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.

5 x 5 Compilation.

I am a big fan of the 5 x 5 routine and I came across an article written by another fan who pretty much put all info about 5×5 that he could into one place. I believe I have another post that I had done that is similar but this one is more comprehensive . I found it useful and I think you will too.

5 x 5 Strength Training Template: How to Do It Right

Reg Park 5x5 Strength Routine

5 x 5 Strength Training Template in History and Its Variations

Well, I don’t really know whether old-timers used exactly 5 sets of 5 reps. I think, that they came up with something like this at some point. Lots of coaches attribute invention of 5 x 5 system to Bill Starr and his famous book The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football. I admit I haven’t read it yet. But it is on my to-read list. Here’s a quote and original template from the book (that I found here):

“These are 3 basic exercises used by weightlifters to increase their strength….the football player (and you can insert Martial Artist, Fighter, whatever there) must work for overall body strength as opposed to specific strengthening exercises….In other words the athlete should be building total leg strength rather than just stronger hamstrings. He should be seeking overall strength in his shoulder girdle rather than just stronger deltoids….the program is fast, simple and, most importantly, effective. It requires very little space and a minimum of equipment….”

Bill Starr’s 5X5 Routine In Its Original Form

Monday – Heavy

Power cleans – 5 sets of 5
Bench – 5 sets of 5 1×10 weight from 3rd set (add 10 rep sets after 8-12 weeks on program)
Squats – 5 sets of 5 1×10 weight from 3rd set

(set 1 35% of target / set 2 70% of target / set 3 80% of target / set 4 90% of target / set 5 target)

Wednesday – Light

Power cleans – 5 sets of 5
Incline Bench – 5 sets of 5 1×10 weight from 3rd set
Squats – 5 sets of 5 / 1×10 weight from 3rd set / set 5 use weight from 3rd set of Monday

Friday – Medium 

Power cleans – 5 sets of 5
Overhead press – 5 sets of 5 1×10 weight from 3rd set
Squats – 5 sets of 5 / 1×10 weight from 3rd set / set 5 use weight from 3rd set of Monday / set 5 use weight 4th set of Monday”

As you can see, template is simple and effective. There are 3 days with almost the same exercises (Bench Press “evolves” in Overhead Press throughout the week). Heavy-Light-Medium, which is great for intermediate lifters (for beginners, I think, it would be better to use linear progression increasing weight every session). In addition, you should have noticed that the weight gets ramped up every set. We’ll talk about this later in this article. Exercises used are basic compound lifts in Push-Pull-Legs fashion.

Of course, history of 5 x 5 strength training template doesn’t stop at the Bill Starr’s version. Another example is Reg Park’s 5 x 5 variant:

Reg Park’s Three Phase 5×5 Program

Phase One

45-degree back extension 3×10
Back squat 5×5
Bench press 5×5
Deadlift 5×5

Rest 3-5 minutes between the last 3 sets of each exercise.

Train three days per week for three months.

Phase Two for Bodybuilders*

45-degree back extension 3-4×10
Front squat 5×5
Back squat 5×5
Bench press 5×5
Standing barbell shoulder press 5×5
High pull 5×5
Deadlift 5×5
Standing barbell calf raise 5×25

Rest 2 minutes between sets.

Train three days per week for three months.

* After the basic Phase One, Park had a different set of recommended exercises for aspiring Olympic weightlifters. It used a few different sets and reps, and included lunges and power cleans.

Phase Three for Bodybuilders

45-degree back extension 4×10
Front squat 5×5
Back squat 5×5
Standing barbell shoulder press 5×5
Bench press 5×5
Bent-over barbell row 5×5
Deadlift 5×3
Behind-the-neck press or one-arm dumbbell press 5×5
Barbell curl 5×5
Lying triceps extension 5×8
Standing barbell calf raise 5×25

Rest 2 minutes between sets.

Train three days per week for three months.”

As you can see, this program is quite different from Starr’s except the first phase. I really don’t know whether phase 2 and 3 will work for the average trainee, but they will take serious effort at least to be accomplished. I know they probably won’t work for me as I have quite bad recovery. Another important point is the fact that Reg Park didn’t recommend ramping up the weight. He recommended 2 warm-up sets and 3 work sets with fixed weight.

