Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 powerlifting system is rapidly growing into one of the most popular powerlifting and strength building training routines on the planet. Several years ago, most powerlifters I knew ran the Westside Barbell system. Westside was the gospel, and there was no other. But today, things have changed. A good portion of my friends are running Wendler's 5/3/1, or a Westside/Wendler's combination. Westside is still king, but Wendler's 5/3/1 has proven itself very worthy of consideration.
In this guide to Wendler's 5/3/1, you will find information on 2, 3, and 4 day splits. You will also find information on a Wendler's 5/3/1 and Westside hybrid program. I have also included detailed assistance work information, including possible variations mentioned in the Wendler's 5/3/1 e-book.
Wendler's 5/3/1 Core Components
4 to 5+ Week Mesocycle. A mesocycle of Wendler's 5/3/1 lasts 4 weeks if you train 4 days per week, and 5+ weeks if you train 3 days per week. If you workout three times per week (Monday-Wednesday-Friday), you will rotate between 4 core workouts. If you workout 4 days per week, you will hit each workout once a week on the same training day.
4 Core Workouts. Wendler's 5/3/1 consists of 4 core workouts:
Workout A. Squat and assistance work.
Workout B. Bench Press and assistance work.
Workout C. Deadlift and assistance work.
Workout D. Overhead Press and assistance work.
3 Days Per Week. As stated, if you use Wendler's 5/3/1 and workout 3 days per week, you will rotate between the 4 workouts. Over the course of a mesocycle, you will perform each of the 4 workouts four times, for a total of 16 workouts. A week week mesocycle looks like this:
Week 1. ABC (Monday - Workout A, Wednesday - Workout B, Friday - Workout C)
Week 2. DAB
Week 3. CDA
Week 4. BCD
Week 5. ABC
Week 6. D
4 Days Per Week. If you use Wendler's 5/3/1 and train 4 days per week, your mesocycle will last only 4 weeks. Your workout schedule should look something life this:
Monday. Squat Day
Wednesday. Bench Press Day
Friday. Deadlift Day
Saturday. Overhead Press Day
Workout Waves. Each workout is performed 4 times during the course of a Wendler's 5/3/1 mesocycle. Simply stated, you will have 4 bench press workouts, 4 squat workouts, 4 deadlift workouts, and 4 overhead press workouts. Each specific workout (A-B-C-D) is comprised of 4 waves, or 4 different workouts. These waves are:
Wave A. Warmup, 75% x 5, 80% x 5, 85% x 5
Wave B. Warmup, 80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 3
Wave C. Warmup, 75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1
Wave D. Deload wave – 60% x 5, 65% x 5, 70% x 5
Wendler's 5/3/1 Complete Mesocycle Breakdown
Now that we've looked at the nuts and bolts of the Wendler's 5/3/1 powerlifting system, let's put them together into a structured mesocycle. Please note that the following tables do not include assistance work. The letter (ABCD) following the core workout is the corresponding wave that you will be performing on that training day.
Wendler's 5/3/1 Mesocycle3 Days Per WeekWeekMondayWednesdayFriday1 Squat - ABench Press - ADeadlift - A2OH Press - ASquat - BBench Press - B3Deadlift - BOH Press - BSquat - C4Bench Press - CDeadlift - COH Press - C5Squat - DBench Press - DDeadlift - D6OH Press - D Wendler's 5/3/1 Mesocycle4 Days Per WeekWeekMondayWednesdayFridayS aturday1Squat - ABench Press - ADeadlift - AOH Press - A2Squat - BBench Press - BDeadlift - BOH Press - B3Squat - CBench Press - CDeadlift - COH Press - C4Squat - DBench Press - DDeadlift - DOH Press - DExercise Substitution
For each of the 4 workouts (ABCD), you may substitute the primary workout with an appropriate replacement at the start of a new mesocycle. The following are examples of acceptable substitutions:
Squats. You may substitute squats with the box squat, front squat, squats with bands or chains, etc.
Bench Press. You may substitute bench press with floor press, 2-board press, rack press, etc.
Deadlift. You may substitute the deadlift with deficit deadlifts, rack pulls, deadlift with bands or chains, etc.
Overhead Press. You may substitute overhead press with push press, overhead dumbbell press, rack press, etc.
How much assistance work you do is up to you. Natural lifters should try to be in and out of the gym in 60 minutes. If you can't "hit it" in that period of time, you need to take a long, hard look at the rest periods you are taking between assistance work sets. A quote from Jim Wendler on training duration:
"People laugh and call me lazy, while they twit around in their three-hour workout making zero progress. Sometimes, instead of what you do in the weight room, it's what you don't do that will lead to success."
In the Wendler's 5/3/1 book, the following assistance plans are presented:
Boring But Big. Main lift, the main lift again @ 5x10 (50% 1RM), and another accessory exercise for 5 sets.
The Triumvirate. Main lift, and two assistance exercises - 5 sets each.
I'm Not Doing Jack ****. Main lift, and nothing else.
Periodization Bible by Dave Tate. Main lift, and 3 exercises - 5 x 10-20 reps each.
Bodyweight. Main lift, and 2 bodyweight exercises such as the pull up, sit ups, dips, etc.
Here are some sample assistance work plans based on your goals.
