Primal 531 Strength Building Workout

Updated June 11, 2020

The Primal 531 Strength Building Workout is for experienced beginners or intermediate lifters who want to focus on improving their strength in the big four lifts as fast as possible. These lifts are:

  • Bench Press
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Press

3 Week Periodization Cycle

For each of these lifts you will follow a 3 week periodization cycle.

  • Week 1 – 5 sets x 5 reps, using 80% of your week 3 weight.
  • Week 2 – 5 sets x 3 reps, using 90% of your week 3 weight.
  • Week 3 – 5 sets x 1 reps

First cycle. For your first cycle, base your week 3 lifts on 80% of your 1RM (one rep max). For example, if your bench press is 300 pounds, your first 3 week cycle would look like this:

  • Week 1 – 190 pounds x 5 sets x 5 reps
  • Week 2 – 215 pounds x 5 sets x 3 reps
  • Week 3 – 240 pounds x 5 sets x 1 rep

Always round down when calculating the weight to be used.

Progression. After each 3 week periodization cycle you will be adding weight, or progressing. First add this weight to week 3, and then calculate the amount of weight to be used for weeks 1 and 2. There are several ways to approach weight progression:

  • Method 1 – This progression approach is for lifters who are still relatively weak and have a lot of strength left to gain. After each 3 week cycle, add 5 pounds to your bench press and overhead press and 10 pounds to squats and deadlifts.
  • Method 2 – The progression approach is for lifters who are relatively strong, but who will find adding 5 pounds each 3 week cycle nearly impossible. Method 2 involves microloading. Each 3 week cycle you will add 3 pounds to the bar. I recommend keeping this approach gradual, adding one pound each week.

Method 1 will yield about a 175 pound gain on squats and deadlifts over the course of a year, and 85-90 pounds to your bench press and overhead press.

Method 2 will yield up to a 50 pound gain per lift each year. If a 3 pound microload each cycle becomes too much, reduce the microload to 1-2 pounds per cycle.

Plateau. If you reach failure on any of the sets during a 3 week cycle you may be close to hitting a plateau. Don’t immediately assume that one bad workout equals the end of the road. If you find that you have hit failure on sets during back to back cycles, it is strongly recommended that you drop the weight by 10% and start the program over with this lighter weight.

2 Day 531 Variation

You can make substantial progress on as little as two training days per week. If you lead a busy life but still want to build strength (and muscle) at a rapid pace, then this program will serve you well.

There are several ways to perform the 2 day 531 variation:

  • Monday and Thursday
  • Tuesday and Friday
  • Wednesday and Saturday
  • Thursday and Sunday

Every third day. You may also choose to use this program every third day. If you use this approach, a 3 week cycle will be completed in only 18 days. Take the extra 3 days off and rest so that the full cycle rounds out at 21 days.

Accessory sets. For each exercise except weighted sit ups, you will be performing ramped sets.

  • Set 1 – 60% for 10 reps
  • Set 2 – 80% for 10 reps
  • Set 3 -100% for MAX reps

When you can perform more than 10 reps on set 3, add more weight the next time you perform this exercise. Please understand that the listed percentages are merely guidelines. There is no need to overly obsess about exact weight as long as they are in the proper ballpark.

Dips and pull ups can be more challenging, especially if you do not have access to a harness to add weight. In this case, perform only 10 reps on the first 2 sets, and knock out as many as possible on set 3 (up to 20 reps).


If dips or pull ups become too easy, it may be in your best interest to use dumbbell rows and close grip bench press as substitutions.

3 Day 531 Variation

The 3 day variation of the Primal 531 Workout program is the best choice for most natural lifters. It allows you to train hard and focus on the big lifts on Monday and Friday, while performing a minimum amount of accessory work. Wednesdays are used primarily for accessory work, and are considered a moderate training day.

Accessory sets. Accessory sets are ramped.

Planks. If planks become too easy, feel free to find another ab exercise that provides progressive resistance. You may also choose to use dumbbell side bends.

4 Day 531 Variation

The 4 day variation of the Primal 531 Workout program is a solid choice for experienced intermediate lifters who know their bodies and capabilities well.

  • Monday – Squats day
  • Tuesday – Bench Press day
  • Thursday – Deadlift day
  • Friday – Overhead Press day

There are innumerable ways to structure a 4 day split, and approaches will vary wildly based on goals. Therefore, I have only provided a bare bones structure. Once again, this approach is for experienced intermediate lifters.

If you do not know how to structure accessory work based on your needs, then I do not recommend using a 4 day approach. Those with an eye on bodybuilding may chose to use bodypart splits. Those who favor powerlifting may integrate some Wendler or Westside ideas and approaches.

Warmup Sets

The following are recommend warmup approaches for the heavy lifts. Accessory work is ramped and shouldn’t require additional warmup sets. Always land on the side  of caution when warming up. If you feel you need an additional warmup set, please use one. Once again, this is only a guideline.

5 x 5 Protocol

On 5 sets x 5 rep days, your warmup sets should look something like this:

  • Warmup Set 1 – Bar x 10-15 reps
  • Warmup Set 2 – 50% of working weight x 5 reps
  • Warmup Set 3 – 75% of working weight x 3-5 reps

5 x 3 Protocol

On 5 sets x 3 rep days, your warmup sets should look something like this:

  • Warmup Set 1 – Bar x 10-15 reps
  • Warmup Set 2 – 50% of working weight x 5 reps
  • Warmup Set 3 – 75% of working weight x 3 reps

5 x 1 Protocol


On 5 sets x 1 rep days, your warmup sets should look something like this:

  • Warmup Set 1 – Bar x 10-15 reps
  • Warmup Set 2 – 40% of working weight x 5 reps
  • Warmup Set 3 – 60% of working weight x 3 reps
  • Warmup Set 4 – 80% of working weight x 1 reps

The Overhead Press

You may use any quality barbell overhead press variation, including:

  • Seated behind the neck press
  • Seated military press
  • Push press
  • Standing behind the neck press
  • Standing strict military press

Workout Notes

Weighted Sit Ups. Hold a 10, 25 or 45 pound plate on your chest. Perform up to 25 reps per set. While weighted sit ups are a very effective choice, you can really use any abdominal exercise that allows progressive resistance such as rope cable crunches.

Calf Raises. These are performed standing while holding a barbell. You may choose to perform calf raises with the balls of your feet upon a 5 or 10 pound plate, but this is not a requirement. You may also use a standing or seated calf raise, or calf raises on a leg press machine.

Pull Ups. Make sure you are performing pull ups (palms facing away) and not chin ups. If you can’t perform any pull ups, substitute in dumbbell rows or seated cable rows, and perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

Curls. Any barbell or dumbbell curling variation may be used.


About Us

We’re a team of dedicated and honest writers that offer a no bullshit guide to health and supplementation. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.