Authors: Jim Wendler
5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System to Increase Raw Strength
By Jim Wendler
Before you embark on any physical fitness program, please consult a doctor.
This book may not be reproduced or recorded in any form without permission from
Copyright 2009, 2011 by Jim Wendler. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
The Origin of 5/3/1 – 6
I’m Not Doing Shit Today - 50
The 5/3/1 Philosophy - 8
Periodization Bible - 50
5/3/1/ Program - 10
Bodyweight – 52
Squat - 12
Programming Your Assistance Work – Simplest Strength Template – 52
Military Press - 14
Rest Pause Training - 58
Bench Press - 15
Moving North of Vag - 69
Deadlift - 17
Training 3 Days a Week - 76
Training Fashion - 19
Training 2 Days a Week - 77
Beginning the Program - 21
5/3/1 Full Body Training – 79
The Last Set - 23
5/3/1 and Crossfit - 85
How to Progress – 24
5/3/1 for Beginners - 90
Even Smaller Increments? - 29
Using Excel – 92
Stalling in 5/3/1 - 30
Eating for Size and Strength - 94
How to Warm Up - 31
5/3/1 FAQ - 99
Comparing Rep Maxes - 32
5/3/1 Comments and Success Stories – 110
Having a Less than Stellar Day - 33
5/3/1 Percentage Charts - 119
How to Have Stronger Abs - 45
5/3/1 Training Log – 123
The Great Debate - 45
Meal Plan Tracker - 131
Boring but Big - 48
About the Author - 132
Triumvirate - 48
This book is dedicated to Mason.
THE ORIGIN OF 5/3/1
In the summer of 2005, I was burned out from competitive powerlifting. I was tired of bench shirts, box squats, bands and being fat. Two years earlier, I’d written down three goals I wanted to accomplish. In my last meet, I’d done al three. Satisfied with reaching my goals, and dissatisfied with how I felt, I needed a change – but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted or how I was going to get there.
My first order of business was losing weight. I was about 280 pounds, and I wanted to be able to tie my shoes without turning red. I wanted to be able to walk down the street without losing my breath. Like many people, I played football in high school and college. I was in shape then, and could do just about anything. Fast forward five years, and I was at the bottom of the food chain.
That feeling of being a fat-ass was awful. I was exactly what I despised.
I remember once watching a young woman walk for exercise when I was in col ege. She wasn’t overweight, and she didn’t look like she was suffering from any kind of physical ailment. I was mystified as to why this seemingly fit woman was simply walking. Why wasn’t she running? Why wasn’t she running
with a sled
? Why wasn’t she pushing a car, or pushing an SUV up and down the street?
I remember thinking to myself that if I ever reached a point in my life where I had to walk to get exercise, it might be time to clean out my ears with a gun.
Fortunately, I didn’t fol ow through with my plans. The point, however, is this:
I was fat and out of
. And even though I’d recently squatted 1000 pounds, I real y wasn’t strong. I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t use this strength for anything other than waddling up to a monolift and squatting.
A few months later, I’d managed to lose about 25 pounds. Simply walking and not eating as much helped me out immensely. I was able to move again. I could run, sprint, jog, jump rope or do just about anything.
But damn was I weak.
I knew where I wanted to go. I simply wanted to deadlift and squat over 600 pounds again, and I wanted to bench press 405. That was it. And I wanted to do it without the aid of powerlifting gear like bench shirts and squat suits. I also wanted an easy plan to get there. I didn’t want to have to do a million different exercises. The bench press, parallel squat, deadlift and standing press have always been staples of any strong person’s repertoire, so I knew what exercises I wanted to do.
I needed a plan for al of this. I needed something very simple, and I didn’t want to have to think about it. I had recently become a father, and my priorities had changed. I still wanted to be strong, but I didn’t want to have to spend all my time thinking about it. I wanted to go in the weight room, have my work planned for me, and get out. No bullshit, no problem.
I’d started playing around with the concept of 5/3/1 months earlier, so I knew I was on to something, but I wasn’t sure how it would work. Because my bench, squat and deadlift goals were so straightforward, I gave myself 12 months to accomplish them. I worked backward from these numbers and ended up with beginning weights that were really light. I mean
I had a plan, though, and I fol owed through. I figured once I finished each month of training, I’d be ready to move on to the next – and the next, and the next, until I finally reached my goal. Of course, this was wishful thinking – it doesn’t always work like this – but I needed a simple plan, and this was the best one I could come up with. Or the simplest, at least.
Sometimes, however, the simplest is the best. In my case, this proved to be true. I was breezing through my workouts, putting on some muscle, and having fun again. I began pushing my last set for as many reps as I could, setting personal records in the process.
