Wendler 5/3/1

A Hardcore Look At Wendler’s 5/3/1 Powerlifting Routine

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 powerlifting system is popular because it works! Wendler’s has you training 3-4 days per week on a rotating wave system.

Workout Summary

Main Goal:
Increase Strength
Workout Type:
Split
Training Level:
Intermediate
Days Per Week:
3
Equipment Required:
Barbell, Bodyweight, Dumbbells
Target Gender:
Male & Female
Author:

Workout Description

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 powerlifting system is rapidly growing into one of the most popular powerlifting and strength building training routines on the planet. Several years ago, most powerlifters I knew ran the Westside Barbell system. Westside was the gospel, and there was no other. But today, things have changed. A good portion of my friends are running Wendler’s 5/3/1, or a Westside/Wendler’s combination. Westside is still king, but Wendler’s 5/3/1 has proven itself very worthy of consideration.

In this guide to Wendler’s 5/3/1, you will find information on 2, 3, and 4 day splits. You will also find information on a Wendler’s 5/3/1 and Westside hybrid program. I have also included detailed assistance work information, including possible variations mentioned in the Wendler’s 5/3/1 e-book. Please support Jim Wendler and Wendler’s 5/3/1 by purchasing his e-book.

Wendler’s 5/3/1 Core Components

  • 4 to 5+ Week Mesocycle. A mesocycle of Wendler’s 5/3/1 lasts 4 weeks if you train 4 days per week, and 5+ weeks if you train 3 days per week. If you workout three times per week (Monday-Wednesday-Friday), you will rotate between 4 core workouts. If you workout 4 days per week, you will hit each workout once a week on the same training day.
  • 4 Core Workouts. Wendler’s 5/3/1 consists of 4 core workouts:

Workout ASquat and assistance work.

Workout BBench Press and assistance work.

Workout CDeadlift and assistance work.

Workout DOverhead Press and assistance work.

  • 3 Days Per Week. As stated, if you use Wendler’s 5/3/1 and workout 3 days per week, you will rotate between the 4 workouts. Over the course of a mesocycle, you will perform each of the 4 workouts four times, for a total of 16 workouts. A week week mesocycle looks like this:

Week 1. ABC (Monday – Workout A, Wednesday – Workout B, Friday – Workout C)

Week 2. DAB

Week 3. CDA

Week 4. BCD

Week 5. ABC

Week 6. D

  • 4 Days Per Week. If you use Wendler’s 5/3/1 and train 4 days per week, your mesocycle will last only 4 weeks. Your workout schedule should look something life this:

MondaySquat Day

WednesdayBench Press Day

FridayDeadlift Day

SaturdayOverhead Press Day

  • Workout Waves. Each workout is performed 4 times during the course of a Wendler’s 5/3/1 mesocycle. Simply stated, you will have 4 bench press workouts, 4 squat workouts, 4 deadlift workouts, and 4 overhead press workouts. Each specific workout (A-B-C-D) is comprised of 4 waves, or 4 different workouts. These waves are:

Wave A. Warmup, 75% x 5, 80% x 5, 85% x 5

Wave B. Warmup, 80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 3

Wave C. Warmup, 75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1

Wave DDeload wave – 60% x 5, 65% x 5, 70% x 5

Wendler’s 5/3/1 Complete Mesocycle Breakdown

Now that we’ve looked at the nuts and bolts of the Wendler’s 5/3/1 powerlifting system, let’s put them together into a structured mesocycle. Please note that the following tables do not include assistance work. The letter (ABCD) following the core workout is the corresponding wave that you will be performing on that training day.

Wendler’s 5/3/1 Mesocycle
3 Days Per Week
Week Monday Wednesday Friday
1 Squat – A Bench Press – A Deadlift – A
2 OH Press – A Squat – B Bench Press – B
3 Deadlift – B OH Press – B Squat – C
4 Bench Press – C Deadlift – C OH Press – C
5 Squat – D Bench Press – D Deadlift – D
6 OH Press – D
Wendler’s 5/3/1 Mesocycle
4 Days Per Week
Week Monday Wednesday Friday Friday
1 Squat – A Bench Press – A Deadlift – A OH Press – A
2 Squat – B Bench Press – B Deadlift – B OH Press – B
3 Squat – C Bench Press – C Deadlift – C OH Press – C
4 Squat – D Bench Press – D Deadlift – D OH Press – D

Exercise Substitution

For each of the 4 workouts (ABCD), you may substitute the primary workout with an appropriate replacement at the start of a new mesocycle. The following are examples of acceptable substitutions:

Assistance Work

How much assistance work you do is up to you. Natural lifters should try to be in and out of the gym in 60 minutes. If you can’t “hit it” in that period of time, you need to take a long, hard look at the rest periods you are taking between assistance work sets. A quote from Jim Wendler on training duration:

“People laugh and call me lazy, while they twit around in their three-hour workout making zero progress. Sometimes, instead of what you do in the weight room, it’s what you don’t do that will lead to success.”

