Jim Wendler’s 4-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.

Jim designed this program so anyone could get awesome results with just 4 workouts per week.

If you want to learn Jim Wendler’s 4-day 5/3/1 program 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 4 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.

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:

Jim was actually stronger in the deadlift using his 5/3/1 program than he was when he trained at the world-famous Westside Barbell powerlifting gym in Columbus, Ohio!

That is the power of the 5/3/1 program!

Jim Wendler says one of the best ways to use his 5/3/1 program is to train 4 days per week. You have a bench press day, a squat day, an overhead press day and a deadlift day. Check it out:

Jim Wendler’s 4-Days Per Week 5/3/1 Training Split

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

Jim recommends most people start out using this 4-day upper / lower split. You train each muscle group twice per week which is an awesome training frequency for building strength.

This is very similar to the training split that the Westside Barbell powerlifting gym uses. 

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program uses a very simple form of periodization.

For each workout you are going to perform 3 sets of 1-5 reps on your main exercise like the bench press or the squat. After your main exercise for the day you are going to perform your accessory exercises.

Here is how you organize your heavy sets each week:

The 5/3/1 Training Cycle

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

Your job is to rotate through 4 different training weeks.

On the first week you perform 3 sets of 5 reps for your primary exercises. These sets should be challenging but not all-out.

Here is Jim Wendler giving a perfect demonstration of how hard your sets of 5 should look on your first training week:

The second and third weeks are similar to the first week. The only difference is you are using lower rep ranges with slightly heavier weights.

The 4th week is actually a deload week. You are going to perform 3 sets of 5 reps at a relatively light weight. This deload week is absolutely critical.

Training 4 days per week can be very hard on the body. The deload week is there so you can recover from the prior 3 weeks of hard training and get ready for another month of 5/3/1 training.

All of these workouts are based on strict training percentages.

Jim Wendler believes that you need a long-term strategy for how you are going to make progress and training percentages are one of the best tools you can use. 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

For each workout you are going to perform 3 heavy sets for your main exercise. You perform 3 heavy sets of squats on your squat day, 3 heavy sets of bench presses on your bench press day and so on. 

The “Training Max”

Jim Wendler believes most people should not use their true 1-rep max for these percentages. He says that the 4-day 5/3/1 program is very hard on your body and you need to give yourself room to progress.

Instead of using your true 1-rep max he recommends you use a training max at 90% of your 1-rep max.

For example if you can bench press 200 pounds for 1 rep then Jim recommends that you use 180 pounds as your training max.

Don’t worry, you are still going to be pushing yourself every workout. Jim recommends that you perform as many reps as you can on your last set for each major exercise. This is called an “AMRAP” set which stands for “as many reps as possible.”

Jim says you should perform an AMRAP set on your last set whenever you are feeling good.

Here is Jim performing an AMRAP set on the bench press:

Jim Wendler bench presses a massive 370 pounds for 7 reps!

This was probably supposed to perform 3 sets of 5 reps for this workout. However, instead of stopping at 5 reps on his last set he goes all-out and gets 7 reps.

Jim says that performing an AMRAP set on your last set for each exercise is a great way to build strength and confidence.

You can hit new personal records in different rep ranges without having to train with 1-rep maxes and risk burning out your central nervous system.

Let’s say that your 1-rep max on the bench press is 220 pounds. This means your training max is (220 pounds x 90%) = 200 pounds.

Here is what your training percentages would look like for your bench press workouts for the first 4 weeks on the 5/3/1 program:

Week #1 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: (65% x 200) = 130 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #2: (75% x 200) = 150 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #3: (85% x 200) = 170 pounds x 5+ reps

Week #2 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: (70% x 200) = 140 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #2: (80% x 200) = 160 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #3: (90% x 200) = 180 pounds x 3+ reps

Week #3 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: (75% x 200) = 150 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #2: (85% x 200) = 170 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #3: (95% x 200) = 190 pounds x 1+ reps

Week #4 Training Percentages:

  • Set #1: (40% x 200) = 80 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #2: (50% x 200) = 100 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #3: (60% x 200) = 120 pounds x 5 reps

Remember: if you are feeling good then perform as many reps as you can on your last set for the first 3 weeks.

If you are having an off day then you can just hit the required number of reps without pushing yourself too hard. 

Jim Wendler says that his program promises slow but consistent progress. The key is to increase your training max by 5-10 pounds each month.

Jim says that you should increase your training max for your bench press and overhead press by 5 pounds each month.

Your training max for your squat and deadlift goes up a little faster at 10 pounds each month. Then you calculate all of your training percentages based off the new training max.

If you can add 5-10 pounds to your lifts each month then you will be 60-120 pounds stronger on them at the end of the year!

