Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program | The Ultimate Guide!


Jim Wendler 531

Are you curious about Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program?

Do you want to know how to use 5/3/1 to build raw strength?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

In this comprehensive guide, I will teach you how to use Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program to take your training to the next level!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The 5/3/1 Training Split
  • Part 2: The 5/3/1 Training Cycle
  • Part 3: The 5/3/1 Training Percentages
  • Part 4: The 5/3/1 Training Max
  • Part 5: Slow But Steady Wins The Race
  • Part 6: Training 2, 3, Or 4 Days Per Week
  • Part 7: 5/3/1 Assistance Work

Jim Wendler is one of the most popular strength coaches in the world.

He is famous for training with Louie Simmons at the Westside Barbell powerlifting club, and of course, for inventing the 5/3/1 training program.

But what is 5/3/1, and why is it so effective for building raw strength?

5/3/1 is an advanced training program designed to get you stronger on 4 key lifts: the bench press, the squat, the overhead press, and the deadlift.

5/3/1 uses specific training percentages, customizable workout templates, deload weeks, and a simple linear progression model to transform you into the strongest lifter that you can become!

If you are looking for a simple program that will help you get freaky strong, then 5/3/1 is for you!

Part 1: The 5/3/1 Training Split

Jim Wendler believes the fastest way to get strong is to train 4 days per week and focus on the “big 4” exercises: the bench press, the squat, the overhead press, and the deadlift.

Jim Wendler says these are the most important lifts for getting big and strong.

If you are consistently getting stronger on these 4 exercises, then you will make the fastest gains of your entire life.

Here is what the 5/3/1 training split looks like:

The 5/3/1 Training Split

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat
  • Day 3: Overhead Press
  • Day 4: Deadlift

This is a very simple but effective way to train – especially if your goal is to get stronger over time on these exercises.

So what kind of gains can you expect on this program?

Here is Jim Wendler bench pressing 370 pounds for 7 reps using the 5/3/1 training program:

Talk about a huge bench press!

As you can see, 5/3/1 is a simple but extremely effective way to build raw strength.

The original 5/3/1 workout program uses 4 workouts per week.

However, if you are unable to recover from 4 weekly workouts, then you can always try the 3-day or 2-day version of this program.

Here is what the 3-day program looks like:

The 3 Days Per Week 5/3/1 Training Split

Week #1

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat
  • Day 3: Overhead Press

Week #2

  • Day 1: Deadlift
  • Day 2: Bench Press
  • Day 3: Squat

Week #3

  • Day 1: Overhead Press
  • Day 2: Deadlift
  • Day 3: Bench Press

Week #4

  • Day 1: Squat
  • Day 2: Overhead Press
  • Day 3: Deadlift

And so on. You just keep rotating your 4 different workouts using your 3 workout days.

And here is what the 2-day version of this program looks like:

The 2 Days Per Week 5/3/1 Training Split

Week #1

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat

Week #2

  • Day 1: Overhead Press
  • Day 2: Deadlift

Week #3

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat

Week #4

  • Day 1: Overhead Press
  • Day 2: Deadlift

The 3-day and 2-day versions of the 5/3/1 training program are both extremely effective for building raw strength.

In fact, Jim Wendler was training with the 2-day version of this split when he hit an all-time deadlift PR with 710 pounds! Check it out:

Talk about a huge deadlift!

In summary, the original 5/3/1 training program was designed with 4 weekly workouts.

If you can recover from 4 workouts per week, then you should be using the 4-day 5/3/1 training split.

If you cannot recover from 4 workouts per week, or don’t have enough time to perform 4 weekly workouts, then the 2-day or 3-day versions of the 5/3/1 training program are also extremely effective.

Part 2: The 5/3/1 Training Cycle

So how do you get stronger using 5/3/1?

The truth is, Jim Wendler uses a simple linear progression model in his 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 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 perform a deload week with lighter weights.

The deload week is absolutely critical, as it gives your body a chance to recover from the previous three weeks of heavy training.

Part 3: The 5/3/1 Training Percentages

Jim Wendler uses training percentages with his 5/3/1 program.

