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

Wendler 5/3/1 Routine
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

Increase Strength
Barbell, Bodyweight, Dumbbells
Male & Female

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.

About The Author
M&S writers is a collection of all the other writers that have published content on Muscle and Strength.

334 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Wed, 05/29/2013 - 05:35

If I want to add some bicep excersises, which lift day would be best for that? Would it be on the dead lift day?

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Posted Tue, 05/28/2013 - 14:40

I am going to be doing the bodybuilder assistance work and I was wondering if I should do assistance option A for two weeks and then do option B or if I should do A for 4 weeks and then do B the next mesocycle

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Posted Mon, 05/20/2013 - 18:02

Just realized that Mickey (poster up above) just pointed this out. Sucks that after 3 years this workout was posted wrong.

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Posted Mon, 05/20/2013 - 18:01

Why is this 5/3/1 program different than the one listed on T-Nation?

As its listed here:

A: 75% x 5, 80% x 5, 85% x 5
B: 80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 3
C: 85% x 5, 90% x 3, 95% x 1

Listed on T-Nation

A: 65% x 5, 75% x 5, 85% x 5
B: 70% x 3, 80% x 3, 90% x 3
C: 75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1

I get better numbers from the workout on T-Nation after calculating the percentages compared to the one listed here.

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Posted Mon, 05/20/2013 - 13:47

What is the recommended warm up and is it different for each core lift?

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Posted Sat, 05/18/2013 - 18:58

Great routine, keen to start, how come theres no dynamic days like other powerlifting routines ive seen? Thats my only question? Anyone

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Posted Mon, 05/13/2013 - 17:06

idk if anyone has pointed this out but the percentages aren't accurate. I think the first wave is 65%,75% and 85%, the second wave the percents are 70, 80, 90% and the third week is 75, 85, 95% and the deload week is 40, 50, and 60%.

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Posted Thu, 05/02/2013 - 14:09

Steve..thank you so much for breaking this down for us...great info hands down!!!

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Posted Sat, 04/13/2013 - 02:17

I work shift work, Thu, Fri, Sat 6:30 am to 8:30pm with an hour drive time to and fro. I would only be able to hit the gym Sun, Mon, Tues, Weds unless I sacrificed some serious rest on my work days.

How would I be able to split this so that I don't get into my work schedule, but continue to make progress. Could I do the 4 day split 4 days straight, then take Thu, Fri, Sat off?

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Posted Wed, 04/10/2013 - 04:35

Hello i was wondering if on week 3 if it would be a big deal if i did two heavy singles after 95% i dont see how 2 singles could hurt since its before a deload week anyway please respond with why i should or why it wouldnt be a good idea thanks-john

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Posted Sun, 04/07/2013 - 22:17

Hi there,

For the assistance exercises, should they be done according to the 5,3,1 principle as well?


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Posted Sat, 03/30/2013 - 07:14


Matt Ogus sent me here. I've had a long break due to illness and am quite weak now. Here are a few stats.

Age 34
Weight 80kg
Fat 16%
Previous programs Stronglifts 5x5
Maxes Unknown but won't be very much

I want to try 5/3/1 because it has one major lift per workout and no more which I like. But people are saying beginners should not do 5/3/1. It's for intermediates upwards. Is this true? Why so?

My question is what do you recommend I can do if I want to gain strength while also having some focus on hypertrophy? Will 5/3/1 work for me? Or should I be doing starting strength as a beginner?

Really appreciate your help.


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Posted Tue, 03/26/2013 - 04:03

Greetings! I'm currently doing the BB assistance template and finding it at times very murderous, which in itself is good. Now, I'm wondering, does this training to collapse/failure hinder the power lifts, because I'm pretty sure every target muscle is torn to shreds with the assistance work in the BB template? Would it be prudent to move the pumplike volume training half a week away from the power lift as in "Squat A day main lift - deadlift/backwork assistance, Bench A main lift - overhead press assistance work", this way we would ensure muscle being trained twice a week with different stimuli and simultaneously keeping the 72h recuperation time. The template now, as it is, is almost typical "single factor". Seeing any problems with this?

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Posted Fri, 03/22/2013 - 21:11

If I do the Boring But Big assistance routine, is it okay to substitute CGBP for the 5x10 BP?

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Posted Fri, 03/15/2013 - 11:57

Hi there, Mr. Steve! :) Can this program help me in my Judo training? I'm looking for a workout program that I can combine with my Judo training to get stronger and I was wondering if this program will fit in my training for Judo. Thanks!

Joey's picture
Posted Fri, 03/15/2013 - 12:54

This is an excellent program to use to gain strength! I'm not sure how this will translate to Judo in particular, but you'll certainly get stronger as long as you push yourself in the gym and focus on progression.

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Posted Sun, 03/10/2013 - 18:48

Yo, what strength training program do you think suits me best to follow for maximum strength gains and maintaining muscle mass while training with Insanely hardcore fitness 3 times a week?

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Posted Tue, 02/26/2013 - 18:24

Can I have a mixture of bodybuilding and strength.

