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A Hardcore Look At Wendler's 5/3/1 Powerlifting Routine

Average: 4.4 (213 votes)
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Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 powerlifting system is popular because it works! Wendler's has you training 3-4 days per week on a rotating wave system.

Workout Summary

Main Goal:
Increase Strength
Workout Type:
Split
Training Level:
Intermediate
Days Per Week:
3
Equipment Required:
Barbell, Bodyweight, Dumbbells
Target Gender:
Male & Female
Author:

Workout Description

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. Please support Jim Wendler and Wendler's 5/3/1 by purchasing his 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 Mesocycle
3 Days Per Week
Week Monday Wednesday Friday
1 Squat - A Bench Press - A Deadlift - A
2 OH Press - A Squat - B Bench Press - B
3 Deadlift - B OH Press - B Squat - C
4 Bench Press - C Deadlift - C OH Press - C
5 Squat - D Bench Press - D Deadlift - D
6 OH Press - D    
Wendler's 5/3/1 Mesocycle
4 Days Per Week
Week Monday Wednesday Friday Friday
1 Squat - A Bench Press - A Deadlift - A OH Press - A
2 Squat - B Bench Press - B Deadlift - B OH Press - B
3 Squat - C Bench Press - C Deadlift - C OH Press - C
4 Squat - D Bench Press - D Deadlift - D OH Press - D

Exercise 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:

Assistance Work

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 Shit.  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

From the Wendler 5/3/1 E-Book.

Squat Workout

Bench Press Workout

Deadlift Workout

  • Deadlift: 5 x 8 x 50%
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 5 x 12

Overhead Press Workout

Bodybuilder Assistance Work

From the Wendler 5/3/1 E-Book.

Squat Workout Day - Assistance Option A

Squat Workout Day - Assistance Option B

Bench Press Workout Day - Assistance option A

Bench Press Workout Day - Assistance option B

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

Overhead Press Workout Day - Assistance Option B

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:

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.

Final Notes

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. If you're a younger lifter, and not sure if you're ready for a powerlifting routine, consult more experienced lifters on the Muscle & Strength forum.

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.

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Comments (326)

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rajan
Posted Tue, 05/18/2010 - 11:39

good

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Big Wall
Posted Mon, 09/13/2010 - 08:29

Great workout, my legs are huge. picture uploads coming soon!

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Preston Gagnon
Posted Fri, 06/04/2010 - 18:44

whats the c and d wave?

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Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Sat, 06/05/2010 - 11:57

I changed the wave titles in the article to make it more clear.

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Justin
Posted Wed, 05/08/2013 - 17:52

Oh crap. I misunderstood the 'waves' and did all 4 waves in one workout for squats no doubt! I realized my mistake later going over the material another day. Whew!

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Jeffrey
Posted Tue, 10/01/2013 - 01:40

hey Steve, i've been lifting about for 6 months and iam 16 years old, iam currently bulking, i have counted my macros and stuck with a 3 day legs/pus/pull, but the thing is only in my home with 30 pound dumbbells and a pull up bar. I would like to try out the 5/3/1 workout program, i would like to ask if you can make a 3 day program for me and i wonder if it will work for me. Please and Thank You

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Preston Gagnon
Posted Sat, 06/05/2010 - 01:03

im sorry but what assistance work do you do for C and D

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Steve
Posted Sat, 06/05/2010 - 11:59

Assistance work is goal dependent. For more information I recommend purchasing the Wendler 5/3/1 E-book.

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Preston Gagnon
Posted Sat, 06/05/2010 - 18:36

okay thanks

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mth
Posted Thu, 06/24/2010 - 17:45

Will this program combine well with boxing practice twice a week, if I do this program three times a week? Ie. boxing on Tuesday-Thursday, strength training on Monday-Wednesday-Friday.

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Steve
Posted Mon, 06/28/2010 - 19:53

Absolutely!

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Jeff Farelli
Posted Thu, 10/28/2010 - 00:14

I do lots of boxing conditioning after my workouts.This program will work very well in conjunction with your boxing as well.The important thing to remember is to monitor your training volume to prevent overtraining.The 2 day a week training template with 1 main lift per workout may be a better option than the 3 days a week. good luck!