He says all of your working sets with the “big 4” exercises should follow these percentages, as they will help you to make better long-term progress. Check it out:

Week #1 Training Percentages:

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

Week #2 Training Percentages:

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

Week #3 Training Percentages:

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

Week #4 Training Percentages:

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

5/3/1 uses three heavy weeks in a row, followed by a “deload” week.

During the first three weeks, you will lift heavy weights on the “big 4” exercises using these training percentages.

For example, let’s say you are performing a bench press workout during week 1.

You would warm up, and then perform 3 working sets of 5 reps at 65%, 75%, and 85% of your 1-rep max.

On the last set, you have the option of going for an “AMRAP” set where you get as many reps as possible.

Jim says these AMRAP sets are a core part of the training program, as they give you the chance to push yourself and beat your previous best with that weight.

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!

Part 4: The 5/3/1 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 4 weeks of training would look like with a 300 pound training max:

Week #1 Training Percentages:

  • Set 1: (65% x 300) = 195 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set 2: (75% x 300) = 225 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set 3: (85% x 300) = 255 pounds x 5+ reps

Week #2 Training Percentages:

  • Set 1: (70% x 300) = 210 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set 2: (80% x 300) = 240 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set 3: (90% x 300) = 270 pounds x 3+ reps

Week #3 Training Percentages:

  • Set 1: (75% x 300) = 225 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set 2: (85% x 300) = 255 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set 3: (95% x 300) = 285 pounds x 1+ reps

Week #4 Training Percentages:

  • Set 1: (40% x 300) = 120 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set 2: (50% x 300) = 150 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set 3: (60% x 300) = 180 pounds x 5 reps

After the fourth week, you start the process all over again with slightly heavier weights.

Part 5: 5/3/1 = Slow But Consistent Progress

This is where things get really interesting!

At the end of your first 4 weeks of training, you are going to increase your “training max” on the bench press, squat, overhead press, and deadlift.

So how much weight do you add to the bar?

Jim wants you to increase your training max by 5 pounds for upper body lifts, and 10 pounds for lower body lifts.

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 pounds
  • Bench Press: 300 pounds
  • Squat: 400 pounds
  • Deadlift: 500 pounds

Month #2 Training Maxes

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

Month #3 Training Maxes

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

And so on.

Every month you increase your training maxes by 5-10 pounds.

If you do this correctly, then you can add up to 60 pounds to your upper body lifts and 120 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.

Part 6: Training 2, 3, Or 4 Days Per Week

Before we look at some sample 5/3/1 workouts I want to talk about some different training splits that you can use. Jim Wendler’s original 5/3/1 program uses 4 workouts per week. For example:

The 4 Days Per Week Training Split

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat
  • Day 3: Overhead Press
  • Day 4: Deadlift

This split works great for people with average to above average recovery ability.

Unfortunately, not everyone can recover from 4 heavy workouts per week.

If this describes you, then you may want to try a 3-day or 2-day routine.

Here is what the 3 day 5/3/1 program looks like:

The 3 Days Per Week 5/3/1 Training Split

Week #1

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat
  • Day 3: Overhead Press

Week #2

  • Day 1: Deadlift
  • Day 2: Bench Press
  • Day 3: Squat

Week #3

  • Day 1: Overhead Press
  • Day 2: Deadlift
  • Day 3: Bench Press

Week #4

  • Day 1: Squat
  • Day 2: Overhead Press
  • Day 3: Deadlift

And so on. You just keep rotating your 4 different workouts using your 3 workout days.

With this split, every body part is trained about once every 5 days.

This is an AWESOME training frequency for a lot of people.

If you are using the 3-day split then you would deload every 4th workout for each major exercise.

Another great option is the 2-day 5/3/1 program. For example:

The 2 Days Per Week 5/3/1 Training Split

Week #1

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat

Week #2

  • Day 1: Overhead Press
  • Day 2: Deadlift

Week #3

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat

Week #4

  • Day 1: Overhead Press
  • Day 2: Deadlift

Don’t laugh at this training split!

Jim Wendler says that he got some of his best results using this simple 2 days per week training split.

In fact, Jim hit an all-time PR of 710 pounds on the deadlift using this exact training split.

This was more than he did in his powerlifting days while training at the Westside Barbell powerlifting club!

