I’ve been working on the same workout programme for about 3 months now, incorporating lots of Olympic style lifts and high intensity, cross-fit style lifting into my daily workouts read more about it here and here. It’s been great so far because my workouts have had a tonne of variety and I’m completely spent after almost every session (all that intensity!). I’ve been noticing more definition in my traps and biceps, and my legs are stronger than ever. All in all, it’s been great.
But I rarely stick with the same programme for more than 3 months. I like to keep a lot of variety in my workouts to keep my body guessing. My focus for the next programme is strength and body building. Normally I put together my own thing but this time I figured I’d try someone else’s programme: Wendler’s 5/3/1
This programme created by powerlifter Jim Wendler uses the basic principles of strength training and has been getting lots a good feedback on the internet for being a great plan for increasing strength. Says Wendler about the programme: “I want be able to do a bunch of different activities and still kick ass in the weight room. I want to be as mobile, flexible, strong, and in as good a condition as I possibly can. That’s how I came up with 5/3/1.”
5/3/1 revolves around the basic multi-joint lifts: squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.
The theory is to start with weights lighter than what you’re doing now which gives you more room to progress slowly and build strength.
I’m concerned that my inflated ego will bust and lifting less than I’m used to might bring me down and psych me out of wanting to lift. But eventually I’ll be hitting will be better than what I’m doing now, so that’s what I’ll have to look forward to.
The plan is based on slow progress. You can’t progress quickly. It just doesn’t happen. I know this.
I had delusions of grandeur in January when I published weight training goals to increase my squat by 70lbs (to 225lbs) and my bench press by at least 50lbs (to my body weight). Umm . . . yeah right, Sam.
So I’m hoping this programme will allow me to progress a little more reasonably while still seeing some motivating improvements.
Here’s how it works:
You can do as many cycles of the programme as you like. You could practically cycle this programme forever.
Each cycle is 4 weeks long and you’re training 4 days per week—one of the major lifts (bench, squat, deadlift, overhead press) each day. The sets and loads used for each of the major lifts are:
Week 1: Warm-up, 65% x 5, 75% x 5, 85% x 5+
Week 2: Warm-up, 70% x 3, 80% x 3, 90% x 3+
Week 3: Warm-up, 75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1+
Week 4: Warm-up, 60% x 5, 65% x 5, 70% x 5
+On the last set each week means really push for as many reps as you can get.
The base number used in your calculations is actually 90% of your 1RM (one rep max).
So if your 1RM is 100, then you’re calculating based on 90 so 65% would be 58.5lb(=65%*90%*100lb) not 65lbs. I calculated my 1RM from here.
Use this lovely spreadsheet to calculate your daily lifts for 3 cycles of 5/3/1: 5-3-1 Training Calculator
After 4 weeks, you repeat the cycle adding 5lbs to the 1RM for your presses and 10lbs to the 1RM for your deadlift and squat and then recalculate your loads. (again you can use this spreadsheet to calculate your daily lifts: 5-3-1 Training Calculator)
For a more detailed explanation check out this link
The core lifts aren’t the only thing you work on though. You also do additional exercises that supplement the major lifts and assist with your goals with plans like these:
Boring But Big. Main lift, the main lift again @ 5×10 (50% 1RM), and another accessory exercise for 5 sets.
The Triumvirate. Main lift, and two assistance exercises – 5 sets each.
I’m Not Doing Jack Shit. Main lift, and nothing else.
Periodization Bible by Dave Tate. Main lift, and 3 exercises – 5 x 10-20 reps each.
Bodyweight. Main lift, and 2 bodyweight exercises such as the pull up, sit ups, dips, etc.
For myself I wanted a “bodybuilding” style so I planned:
– Main lift
– Main lift in a different form (eg. squats + front squats, bench press + dumbbell bench press)
– 3 accessory exercises with a higher rep range (10-15)
What I’m digging:
I like the specificity of it. I know exactly what I should be lifting before I even get into the gym (or I should know, otherwise I’ll be hauling a calculator with me to the squat rack every day) and there is clear progress every week.
Lately my progress has been stalling a bit, especially on squat and bench, so I’m excited to see what happens on this programme even if it means starting lighter to get there.
What concerns me:
Wendler seems very specific about using 90% of your 1RM as a base for calculations but I’m not convinced. The loads that I calculated for my last set in week 3 (the one rep set) are weights that I can crank out for 4 to six reps of right now. What’s the point? Even after 12 weeks I won’t hit my current one rep max even once.
So instead I tried calculating my lifts based on my 1RM alone but the result seemed a lot more difficult in the second and third cycle of the programme and I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to hit the numbers.
95% of my one rep max looks like the magic number here. It’s offers the most reasonable progress. I’m going with that as the base of my calculations, at least for cycle 1, and then I’ll reassess from there.
My Variation of the 5/3/1 Plan:
Click the thumbnail for a Workout PDF of my 5/3/1 Variation.
P.S. It prints best as a booklet.
Cycles: At least 3 cycles (ie. 12 weeks) to start with. I’ll reassess from there.
Schedule: Mon: Bench Press, Wed: Push Press, Fri: Squat, Sun: Deadlift
Load Calculations: Base cycle 1 lifts on 95% of my 1RM then reassess the base number for my calculations (maybe I’ll drop to 90% of my new 1RM for cycle 2).
Accessory Lifts:Main lift , main lift in a different form (eg. squats + front squats, bench press + dumbbell bench press, etc.), 3 accessory exercises of the same muscle group with a higher rep range (10-15) varying from week to week.
Cardio: Tue & Thu: HIIT (sprints on the treadmill, spin bike, or in the pool)
I plan to start this week. I’ll keep you updated with my progress after cycle 1. (added: Read my cycle 1 recap here)
P.S. I called this 5/3/1 for Women because I am a woman and I couldn’t find a tonne of info online on women using this programme (here’s one and here’s another). It’s identical to the 5/3/1 plan because the programme isn’t for men only. Women can lift like the best of them.
Need More Info?
5/3/1 How To
Cycle 6 & 7