Jim Wendler 5/3/1 : A Workout Program by an Elite Powerlifter

The 5/3/1 workout is a program made by elite powerlifter Jim Wendler, who squatted 1000lbs!!! His workout is pretty simple and guarantees you slow but steady progress.

The 4 lifts:

In Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 strength increase program, there are 4 main lifts:

These are the 4 main compounds lifts, and as we know the compounds lifts are the best for strength. Try to do 6 months leg extension for strength gains and check in your sport if you feel any strength difference. Then heavy squat for 6 months and check when you practice your spot how is your strength, you will be very surprised!

How does it work?

First of all, you have to know your 1rm in the 4 lifts, which means the maximum weight you can lift. If you already workout and you do these 4 lifts in your routine, you can calculate your 1RM with this formula: 1RM = weight x reps x 0.0333 + weight. This means that if you can bench press 225 lbs for 6 reps, your 1RM bench press should be 269.955 lbs. Once you get your 1RM for each 4 lifts, then you have to follow the workout using 90% of your 1RM. It means that for calculating all the weight you will lift during the workout you will not use your true 1RM but instead, you will use 90% of it (you also can use 95% if you want lower reps).

So if you 1RM bench press is 270 lbs, you will use 243 lbs as 1RM instead (90% of 270 lbs). Then it’s very easy, the Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 workout works by cycles, and each cycle has 4 weeks, 3 weeks of strength, and 1 week of deload. Each week you will do the 4 lifts on separated days with the following percentages for each cycle (percentage calculated on your 1RM, not your true 1RM but the 90% of your 1RM):

  • 1 st week: ( 40% x 5reps 50% x 5reps 60% x 3reps warm up) 65% x 5reps 75% x 5reps 85% x 5reps or more
  • 2 nd week: ( 40% x 5reps 50% x 5reps 60% x 3reps warm up) 70% x 3 reps 80% x 3reps 90% x 3reps or more
  • 3 rd week: ( 40% x 5reps 50% x 5reps 60% x 3reps warm up) 75% x 5reps 85% x 3reps 95% x 1rep or more
  • 4 th week (deload): 40% x 5reps 50% x 5reps 60% x 5reps (you can optionally do 3 sets of 5reps at 60%)

Then you accomplished one cycle, on the next cycle you will add 10lbs at your 1RM (90% of your true 1RM) for the squat and deadlift, and 5lbs at your 1RM (90% of your true 1RM) for the bench press and the military press. So with this increased 1RM, you will calculate same percentages as your first cycle and you will do the second cycle. For each new cycle, it will be the same, you will add 10lbs and 5lbs to your 1RM lifts and will have new numbers each new cycles. If you noticed, on each last set, you have “or more”. This means that you have to try to beat the reps you normally do, each time you have to try to lift for one more rep, this will set a new goal each time and avoid being bored. But never go to failure, if you think you can lift the next rep, then better don’t do it. Also never recalculate the 1RM, just add the 10 and 5lbs each new cycle.

Just the 4 lifts?

No. After the main lift, you will add at least one assistance exercise, which involves same muscle(s) as the main lift. For example, the day you bench press, you can add triceps extension after it, close grip bench press, or even butterfly. On a squat day, you can do leg extensions, or good morning, etc… With the same percentages as the main lift? No. You will go for 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps as you wish and not too heavy, let’s say with a 50% intensity. These exercises are here just to build some muscles, you don’t want to look for a better 1RM at triceps extension of course.

Highly customizable

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 workout is highly customizable! It means that you can change the assistance exercises or even recalculate the 1RM when you go very high in reps. For example, if you reach 20 reps at 95% on the week 3, then it means you really have a higher 1RM than before and it is time to recalculate all 1RM. Also if you are using the 5/3/1 workout for conditioning for you sport, you can freely remove a lift if you don’t have enough time to practice in the week, but keep in mind that these 4 lifts will greatly improve your strength in your sport. So better not to skip any lift.

You also can add specific assistance exercises if you wish like a lot of pull up or chin up for grapplers and judo guys.

Pros and Cons:

  • avoid injuries *slow
  • strong gains *high in reps (some peoples don’t like it)
  • funny (beating reps records)
  • shorts workout sessions

For people, that don’t like high reps, then it’s probably not for you, but keep in mind that working out all the time with low reps is very harsh for your body and can lead to injuries. And for the people that say it is slow, well that is true, it is slow. But what is best? Boost your 1RM of 45lbs in 2 months then get injured and decrease your 1RM by 100lbs? Or at the end of the year having a 1RM increased by 90lbs without any injuries and keep on getting stronger all year?

You decide!