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

Another reasonable program is Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. I highly encourage you to read his Starting Strength and Practical Programming for Strength Training. I think, it’s one of the best programs for beginners and with some tweaking it becomes one of the best programs for intermediates too. Mark recommends 3 sets of 5 (which is variation of 5 x 5) similarly to Reg Park’s example above, but overall program volume is much more reasonable. For advanced trainees (if their goal is bodybuilding) program volume may be too low, which can be adjusted with assistance “pump” work. Original template looks like this:

“Workout A

1) Barbell Squat 3 x 5

2) Barbell Bench Press 3 x 5

3) Barbell Deadlift 1 x 5

Workout B

1) Barbell Squat 3 x 5

2) Barbell Military Press 3 x 5

3) Barbell Power Clean 5 x 3

Workouts A and B should be alternated on a 3-times-per-week basis. For example, Monday – workout A, Wednesday – workout B, Friday – workout A, Monday – workout B etc.”

Simplicity at its finest. If you are new to strength training, I highly encourage you to use this routine.

Madcow, Stronglifts etc.

These are other notable variations of 5 x 5. I won’t include actual templates here, but if you are interested in trying them:

You can learn more about StrongLifts template here.

You can learn more about Madcow template here.

They are both just variations of the above.

My Experience with 5 x 5

I, personally, was first introduced to 5 times 5 system by Mike Mahler (it was featured in several articles by him and in his e-book “Aggressive Strength Solution for Size and Strength”). It was something really new for me as I was used at that time to basic 3 x 10, classic bodybuilding-style and HIT-style work. I was so brainwashed in those days that I thought it was impossible to gain muscle on low repetitions. To my great surprise, 5 x 5 worked and worked very well. That’s how I found my love with strength training. Gaining muscle was not a great priority anymore. Especially seeing the results that steroids can deliver to others. I have a guy at work that gained at least 15-20 kg in 2 years with no fat (he has visible abs). He’s now 100 kg. Of course, he uses steroids (he told me). And this is true for almost any big guy in the gym at least in our country. I am highly competitive person. And after that I just lost interest in bodybuilding. What’s the point? Yes, you can put in a lot of effort, get perfect program and perfect diet, and gain pretty decent size in 5-10 years. However, some guy will just inject this and that, have really sub-optimal training and nutrition, and will be bigger than you in less than 2 years. So building muscle for me is more like a side effect of building strength. From the time I discovered it, I use some variation of 5 x 5 in almost all of my programs. This is what works for me.

5 x 5 Methods Explained

So what you can see in above examples? Low reps, low-to-mid amount of sets, heavy weight, basic exercises, full-body routines etc. I won’t use percentages here, but probably they are between 70-85% of 1RM. Therefore, basic methods of 5 x 5 are:

  • 4 warm-up sets of 5 working towards 1 top work set of 5;
  • 2 warm-up sets of 5 and 3 work sets of 5 with fixed weight;
  • several warm-up sets and 5 sets of 5 with fixed weight.

Every one of them has its own application. 5 sets of 5 with fixed weight requires less intensity because it has more volume. It may not be suitable for some people. They just might not get all the reps in all the sets no matter what they do. Their sets may look like 5, 5, 5, 5, 3. I’m one of these people. With increased intensity I tend to not get all the reps in such template. Second variant is much more suitable for me. First variant has less volume with working weight, which can be used in light and mid days because you have only one set of practice with working weight.

Here’s a method of progression I learned from legendary Brooks Kubik. You can start with 4 warm-up sets of 5 and 1 working set. Next session you can do 3 warm-up sets and 2 working sets. Next session you can do 2 warm-up sets and 3 working sets. Then add weight and start over with 1 working set of 5. Here’s the picture to make it more visual.

5 x 5 Progression

Secondly, despite the examples above, 5 x 5 is not only for full-body routines. You can successfully use it with split routines. Iron Addict’s SPBR is one of the examples. You can check it out here.

5 x 5 and Calisthenics

Regular 5 x 5 routines are great when it comes to weights. But what about calisthenics? Well, everything is a little bit trickier (as always). 5 x 5 will definitely help you build strength in bodyweight movements, but great chances are that you’ll need to use more flexible scheme. It’s all because you can’t make microadjustments like with barbell exercises.  There are 2 ways out:

  1. Weighted calisthenics
  2. Use more flexible set/rep scheme

Rough Strength Variation of 5 x 5

Of course, I can’t leave you without routine and practical knowledge how to implement 5 x 5. You can find beginner routines here.

