3 Years of Wendler 5/3/1, Part 1: A Wendlerite is Born

By: Andrew Crickmore

Part 1: Overview
Wendler’s 5/3/1 has been the foundation for my training since I discovered that I really did want to get stronger and chase PRs in the Big 4 (I include OHP even though it isn’t a comp lift). The question as to what to do next started to bubble up as I got closer to my goal weight. I read more and more articles and testimonials about rebounding back to one’s old weight after particularly massive weight loss, and at that point I was hovering within spitting distance of the 100 lbs. lost mark.
Over the course of a couple of weeks I read through several different strength books, including Juggernaut Method (original, not 2.0), Starting Strength, Stronglifts, Mad Cow, Texas Method and, of course, 5/3/1 (volume 2). In all honesty, I should have gone with Stronglifts or Starting Strength, but in my hubris I decided to do something more substantive, because I wasn’t a “total noob” to lifting.

Regardless, the only one that truly stood out to me was Jim Wendler’s program.
What stuck out for me (besides the program itself) was the preface of Wendler’s book on training itself; he’d been killing himself for years doing intense powerlifting regiments, all while being extremely fat and basically only being able to waddle up to a monolift and squat heavy in a suit. He goes on to talk about watching a lady, in excellent shape, simply walking on a treadmill. What stood out for him (and for me) was the idea that you don’t need to go out and destroy yourself to reach your goals and improve your numbers. Basically, Wendler has a work smart, not hard philosophy that he embraced after being burnt out from powerlifting.

The program itself preaches a monthly increase and steady progress, even to the point where Wendler recommends you use 90% of your 90% max; start light, build momentum, and then before you know it you’ll be using your old maxes as your rep outs on the easy days.

From the start of this program to the last PR I had on 5/3/1, my number progression looks like this:
OHP: 95 lbs. to 180 lbs.
Bench: 195 lbs. (not even with chest touch) to 265 lbs. (full touch)
Squat: 205 lbs. (not even to depth) to 365 lbs. (below parallel now for sure)
Deadlift: 285 lbs. to 495 lbs.

Additionally: body weight went from 156 lbs. to 192 lbs. at my peak, all while staying relatively lean in the process.

Anyways, now that I’ve laid out what got me going on it, let’s actually talk about the program itself. The TL;DR on 5/3/1 is that it is a monthly periodization-based program in which you do a 5’s rep week (3 sets of 5), a 3’s rep week (3 sets of 3), and a 5/3/1 rep week (a set of 5, a set of 3, and a set of 1+), followed by a deload week (more on the deload later). The last set of the program is really and AMRAP set; you do as many as possible and set a new Rep PR for that weight. More weight moved equals you getting stronger. Simple! You apply this rep scheme to Overhead Press, Deadlifts, Squats, and Bench Press, all on their own dedicated workout days (although there are variations addressing doing less than 4 workouts a week as well).
Example Rep Scheme using Deadlifts (via black iron beast’s calculator)

(5s week)
Deadlift: 1 RM = 495, Training RM = 446
Warm up:
180×5
225×5
275×3
Working sets:
290×5
335×5
385×5+
(3s week)
Deadlift: 1 RM = 495, Training RM = 446
Warm up:
180×5
225×5
275×3
Working Sets:
315×3
360×3
405×3+
5/3/1 week
Deadlift: 1 RM = 495, Training RM = 446
Warm up:
180×5
225×5
275×3
Working Sets
335×5
385×3
425×1+
After you’ve run the 5/3/1 week and, hopefully, hit a new PR at the calculated weight, you add 5 lbs. to the upper body lifts and 10 lbs. to the lower body lifts (giving you a new training max) and then take a deload week OR jump right into the next 5s week; personally I deloaded rarely, and whether that was a detriment or not I honestly do not know. Even Wendler has acknowledged in his most recent book that most people don’t need the deload until they’ve run at least two cycles, whereas he originally recommended one every 4th week.
If you do take a deload week on the program, you can either just not go to the gym, or just do the warm up sets on the compounds and then move on to your accessory work. The idea is, along with the rest of the program, to let you stay fresh enough that your progress is extremely consistent.
Last note; if you fail the last reps on any of the weeks, it’s recommended you repeat them. If you fail again, re-do two to three cycles previous, then work back up. You can also re-configure the program with your new calculated or actual 1 RM, which gives you a fresh starting point. I ended up doing this myself twice during my run and it worked out well both times.
In the next part I will go over some of the accessory templates in detail that I have run, as well as some PROs and CONs of running 5/3/1.
Part three will be me talking about Beyond 5/3/1, as well as why I’m NOT running it anymore, along with anything else I may have missed.

If you wish to drop a few dollars on Wendler’s e-book, you can check our his website and buy it direct.  It’s a worthwhile purchase and it supports a dude that has created an amazing program.

 

 

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