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5/3/1 Q & A


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Elite level lifters to absolute beginners have all used the 5/3/1 Method; the basic tenets of strength training have and will never change. Big exercises, constant progress, and personal records will never go out of style.

High school and college coaches are now using the 5/3/1 with their athletes with amazing success; it is easy to track, implement and will inspire any team to push for themselves to the limit.

Powerlifters use this program, for both raw meets and geared meets.

The 5/3/1 Method is truly for anyone that is looking to get stronger. This is not a fancy training program that requires special equipment or Master's degree - all is required is your dedication to moving more weight than you had ever dreamed.

Wendler 5/3/1 Training

In the words of Jim Wendler the 5/3/1 training system is the 'Simplest Most Effective way to Increase Raw Strength'

So, what is Wendler 5/3/1 training?

In a nutshell 5/3/1 focuses on the big lifting movements (compound movements) squats, deadlifts, overhead pressing, bench press etc

The key factor with Jim Wendler's 5 3 1 method is that you need to start too light! I'll say that again. Too Light

Where as many programs get you busting your ball sack from the beginning, this is different.

The program,

Week 1 is 3 sets of 5 reps

Week 2 is 3 sets of 3 reps

Week 3 is 1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps and 1 set of 1 rep (5/3/1)

Week 4 (DELOAD) begins again with 3 x 5

Start over....
He looks pretty beastly, wouldint want to run into him in a back alley.
The Fifties
By Lonnie Watson

For several months, I’ve been doing Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. In it, Jim talks about doing exercises for assistance that build muscle mass. He advocates doing several reps of dips and pull-ups every week. At one point, I believe he states we should do 50 dips a week weighted or 100 dips a week with just body weight. If memory serves, he advocates doing something similar with chin-ups or pull-ups.

I was pondering this set/rep scheme and here’s what I discovered. There are several exercises where doing a set number of total reps for the week would be beneficial. Let’s take a look at these exercises, the sets/reps involved, how they can benefit you in your strength and conditioning program, and when or where to plug them into your routine.


Pull-ups or chin-ups are a powerful assistance exercise for your bench press and deadlift. It works the lats, upper back, and biceps. Do a minimum of 50 reps a week in addition to the rowing you already do. Then gradually increase this until you’re doing 100 reps with body weight or 50 reps weighted. You can do these on your bench day, deadlift day, or extra day.


Dips are a powerful shoulder, tricep, and pec builder. This exercise will revolutionize your upper body strength. Your bench and your overhead pressing will benefit greatly from this exercise. Do 50 reps starting off with just body weight. Then increase it until you’re doing 100 body weight reps. If you’re doing weighted dips, work up to 50 reps. You can do these on either your bench day, overhead press day, or separate day.


I have puny traps compared to what I’d like to have. Many guys get ample trap work from their deadlifts and other upper body stuff. I don’t. So I’m going to start doing a minimum of 50 reps of trap work once or twice a week. Like the dips and pull-ups, you don’t need a huge amount of weight. This is supposed to compliment your upper body work, not take away from it.

One way to accomplish this is by doing barbell or dumbbell shrugs for 5 sets of 10–15 reps twice a week. Another way is do your reps in a “Kroc rep” style. Kroc reps are similar to the Kroc dumbbell row where you take a moderate to heavy weight and row it for reps of 20–40. Do this with barbell and dumbbell shrugs. Do 3 sets of 20–40 reps twice a week.

Upright rows

The upright row is an exercise that used to be a staple for lifters and bodybuilders all over the world, but in powerlifting, it isn’t quite as popular as it used to be. This might be partially due to the popularity of the face pull, the band pull apart and other upper back/delt exercises. But this is an invaluable exercise for the upper back, traps, and delts.

I do 5 sets of 10–15 reps weekly. You can do these on either of your upper body days or split it up between two days. Or do it on a separate day. You don’t need to use a ton of weight but make sure you increase gradually over a period of weeks.

Band push-downs

This is an old Westside Barbell staple. Take a light band, mini band, or whatever size you want and throw it over a door. Do 100 reps once or twice a week. This exercise pushes up my triceps strength and keeps my elbows healthy at the same time. You can do this while you’re watching television or while you’re at work.


This is an excellent exercise for the triceps and pecs. I recently started doing this exercise again on my job as a prison boot camp drill instructor. While my knuckleheads are doing push-ups for physical therapy, I’m doing them, too. If you aren’t used to push-ups, start off with 50 reps a week and work from there.

