Jim Wendler 5/3/1 For Athletes | The Ultimate Guide!


Jim Wendler Athletes

Are you curious about 5/3/1 For Athletes?

Do you wonder how Jim Wendler organizes his training programs for competitive athletes, including football players and MMA fighters?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

In this comprehensive guide, I will show you how to use 5/3/1 for athletes to take your training to the next level!

Introduction

  • Part 1: 5/3/1 For Football
  • Part 2: 5/3/1 For MMA

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

He is most famous for inventing his 5/3/1 training program, which he calls “the simplest and most effective way to build raw strength.”

Jim spent many years training as a professional powerlifter, and his training program incorporates many strategies that he learned while training with Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team.

However, Jim says his program is also great for competitive athletes, including football players and MMA fighters – especially if you use the program modifications that he recommends! 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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5/3/1 For Football Athletes

You may not  know this, but before Jim Wendler was a competitive powerlifter, he was a collegiate level football player.

He understands how difficult it can be to balance football-specific training with getting stronger in the weight room. This is especially true during the in-season, where you have a “game day” every weekend.

This is one of the reasons Jim is so successful at coaching football athletes today!

So what does his football training program actually look like?

The truth is Jim Wendler uses different 5/3/1 templates for football players depending on whether they are in the offseason or in-season phase.

During the offseason, Jim says you can train 2, 3, or 4 days per week. You don’t have to make too many modifications to the original 5/3/1 program, as the primary goal during the offseason is to build size and strength.

“In the off-season, you can train 2, 3, or 4 days a week. The days don’t matter as much as the principles that are applied.

Once you’ve embraced the principles, you’ll realize that everything falls into place. The minutia is no longer important.”

The number of workouts you perform per week depends on your overall recovery ability.

However, most football players have above-average recovery ability, so using Jim Wendler’s original 4-day 5/3/1 template is often a great choice.

The 4-Day 5/3/1 Training Split

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

This is how Jim Wendler normally organizes his 5/3/1 training split. You have a separate day where you train the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press on separate training days.

For most athletes, Jim Wendler recommends that you continue to follow the normal 5/3/1 set and rep scheme. This is true regardless of whether you are in the offseason or the in-season.

To recap, here is how Jim cycles his sets and reps on the “big 4” barbell exercises using his 5/3/1 training program:

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)

Jim has his athletes train relatively heavy for three weeks in a row, followed by a deload week on the 4th week.

Now let’s talk about the actual 5/3/1 workouts for athletes. After all, athletes need to train for many different athletic qualities, including strength, explosiveness, mobility, conditioning, and so on. Jim Wendler divides his workouts into three separate steps:

5/3/1 Workouts For Athletes

  • Step #1: Warm Up
  • Step #2: Strength Exercises
  • Step #3: Conditioning

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

Step #1: Warm Up

Jim Wendler has all of his athletes perform a very thorough warm up phase.

He recommends all lifters do this, but it is especially important if you are a competitive athlete. Check it out:

  • Part 1: Mobility Work
  • Part 2: Joe Defranco’s Agile 8
  • Part 3: Medicine Ball Throws
  • Part 4: Explosive Jumps

Jim Wendler has you perform mobility work, Joe Defranco’s Agile 8, medicine ball throws, and explosive jumps as part of his 5/3/1 warm ups for athletes. The mobility work may consist of static or dynamic stretches and other mobility work.

Next Jim has his athletes perform Joe Defranco’s “Agile 8” warm up. If you haven’t heard of this, then you can perform a simple google search for the topic.

After that Jim has his athletes perform explosive medicine ball throws to work on upper body explosiveness.

Finally Jim has his athletes perform explosive jump training, such as box jumps and other plyometric training.

Step #2: Strength Exercises

The second part of the 5/3/1 for athletes workouts consists of the heavy strength training exercises.

I will cover this in more detail below, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

Step #3: Conditioning

Jim Wendler has all of his athletes perform some sort of conditioning work at the end of their workouts. This is especially true for his football athletes. Jim has many different tools that he likes to use for conditioning his athletes.