Training was fun again. Gone were the three hour marathons of bench shirt training and sweating my ass off wearing tight polyester gear. I was in and out of the weight room in 30-45
minutes, and I was still getting stronger. After about three months of training, I got a wild hair up my ass and tried to pull a max deadlift. After my sets were over, I loaded up the bar and pulled for 3 reps what I thought I might be able to pull once. 610 x 3.
Now, this isn’t any kind of world – or even personal – record, but it was really, really good for me at the time, especially when you consider the fact that I was used to wearing a deadlift suit and briefs and had lost so much weight. Plus, the deadlift was always my worst lift. I can blame this on any number of things, but the bottom line is that I just wasn’t strong. Now, with this program, I could feel myself inching toward “strong” without having to be a blob of disgusting lard.
I began playing more and more with this program. I switched things up, experimented on friends and training partners and read some old books on training, and this is what I came up with. Hell, it may change even more with time, but the basics will always remain the same.
THE 5/3/1 PHILOSOPHY
The 5/3/1 philosophy is more important than the sets and reps. Whenever I feel like I’m getting sidetracked or want to try something different, I revisit these rules to make sure I’m doing things the right way. Even if you decide this program isn’t for you, these basic tenets have stood the test of time. Take these things to heart, and you’l be greatly rewarded.
Emphasize Big, Multi-Joint Movements
This real y isn’t any secret. Beginners have been told to do this for years, and advanced lifters swear by these movements. Multi-joint lifts are lifts that involve more than one muscle – i.e., not an isolation exercise like leg extensions – and allow you to build the most muscle. These lifts are the most efficient for building muscle and strength. Examples are the squat, deadlift, bench press and power clean.
Start Too Light
My coaches emphasized this to me when I was in high school, but unfortunately, I didn’t listen.
Hopeful y you wil . Starting too light al ows for more time for you to progress forward. It’s easy for anyone – beginner or advanced – to want to get ahead of themselves. Your lifts will go up for a few months, but then they’l stal – and stall, and stall some more. Lifters get frustrated and don’t understand that the way around this is to prolong the time it takes to get to the goal. You have to keep inching forward. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most lifters. They want to start heavy, and they want to start now. This is nothing more than ego, and nothing will destroy a lifter faster, or for longer, than ego.
This goes hand in hand with starting light. Slow progress might not get you the best rewards today, but it wil tomorrow. The longer you can progress, even if it’s by one rep or 2.5 pounds, the more it means that you’re actual y
progress. People always scoff when I want their bench to go up by 20-25 pounds their first year. They want the program that will put 40 pounds on their bench in 8 weeks. When they say this, I ask them how much their bench went up in the last year, and they hang their heads in shame. I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want progress – even it’s just 5 pounds. It’s better than nothing. It’s progress.
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.
It’s always been one of my goals to standing press 300 pounds. In the summer of 2008, I did just that. When someone asked me what my next goal was, my response was simple: “305
pounds.” If you bench press 225 pounds and want to get 275, you have to bench 230 first.
Break Personal Records (PR’s)
This is where the fun of this – and any – program begins and ends. This program allows you to break a wide variety of rep records throughout the entire year. Most people live and die by their 1-rep max. To me, this is foolish and shortsighted. If your squat goes from 225x6 to 225x9, you’ve gotten stronger. If you keep setting and breaking rep records, you’l get stronger. Don’t get stuck just trying to increase your one rep max. If you keep breaking your rep records, it’l go up. There’s also a simple way of comparing rep maxes that I’l explain later.
Breaking personal records is a great motivator, and it’s also a great way to add some excitement into your training. When you do this, the sets and reps carry much more meaning.
There’s something on the line. You’l have greater focus and purpose in your training. You’l no longer have to just do a set of 5 reps. You’l focus on beating the number and beating the weight.
All of the above concerns are addressed in this program. Even if you don’t fol ow this particular program, I believe these things should be emphasized no matter what you’re doing or why you’re training.
The 5/3/1 Program
This is a very easy program to work with. The following is a general outline of the training I suggest. I’l go into detail on each point in the chapters to fol ow.
You will train 2-4 days per week (this will be up to you).
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 4-6 weeks. This depends on how many days a week you train.
The first week you will do 3 sets of 5 reps (3x5).
The second week you will do 3 sets of 3 reps (3x3).
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 (3x5). 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 fol ow, so you won’t be guessing what to do anymore.
As you can see, there’s nothing fancy to this program. I believe in big compound lifts, keeping the set and rep schemes simple, and deloading every fourth week. These concepts are nothing new, and I admit that. The beauty of this program, however, is how you begin. If you begin correctly, you’l end correctly. Here’s what the basic week looks like: