do in the weight room, it’s what you don’t do that will lead to success.”

Jim Wendler says that he was his absolute strongest when he was training just twice per week using a 2-day split. Many other elite powerlifters like Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge also got their best results using a 2-day upper / lower split. Here is how you would organize your workouts using the 2 days per week 5/3/1 program:

Jim Wendler’s 2 Day 5/3/1 Training Split

Week 1

  • Tuesday: Bench Press
  • Friday: Squat

Week 2

  • Tuesday: Overhead Press
  • Friday: Deadlift

With this program you alternate between two different training weeks. On the first week you train the bench press and the squat. On the second week you train the overhead press and the deadlift. This is very similar to the training frequency that Stan Efferding used to set the all-time powerlifting world record for the 275 pound weight class. Check it out:

“I trained twice a week when I hit my 2,303 pound raw total and set the all-time world record. I would bench on Mondays and squat OR deadlift on Saturdays. Wednesdays was stretching, balance and core work. That’s it!”

Jim Wendler’s 2-day 5/3/1 program is so effective because you have 5 full rest days to recover from your workouts. Many elite powerlifters find that this extra rest is exactly what they need to perform at their best. This 2-day training split is also very effective for hardgainers and people with below-average recovery ability. 

Jim uses a very simple form of linear periodization for his original 5/3/1 program. You perform 3 “heavy” weeks in a row followed by a “deload” week on the 4th week. Check it out:

The Original 5/3/1 Training Cycle

  • Week #1: 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Week #2: 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Week #3: 3 sets of 5, 3, 1 reps
  • Week #4: 3 sets of 5 reps (Deload)

For the first week you perform 3 sets of 5 reps. For the second week you perform 3 sets of 3 reps with a slightly heavier weight. On the third week you perform one set of 5 reps, one set of 3 reps and one set of 1 rep. Then on the 4th week you deload with 3 sets of 5 reps with a lighter weight.

Jim uses a different system for his 2 days per week program. The big difference is you skip the deload week! Jim says that if you are training twice per week then there is no need to perform a formal deload. You have so much rest and recovery built into the program that you should never need one. Check it out:

The 2-Day 5/3/1 Training Cycle

  • Week #1: 3 sets of 5 reps (Bench Press and Squat)
  • Week #2: 3 sets of 5 reps (Overhead Press and Deadlift)
  • Week #3: 3 sets of 3 reps (Bench Press and Squat)
  • Week #4: 3 sets of 3 reps (Overhead Press and Deadlift)
  • Week #5: 3 sets of 5, 3, 1 reps (Bench Press and Squat)
  • Week #6: 3 sets of 5, 3, 1 reps (Overhead Press and Deadlift)
  • Week #7: Repeat!

You have 2 weeks where you perform 3 sets of 5 reps, 2 weeks where you perform 3 sets of 3 reps and 2 weeks where you perform 3 sets of 5/3/1 reps. Then on the 7th week you repeat the whole process all over again with slightly heavier weights! Jim Wendler says that he used this exact system to his his all-time best deadlift of 710 pounds. Check it out:

Jim made that look easy! He had at least an extra 20 pounds in him! With the 5/3/1 program all of your heavy sets are based on percentages. Check it out:

Weeks 1-2 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: 65% x 5 reps
  • Set #2: 75% x 5 reps
  • Set #3: 85% x 5+ reps

Week 3-4 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: 70% x 3 reps
  • Set #2: 80% x 3 reps
  • Set #3: 90% x 3+ reps

Week 5-6 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: 75% x 5 reps
  • Set #2: 85% x 3 reps
  • Set #3: 95% x 1+ reps

Each workout you are going to perform 3 heavy sets on the squat, bench press, deadlift or overhead press. Your first 2 sets are almost like heavy warm up sets and your last set is the one that really counts. 

Jim Wendler says that you can go for a rep PR on your last working set. For example on week 1 the last working set says “set 3: 85% x 5+.” That means you can go for MORE than 5 reps if you are feeling really good that day. Here is Jim bench pressing 7 reps on his 5’s week:

This is what the 5/3/1 training program is all about: slowly breaking rep PRs on the big 4 exercises over long periods of time. 

The “Training Max”

One of the really interesting things about the 5/3/1 program is you don’t use your true 1-rep max. Instead you use a “training max” which is 90% of your 1-rep max.

