Strength Building Workouts

Wendler’s 5/3/1 Powerlifting System

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Jim Wendler may be one of the most polarizing figures in the fitness industry, with a legion of fans who love everything he says, while others absolutely detest his theories and attitude. It’s unlikely that Jim cares either way, he is incredibly successful and has one of the best powerlifting programs around.

In this article we’ll be taking a look at Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 powerlifting system, a program that’s been used by millions of athletes and lifters around the world. If you are looking for a simple to follow (but by no means easy) training program that can increase your raw strength massively, this could very well be the program for you.

Jim created this program based around the building blocks of all strength programs, with progressive overload a key from weeks one to three, working your way up to 95% of your 1rm. There are four main exercises that make up the program being: the deadlift, the parallel squat, the bench press, and the standing shoulder press.

Each training cycle lasts four weeks, with three weeks of increasing the weight, then a deload week in week four. There are also some accessory exercises that you can add in, which is where the program can be edited to fit your specific needs.

Jim has created programs for hypertrophy, conditioning (known as the triumvirate) and he also recommends that sometimes you just walk into the gym, smash your 5,3,1 program and leave. This last option is a stroke of genius, perfect for days (or weeks) where you have zero motivation to go to the gym – yet know that you still need to.

jim wendler

The 5-3-1 Powerlifting System

Here is the basic program, each week will have four sessions, each session focusing on one of the main lifts: Deadlift, Parallel Squat, Bench Press, and Standing Shoulder Press. Each session will consist of three working sets (you will also need to perform some warm-up sets).

In week one you will perform 3 sets of 5 reps, starting at 65% of your 1rm and increasing to 75% and 85% for each set afterwards. In week two you perform 3 sets of 3 reps progressing from 70% to 90% of your 1rm.

Week three is where the 5-3-1 program derives its name from. You perform three sets, the first is five reps at 75%, the second is three reps at 85% and the final set is 1 rep at 95%. The final week is the deload, where you perform three sets of five reps at 40, 50, and 60%.


· The 1rm that you are basing your calculations on is actually 90% of your 1rm, so if your 1rm was 100kg then your 1rm for 5-3-1 would be 90kg. You would then work the percentages out from there.

· Your final set for weeks one, two, and three can actually be any reps you want, so the third set in week one can be five or more reps, the third set in week two can be three or more reps, and the third set in week three can be one or more reps.

· If you are going to add in accessory exercises, then Jim recommends to only add a couple. The main focus is the lift. Adding in exercises that target the back might be a good idea, because the standard powerlifting moves don’t really target it enough.

· If you are looking to improve conditioning, then you should stick to the program and add in some conditioning sessions during the week. Jim recommends prowler runs or hill sprints.

· Go light if you need to, it’s more important that your form is great and that you are hitting the reps. Don’t let your ego get in the way of a good program. Honestly assess your 1rm and then cut it to 90% before following the calculations mentioned above.

· Buy Jim’s book, this will give you everything you need to succeed! Nobody can describe the Jim Wendler 5-3-1 powerlifting system better than Jim Wendler!

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the primary content manager for Muscle and Brawn.

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  • Ramiro wendler Aug 21,2014 at 6:22 pm

    mi apellido es wendler 😛

  • RJ Jan 14,2013 at 7:31 pm

    I have done this program for 10 months now and this is by far the best routine I have ever done…the gains have been consistant and astonshing!
    If you don’t make gains on this program…you are doing something wrong!

  • jake Apr 25,2012 at 1:26 pm

    Ive been using this for 2 months now. my bench has went from 240 (im only 16) to about 225. i no longer train as intense as i used to, and it has shown. maybe not hitting 225 was a fluke, but it still worries me.

  • Reginald Greene Mar 12,2012 at 1:57 am

    Just about to start 531 after years of bodybuilding routines. Cant wait. I am a minimalist and love the basics

  • Dangerousd Mar 4,2012 at 7:29 pm

    531 is the shit. Made more gains in this than anything else with 5 years of training. Enough said.

  • R. J. Grigaitis Jan 21,2012 at 3:58 am

    I’ve written a 5/3/1 Calculator that has PDF outputs ( Check out this example:

  • Christopher Aug 10,2011 at 3:47 pm

    I am also using Wendler’s 531 program with great success. My question is about barbell complexes, however. Complexes are new to me and I became aware of them via Wendler’s website and a reccomendation by Mr. Wendler. How often can barbell complexes be done while using the 3 days per wk 531 program? Can anyone help me with this who has experience with doing them along with the 531 program?

    Thank you,

  • Gerd Jul 19,2011 at 6:37 pm

    Keep it short and simple, it´s the only way to getting stronger step by step.

