Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 Workout Info

by Travis Hlavka

Since I started powerlifting, I’ve had a couple workouts that I really liked. The first was the Madcow 5×5 version of Bill Starr’s 5×5 routine, and the second was Sheiko. (The Sheiko volume about killed me tho cuz I wasn’t prepped well enough for it. DOH! BUT, I loved it!)

Now the workout I’m really into is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 workout routine.  If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend getting your hands on it.  Even better, buy it so you can go back to it like I do from time to time. Jim Wendler 5/3/1 Book (2nd Edition): The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength.

Also, I’ve created a 5/3/1 workout spreadsheet (based on one that my workout partner had) and also created a video explaining how it works.

5/3/1 Workout Breakdown

  • Train 3-4 days per week
  • One day will be devoted to the standing military press, one day to the parallel squat, one day to the deadlift and one day to the bench press.
  • Each training cycle lasts 4 weeks.
  • The first week you will do 3 sets of 5 reps (3×5).
  • The second week you will do 3 sets of 3 reps (3×3).
  • The third week you will do 1 set of 5 reps,1 set of 3 reps and 1 set of 1 rep (5/3/1).
  • The fourth week you will do 3 sets of 5 reps (3×5). This is an easy deload week.
  • After the fourth week, you begin again with 3 sets of 5 reps.
  • Each week and each set has a percentage to follow, so you won’t be guessing what to do anymore.

Emphasize Big, Multi-Joint Compound Movements

For years I did a lot of isolation exercises; Curls, Tricep extensions, Leg extensions, etc etc etc… I also did a couple compound movements like squat and bench, but I never really focused on compound multi-joint movements. MAN, WHAT A WASTE OF YEARS THAT WAS!!

Mult-joint compound movements build the most muscle and work all these smaller muscles in addition. People are baffled when I tell them I rarely if ever do curls. Actually can’t remember the last time I did a bicep curl. Also, I’ve always had problems with tiny calves and hated it. Amazingly, when I started focusing on the big compound lifts, my calves actually grew. (They’re still small in my mind, but they’re better than before.)

Start Too Light & Progress Slowly

We all want to make huge gains fast, and in the beginning this is possible. However, the longer we train, the slower the progress becomes. That’s why, with this program it’s all about starting light and progressing slowly. You will hit a point where it starts getting much harder and that’s when you learn to appreciate the deload weeks.

Break Personal Records (PR’s)

Another big thing about the 5/3/1 program is breaking personal records. That could be in weight or reps. If at the beginning of one cycle you’re only benching 225lbs x 5, but then the next cycle you hit 7 reps, then you’re getting stronger…. obviously.

If you don’t buy Wendler’s book(s) [5/3/1 for Powerlifting and/or Jim Wendler 5/3/1 Book (2nd Edition)], you should at least read his write up at Men’s Health on the 5/3/1 Workout

Click here to get my version of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 workout spreadsheet

I highly recommend taking the Wendler 5/3/1 workout program for a test drive for at least 12-16 weeks.

Travis Hlavka (9 Posts)

I may act like a 12yr old a lot of the time, but that's because I have a genetic defect that will not allow me grow up. HOWEVER, I do take strength training and fitness very seriously and I love using what I know to help others reach their fitness goals and avoid the bazillion mistakes I've made in my 25+ yrs of training. Since I don't know everything, I never stop learning. Note: I am no longer a "certified" trainer, but I truly understand more about fitness and health now than I ever did with that official piece of paper.

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