Let’s say you can bench press 330 pounds for 1 rep. In that case you will use (90% x 330) = 300 pounds as your “training max” for the program. All of your calculations are based off of this training max.

Here is what your first 6 weeks of training would look like with a 100 pound training max:

Weeks 1-2 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: (65% x 100) = 65 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #2: (75% x 100) = 75 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #3: (85% x 100) = 85 pounds x 5+ reps

Weeks 3-4 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: (70% x 100) = 70 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #2: (80% x 100) = 80 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #3: (90% x 100) = 90 pounds x 3+ reps

Weeks 5-6 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: (75% x 100) = 75 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #2: (85% x 100) = 85 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #3: (95% x 100) = 95 pounds x 1+ reps

Then on weeks 7-8 you would repeat the whole cycle but with slightly heavier weights.

5/3/1 = Slow But Consistent Progress

This is where things get really interesting! At the end of your 6 weeks you are going to increase your training max. Jim wants you to increase your training max for upper body lifts by 5 pounds and lower body lifts by 10 pounds.

Let’s say that you can overhead press 150 pounds, bench press 300 pounds, squat 400 pounds and deadlift 500 pounds. Here is what your progress would look like over time:

Month #1 Training Maxes

  • Overhead Press: 150
  • Bench Press: 300
  • Squat: 400
  • Deadlift: 500

Month #2 Training Maxes

  • Overhead Press: 155
  • Bench Press: 305
  • Squat: 410
  • Deadlift: 510

Month #3 Training Maxes

  • Overhead Press: 160
  • Bench Press: 310
  • Squat: 420
  • Deadlift: 520

And so on. Every 6 weeks you increase your training maxes by 5-10 pounds. If you do this correctly then you can add up to 40 pounds to your upper body lifts and 80 pounds to your lower body lifts in less than 1 year. Now THAT is some serious progress!

Every month it is critical that you go for records on your AMRAP sets for each lift. You don’t have to go for an AMRAP set every single workout but it is critical that you do them at least once a month for each lift.

These AMRAP sets give you the chance to set PR’s in higher rep ranges and continue to build your strength foundation. If you perform the 5/3/1 program correctly you will slowly become the strongest person in your gym.

Eventually you may find that you hit a training plateau in the gym. You may struggle to get the required number of reps in the gym and you may even find that your strength starts to decrease. When that happens you re-establish your “training max” and start the process all over again. For example let’s say your original training max was 150 pounds and you hit a plateau with a training max of 200 pounds. At this point you can set a new training max, say 180 pounds and start the process all over again. Don’t worry, you will be hitting rep PR’s every week so you don’t have to worry about getting weaker.

5/3/1 Assistance Work

Jim Wendler wants you to do some assistance work after your heavy sets on the squat, bench press, deadlift or overhead press.

You can do as much or as little assistance work as you want. Just remember that the assistance work is there to support your main lift for the day, NOT replace it.

Here are 4 assistance work templates that Jim Wendler really likes:

  • Option #1: The Triumvirate
  • Option #2: Boring But Big
  • Option #3: Westside Style
  • Option #4: I’m Not Doing Jack Sh*t

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

Option #1: The Triumvirate

The triumvirate is another one of Jim Wendler’s favorite assistance work templates. In fact this is the variation that Jim Wendler uses most often in his own programming.

The basic idea is to pick 2 key supplementary exercises after your main lift. Your goal is to lift moderately heavy on these supplementary exercises to help drive up your main lift.

Here is what an overhead press workout might look like using the triumvirate template:

Triumvirate Overhead Press Day

  • A1: Overhead press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • B1: V-bar dips, 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps
  • B2: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps

And here is what a deadlift day might look like using the triumvirate template:

Triumvirate Deadlift Day

  • A1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
  • B2: Glute-ham raise, 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps

The Triumverate assistance work template is incredibly simple. You just go to town on 2 key supplementary exercises and call it a day. If you want to get super strong then this is a great choice.

Option #2: Boring But Big

The boring but big program is very simple.

First you are going to perform your 3 heavy sets on the bench press, overhead press, squat or deadlift. Then you are going to lower the weight and perform 5 sets of 10 reps on the same exercise.

Jim Wendler recommends you perform these back off sets with around 50-60% of your 1-rep max. You can also perform 5 sets of 10 reps on another key assistance exercise.

