By: Andrew Crickmore
When I switched to Beyond 5/3/1 sometime in the summer of 2014 I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had just read through Wendler’s e-book on it and decided to construct a template for it and run it. If you still haven’t read it, I recommend you do so RIGHT NOW, but the biggest draw of it as compared to other versions of 5/3/1 was the auto-regulation and the volume level, both of which I craved.
When I talk about auto-regulation, I am referring to the idea that you, the user of a program, have the authority to pick the pace of a workout; in the case of Beyond 5/3/1, you work up to your training max (which is, like in 5/3/1, calculated off your real max) and then decide how far you go from there.
So, let’s assume you’re trying to progress your Bench Press on this example (we’ll use my “real max” of 265 lbs. for the template):
Rep Scheme: (all in lbs.)
20%: 3-5x 50
30%: 3-5x 70
40%: 3-5x 95
50%: 3-5x 115
60%: 3-5x 140
70%: 1-3x 160
80%: 1-3x 185
90%: 1-3x 205
100%: 1x (or PR set) 230
You start with the bar, and work your way up by 10% for each set and never above 5 reps (until the end). Wendler does say that you can skip to the 30% portion if need be because, as you can see, the difference between 0% and 30% is very low in terms of weight jump and that makes them expendable reps. At heavier weights for squats and deadlifts these percentages are still a lot more useful. In theory you could stop here and be done, but then you’d be not exploiting the best part of the auto-regulation. Having a good day? GO FURTHER!
105%: 1x 240
120%: 1×275 (PR!)
Joker Sets are simply going above your scheduled “max” for the day and dependent on how you feel during your workout. Do they work? Absolutely. Joker Set utilization is how I set my current bench press max; I felt great one day, and worked up aggressively to a PR of 265. I’ve only been able to match it once since, and have not set a new PR since utilizing joker sets previously.
We’re not done here though…maybe you didn’t feel great about the joker sets, or maybe you just want some extra volume. Well, look no further than…
3-5 sets for 5-8 reps @ 75% (170 lbs.)
3-5 sets for 5-8 reps @ 70% (160 lbs.)
Down sets are typically a higher difficulty than just doing Boring But Big, and on days that I really wanted to camp out on the bench I did do these, albeit not often, because I did a great deal of bodybuilding accessory work after my compound work. On that note…
Lastly, Beyond 5/3/1 doesn’t provide accessory templates. Wendler, through this expansion on his program, is telling people to really embrace auto-regulation. Whatever you do for accessory work is dependent on your goals and weaknesses and, ultimately, how you feel on a given day. However I do recommend you develop a plan and, like the reps for the main movement, track it for maximum progress. During Beyond 5/3/1 was when I got to play with the most bodybuilding work and really got to exercise my still-developing programming muscle.
Wendler Stops Working For Me and Where Do I Go From Here?
Beyond 5/3/1 worked extremely well for me. In the 6 months I ran it, I set a massive (and my current) Deadlift PR (495 lbs.), my old squat PR (360 lbs.), my old OHP PR (175 lbs.) on it as well as a respectable bench PR doing it (265 lbs.) all at a bodyweight around 182-185. Additionally I hd some tremendous hypertrophy gains on this program because I was able to let loose with some great isolation work at my own discretion. I have yet to see even remotely similar results on any previous program. So, why the hell did I quit doing it? It was to try a powerlifting variation on 5/3/1, but alas that’s where I really started to stall.
The last Wendler program I ran was 3/5/1, which is one of Wendler’s powerlifting variations (although not his powerlifting specific programs). To give a quick summary, 3/5/1 is a rearrangement of the rep scheme (doing 3s week, then 5s week, then 5/3/1 week) as well as building in heavy singles work at approximately 110% of your training max for that session. I ran this for a solid 4 months during my winter school semester and, enjoyed it immensely; the problem was that, either mentally or physically, I was no longer responding well to the rep scheme and progress began to slow significantly. Couple this with a late-december back injury (which took a solid month to rehab from before I could deadlift properly again), it became obvious that I was starting to fatigue on the program, but not necessarily physically. I was always well-rested, well-fed and consistent with my diet and workouts.
I didn’t completely stall, however; I did hit an OHP PR of 180 lbs. in January 2015, and then a modest squat PR of 365 lbs. in April 2015. Despite this though, I knew I needed something new and something to push myself a lot further; I had, in essence, lost the discomfort necessary for real progress on the standard 5/3/1 format.
This begs the question…why didn’t I just go back to Beyond 5/3/1? Mainly because I wanted to try something completely different from my comfort zone, as there was always a real chance that I’d just “settle” even with the aggressive auto-regulation in place in Beyond 5/3/1. So, I settled on trying Candito’s Intermediate/Peaking 6 Week program and, even though I haven’t finished it yet, I have set new rep PRs in squat and deadlift, and have done some unprecedented heavy volume with bench press. It is, at least in terms of early results, exactly what the doctor ordered. The rep scheme and overall protocols are extremely uncomfortable for me, and that’s exactly what I needed right now. I will be running at least 3 full cycles of this program before deciding where to go from here…maybe back to Beyond 5/3/1, maybe working out a GZCL template for myself, or seeking some other ambitious program. Either way, I have gotten what I could out of 5/3/1.
Are You Ready To Get On The Wendler Wagon?
Wendler’s program is predominantly for people in the “intermediate” stage of their strength development; odds are you’ve capped out your weekly progress on 5×5 programs and need something with a longer cycle to make further progress. People coming off Stronglifts or Starting Strength type programs are really set well for 5/3/1. Having said that, there is a Beginner’s Template available for people who just want to run Wendler right from the word GO. Since I’ve never used it, I’m not going to tell you how effective it is, but I am pro-Wendler in all things and it probably couldn’t hurt to try it as a new person. You’ll make great gainz either way and will benefit from the structure.
So ask yourself, “Do I want to be strong? Do I want to be able to crush the power rack and push some heavy ass weight?” I you answer, yes, YES, or HELL YES, then 5/3/1 is for you.