Strength Builder Assistance Work
Squat: 5 x 10 x 50%
Leg Curl: 5 x 10
Bench Press Workout
Bench Press: 5 x 10 x 50%
One Arm Dumbbell Row: 5 x 10
Deadlift: 5 x 8 x 50%
Hanging Leg Raises: 5 x 12
Overhead Press Workout
Overhead Press: 5 x 10 x 50%
Chin Up: 5 sets to failure
Bodybuilder Assistance Work
Squat Workout Day - Assistance Option A
Hack Squat: 4 sets of 10-20 reps
Leg Extension: 4 sets of 10-30 reps
Leg Curl: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
Weighted Sit up: 4 sets of 10 reps
Squat Workout Day - Assistance Option B
45 Degree Leg Press – 4 sets of 10-20 reps
Leg Extension – 4 sets of 10-30 reps
Leg Curl – 4 sets of 10-15 reps
Weighted Sit up – 4 sets of 10 reps
Bench Press Workout Day - Assistance option A
Dumbbell Bench Press: 4 sets of 10-20 reps
Chest Dip (weighted): 4 sets of 8-15 reps
Dumbbell Flys: 4 sets of 12 reps
Cable Tricep Extension: 4 sets of 10-20 reps
Bench Press Workout Day - Assistance option B
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 4 sets of 10-20 reps
Chest Dip (weighted) – 4 sets of 8-15 reps
Dumbbell Flys – 4 sets of 12 reps
Cable Tricep Extension – 4 sets of 10-20 reps
Deadlift Workout Day - Assistance Option A
Chin Up: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Bent Over Dumbbell Row: 4 sets of 15 reps/arm
Back Raises: 4 sets of 10 reps (with bar behind neck)
Hanging Leg Raises: 4 sets of 15 reps
Deadlift Workout Day - Assistance Option B
Lat Pull Down – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Bent Over Row – 4 sets of 15 reps/arm
Reverse Hyperextensions – 4 sets of 12 reps
Hanging Leg Raises – 4 sets of 15 reps
Overhead Press Workout Day - Assistance Option A
Seated Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Upright Row: 4 sets of 10 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
Standing Barbell Curl: 4 sets of 10 reps
Overhead Press Workout Day - Assistance Option B
Hammer Machine Military – 4 sets of 10 reps
Rope Upright Rows – 4 sets of 10 reps
Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly – 4 sets of 10-15 reps
Standing Dumbbell Curl – 4 sets of 10 reps
Wendler's 5/3/1 Notes
One rep max. When you first start Wendler's 5/3/1, use a realistic one rep max (1RM). It's better to start a little below your estimated max and work into Wendler's 5/3/1, then it is to over-estimate your 1RM and waste a mesocycle. Powerlifting is not a sprint - it's a marathon. Don't kill yourself out of the gate. Jim Wendler recommends starting at 90% of your 1RM on your first mesocycle.
The last set. Jim Wendler recommends going all out on the last core set each workout. Remember, core work is either squats, bench press, deadlift or overhead press. On this last set, do as many reps as you can with the given weight. Do NOT use this approach for de-load workouts.
Adding weight. After completing each mesocycle, add 5 pounds to your 1RM total for bench press and overhead press, and 10 pounds to your squat and deadlift 1RM, and recalculate your percentages. If you run Wendler's 5/3/1 for a year, this progression pattern will add 50 pounds to your bench and press, and 100 pounds to your squat and deadlift. Be patient, and stick with the plan!
2 Day Per Week Approach
For those who can hit the gym only twice a week, you can use the following template:
Monday - Squat and Bench Press
Thursday - Deadlift and Overhead Press
This is a 4 week cycle. Hit the primary, core exercises first, and add in appropriate assistance work. Remember to limit your total workout time to about 60 minutes.
Wendler's 5/3/1 and Westside Hybrid
Wendler's 5/3/1 is a very flexible training system. Because of this, the door is wide open to integrate Wendler's with core/key components of the Westside system.
Some trainees may want to utilize dynamic effort (DE) days from Westside training. How you structure this integration is up to you. Some trainees may be able to do both heavy squats and deadlifts on a single day, and then use the second posterior chain day of that week for dynamic effort (DE) work. Some may choose to do heavy Wendler squats with DE deadlifts, and heavy Wendler deadlifts with DE squats.
Another possible integration between Westside and Wendler's would be to drop the heavy overhead pressing day, and instead, insert overhead pressing movements on your bench days. This would free up one training day each week for DE bench work.
Sample Westside/Wendler's 5/3/1 program structure.
Monday - Dynamic effort (DE) bench press. Heavier overhead pressing.
Tuesday - Wendler's squat day. Dynamic effort (DE) deadlifts.
Thursday - Wendler's bench press day.
Friday - Wendler's deadlift day. Dynamic effort (DE) squats.
For assistance work, use exercises that address your weaknesses. Please remember that this sample hybrid program is only an example, presented to get you thinking about the possibilities. There are many ways to combine Westside and Wendler's, and many reasons why someone would want to do so.
When jumping into a hybrid routine, always proceed with caution. Start slow, and work your way into it. Don't set up the hybrid with too much work. It's better to get the feel of a hybrid program, and then to add work, then it is to kill yourself and have to pull back on work.
Far too many younger trainees are looking for magic routines and training systems. Wendler's 5/3/1 powerlifting system is not magic. It works if you work hard, and stick to it. Wendler's generally needs to be run for multiple cycles, so don't choose this routine if you're not willing to stick with it.
There are many heated debates about which training system is the best. Remember that the key to success on any program revolves around your drive to succeed.