Wendler 5/3/1 Program Overview

I was just thinking that I posted the results from several 5/3/1 sequences (here, here and here), but never provided an overview of the program.  For the unacquainted,  5/3/1 is a widely adopted strength program developed by Jim Wendler.  He has both an e-book (and hard copy book) available that covers in great detail his program and philosophy, which you can find here.  The program focuses on four core lifts: shoulder press, bench press, back squat and deadlift.  It is a four week sequence that is quite simple to implement yourself and by most accounts quite effective.  To get started all you need to know is your 1 rep max for each of the four lifts.


The Program

Every week you perform each of the four lifts at the specified number of repetitions and percentages of your 1 rep max listed below.  There are a few variations on which lifts to perform on which days, but the two most common are the two- and four days per week options.  With the four day a week variation you perform each lift on a different day.  So it might be Monday – Deadlift, Wednesday – Shoulder Press, Friday – Back Squat and Sunday – Bench Press.  The two day per week variation includes two lift days per week where you perform an upper- and lower body lift on each lifting day.  This might look like: Monday – Deadlift & Shoulder Press, Wednesday Backsquat & Bench Press.

Week 1:

5 Reps @ 65%; 5 Reps @ 75%; As Many Reps as Possible (ARMRAP) @ 85%

Week 2:

3 Reps @ 70%; 3 Reps @ 80%; ARMRAP @ 90%

Week 3:

5 Reps @ 75%; 3 Reps @ 85%; ARMRAP @ 95%

Week 4 (deload):

5 Reps @ 40%; 5 Reps @ 50%; 5 Reps @ 60%



All of the percentages above are meant to be take from 90% of your 1RM.  So if your 1RM on a particular lift was 100 kg, your first week lifts @ 65%/75%/85% would be 100 kg * 0.9 = 90 kg.  So 65% is 90 kg * 0.65 = 58.5 kg, 75% is 90 kg * .75 = 67.5 kg and 85% is 90 kg * .85 = 76.5 kg.  No need to worry about all these calculations though, I’ve provided a handy spreadsheet that does all the calculations for you.  Also, there are iphone apps (free and paid) out there that will do the work for you too.



In addition to the primary lifts, each session is meant to include supplemental movements to support the primary lift (ex: you may do push-ups to support bench press, etc.).  There are a couple schools of thought on the supplemental work.  Some live and die by performing additional reps of the primary lift at a lesser weight, others prefer to perform alternate movements that work the same muscles required for the primary lift.  I haven’t had a chance to test the two techniques individually and see if there are indeed statistically significant differences in the results (but I intend on doing so in the future).


Example Program

It’s up to you how you want to specifically execute the program. You can do the  two day per week or the four day per week schedule.  You can choose what movements you want to perform to support the primary lifts via supplemental work.  At 626 we have been using the two days per week program so that the lifters can still fit CrossFit into their weekly schedule.  We have also been prescribing a hybrid of the two supplemental schemes (at least for the time being).  Below is an example of how the first week might look in a 2 day / week program using additional reps of the primary lifts as supplemental:


Primary Lifts: Backsquat & Bench Press: 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85%

Supplemental: 5 Rounds of 10 x Backsquat @ 50%, 10 x Bench Press @ 50%


Primary Lifts: Deadlift & Shoulder Press: 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85%

Supplemental: 5 Rounds of 10 x Deadlift @ 50%, 10 x Shoulder Press @ 50%



Hopefully this all clears up the basics of the 5/3/1 program for you all.  If you have any questions, be sure to post them in the comments.  As I posted at the top, we have executed this program numerous times at 626 and had great results which you can find here and here.  Good luck!



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