3 Years of Wendler 5/3/1, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

By: Andrew Crickmore

The Program, Variations, and My Recommendations

If you have read any of 5/3/1’s multiple volumes (which is highly recommended obviously) then you would know that Wendler spends the majority of his writing on variations of his program to help people tailor the training to their goals and their restraints; he has templates for 2-days-a-week, for powerlifting specifically (including a whole volume put out for PL training on its own) as well a multitude of versions that incorporate other training templates into his own structure. He has also been known to create 3-month challenges for people to attempt to help them for bodybuilding or peaking-specific goals.

The reason this is possible is because the main structure of 5/3/1 only addresses the compound lifts; he purposefully leaves the choice of accessory work up to the user of his program. So, to put in in the simplest terms possible, if you do the 5/3/1 base, that’s all you REALLY need, but we know that, for one, it’s not enough for most people from a personal and actual progress standpoint, and two, you probably want to do some curls anyways, so you’ll pick a template or two and roll with them.

Here are all the different templates I have tried, all for a minimum of 4 months;
– Boring But Big
– The Periodization Bible
– The Triumvirate
– Simplest Strength
– 3/5/1 for powerlifting
– And lastly, Boring But Big + Bodybuilding work (my own accessory template)

So let’s look at how you’d build a few of these templates, just to give everyone a good idea of what a full workout would look like. I won’t break down every single one, but I will pick a few of them and provide some sample workout templates to give people an understanding of the variety possible with Wendler’s program, and some reasoning for why I selected them.

Boring But Big:
Boring But Big is just 5×10 of either the lift you did or the complementary lift (upper or lower) as the accessory you do that day. So, if you were to program a BBB cycle, it would look like this:
– 5/3/1 OHP
– 5×10 OHP or Bench Press @ 30% of 1 RM. 
– 1 choice of Lat work (Chins, pull ups, rows)
– 5/3/1 Squats
– 5×10 Squats or Deadlifts @ 30% of 1 RM
– 1 choice of Leg work (leg curls, hamstring curls, good mornings etc.)

– 5/3/1 Bench Press
– 5×10 OHP or Bench Press @ 30% of 1 RM
– 1 choice of Lat work (chins, pull ups, rows etc.)
– 5/3/1 Deadlifts
– 5×10 Squats or Deadlifts @ 30% of 1 RM.
– 1 choice of Leg Work (leg curls, hamstring curls, good mornings etc.)

This is the most popular template because of its simplicity; it provides lots of volume for someone coming off of a more simplistic linear program, but also starts off with weight percentages that allow you to work on form and ramp up the difficulty over time. This particularly template lacks variety (hence the name) but it being so straightforward makes it easy to program for and register progress on. This is one of the templates I ran more than once when I was starting out; however I always did the “opposite” 5×10 to my 5/3/1 compound; so if I did OHP 5/3/1, I always did bench 5×10. That was entirely my own preference. 
The Simplest Strength Template
Simplest Strength is a lot more of a power-building-centric template. There’s a lot more accessory work, and a lot of it is isolation. All of it is still, in theory, designed to drive your main lifts up, but it is more balanced than BBB and similar templates.
– OHP 5/3/1
– Accessory work is all 3×10, not factoring in warm up
– Close-grip bench press 
– Barbell Rows/Lats 
– Upper back (such as shrugs or face pulls) 
– Triceps
– Biceps
– Squats 5/3/1
– Accessory Work is all 3×10, not factoring in warm up
– Stiff-Legged Deadlift
– Hamstring work
– Lower back work
– Abs
– Bench 5/3/1
– Accessory work is all 3×10, not factoring in warm up
– Close-grip bench press 
– Barbell Rows/Lats 
– Upper back (such as shrugs or face pulls) 
– Triceps
– Biceps
– Deadlifts 5/3/1
– Front Squat
– Hamstring work
– Lower back work
– Abs

The Simplest Strength template was the last template I ran before I started experimenting with my own accessory work template, and pushed me to acclimate to higher volume levels than I’d previously experienced. I’m not sure I’d recommend doing it unless you’ve run some of the lower volume versions first, OR you start fairly light.

