Jan 30, 2014
Samantha Angela
5 Comments

5/3/1 for Women – How To

Weightlifting

I dig 5/3/1 so hard.

I have never had so much success with a weight training programme as I’ve had with this 5/3/1. I’ve been working through it for over a year now (which, in itself, is saying something) and with it I’ve seen tremendous strength gains and I’m never bored.

I got a facebook message from a reader asking me for some more detail on how the programme works so I figured it was high time for another update on the how-to’s of 5/3/1.

What is the 5/3/1 Programme?

It’s a weightlifting programme created by powerlifter Jim Wendler that focuses on building strength.

5/3/1 revolves around the basic multi-joint lifts: squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.

The plan is based on a slow progression of reasonable and attainable strength over time.

You really have to be able to commit to several cycles to see results. It may seem slow going at first, but you are able work toward your goals while still seeing some motivating improvements that keep you going.

How does it work?

Find Your Base Loads

Figure out the maximum weight you can lift for one rep (or a good estimate of it) for the following lifts: squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press.

Take 90% of that number (eg. if your 1RM is 100lb, use 0.9*100=90lbs). This is your base load from which you will determine how much weight you will lift for every workout.

Plan Your Workout Days and Rest Days

Each Cycle of the plan is four weeks—three weeks of strength building and one week for de-loading and recovery.

The Cycle is based on 4 workouts per week—one of the four major lifts (bench, squat, deadlift, overhead press) each day. Figure out a way to spread out your workout days and rest days to fit everything in so that it works for you.

I like to workout two days back-to-back with one or two rest days in between, eg) Sun, Mon, Wed, Thu.

Week One – 5 Rep Week

You’re working in the 5 rep range this week. For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 5 reps at 75% of base load
Set 2: 5 reps at 80% of base load
Set 3: At least 5 reps at 85% of base load (if you can do more than 5, then do as many as you can)

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day, using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

Week Two – 3 Rep Week

You’ll be working heavier for fewer reps this week. For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 3 reps at 80% of base load
Set 2: 3 reps at 85% of base load
Set 3: At least 3 reps at 90% of base load (as many reps as you can)

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

Week Three – 1 Rep Week

You’ll be repeating some of the loads from the last two weeks for sets 1 and 2 then you’ll go for as many reps as possible at 95% of your base load for your final set.

For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 5 reps at75% of base load
Set 2: 3 reps at 85% of base load
Set 3: At least 1 rep at 95% of base load (as many reps as you can)

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

Week Four – De-load Week

This is your deload week for recovery. You will perform exactly 5 reps in each set with lighter weights, never pushing yourself to failure. For each workout day, calculate your reps and weights as follows:

Warm up: As many reps as necessary at light weight.
Set 1: 5 reps at 60% of base load
Set 2: 5 reps at 65% of base load
Set 3: 5 reps at 70% of base load

Repeat the same structure for each of squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press day using the appropriate base load for that exercise.

I’m done a Cycle, now what?

When you’ve completed a 4 week cycle, it is time to progress your loads.

Add the following weights to the one rep maximum that you determined at the beginning of the 4 weeks:

Squat + 10lb
Deadlift + 10lb
Bench Press + 5lb
Overhead Press + 5lb

(eg. if your 1RM for bench press was 100lbs, your new 1RM is 105lb)

Using these new numbers, recalculate your Base Loads for each exercise, and start a new cycle!

You can do as many cycles of the programme as you like. You could practically cycle this programme forever.

What if I didn’t hit my targets?

If you don’t make the calculated load in any of the exercises, go back and re-calculate your 1 rep max and start over.

I generally step back 2 cycles which drops my 1RM by 20lbs for squat and deadlift and 10lbs for bench and push press.

What else do I do besides the 4 main lifts?

That’s up to you.

Wendler recommends adding additional exercises called ‘assistance work’ to each workout day to supplement your 4 major lifts and assist you with your goals. These are some of the plans that he recommends:

Assistance Plans

Boring But Big. Main lift, the main lift again for 5 sets x 10 reps (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.

This post from Muscle & Strength gives some good examples of accessory work.

This All Sounds like a Lot of Math, Lunks don’t do Math

Errr…sure they do?

But, if you want to keep it brainless anyway then lucky for you I’m an Excel Wizard by day and came up with this 5-3-1 Training Calculator.

No calculations needed (not even the base load!). You just have to know your one rep maximum for squats, deadlifts, bench press, and push press. The calculator will figure out the rest.

Just pop in your one rep max for each exercise into the calculator where the red arrow is and it will spew out the loads that you’ll be using for the next 3 full cycles of the programme.

Easy like Sunday morning.

Click here to download the Calculator Spreadsheet

How’s it working for you?

I love it so much. I love knowing exactly how much I have to lift each day. It pushes me to work harder every single week.

Since November 2012 I’ve made some pretty big improvements in my lifts.

Squats: 185lb to 235lb (27% improvement)
Bench: 135lb to 150lb (11% improvement)
Deadlift: 225lb to 250lb (11% improvement)
Push Press: 105lb to 130lb (24% improvement)

On paper they may not look like much, but it is extremely challenging to make modest improvements when it comes to strength training, so I’m really proud.

I had a few setbacks during the year (as a result of a 3 week yoga teacher training and a 2 week vacation) and I had to step back a few cycles in order to regain my strength. Overall, though, it’s been awesome and I’m going to keep on keeping on.

I’ve already set some new goals for myself and plan on using 5/3/1 to attain them:

-165lb bench press (ie. a body weight bench press)
-275lb deadlift

BeastMode.jpg


Resources:

If you want to know more about how the programme works, check out this post on Muscle and Strength. It’s super comprehensive.

Related Posts:

previous post: Four Things | next post: Links for a Sunday Morning

5 Comments

  • Those are amazing strength gains! You were doing 5/3/1 since November 2012? That’s impressive – I have a hard time sticking with programs. I know I should though. :/

    • Thanks!!
      There is something to be said for sticking with programmes but also for changing them. I think it’s pretty important to change your programme every 8-12 weeks. The thing I like about 5/3/1 is that I’m always doing the big lifts (and always seeing improvements) but I can change the accessory lifts based on what I feel like focusing on.

  • Just discovered your site yesterday…Love it [YAY]. Trying to understand the 5/3/1 routine. Do you have to do squats with a barbell or can it be Smith Machine? Hope that doesn’t sound silly, I have back disc issues and have to be so careful. Thanks!

    • Hi Rebecca!
      If you have disc problems I hope you’re seeing a physiotherapist, doctor, or chiropractor for it. If back squats are painful, try asking your medical professional if front squats would be safe (they’re a typical substitution to back squats in 5/3/1). Generally-speaking in the weightlifting world a free weight exercise is preferred to machines because it limits the natural movement and only develops strength in one plane, but if a Smith machine ends up being your only safe option then go with that (and don’t let other people make you feel less legit because of it).
      You should ask your medical pro about deadlifts as well to be sure that they won’t aggravate your disk issues.

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Samantha Menzies
  • e-mail: samanthaamenzies@gmail.com
  • Samantha Menzies is an opinionated young firecracker who just happens to enjoy distracting web surfers with chronicles of her mildly entertaining daily pursuits.

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