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Richard.
Posted Tue, 06/29/2010 - 13:12

If I have been working out for 3 months only (I'm a beginner). Would the 5/3/1 program work for me?

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Steve
Posted Tue, 06/29/2010 - 14:32

Hi Richard,

Do you know about where your current maxes are?

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Richard.
Posted Wed, 06/30/2010 - 10:28

Yeah, sure do :)
Strict press 60kg, Squat 85kg, Bench 65kg, and Deadlift 140kg.

with other words, not that strong right now.

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Steve
Posted Wed, 06/30/2010 - 17:28

Hi Richard,

That's a respectable total. I would try 5/3/1.

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David Kings
Posted Wed, 06/08/2011 - 11:12

Hey bro my name is Kings and I'm currently 16 years of age. Been gyming for a year tried out all kinds of routines
Trust me, great wendler's program will work for you if you work at it hard. And I'm talking bout 2 hours in gym working out till you drop and taking in right nutritions
Go for it brother just do it

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Jean Pierre
Posted Wed, 06/30/2010 - 12:46

I compete equipped ,should I base my workouts on my equipped maxes?

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Steve
Posted Wed, 06/30/2010 - 17:31

I assume you train mostly raw?

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Jean Pierre
Posted Thu, 07/01/2010 - 08:22

Yes I do,I train equipped 2months before a meet.

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Steve
Posted Thu, 07/01/2010 - 10:39

When training raw I would base it on raw maxes, when training equipped I would base it on equipped maxes.

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Jean Pierre
Posted Thu, 07/01/2010 - 13:50

Thanks a lot,it stands to reason!!!

Regards.

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Jean Pierre
Posted Thu, 07/01/2010 - 15:02

Thanks a lot,it stands to reason !!
Regards

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joe
Posted Fri, 07/02/2010 - 08:51

what are the rest intervals on the big lifts

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Steve
Posted Fri, 07/02/2010 - 09:03

Hi Joe,

For the big lifts I would rest up to 3-5 minutes between sets.

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Xaevin
Posted Tue, 07/06/2010 - 23:31

What do you think of this as I want to gain strength, but gain mass as well(sorry if it takes up long space)-

Monday: Chest, Triceps
Bench Press- 3 sets of 5 reps
Incline DB Press- 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Seated Chest Press- 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Overhead DB Extensions- 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Cable Pressdown- 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Wednesday: Back, Biceps
Deadlift- 3 sets of 5 reps
Lat Pulldown- 4 sets of 8-12 reps
One Arm DB Row- 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Alternate DB Curl- 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Machine Preacher Curl- 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Friday: Shoulders, Traps, Abs
Overhead Press- 3 sets of 5 reps
DB Lateral Raises- 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Reverse Pec Deck- 3 sets of 8-12 reps
DB Shrugs- 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Cable Rope Crunches- 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Machine Crunch- 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Saturday: Quads, Hams, Calves
Squat- 3 sets of 5 reps
Leg Press- 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Leg Extensions- 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Leg Curls- 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Standing Calf Raise- 4 sets of 10-12 reps

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Steve
Posted Wed, 07/07/2010 - 14:02

Hi Xaevin,

Thumbs up! Looks like a very well thought out routine.

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Gyl
Posted Thu, 10/27/2011 - 07:12

Hey Xaevin,

that looks a pretty good workout, your goals seem to be the same as mine. Seeing as you wrote that over a year ago, I'm wondering how you got on with it? Good progress? Also, what kind of rest periods did you use in the accessories of 10-12 reps?

1 more thing, I take it you had to operate off of a heavy caloric surplus to achieve your goals?

Cheers

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Erik
Posted Thu, 07/08/2010 - 09:46

Hey Ive been using wendlers for my strength just doing the big but boring Ive been thinking about doing the bodybuilder assistance work if I switch would this hurt my strength and could I possibly do both or would that be overworking

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Steve
Posted Thu, 07/08/2010 - 16:38

Hi Erik,

Switching shouldn't impact your strength. I definitely wouldn't recommend doing both.