Let’s say that you start the year with a 300 pound training max on the bench press. Here is what your progress could look like:

Sample Progression Using 5/3/1

  • Month #1: 300 Pound Training Max
  • Month #2: 305 Pound Training Max
  • Month #3: 310 Pound Training Max
  • Month #4: 315 Pound Training Max
  • Month #5: 320 Pound Training Max
  • Month #6: 325 Pound Training Max
  • Month #7: 330 Pound Training Max
  • Month #8: 335 Pound Training Max
  • Month #9: 340 Pound Training Max
  • Month #10: 345 Pound Training Max
  • Month #11: 350 Pound Training Max
  • Month #12: 355 Pound Training Max

On month #13 you would increase your training max to 360 pounds. That’s 60 pounds on your bench press in a year! If that isn’t fast enough for you then you are out of your mind!

This is one of the big reasons that Jim Wendler recommends you train 4 days per week if you can recover from it. Your workouts add up much more quickly than if you were only training 2-3 days per week. 

Of course you cannot add 60 pounds to your bench press every year without hitting a plateau. That would be impossible.

When your progress slows down and you reach a point where you cannot make any more progress Jim recommends that you reestablish your training max.

For example you would test out your 1-rep max, take 90% of that weight and establish it as your new training max. Then you repeat the process all over again using your new training max.

This is Jim’s favorite way to get over a training plateau on the 5/3/1 program.

5/3/1 Assistance Work

The most important part of the 5/3/1 workout is the 3 heavy sets that you perform at the start of the workout. After that you can perform 2-4 assistance exercises.

Jim Wendler has 4 templates that he likes to use for his assistance work:

  • 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 one of Jim Wendler’s favorite options for assistance work. You are just going to perform 2 assistance exercises and call it a day.

Here is what your bench press workout could look like using the triumvirate template:

The Triumvirate Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Chin ups, 5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Dips, 5 sets of 5-15 reps

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

One of Jim’s favorite strategies with the triumvirate template was to superset his 2 assistance exercises. For example Jim loved to superset chin ups with dips for his assistance work.

The triumvirate works because it forces you to pick the most bang-for-your-buck exercises and train hard on them. There is no room to perform tricep kickbacks, calf raises or any other remedial exercises.

If your motto is “go hard or go home” then you will love the triumvirate template.

Option #2: Boring But Big

Boring but big is the most 5/3/1 assistance work template in the world.

Jim Wendler says that this template is great for anyone who wants to build muscular size all over their body. You are going to perform your 3 heavy sets followed by 5 sets of 10 reps at 50% of your 1-rep max.

Here is what a squat workout could look like:

Boring But Big Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Back squat, 5 sets of 10 reps**
  • Exercise #3: 45 degree back extensions, 5 sets of 10 reps

**Performed at 50% of your 1-rep max.

Jim Wendler says that you could also perform 5 sets of 10 reps of deadlifts on your squat day and 5 sets of 10 reps of squats on your deadlift day. For example:

Boring But Big Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Deadlift, 5 sets of 10 reps**
  • Exercise #3: 45 degree back extensions, 5 sets of 10 reps

**Performed at 50% of your 1-rep max.

Both of these options work. The choice is completely up to you.

Option #3: Westside Style

Another great option is to organize your assistance work the way Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team organize theirs.

Here is what your overhead press day could look like:

Westside Style Overhead Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Overhead press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Incline dumbbell press, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Rolling DB extension, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Chest supported row, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Reverse pec dec, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

The Westside Barbell training program uses about 4-5 exercises per workout.

For your upper body days you could do accessory exercises for your chest, triceps, upper back and delts. On your lower body days you could do 2-4 accessory exercises for your posterior chain.

If you want to learn more about the Westside Barbell Training Program then click right here for my ultimate guide on the program.

Option #4: I’m Not Doing Jack Sh*t

This is Jim Wendler’s favorite way to do assistance work! Let’s say you get to the gym and you just feel tired. The weights feel heavy and you really don’t want to be there.

Maybe Beyoncé broke up with you – it happens to the best of us.

On days like this you say “I’m not doing jack sh*t!” You just show up to the gym, bang out your 3 heavy sets on the main exercise and go home.

Here is what your deadlift workout could look like using this template:

I’m Not Doing Jack Sh*t Deadlift Workout

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

That’s it! You just bang out your main heavy sets and go home. Talk about easy!

Jim Wendler is a true aficionado of the “I’m not doing jack sh*t” template. When other people say they’re going to load up on the assistance work Jim Wendler says I’m not doing jack sh*t!

I recommend you use this template whenever you are having a bad day. If you are feeling better on your next workout then get right back to your regular assistance work template.

If you are performing 4 heavy 5/3/1 workouts per week then you will probably need to use this template sooner or later.

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:

“Arguing about strength training theory is stupid, the reason I came up with 5/3/1 was that I wanted a program that eliminated stupid thoughts from my head and just let me go into the weight room and get shit done. 

I’ve been training for 20 years, and this is what I’ve learned.”

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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