Jim Wendler’s 3-day 5/3/1 Program!


Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training program is one of the simplest and most effective programs in the world. It is also one of the most flexible programs!

The truth is you can train with Jim’s program anywhere from 2-4 days per week. If you cannot recover from 4 hard workouts per week then you have to try Jim Wendler’s 3-day 5/3/1 program! 

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 everything you need to know about how to use Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program with just 3 workouts per week.

Jim Wendler designed his 5/3/1 program because he was sick of overly-complicated routines that failed to deliver results. He believes that the best way to get super strong and build a great physique is to train hard on the basics.

And that’s what Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is all about: training hard on the basic compound exercises and making slow but consistent progress over long periods of time.

Jim Wendler is living proof that his training philosophy works. Jim used his 5/3/1 program to deadlift an unbelievable 710 pounds. Check it out:

Talk about an incredible deadlift! Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is designed to help you get stronger on 4 basic exercises:

  • The squat
  • The deadlift
  • The bench press
  • The overhead press

Jim believes that you can get freaky strong just by focusing on these 4 lifts. You are still going to perform some assistance exercises but these 4 compound lifts are the focus of the program. Jim Wendler says that you should start each workout with one of the “big 4” movements.

Here is the original 4 days per week 5/3/1 training split:

The Original 5/3/1 Training Split

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

Jim Wendler says that this training split is based off the Westside Barbell training split.

Training 4 days per week works great for many lifters. However, some people either cannot recover from 4 workouts per week or just make faster progress with only 3 workouts per week.

In that case Jim Wendler recommends that you use a 3 days per week upper / lower split. Here is how the workouts are organized:

Jim Wendler’s 3 Day Split

Week 1

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

Week 2

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

Week 3

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

Week 4

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

This 3 days per week training split has many advantages over the original 4 days per week split.

The biggest advantage is that you have more time to rest and recover between your workouts. With this split you have at least 1 rest day in between all of your workouts. This makes a huge difference in terms of your overall recovery ability.

You also get to train your upper body and lower body once every 4-5 days. This reduced training frequency works extremely well for many people. The strength coaches Charles Poliquin and Dante Trudel are especially fond of this moderate training frequency.

The 5/3/1 training program has you rotate through 4 different training weeks. You perform 3 heavy weeks in a row followed by a deload week. Check it out: 

The 5/3/1 Training Plan

  • 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)

On the 5th week you start the cycle all over again and perform 3 sets of 5 reps with a slightly heavier weight. Things are a little bit different if you use the 5/3/1 program with just 3 days per week.

In this case it takes you about 9-10 days to complete one normal week of training. As long as you understand that 1 training week is really 4 workouts (one workout each for the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press) then you will be OK.

Jim Wendler uses specific training percentages for his 5/3/1 training program. For every workout you have very specific goals for the amount of weight you are going to lift and the number of reps you will get on the “big 4” exercises. Check it out:

Week #1 Training Percentages:

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

Week #2 Training Percentages:

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

Week #3 Training Percentages:

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

Week #4 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: 40% x 5 reps
  • Set #2: 50% x 5 reps
  • Set #3: 60% x 5 reps

The first 3 weeks are your “heavy” weeks where you are training hard and trying to break your personal best on each exercise.

The 4th week is a “deload” week where you lift relatively lighter weights to give your body a chance to recover and get ready for another 3 weeks of hard training.

On weeks 1-3 you have the option of performing an “AMRAP” set on your 3rd set for each exercise. The term “AMRAP” stands for “as many reps as possible.”

For example let’s say that your program says to lift 85% of your 1-rep max for 5+ reps. If you are having a bad day then you can stop at 5 reps and move onto your assistance exercises. However, if you are feeling really good that day then you can perform as many reps as you can with that weight and go for a new personal record.

Jim says that he goes for a new rep PR about 50% of the time on his last set. It’s important to push yourself but you don’t want to overdo it and risk overtraining.

The “Training Max”

Jim Wendler believes that you should not use your actual 1-rep max when you calculate your training percentages. Instead you should use a “training max” set at 90% of your 1-rep max.

For example if you can bench press 300 pounds then you would use 270 pounds as your training max for the bench press. All of your training weights would be calculated using your 270 pound training max.

This is the reason why Jim wants you to perform “AMRAP” sets on at least some of your workouts. You are training with a lower percentage of your 1-rep max so you can usually get more than the required number of reps if you really push yourself. 

Here is Jim Wendler demonstrating an “AMRAP” set on the back squat. Check it out:

Jim Wendler gets 540 pounds for 7 reps. Talk about an impressive squat! By the way this is exactly what your AMRAP set should look like. Jim is pushing himself hard on his last set but he stays in complete control and uses perfect form on every rep.

Jim Wendler says that the key to making long-term progress with the 5/3/1 program is increasing your training max over time.

After every deload week you should increase your upper body training maxes by 5 pounds and your lower body training maxes by 10 pounds. Then you use this increased training max to calculate the weights you have to lift for each workout.