This was the case with me. I had been bench pressing for 10 years and had hardly done any push-ups. I took a physical fitness test and my push-ups were pitiful. I only did about 50. Needless to say, since I’ve started doing them again, my bench and other upper body movements have gotten stronger. Just be careful if you’re already doing dips because doing this exercise as well may put too much strain on your elbows.

These can be done with either a close or a wide grip, and you can do them on either of the two upper body days or on a separate day.


I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve researched it. Take a neck harness and do 50–100 reps per week. This isn’t done with super heavy weight. The goal is to just get some volume in. When you hit 50 reps a week, increase it by 10. Keep doing this until you have 100 with a given weight. Neck work should be done 2–3 times a week. I have a neck harness, and I’m going to do this.


Okay, many people will scoff at this. Calves are looked upon by powerlifters, Strongmen, and other strength athletes as a showy, even gay muscle to develop. But if you have puny calves like I do, this is a good exercise to bring them up. Like with the other exercises, do 50 total reps and increase that over a period of weeks. This can be done on either lower body day (squat or deadlift) or on a separate day.


Once again, do 50 total reps and work from there. This is in addition to the abdominal work you already do.

When is the best time?

This article is designed to be used with the 5/3/1 program, though you can use it in other programs as well. You can do these exercises as your main assistance work after your main exercise in your 5/3/1 (bench, deadlift, squat, overhead press) routine or do them as a separate workout on a separate (or the same) day.

I train my main lifts over a rotating three-day program, so I’m pondering adding a fourth “wild card day” to do calves, shrugs, band push-downs, and pull-ups. I do my pull-ups both during an upper body day and/or as a separate workout. The bottom line is get the work in! Whether it’s on a separate day or during your main workouts, get in some dips, pull-ups, and upper back work at a minimum.

Just remember the old Westside philosophy. Extra workouts must compliment your main lifts, not take away from them. If your main lifts start to suffer consistently, back it off some. What I mean by consistently is your lifts may suffer for a week of two from the extra work. No problem. If your lifts go in the toilet, you’re doing something wrong.

When doing 50s as assistance on your main lift days, you should be doing no more than 3–4 assistance exercises including your 50s. For example, do your 5/3/1 bench. Let’s say you hit your three work sets with 75, 80, and 85 percent of your training max like the program calls for. Then you do either the “boring but big” bench with about 50 percent of your max for 5 sets of 10 or you do an overhead press variation for 5 sets of 10 again with a light weight (40–50 percent). Follow this with 50–100 reps of pull-ups and some shrugs, and you’re done.

I’ve come to the realization that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I’m ready to see a change. I believe doing 50s will bring about that change. Join me!
That's a big boy! Lol
No more heavy weights for me, I would like to keep my back, lol :)
5/3/1 FAQ

5/3/1 FAQ

Question: Can I use chains or bands while using this program?

Answer: I don’t recommend this, but here’s the easiest way to figure out how to work chains and bands into the program. First, pick the exercise. This could be benching with bands, squatting with chains, or whatever – there are many different options. Second, estimate what 80-85% of your max would be with that exercise (with the added resistance). Third, warm up to that weight and perform an all-out rep max. Finally, take this weight and these reps and plug
them into the rep max formula to find you estimated one rep max:
Weight x Reps x .0333 + Weight = Estimated 1RM

After you get the estimated 1RM, take 90% of that number (1RM * .9) and use this as your new training max.

Question: Why don’t you recommend the use of chains and/or bands?

Answer: Accommodating resistances are a good idea on paper, but the practice has been popularized by strong individuals who all use equipment. The popularity of chains and bands has spread throughout the powerlifting world, and lifters have had great success with them. I’ve seen LOTS of athletes and regular lifters shit the bed with them, though, and this is for one main reason:

The strength curve for athletes/regular guys is heavy at the bottom and light at the top, so they need more low end work. The strength curve for geared lifters is light at the bottom and heavy at the top, so more high end work is needed.
Using chains/bands on a raw lifter will lower the use of bar weight and THUS lower the amount of weight that’s used at the bottom of a lift. Hence, the strength curve is all screwed up and not always suited for a raw lifter.​

Question: Do I need to deload if I’m a beginner?

Answer: You don’t need to deload no matter who you are, but I highly recommend using a deload every fourth week, because it allows your body and mind to rest. You’re not going to get weaker. If you do, it’s all in your mind.

Question: Can I perform the bench and military press in the same day?

Answer: You could do this, but I would highly recommend basing your military max on what you can do AFTER you bench, and not when you’re fresh.

Question: Can I squat and deadlift on the same day?