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Erik
Posted Fri, 07/09/2010 - 08:46

Thanks man I'm going to start on that next week

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Xaevin
Posted Thu, 07/08/2010 - 16:19

Also, I know assistance is goal dependent, but during the deload week do we only do the big 4 lifts or with the assistance? And during the deload week, if we do the assistance, is it also considered a deload(meaning light weights)?

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Steve
Posted Thu, 07/08/2010 - 16:39

Hi Xaevin,

You do perform assistance work during deload weeks. But you do not need to deload assistance work.

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Xaevin
Posted Thu, 07/08/2010 - 23:31

So, when do you think it would be good to take a week off since the assistance work isn't deloaded?

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Steve
Posted Fri, 07/09/2010 - 12:03

Hi Xaevin,

I wouldn't say you necessarily need a week off on Wendler's. If you feel heavily taxed, simply de-load all assistance work.

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Xaevin
Posted Sat, 07/10/2010 - 17:52

Alright, thanks bro.

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Erik
Posted Wed, 07/14/2010 - 10:12

Hi I've recently switched to using the body builder assistance work and I was wondering when it says like do 4 sets between 10-20 reps or 10-30 and so on how should I go about that sdhould I do one set of 10 then 12 15 20, or should I do four sets of the same also if I do switch sets should I start at the top say 20 reps and add weight as I decrease the reps

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Steve
Posted Wed, 07/14/2010 - 14:45

Hi Erik,

I would probably recommend using the same weight to reduce your down time. Aim for higher reps on your first set, and go all out. You shouldn't be able to perform as many reps on subsequent sets.

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Xaevin
Posted Mon, 07/19/2010 - 21:50

I would also like to ask how much resting time do you recommend for the main lifts, and how much for the bodybuilding assistance work?

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Steve
Posted Tue, 07/20/2010 - 15:48

Hi Xaevin,

I would rest about 90 to 120 seconds between bodybuilding assistance, and up to 3 to 5 minutes between heavy lifts.

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Erik
Posted Thu, 07/22/2010 - 23:32

Hi, recently ive been failing on my last sets of bench say if it calls for 3 ill get 2 or if it calls for 5 ill get three or 4 it says to increase your bench by five pounds after each mesocycle should I continue to base my sets off of this max or should i still increase?

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Steve
Posted Fri, 07/23/2010 - 12:12

Hi Erik,

I would test your max at the end of this cycle, and reset a new cycle based at 90% of your max.

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Karin
Posted Tue, 12/06/2011 - 16:40

What if your new 5RM is the same as your old? This is what has happened to me with the SP. I just failed to hit 5 reps at 90 which is my old 5 RM that I started all this off of.

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David
Posted Thu, 12/15/2011 - 20:53

The first thing I would do is look at my supplementation, rest and water intake. Then, depending on how long I was on the program, I'd take an extra week to de-load, before starting the next meso-cycle. I don't have the ebook so that may not be the way the program is designed to work.

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Matthew
Posted Fri, 08/06/2010 - 02:06

Im 14 years old 5'5 weighting 125 and benching 185,sqauting 265 and power cleaing 165 is that good for my age?
I've only been working out for a year

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Steve
Posted Fri, 08/06/2010 - 17:18

Hi Matthew,

Those are very good numbers.

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Blake
Posted Tue, 08/10/2010 - 18:10

Is it possible to adjust the actual days of the week that you perform the four day routine?
i.e.
monday
tuesday
thursday
friday

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Steve
Posted Thu, 08/12/2010 - 11:51

Absolutely. Most guys I know tweak the schedule to fit their needs.

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Erik
Posted Wed, 08/11/2010 - 10:45

Hi, I was just wondering for the bodybuilding assistance work some of them are 10-20 or 10-30 reps isnt that too much I always thought that muscle building occurs within the 9-12 rep threshold?

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Steve
Posted Thu, 08/12/2010 - 11:54

Hi Erik,

Muscle building can occur in just about any rep range as long as the weight is heavy. One of the men who defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger - Chet Yorton - was known to use a system of training that involved heavy weight for 22 rep sets.

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