    Thank you for taht Jim.

  • […] Waves – During each cycle, you will have four sessions for each primary movement, three progressively intense sessions and a final deloading session. This means at the end of a cycle, you will have completed 16 sessions. For an awesome overview, just go check out this post over at Muscle and Brawn. […]

  • […] better but I was concerned about the plateaus.  It was around this time that Jason started doing a 5/3/1 class at the gym a couple nights a week.  I liked the idea of regularly performing the major lifts […]

  • […] started back up on my 5/3/1 lifting program. I will be doing that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I did really well with the shoulder press […]

  • […] only week 1 for me on Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program, billed as: “The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength” and I’m […]

  • Brian Dec 24,2010 at 9:49 pm

    my brother is always giving me shit for only working out 4 days a week for usually only a half hour to 45 min. i just laugh it off, he doesnt study strength, just spends 6 days a week for 2 hours at a time killing himself to get nowhere. less is the way to go

    • Kerwin Jan 1,2011 at 6:12 pm


  • Paul LaDouceur Sep 16,2010 at 8:18 pm

    … Update from Paul LaDouceur

    Still on the 531 Program, although
    I did stray for 2 months.

    I again, tried a couple of programs
    I reviewed on the internet.

    The main fact, is… 531 works.

    Many people have too many questions
    about what they can do or what they
    should add.

    The simplest answer is, you can use
    531 for any type of exercise in the
    weight room.

    I’ve read some folks putting spins on
    the 531 program by adding in some
    Westside or other stuff.

    Who cares what you do… as long as
    your are progressing.

    I’ve recently dropped a few sets for
    the accessory exercises and my gains
    continue to go up.

    Here’s my current plan.

    Bench 531 as prescribed
    DB Press 2 sets of 8-10
    Pull Ups 3 sets
    Dumbell Rows 2 sets of 8-15
    Squats 531 as prescribed
    Standing Calves 3 sets
    Seated Calf raises 2 sets
    Shoulder Press 531 as prescribed
    Dips 2 sets
    Pull Ups 3 sets
    Deadlift 531 as prescribed
    Reverse Lunges 2 sets
    Standing Calves 2 sets
    Stiff Leg Deadlifts 2 sets of 10-15

    Note… Workout Mon. Wed. Fri.

    You will see this is not a lot of volume
    but the Bench and Shoulder Days are
    split far enough apart to accomodate
    each other.

    Also, the Squats and Deadlift days are
    equally far apart so as not to interfere
    with recuperation.

    Keeping it simple, and not adding too
    much is the key.

    If you are not taking any “helping” additional
    nutrients… you know the kind… then
    you need to keep the volume at a level
    you can recover from.

    Bench 240 for 5 reps
    Squats 315 for 3 reps
    Shoulder Press 135 for 4 reps
    Deads 295 for 3

    People in the gym keep commenting on
    how are you getting so strong… you’re
    not a big person…

    I show them my program… and they ignore
    it… saying it’s not enough.

    The mentality of needing to do more is what
    a lot of folks seem to like…

    But… LESS is more… keep it simple.


  • Paul LaDouceur Jun 14,2010 at 3:24 pm

    I’ve been researching a lot of programs over
    the last year. I tried HST, WS4SB… and then I
    found Wendler’s 5-3-1.

    To get the total concept, and a humorous,
    but straight forward write up, go purchase
    the e-book… it’s only 20 dollars.

    I believe too many people are looking to
    make this difficult. Keep the exercices
    as they are written, and be careful not to
    do too much accesory work.

    Training to failure is not required, but
    working hard is. (There is a difference).

    I’ve had tremendous success over the
    last year using a 3-day a week plan for
    the 5-3-1 program.

    ABC first week
    DAB second week
    CDA third week
    BCD forth week
    Then deload on the fifth without using accessory exercies.

    My Bench went from 165 for a set of 5 to 215 for a set of 7.

    Squat… 225 for 5, up to 295 for 4 clean reps.

    Overhead Press 105 for 8 to 140 for 5

    Deads (Deadlift) 135 for 4 up to 215 for 5.

    I switch me accessory exercies.

    Shoulder Press
    Pull downs, various grips
    Dips (different hand widths
    Lunges or different accessory
    Calves (yes i work calves)
    DB Press (incline, flat, decline)
    Rows, or Barbell Rows
    Romanian Deadlift or SLDL or a variation
    Calves again this day

    Keep it short, keep it simple, don’t add too
    much. (I am 42 years old, diabetic, and I am
    getting stronger every month.

    Now I can say… my bench went up 50lbs for
    reps last year.

    Thank you mister Wendler for such a simplified,
    effective approach to weight training.

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