Understanding 5/3/1 Training
By Jeremy DuVall, CPT Men's Fitness
Google the words ‘strength training program’ and you’ll get over 30 million different results, each one promising to be the ultimate program to make you stronger, faster, and leaner than the next. With so many training protocols out there, it’s hard to separate the strength-builders from the time-wasters. In this series, we break down some of the top programs and lay out the foundations of their success.
It’s important to note that each program has its own specific benefit. One approach isn’t perfect for everyone. Choose the one that most closely resembles your own needs and goals. However, each program does include one element – consistency. Program hopping (switch programs every week) is one of the biggest mistakes a lifter can make.
No matter what program you choose, stick with it for at least a few months before ditching it in favor of a different regimen. This week, we'll take a look at Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 method.
Method: Jim Wendler's 5/3/1
If building pure strength with a simple process is your goal, this may be the method for you. The 5/3/1 method popularized by Jim Wendler is a tried and true strength program that focuses on the basics: squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press. The program highlights those main lifts since they have such a large carryover to other lifts in the gym. Plain and simple, if you get better at those, you’ll get stronger overall.
Generally, the training cycle is broken down into a four-day schedule. The lifter focuses on one of the main exercises on each training day. Each training cycle lasts four weeks. All weights should be based off a lifter’s one-rep max (1-RM). There are numerous calculators available online to determine the proper load. On the first week, the lifter performs 3 sets of 5 reps for the main lift. On the second week, the intensity goes up to 3 sets of 3 reps. For the third week, the protocol is 3 sets in total, one of 5 reps, one of 3 reps, and then a final set one. On the third set of each week, the lifter should attempt to complete as many reps as possible with the minimum being 5, 3, or 1 respectively.
The fourth week is always a deload week to keep the athlete fresh for the next cycle. The lifter should continue to work out during the deload week using the same movements but at a much lighter and easier intensity. At the end of the fourth week, the lifter should add 10 lbs to the 1-RM calculation for the lower body moves and 5 lbs to the upper body exercises to repeat the 5/3/1 cycle.
With the 5/3/1 method, accessory lifts are not the major focus although they should be included. Choose a few exercises that support the major four moves and put them in at the end of your workout.
The 5/3/1 method promises a simple method for slow but steady gains in strength. Since the program provides a steady increase in intensity, lifters can expect to continue to progress throughout each cycle. However, the 5/3/1 method does take dedication. If you’re constantly going off and on the cycle, you won’t see steady gains.
Sample workout: Squat day
1) Barbell Back Squat 3 sets of 5, 5, 5+ reps respectively (not including warm-up)
2) Walking Lunges 4 sets of 10 reps
3) Leg Curl 4 sets of 10 reps