Answer: Yes. Again, pick which lift you’d like to do first, and make sure you base your second exercise on what you can do AFTER you perform the first. If you don’t know which one to perform, simply ask yourself which lift you want to improve the most. If you have an equal desire for improvement in both lifts, then find the time to give it an extra day.

Question: If I max out on one lift, but the other three lifts are still improving, do I cut back all lifts 10% and start over? Or do I just cut back one?

Answer: Just cut back one and keep the others moving forward.

Question: Do I go for max reps on each set or just the last set?

Answer: Just the last set of the day for the big exercise.

Question: Do I go for max reps during my deload week?

Answer: No. Limit these reps to 5, and deload!

Question: How much time do you rest between sets?

Answer: You should rest for as long as it takes to perform the set with good form, but not enough to get cold. For most lifters, this is about 3-5 minutes.

Question: Do you ever take your assistance work to failure?

Answer: Very rarely. The key to assistance work is doing enough to stimulate the muscle. Your assistance work should not affect your recovery and overall performance.

Question: How long should you stick with assistance exercises?

Answer: You can switch ever week if you’d like but I would recommend using the same assistance work for at least 4 weeks before switching.

Question: Do you always stick with an assistance template or do you vary it?

Answer: I vary it all the time. The most important thing is to get the work of the main lifts in.

Question: How much time do you take between sets of assistance work?

Answer: Anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. If a set is worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly. I’d rather do one good set than five bad ones with terrible form.

Question: Do you always take the last set to absolute failure?

Answer: No. Sometimes it’s best to do the required reps and move on, but rarely is a set done to absolute failure. In most cases, the set should be done close to failure, but with perhaps a rep or half of a rep left before failing. This is something you’ll have to learn for yourself.

Question: Do you ever take a true one rep max?

Answer: You can do it whenever you want, but I’d recommend waiting at least 3 or 4 cycles to test it again. Never give up a training day to take a 1RM. Simply do the workout first, but don’t go for max reps on the last set. From there, try for a new max. While this program will improve your one rep max, the program’s success is not geared just toward one rep maxes. Structuring your training like this would be setting you up for failure. A one rep max is no better or worse than a five rep max.

Question: I want to do curls. What day can I use for this?

Answer: Whichever day you want. It doesn’t matter.

Question: Can I use front squats instead of back squats for my big exercise?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Do you recommend decline presses as a main or assistance movement?

Answer: No.

Question: Can I use power cleans (or something similar) in this program? If so, where would you put them?

Answer: Yes, this is a great idea. I’d recommend doing power cleans, hang cleans, power snatches or hang snatches if want to choose an Olympic movement. If you want to do these along with the regular training, I’d recommend doing them before you perform your squat or deadlift workout.

Question: Can I use the trap bar instead of the barbell for deadlifting?

Answer: Yes, this is the only acceptable deadlift option.

Question: Can I use the push press or jerk in place of the military press?

Answer: Yes.

Question: If I switch from deadlifts to trap bar deadlifts, how long should I stick with the trap bar?

Answer: You should stick with the new exercise until you reach your goal or until you stall. You must stay with the new exercise for more than just 4-8 weeks.

Question: Can I switch movements every other cycle? For example, do a trap bar deadlift for a cycle and then switch to a deadlift and then back to the trap bar.

Answer: No. Stick with one exercise and keep pushing this exercise until you stall out or reach your personal goals.

Question: I recently hit a max deadlift of 500 pounds. Do I base my training weights around this number (500)?

Answer: No. I recommend starting with10% less (90% of your actual max) than your actual max and working up slowly.

Question: Do you think it's better to be consistent and incremental with 5 pound advancements for all four lifts? Or do you think the 10 pound advancements on the squat and pull are better than 5 pounds for most lifters?

Answer: The smaller the jumps you can make, the better you’ll be in the long run. Unfortunately, this requires an ego check, which isn’t easy. Trust in the "small jump" system and reap the benefits long term. You can even make 2.5 pound jumps if you’d like. Remember to always think long term.

Question: Do you wear any equipment for your training?

Answer: I always wear a belt. For squats, I wear knee sleeves that help keep my knees warm. They don’t add much (if anything) to the lift, but they do a great job of keeping my IT bands and knees warm. For bench press and military press, I wear wrist wraps (and a belt).

Question: Can I use straps for deadlifting?

Answer: While I understand the use of straps – and used them often when I was younger – I’ve come to the conclusion that, barring some sort of injury, you shouldn’t use them. I say this because:
1. Your grip will quickly catch up to your hip/leg/back strength.
2. Grip strength is essential in all sports, and in life.
3. For overall muscle growth, it’s best to train without the aid/support of equipment.
4. It’s also best to use as few "crutches" as possible when you train.

Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way: ditch the straps as soon as you can and train minimally for maximum results. Get stronger all over. You’ll thank me.

Question: What kind of diet should I follow during training?

Answer: I’m probably the last guy you should ask about dieting, but since I’ve been asked this a million times, here are my general recommendations:
1. Eat all whole foods. Try to avoid protein powders unless absolutely necessary.
2. Eat 4-6 meals per day. Each meal should have some kind of protein source, some kind of fruit or vegetable, and some kind of carbohydrate.
3. Try to get 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day through whole foods. If you’re over 15% body fat, use your lean body mass instead of your bodyweight.
4. Don’t go crazy counting calories, grams of protein, etc. Just eat and learn how to approximate your portions.
5. If you want to gain weight, the simplest way is to drink a gallon of milk a day. Simple and effective.

Question: Do you think the 5/3/1 method can be done instead of dynamic days – in harmony with max effort training – without my CNS going down the toilet?

Answer: I think this would burn you out, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Question: During the deload week, do I deload the assistance work too?

Answer: If you’re deloading, DELOAD! Cut back on everything and let your body rest and recover.

Question: Can you use this program while using powerlifting gear?

Answer: I’ve been asked many times how I’d modify this program for training with powerlifting gear. I’m sure there’s a way to do this, but I no longer have the patience or the desire to try to figure this out. I don’t train in gear, and I don’t really work with anyone who does, so it’s best to leave this to someone who actually trains with gear. I’m not interested in using bench shirts or squat suits when I train. There are too many variables and inconsistencies when training with gear to put them into a simple training program.

My best advice to you would be this: if you want to bench press 600 pounds with a shirt, train for a 590 pound raw bench. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to get 10 pounds out of your shirt.:001_rolleyes:

Question: When I begin the program, do I start with my true max on each lift?

Answer: No. You begin with 90% of your actual max. If you have a 300 pound bench press, you begin the first 4-week training cycle with a 270lb “max”. All your percentages for your first four weeks are based on 270 pounds.

Question: How do I know how to increase the weight after each 4-week training cycle?

Answer: After each training cycle, increase your bench press and military press NO MORE than 5 pounds. You should increase your squat and deadlift NO MORE than 10 pounds. In the above example of the 300 pound bench presser, his “max” would start at 270 and increase to 275 for the second 4-week phase. Every four weeks he would move up 5 pounds.

Question: Is this program for advanced or beginner lifters?

Answer: I’ve used this program with both beginning and advanced lifters. Steady, slow progression will never go out of fashion, and neither will the big exercises. The trick is to teach beginners correct form at the start. For advanced lifters, the most important thing is to remember long term goals, and not basing unrealistic maxes on what you did four years ago.

Question: If a person wanted to get big and strong, what would you recommend?

Answer: I would recommend the 5/3/1 program, with the Boring But Big assistance work. Then have that person drink a gallon of milk a day. Three things that are very easy and simple to do.

Question: What if that person is lactose intolerant?

Answer: Buy baby wipes. It’s gonna get dirty.

Question: Why do you do so many chins and dips? Is this part of the program?

Answer: No it’s not part of the program. I do chins and dips because they are the most efficient upper body assistance exercises.

Question: Can I use kettlebells as part of my assistance work?

Answer: Yes. This is a great idea.

Question: I don’t know how many sets and reps to do on my assistance work.

Answer: When in doubt, do 5 sets of 10 reps.

Question: Can you do board presses with this program?

Answer: Yes, it would work. I would not recommend them if you are a raw lifter.

Question: What are the five best exercises to increase my deadlift?

Answer: Squats, deadlifts for reps, some kind of abdominal training (sit ups or leg raises), good mornings and Kroc rows (high rep dumbbell rows).

Question: What are the five best exercises to increase my squat?

Answer: Squats, good mornings, some kind of ab work (see above), lunges and leg presses.

Question: What are the five best exercises to increase my bench press?

Answer: Bench press, military press, dips, chins and dumbbell rows.

Question: What are the six best exercises to increase my military press?

Answer: Military press, bench press, dips, chins, hanging leg raises and back raises.

Question: What is more important for getting stronger; assistance work or the four big lifts?

Answer: The four big lifts. Done with correct form and a well thought out plan, this will trump ANY weak point exercise or assistance work.
Good info.....I dont know about drinking a gal of milk a day, i would become a fat ass and have the shits..
Some people swear by that idea. I don't know if I could get a gallon a day down. That's a lot of milk.
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