3 Years of Wendler 5/3/1, Part 3: Beyond 5/3/1, Hitting My High Note, and Leaving It Behind

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.)

0%:10xbar

10%:3-5x 45/bar

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!

Joker Sets

105%: 1x 240

110%: 1×250

115%: 1×260

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…

 

Down Sets

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.  

 

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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.