In the Wendler’s 5/3/1 book, the following assistance plans are presented:

  • Boring But Big. Main lift, the main lift again @ 5×10 (50% 1RM), and another accessory exercise for 5 sets.
  • The Triumvirate.  Main lift, and two assistance exercises – 5 sets each.
  • I’m Not Doing Jack Shit.  Main lift, and nothing else.
  • Periodization Bible by Dave Tate.  Main lift, and 3 exercises – 5 x 10-20 reps each.
  • Bodyweight.  Main lift, and 2 bodyweight exercises such as the pull upsit upsdips, etc.

Here are some sample assistance work plans based on your goals.

Strength Builder Assistance Work

From the Wendler 5/3/1 E-Book.

Squat Workout

Bench Press Workout

Deadlift Workout

  • Deadlift: 5 x 8 x 50%
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 5 x 12

Overhead Press Workout

Bodybuilder Assistance Work

From the Wendler 5/3/1 E-Book.

Squat Workout Day – Assistance Option A

Squat Workout Day – Assistance Option B

Bench Press Workout Day – Assistance option A

Bench Press Workout Day – Assistance option B

Deadlift Workout Day – Assistance Option A

  • Chin Up: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Bent Over Dumbbell Row: 4 sets of 15 reps/arm
  • Back Raises: 4 sets of 10 reps (with bar behind neck)
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 4 sets of 15 reps

Deadlift Workout Day – Assistance Option B

  • Lat Pull Down – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Bent Over Row – 4 sets of 15 reps/arm
  • Reverse Hyperextensions – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Hanging Leg Raises – 4 sets of 15 reps

Overhead Press Workout Day – Assistance Option A

Overhead Press Workout Day – Assistance Option B

Wendler’s 5/3/1 Notes

One rep max. When you first start Wendler’s 5/3/1, use a realistic one rep max (1RM). It’s better to start a little below your estimated max and work into Wendler’s 5/3/1, then it is to over-estimate your 1RM and waste a mesocycle. Powerlifting is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. Don’t kill yourself out of the gate. Jim Wendler recommends starting at 90% of your 1RM on your first mesocycle.

The last set. Jim Wendler recommends going all out on the last core set each workout. Remember, core work is either squats, bench press, deadlift or overhead press. On this last set, do as many reps as you can with the given weight. Do NOT use this approach for de-load workouts.

Adding weight. After completing each mesocycle, add 5 pounds to your 1RM total for bench press and overhead press, and 10 pounds to your squat and deadlift 1RM, and recalculate your percentages. If you run Wendler’s 5/3/1 for a year, this progression pattern will add 50 pounds to your bench and press, and 100 pounds to your squat and deadlift. Be patient, and stick with the plan!

2 Day Per Week Approach

For those who can hit the gym only twice a week, you can use the following template:

This is a 4 week cycle. Hit the primary, core exercises first, and add in appropriate assistance work. Remember to limit your total workout time to about 60 minutes.

Wendler’s 5/3/1 and Westside Hybrid

Wendler’s 5/3/1 is a very flexible training system. Because of this, the door is wide open to integrate Wendler’s with core/key components of the Westside system.

Some trainees may want to utilize dynamic effort (DE) days from Westside training. How you structure this integration is up to you. Some trainees may be able to do both heavy squats and deadlifts on a single day, and then use the second posterior chain day of that week for dynamic effort (DE) work. Some may choose to do heavy Wendler squats with DE deadlifts, and heavy Wendler deadlifts with DE squats.

Another possible integration between Westside and Wendler’s would be to drop the heavy overhead pressing day, and instead, insert overhead pressing movements on your bench days. This would free up one training day each week for DE bench work.

Sample Westside/Wendler’s 5/3/1 program structure.

  • Monday – Dynamic effort (DE) bench press. Heavier overhead pressing.
  • Tuesday – Wendler’s squat day. Dynamic effort (DE) deadlifts.
  • Thursday – Wendler’s bench press day.
  • Friday – Wendler’s deadlift day. Dynamic effort (DE) squats.

For assistance work, use exercises that address your weaknesses. Please remember that this sample hybrid program is only an example, presented to get you thinking about the possibilities. There are many ways to combine Westside and Wendler’s, and many reasons why someone would want to do so.

When jumping into a hybrid routine, always proceed with caution. Start slow, and work your way into it. Don’t set up the hybrid with too much work. It’s better to get the feel of a hybrid program, and then to add work, then it is to kill yourself and have to pull back on work.

Final Notes

Far too many younger trainees are looking for magic routines and training systems. Wendler’s 5/3/1 powerlifting system is not magic. It works if you work hard, and stick to it. Wendler’s generally needs to be run for multiple cycles, so don’t choose this routine if you’re not willing to stick with it. If you’re a younger lifter, and not sure if you’re ready for a powerlifting routine, consult more experienced lifters on the Muscle & Strength forum.

There are many heated debates about which training system is the best. Remember that the key to success on any program revolves around your drive to succeed.

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