Let’s say that you start off with a training max of 200 pounds on the bench press. Here is what your progress would look like over time: 

Sample Progression Using 5/3/1

  • Month #1: 200 Pound Training Max
  • Month #2: 205 Pound Training Max
  • Month #3: 210 Pound Training Max
  • Month #4: 215 Pound Training Max
  • Month #5: 220 Pound Training Max
  • Month #6: 225 Pound Training Max

You just keep increasing the training max after every deload week. Whenever possible you also want to hit new personal records on your AMRAP sets.

If you add 5-10 pounds to your lifts each month then you could easily add 60-120 pounds on your lifts in a year! Now THAT is some fast progress on the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press!

You need to have a lot of patience to use Jim Wendler’s program but the results are worth it. For each workout you are going to perform 3 working sets on one of the “big 4” exercises. After that you move onto your assistance exercises.

Jim Wendler has 4 templates that he likes to use for his 5/3/1 workouts. Here they are in no particular order:

5/3/1 Assistance Work

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

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these assistance work templates.

Option #1: The Triumvirate

This is one of Jim Wendler’s absolute favorite assistance work templates. You perform your main lift for the day plus 2 assistance exercises for your upper body or lower body. That’s it!

For example here is what a 5/3/1 deadlift workout might look like using the triumvirate template:

The Triumvirate Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Leg press, 3 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 8-15 reps

Jim Wendler says he likes this template because it forces you to train hard on a small number of exercises. There is no room for “fluff” work. Every exercise has to count!

Jim Wendler says you should use exercises for your chest and back on your upper body day and exercises for your quads and hamstrings on your lower body day. For example:

Jim Wendler’s Favorite Assistance Exercises

  • Upper Body: Chin ups, dips, dumbbell presses, dumbbell rows
  • Lower Body: Leg press, leg curls, back extensions, lunges

The triumvirate template is a great all-around choice if you are new to Jim’s 5/3/1 program and don’t know where to start.

Option #2: Boring But Big

The “boring but big” template is by far the most popular 5/3/1 assistance work template in the world. Jim gets more questions about this training template than any other one.

With the boring but big template you are going to perform your 3 heavy sets on the main compound exercise and then perform an additional 5 sets of 10 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max. You also perform 5 sets of 10 reps on one other assistance exercise that targets opposing muscle groups.

Here is what a boring but big bench press workout might look like. Check it out:

Boring But Big Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Bench press, 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lat pulldowns, 5 sets of 10 reps

Jim Wendler says that this is the best template to use if your goal is to build muscle mass. The back-off sets are perfect for accumulating more training volume and adding muscular hypertrophy.

If performing 8 total sets on the same exercise is too boring for you then you can perform your back off sets on one of the other “big 4” movements.

For example you could perform 5 back off sets on the overhead press on your bench press day or 5 back off sets on the bench press on your overhead press day. Check it out:

Boring But Big Bench Press Workout (Option #2)

  • Exercise #1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Overhead press, 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lat pulldowns, 5 sets of 10 reps

With this second option you still perform 5 sets of 10 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max. The first few sets will feel a little bit easy. Don’t worry – your muscles will be screaming by the end of the 5th set! 

Option #3: Westside Style

Jim Wendler trained for many years at the world-famous Westside Barbell powerlifting gym in Columbus, Ohio.

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses a large variety of exercises on their upper body and lower body workouts. Jim says that you can make great progress by modeling your assistance work after the Westside Barbell powerlifting team.

Here is what your bench press and overhead press workouts would look like:

Westside Style Upper Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press or overhead press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Chest accessory movement, 3 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Triceps accessory movement, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Upper back accessory movement, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Shoulders accessory movement, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

The Westside team likes to use one exercise each for their chest, triceps, upper back and shoulders. These assistance exercises are designed to strengthen the most important muscle groups for the bench press but they will also help your overhead press.

Here is what your squat and deadlift workouts could look like:

Westside Style Lower Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Squat or deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Posterior chain movement, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Posterior chain movement, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Posterior chain movement, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team focuses on training the posterior chain on their lower body workouts.

The posterior chain is another name for the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. These 3 muscles work together to perform hip extension during exercises like the squat, deadlift and good morning.

Focusing exclusively on the posterior chain muscles works great for some powerlifters but others need at least a little bit of direct quadriceps work to build their squat.

Option #4: I’m Not Doing Jack Sh*t!

This is Jim Wendler’s all-time favorite assistance work template! You just show up to the gym, perform your 3 working sets on your main exercise and call it a day. That’s it!

Here is what your squat workout might look like using this template:

I’m Not Doing Jack Sh*t Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Just kidding – you’re not doing jack sh*t!

All kidding aside, Jim Wendler says that he uses this template anytime he is having an off day. If he feels under-recovered then he just goes to the gym, hits his main lift and goes home.

I recommend you use this template as your “ace in the hole” for whenever you are having an off day. 

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.

If you have a very busy schedule or cannot recover from 4 hard workouts per week then I highly recommend you give Jim Wendler’s 3-day 5/3/1 program a shot. It is one of the few programs that works well for a very large percentage of people looking to get bigger and stronger.

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

“I believe you should train with the program you believe in. I’m out of the “justify my program” business; follow the path that will lead you to glorious times.”

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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