Here are some of his favorites:

Jim Wendler’s Favorite Conditioning Exercises

  • Option #1: Prowler
  • Option #2: Sled Pulling
  • Option #3: Hill Sprints

Of course, there are many other options that you could use as well.

5/3/1 In-Season Football Workouts

Jim Wendler says that strength training for football athletes completely depends on whether you are in the offseason, or in your competitive season.

During the competitive season, your primary goal is to be as prepared as possible for your actual football games.

All of your strength training work is designed to help you maintain your current level of size, strength, and conditioning. After all, you probably aren’t getting dramatically stronger during the competitive season.

The offseason is completely different – this is when you need to make significant improvements in your size, strength, conditioning, and so on. Let’s start by talking about how to structure your football workouts during the competitive football season.

Jim Wendler recommends you perform 2 5/3/1 workouts during the week, plus a short mobility workout immediately after game day. Check it out:

5/3/1 Football In Season Template

Saturday Morning (After game)

  •  Calisthenics/Mobility/Stretching
  •  Very light lifting/movement work

Monday – Lower Body

  • Exercise A1: Trap bar deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps**
  • Exercise B1: Pull exercise, 50-100 reps
  • Exercise B2: Push exercise, 50-100 reps

Wednesday: Upper Body

  • Exercise A1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps**
  • Exercise B1: Pull exercise, 50-100 reps
  • Exercise B2: Push exercise, 50-100 reps

As you can see, Jim Wendler recommends you perform 2 separate strength training workouts during the week.

You perform 1 lower body workout focused on the squat or trap bar deadlift, and 1 upper body workout focused on the bench press or overhead press.

Jim actually recommends his football athletes perform the trap bar deadlift rather than the regular conventional deadlift during their competitive season.

The trap bar has many advantages for athletes, including being much easier to recover from and putting less stress on their lumbar spine.

5/3/1 Off-Season Football Workouts

Jim Wendler says offseason training for competitive football players is completely different than in-season football training.

During the offseason, he has his athletes perform relatively normal 5/3/1 workouts with a long warm up, several strength building exercises, and some conditioning work at the end. Jim says offseason athletes can train anywhere from 2-4 days per week.

Here is one of his favorite 5/3/1 offseason training splits:

The 5/3/1 Training Split

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

After the main exercise for the day Jim says you can perform 2-4 accessory exercises. Jim Wendler includes many different 5/3/1 assistance work templates in his latest book “5/3/1 Forever.”

Here is some of his most popular assistance work templates:

Let’s look at some sample football workouts using each of these training templates.

Here is a sample 5/3/1 football squat workout featuring the triumvirate template. Check it out:

The Triumvirate Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Squat, 3 sets of 1-5+ reps
  • Exercise #2: Dumbbell squat, 3 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: 45 degree back extension, 3 sets of 8-15 reps

As the name suggests, the triumvirate template features 3 main workouts per week. You perform 1 heavy barbell exercise at the start of the workout, followed by 2 compound assistance exercises for your upper or lower body.

This is a very simple but effective assistance work template, especially for football athletes who do not have a lot of recovery ability to spare.

Next let’s look at the ever-popular BBB or Boring But Big template. 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 Boring But Big is perfect for athletes who want to build as much muscle mass as possible in the offseason. In fact, BBB might be Jim’s overall most popular 5/3/1 assistance work template.

For this workout you are going to perform your 3 working sets on your primary exercise, another 5 sets of 10 reps on the primary barbell exercise (with 50% of your training max), and 5 sets of 10 reps on another compound accessory exercise.

This template is so popular that Jim has made many spinoff templates, including the BBB Beefcake template. Check it out:

Boring But Big Beefcake Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5+ reps
  • Exercise #2: Squat, 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #3: Glute ham raise, 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #2: Weighted push ups, 50-100 reps
  • Exercise #3: One-arm dumbbell row, 50-100 reps

This workout is exactly the same as the previous one, except you perform 2 additional accessory exercises at the end of the workout for the opposite half of your body.

This split works well for lifters who need to add a LOT of muscle mass in a short period of time.

Of course, you need above average recovery ability to recover from this template, as you are essentially performing 4 full body workouts per week.