For example here is what a boring but big bench press day looks like:

Bench Press Day: Boring But Big

  • A1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • B1: Bench press, 5 sets of 10 reps
  • B2: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 5 sets of 10 reps

Jim Wendler says that you can also perform the 5 sets of 10 reps with the overhead press on your bench press day or your bench press on your overhead press day. For example:

Bench Press Day: Boring But Big Version 2.0

  • A1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • B1: Overhead press, 5 sets of 10 reps
  • B2: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 5 sets of 10 reps

Both options work well. In fact Jim Wendler says that the boring but big program is his most popular version of the 5/3/1 program.

Option #3: Westside Style

Jim Wendler trained at the world-famous Westside Barbell powerlifting club for several years. During that time Jim learned how the Westside athletes structured their assistance work to boost their squat, bench press and deadlift.

Jim sometimes has his clients use a Westside-style assistance work template to drive up their “big 4” lifts. Here is a basic template that you can use:

5/3/1 Bench Press Day: Westside Style

  • Exercise #1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Triceps, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Upper back, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Delts, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

5/3/1 Squat Day: Westside Style

  • Exercise #1: Squat: 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Hamstrings, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lower back, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Abs, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

5/3/1 Overhead Press Day: Westside Style

  • Exercise #1: Overhead press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Triceps, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Upper back, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Delts, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

5/3/1 Deadlift Day: Westside Style

  • Exercise #1: Squat: 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Hamstrings, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lower back, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Abs, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

You can pick and choose which exercises you use on each training day. The important part is to make sure you are targeting the key powerlifting muscles like the triceps, upper back, hamstrings and lower back.

Some of Louie Simmons’ favorite Westside accessory exercises include lying triceps extensions, high-rep dumbbell presses, glute-ham raises and reverse hyperextensions.

Option #4: I’m Not Doing Jack Sh*t!

There are going to be days where you just don’t want to be in the gym. Maybe you just slept poorly the night before.

Maybe you got into an argument with your girlfriend. Or maybe you just feel worse than Ron Burgundy after drinking milk straight out of the carton on a warm summer day. We’ve all been there…

On days like this you can perform the “I’m not doing jack sh*t!” assistance template. It’s really simple actually: you don’t do any assistance work that day!

This was Jim Wendler’s favorite way to do assistance work during his powerlifting career. There were many days where he showed up to the gym, hit his main lift and called it a day.

Don’t underestimate the “I’m not doing jack sh*t!” assistance work template. Jim practically made a powerlifting career out of it!

Jim Wendler’s 2 Days Per Week 5/3/1 Routine

Jim Wendler was a huge fan of the Triumvirate training template where you perform your main lift for the day and 2 assistance exercises. Here is how Jim Wendler liked to organize his workouts when he was at his absolute strongest. Check it out:

Week #1 / Tuesday

  • A1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps**
  • B1: Chin ups, 5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B2: Dips, 5 sets of 5-15 reps

**Performed using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training percentages

Week #1 / Friday

  • A1: Back squat, 3 sets of 1-5 reps**
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 5 sets of 10-15 reps
  • B2: 45 degree back extension, 5 sets of 10-15 reps

**Performed using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training percentages

Week #2 / Tuesday

  • A1: Overhead press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps**
  • B1: Chin ups, 5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B2: Dips, 5 sets of 5-15 reps

**Performed using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training percentages

Week #2 / Friday

  • A1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps**
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 5 sets of 10-15 reps
  • B2: 45 degree back extension, 5 sets of 10-15 reps

**Performed using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training percentages

You can use any training template that you want but the Triumvirate is a fantastic starting point. If you really train hard in the gym then 3 major exercises per workout may be all you need to get freaky strong. The triumvirate is good enough for Jim Wendler and he squats / deadlifts 600+ pounds for reps!

Conclusion

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is one of the simplest and most effective ways to train for raw strength. Thousands of lifters all over the world have used Jim’s program to make the best gains of their life.

Jim’s 4-day 5/3/1 program works extremely well if you can recover from 4 heavy workouts per week.

I highly recommend you give this program a shot if you are struggling to make progress on your current routine.

Here is one more quote by Jim Wendler to pump you up even more:

“People laugh and call me lazy, while they twit around in their three-hour workout making zero progress.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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