Now, the template that I made for myself, in which I went for some pretty sweet volume and saw some pretty noticeable hypertrophy gains from, even when I only really hit a 5 lbs. squat PR and 10 lbs. OHP PR on this program. The premise of the program was to attack with good volume, but also try and do a lot of lat work and the usual vanity muscles. Power-building was the goal, for a lack of a better way to phrase it.
All Accessory work was 5×10, unless listed otherwise
– OHP 5/3/1
– Bench Press 
– Meadows Rows
– Tricep pushdowns
– 2 H Lat Pull-downs
– Rear delt flyes (one handed)
– Bicep Curls (bar)
– Dumbbell or cable Side Lat raises (hit middle delt as target)
– 5/3/1 Squats
– Pin Squats (worked up to heavy 3-5 reps for 5 sets)
– 1 Legged quad extensions
– 1 legged hamstring curls
– Abs (woodchoppers and other twists, optional)
– Bench 5/3/1
– Barbell Rows
– Barbell Shrugs
– 1 Handed lat pull-downs
– Overhead tricep extensions
– Hammer Curls
– Deadlift 5/3/1
– Pause Squats (warm-up and worked up to heavy 3-5 reps for 5 sets) or 5×10 squats
– Barbell Glute Bridges
– Abs (woodchoppers and other twists, mandatory)

Some other template options include;
– Bodyweight accessory work
– More Squatting
– Full body
– Two and three day cycle options
– A German Volume Training adaptation
– Various bodybuilding templates
– A Beginner’s version
– 3/5/1
– Powerlifting for Mass/Strength/Conditioning
…and these are only the main options. The books themselves lay out dozens of variations, challenges and suggestions on how to utilize the 5/3/1 program to your goals, your constraints, and to your preferences.

So now to wrap things up let’s talk about some of other additional work you can do with the program outside of the templates themselves. This is where Beyond 5/3/1 really kind of kicks off, but these concepts are not exclusive to Beyond 5/3/1, and I’ll cover more of that particular variation in detail for Part 3. I digress, back to the topic at hand.

First, we’re going to talk about Joker Sets. Joker Sets are simply doing over and above sets above your prescribed reps for that day. For example; if you reach the peak week (5/3/1) and, on your 1+ rep of squats for 315 lbs., you hit a very solid set of 3-4 reps. This is probably a clear PR for you, and, if you are feeling up to it, you can add 5% of your working set weight and keep going.
I’ll lay it out for you;
315 for 1+ ; you hit 4 reps. 
You then do…
330 (105% or 1 RM for that day) x1+
345 (110% of 1 RM for that day) x 1
360 (115%) x1
380 (120%) x1
At this point you can continue on until you cannot do any more reps. Potentially you could work all the way up to an outright PR, which is usually about 120% of your rep max for that day. The decision to do so is part of Wendler’s attempt to provide some auto-regulation to the program to take advantage of you having a really good day in the gym.

Pyramid Down with 5/3/1
Pyramid workouts are nothing new, but in the context of 5/3/1 are a good supplement to increase volume in your template without going with a BBB-style accessory setup. You work up the 5/3/1 working sets, then back down all the way through your warm up sets, if you so choose to do so.

First Set Last with 5/3/1
Another volume-centric add-on is to repeat your First working set after your maximum work-set for as many reps as possible. The idea is that deloading down to that first work set weight will allow you to push out a significant number more reps than you might have otherwise; having experimented with this I would regularly do at least 8-10 reps of my first working set, often pushing up to 12 if I had enough gas left in the tank. Again, another good addition to add volume without doing a 5×10 BBB template. This can also be done for multiple sets.

That wraps it up for Part 2; for the 3rd and final part, I’ll discuss running Beyond 5/3/1 specifically, as well as what has lead me to stop doing 5/3/1 entirely after all this time.