Let’s implement several training tools and several methods of 5 x 5 and create a program for intermediate trainee for gaining strength and building some muscle:

Day 1

A) Sandbag Zercher Squats 3 x 5

B) Tuck Planche Push-Ups (between chairs) 3 x 5

C) One-Arm Kettlebell Row 5 x 5

D) Ring Triceps Extensions 3 x 8-12

Day 2 – off

Day 3

A1) Kettlebell Double Lunges 5 x 5 (each leg)

A2) Kettlebell Double Swings 5 x 5

B) Pistols 4 x maximum

C) One-Leg Calf Raises 3 x 12-20

Day 4

A1) Handstand Push-Ups 3 x 5

A2) Weighted Chin-Up 3 x 5

B) Weighted Dips 1 x 5

C) Sandbag Shouldering 5 x 2 (1 per side, switch sides after every set)

Day 5 off

Day 6 off

Repeat.

Notes:

  • 1 x 5 means 4 warm up sets and 1 work set;
  • 3 x 5 means 2-3 warm up sets and 3 work sets;
  • 5 x 5 means 2-3 warm up sets and 5 work sets;
  • If you can’t accomplish all reps in work sets in first week, you’re using weights or exercises that are too hard for you;
  • If you can accomplish all the reps in work sets, you can add the minimum increment. No more than 2.5 kg;
  • If you want to add some muscle, then you need to be in calorie surplus and eat enough protein and carbs.

Reg Park’s Three Phase 5×5 Program

Reg Park’s Three Phase 5×5 Program

Phase One

45-degree back extension 3×10

Back squat 5×5

Bench press 5×5

Deadlift 5×5

Rest 3-5 minutes between the last 3 sets of each exercise.
Train three days per week for three months

Phase Two for Bodybuilders*

45-degree back extension 3-4×10

Front squat 5×5

Back squat 5×5

Bench press 5×5

Standing barbell shoulder press 5×5

High pull 5×5

Deadlift 5×5

Standing barbell calf raise 5×25

Rest 2 minutes between sets.
Train three days per week for three months.

Phase Three for Bodybuilders

45-degree back extension 4×10

Front squat 5×5

Back squat 5×5

Standing barbell shoulder press 5×5

Bench press 5×5

Bent-over barbell row 5×5

Deadlift 5×3

Behind-the-neck press or one-arm dumbbell press 5×5

Barbell curl 5×5

Lying triceps extension 5×8

Standing barbell calf raise 5×25

Rest 2 minutes between sets.
Train three days per week for three months.

Dead lifting 3 times per week seems like a lot if your moving some decent numbers in my opinion. But if you are the hardcore powerhouse you need to be to rub this program then sink your teeth in and don’t let go.

5 x 5

I have recently switched up the program and I am following  a bodybuilding routine designed for hypertrophy. Already feeling a bit nostalgic I wanted to post this 5 x 5 that I was following for a few months. For a few years now I have been concentrating on a few solid 5 x 5 programs that build strength. Any 5 x 5 routine is basically just a heavy weight low rep routine. Although they say it is meant for more strength increase than anything else, if you eat well and stay consistent you will also see some hypertrophy take place.
This routine has you squatting 3 times a week. So the dilemma arises that at some point you have gone up in weight so much that squatting 3 times a week is no longer possible. I reached that point in my training and also just mentally needed a change. The routine I am following now is a bodybuilding routine where I will hit my legs once a week doing a different rep scheme . I will post about that later. Meanwhile if your looking to do some 5 x 5 this routine is a hybrid that also contains some high rep stuff on the bi’s & tri’s for all you guys that just gotta pump those arms.
Mon
squat 5 x 5
Bench 5×5
bent rows 5×5
dips weighted, 5 sets of 10
Wed
Front squat, 60% of monday’s max set 5×5
Dead lift 5×5
standing clean and press 5×5
Pullups 5 sets of max reps
Fri
Squat 5×5
Bench 5×5
Rows 5×5
dips 5 sets of 10
standing ez bar curls 4 sets of 10
skull crushers or tricep pushdowns 4 sets of 10