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.
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!