John Christy 5 3 1 Strength Building Workout

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Until his sad passing, John Christy was one of the most well-respected strength training authorities around. His self-published book on training “Real Muscle, Real Strength” is still much sought after by fans and is seen as the holy grail of lifting. Incidentally, if you find a copy, can we borrow it?

The 531 program is not exclusive to John Christy, another lifter called Jim Wendler also has a well-known version of the 531 program, though there are several differences between the two. Wendler’s is arguably more well-known of the two, however John Christy’s version is the original and seen by many as the best.

In this article we are going to look at a few training programs based on the 5-3-1 strength training program. You have a two day per week program, a three day per week program, and a program for powerlifters.

If you’re looking to maintain fitness or keep your weight down, you may want to add in some light or medium cardio on your rest days. Particularly on the two day per week program. However, don’t go too intense on the cardio, because it could negatively affect your performance during the actual workouts, which are the priority.

Before starting you’ll need to establish your current one rep maxes on each lift, and it’d be a good idea to update this at the end of each cycle. This will help you to gauge progress.

Also, it’s important to ensure your form is perfect for each exercise, thus lower the weight if necessary. This program does NOT suit a lifter’s ego. Stop worrying about what other lifters think of you, lower that weight, perform the exercise flawlessly (get a spotter if required) and build from there. This will help increase range of motion, reduce the risk of injury, and stop you looking like an idiot…who fails doing an exercise because you can’t handle the weight.

2 Day Per Week 5 3 1 Program

(Only work sets are listed)

Workout A

  • Crunch: 1×5
  • Bench Press: 3 week cycle
  • Squat: 3 week cycle
  • Dumbbell Row: 1×5
  • Back Extension: 1×5

Workout B

  • Side Bend: 1×5
  • Deadlift: * 3 week cycle
  • Bench Press: 3×5 – 80% of Workout A weight
  • Dumbbell Row: 1×5
  • Military Press: 1×5

3 Day Per Week 5 3 1 Program

(Only work sets are listed)

Workout A

  • Squat: 3 week cycle
  • Bench Press: 3 week cycle

Workout B

  • Crunch: 1×5
  • Dumbbell Row: 1×5
  • Side Bend: 1×5
  • Military Press: 1×5
  • Back Extension: 1×5

Workout C

  • Deadlift: * 3 week cycle
  • Bench Press: 3×5 – 80% of Workout A weight

3 Week Cycle

  • Week 1: 5×5, 5 minutes rest between working sets.
  • Week 2: 6×3, 4 minutes rest. Use 10% more weight than Week 1.
  • Week 3: 7×1, 3 minutes rest.  Use 5% more weight than Week 1.

When starting back over on week one, micro-load with an appropriate weight.

Powerlifting Meet

Use the following approach the week before a powerlifting meet.

Perform this workout on a Tuesday.

  • Squat: 2×3 with your 5RM
  • Bench Press: 2×3 with your 5RM
  • Deadlift: 1×3 with your 5RM
  • Dumbbell Row: 1×3 with your 5RM
  • Crunch: 1×3 with your 5RM

So, there you have it, three variations of the 531 program that were created by John Christy. Pick the one that suits your needs the most, and most importantly stick to it. Too many people flit between programs or try and change them too often as they get bored or feel that making changes will help speed up results. Consistency is key, perhaps with the 531 program more than most.

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Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the original founder of Muscle and Brawn, an experienced powerlifter with over 31 years experience pumping iron. During competition he’s recorded a 602.5lb squat, 672.5lb deadlift and a 382.5lb bench press.

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