If you are using the 2 day 5/3/1 program then you can actually skip the deload weeks altogether.

You have so much rest built in during the week that you really don’t need it.

Here is what your training cycle would look like:

The 2-Day 5/3/1 Progression Model

  • Weeks 1-2: sets of 5 reps
  • Weeks 3-4: sets of 3 reps
  • Weeks 5-6: sets of 5/3/1 reps

On weeks 7-8 you would increase your training maxes by 5-10 pounds and start the cycle all over again.

Jim Wendler says the 2 day 5/3/1 program is great for anyone who is dealing with more stress in their lives, and just needs a simple program to make progress without beating themselves up too much.

Part 7: 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 5 assistance work templates that Jim Wendler really likes:

5/3/1 Assistance Work Templates

  • Option #1: Boring But Big
  • Option #2: Boring But Big Beefcake
  • Option #3: The Triumvirate
  • Option #4: Westside Style
  • Option #5: I’m Not Doing Jack Shit!

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

Assistance Work Option #1: Boring But Big

Boring But Big is Jim Wendler’s favorite way to perform 5/3/1 assistance work. In fact, he says it is the single most effective way to perform his training program!

So what does the Boring But Big program look like?

Boring But Big involves performing 5 sets of 10 reps on two exercises: the main lift, and one key accessory movement.

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.

You also perform 5 sets of 10 reps on a key assistance exercise – ideally one that works the opposite muscle groups of the bench press, overhead press, squat, or deadlift.

Jim Wendler recommends you perform these back off sets with around 50-60% of your 1-rep max.

This is heavy enough to get a powerful muscle-building stimulus, but light enough that it won’t impact your recovery ability.

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

Bench Press Day: Boring But Big

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

That’s it! Jim Wendler says Boring But Big is extremely effective for building size and strength at the same time.

The back off sets also give you a chance to work on your technique on the “big 4” exercises.

If you are extremely advanced, then you may want to try Boring But Big 2.0.

This is a strategy where you perform your back off sets on the opposite lift for that day.

For example, on a bench press day, you would perform your back off sets on the overhead press; on a squat day, you would perform your back off sets on the deadlift; and so on.

For example:

Bench Press Day: Boring But Big Version 2.0

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

Both versions of the Boring But Big program work extremely well for building size and strength.

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

If you are serious about getting results with Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, then Boring But Big is the first accessory work template that you should try.

Assistance Work Option #2: 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

  • Exercise A1: Overhead press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise B1: V-bar dips, 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Exercise 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

  • Exercise A1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise B1: 45 degree leg press, 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Exercise 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.

Assistance Work 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

  • Bench press: 3 sets of 3-5 reps
  • Chest: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Triceps: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Lats: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Delts: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps

5/3/1 Squat Day: Westside Style

  • Squat: 3 sets of 3-5 reps
  • Hamstrings: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Lower back: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Abs: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps

5/3/1 Overhead Press Day: Westside Style

  • Bench press: 3 sets of 3-5 reps
  • Chest: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Triceps: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Lats: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Delts: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps

5/3/1 Deadlift Day: Westside Style

  • Deadlift: 3 sets of 3-5 reps
  • Lower back: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Hamstrings: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Abs: 3-4 sets of 6-12 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.

Assistance Work Option #4: I’m not Doing Jack Shit!

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 shit!” assistance template.

It’s really simple actually: you don’t do any assistance work that day! For example:

5/3/1 Bench Press Day | I’m Not Doing Jack Shit!

  • Exercise #1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps

That’s it!

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 shit!” assistance work template.

Jim practically made a powerlifting career out of it!

Conclusion | Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program!

Jim Wendler calls his 5/3/1 training program the simplest and most effective way to train for raw strength.

That is a bold claim to make, but I have to agree that Jim’s 5/3/1 program is a very simple and effective way to train.

Many trainees have increased their squat and deadlift by 100+ pounds in under a year by using this program.

If you are stuck in a long-term training plateau, then you have to give the 5/3/1 training program a shot.

It may be just what you need to take your training to the next level!

“The game of lifting isn’t an 8-week pursuit. It doesn’t last as long as your latest program does. Rather, it’s 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.”

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

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to take your training to the next level, then you've come to the right place... My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world!

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