5/3/1 MMA Workouts

Jim Wendler says he is primarily a football coach, rather than an MMA or jiu jitsu coach. However, he has spent a lot of time training competitive athletes, and he has some interesting ideas for how MMA fighters should organize their strength training workouts.

Here are Jim Wendler’s exact thoughts on how to organize 5/3/1 workouts for fight athletes:

“Since there are many abilities that must be trained and much time devoted to practice (and this practice being very difficult), I propose the following

  • Train two days/week
  • Assistance work is kept to 2-3 exercises per day
  • A third day can be added for additional assistance work (if time and energy allow)

The time spent in the weight room must be devoted to getting stronger, not  running around doing circuits.  You are in the weight room to get stronger, NOT to mimic another practice.”

“Feel free to do your battling ropes and burpees AFTER you strength train.”

As you can see, Jim recommends you perform 2 workouts per week. This is true regardless of whether you are getting ready for a fight or not.

Here is a simple 5/3/1 MMA template that Jim provided at his personal blog. Check it out:

The Jim Wendler MMA Athlete Training Split

Day One

  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Assistance Work

Day Two

  • Deadlift
  • Press
  • Assistance Work

As you can see, Jim recommends you perform 2 full body workouts per week. You train the squat and bench press on day 1, and then the deadlift and overhead press on day 2 later in the week.

After the main lift you can perform 2-3 accessory exercises for your upper and lower body. For example, you could perform 1-2 assistance exercises for your upper body and 1 assistance exercise for your lower body.

Here are some sample 5/3/1 MMA workouts that you could try. Check it out:

5/3/1 MMA Workout #1

  • Exercise #1: Squat, 3 sets of 1-5+ reps
  • Exercise #2: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5+ reps
  • Exercise #3: 45 degree back extension, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Lat pulldown, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Seated dumbbell overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps

5/3/1 MMA Workout #2

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5+ reps
  • Exercise #2: Overhead press, 3 sets of 1-5+ reps
  • Exercise #3: Glute ham raise, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Chin ups / pull ups, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Dips, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps

This is a good example of how Jim Wendler recommends you organize your fight training as a competitive athlete.

If you have a hard time recovering from 2 full body workouts per week, then you can also try some other 2-day 5/3/1 training templates. For example, here is the original 2-day 5/3/1 program that Jim Wendler popularized many years ago:

The Jim Wendler 5/3/1 2-Day Training Split

Week #1

  • Day 1: Squat
  • Day 2: Bench Press

Week #2

  • Day 1: Deadlift
  • Day 2: Overhead Press

This template is very similar to the prior one. The main difference is you only train 1 primary exercise each workout.

You also only perform accessory work for one half of your body each day. For example, on your squat workout you would perform 2-4 accessory exercises for your lower body.

Jim Wendler worked up to a 710 pound deadlift using this exact training split, so don’t discount it as having “not enough volume!”

If you still want to perform full body workouts twice per week, but don’t have the recovery ability to handle Jim’s proposed MMA template, then you may want to try Jim’s Krypteia program. Check it out:

Krypteia Template – Week 1

Monday

  • Squat
  • Upper Body Assistance Work

Thursday

  • Bench Press
  • Lower Body Assistance Work

Krypteia Template – Week 2

Monday

  • Deadlift
  • Upper Body Assistance Work

Thursday

  • Overhead Press
  • Lower Body Assistance Work

The main difference with this split, and the previous one, is you perform your accessory work for the opposite half of your body each workout.

For example, on your upper body workouts you perform accessory work for your lower body, and on your lower body workouts you perform accessory work for your upper body.

If you want to learn more about Jim Wendler’s krypteia template, then check out the following article:

The Jim Wendler Krypteia Program | The Ultimate Guide!

Conclusion | Jim Wendler 5/3/1 For Athletes!

Jim Wendler is one of the most successful strength coaches in the world today, and it’s easy to see why.

He understands how to modify his popular 5/3/1 training program to match the needs of competitive athletes, including football players and MMA fighters.

If you are looking for a new workout routine to improve your athletic performance, then you have to give the 5/3/1 for athletes workouts a shot.

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

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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