Something like
-main lift
-50 % 5x10
- and 2 exercises 3x10

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Posted Sat, 02/16/2013 - 06:51

I'm gonna try Jim's program i bought the book but i'd like to know if doing reps lower than 10, such as 6 or 8, on the assistance work is useful or it could prevent from gaining strength on the main lifts.

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Posted Wed, 02/06/2013 - 14:06
Patrick Lang

3 years later I know and I'm assuming you wont see this comment by any means but for doing the "all out last set" is that after youve done the first 3 sets as in Wave 1. Warmup, 75% x 5, 80% x 5, 85% x 5 THEN one last set going all out or is the "85% x 5" considered to be when you do it.

Joey's picture
Posted Wed, 02/06/2013 - 16:26

Your "85% x 5" will be your "all out last set". No need to stop at 5 if you don't have to.

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Posted Tue, 01/29/2013 - 22:21

hi how much can do tweight did you add for assistance workout? each time you can do all reps for all the set? or like the main lift?

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Posted Wed, 01/23/2013 - 22:53

Hi, I have a question about 5/3/1 for beginners, with 2 main lifts per workout.
Jim wendler recommends the following, 3 days a week, 1st day is squat/bench, 2nd day is deadlift/press, 3rd day is squat/bench.


Squat – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Bench – 55%x5, 65×5%, 75%x5
Assistance work

Deadlift – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Press – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Assistance work

Bench – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Squat – 55%x5, 65%x5, 75%x5
Assistance work

My question is, on the next week, do you start with deadlift/press, or do you do squat/bench, deadlift/press, bench/squat again. Thank you.

Joey's picture
Posted Thu, 01/24/2013 - 15:30

No - It appears that you would repeat the format, deadlifting only once a week.

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Posted Tue, 01/22/2013 - 13:11

Thanks Joey, did it for the first time today and enjoyed it. :-)

Joey's picture
Posted Tue, 01/22/2013 - 15:37

Great! It's my current and favorite routine. Stick with it - you're sure to get stronger.

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Posted Mon, 01/21/2013 - 23:34

What does 5x10x50% mean?

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Posted Mon, 01/21/2013 - 05:54

Hey, I can see a lot of males on here (I am not one!)
Would this programme suit a female? I do BJJ and want to get stronger. I am not naïve and know that weights are great for women and don't necessarily "bulk" them up, but I'm not sure as to whether some weight lifting programmes are better suited for that kind of elongated looking muscle and others for compact bulk.
Thank you!

Joey's picture
Posted Mon, 01/21/2013 - 15:08

This is great for women as well - absolutely! Also, you have a lot of freedom regarding your assistance work.

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Posted Fri, 01/18/2013 - 12:32

Would there be any issue with doing the 4 a week on 4 consecutive days (Mon-Thurs)? Following the plan you wouldn't be working any of the same muscle groups on back to back days so you would have 48hrs rest between similar muscle groups.

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Posted Sun, 12/23/2012 - 11:42

i have a question in regards to the assistance work, if im doing squats as my main lift and i do the required 3 sets of 5, do i do another 5 sets of 10 at 50% right after the main lift?

Joey's picture
Posted Fri, 01/04/2013 - 11:55

Yes - According to the BBB plan (Big But Boring) you would do the warmups and the 3 working sets. Then do another 5 sets at 50%.

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Posted Tue, 12/18/2012 - 15:26

I'm kinda new to this but which one do I do first? The core work first then assistance work or does it even matter?

Joey's picture
Posted Fri, 12/21/2012 - 16:18

Definitely do the Core Movements 1st

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Posted Thu, 12/06/2012 - 05:28

would you lower your weight on the assistance work as well during deload week?

Joey's picture
Posted Thu, 12/06/2012 - 12:46

Yes - Most would aim for 8-15 reps while doing the assistance work. 

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Posted Mon, 11/19/2012 - 21:11

hey, i just had a quick question about the workout. On the final set of a wave for example if your on 5 5 5, for the final set should i just do the minimum reps? just do the 5 reps, or should i push out as many reps as i can? i ask because last week i was on Wave 2(3,3,3) and on the final set i decided to keep going until i couldn't lift the wieght anymore. I was able to do 12reps instead of the 3. So should i be doing the extra reps on the final set? or just stick to the number?
PS: i have ordered the book, however i wont get it in the mail for awhile. so any help now would be great!

Joey's picture
Posted Tue, 11/20/2012 - 10:01

Yes - Go all out on the last set. Maybe leave one rep in the tank. Personally for Deadlifts - I usually leave at least two reps in the tank on my last set.

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Posted Mon, 11/19/2012 - 00:53

Everyone says this is great for strength but what about muscle/bodybuilding? Im doing my first bulk and want to add muscle/size (with minimal fat) ! Any suggestions?

Joey's picture
Posted Mon, 11/19/2012 - 15:05

I highly recommend giving it a go. This routine can be great for muscle-building. There's plenty of flexibility in the assistance work that you can do.

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Posted Sat, 11/17/2012 - 13:37

About assistance work on deload time ? How to deload this ? in % what will be value?

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Posted Mon, 11/12/2012 - 21:12

this routine looked amazing and ive started using it just done my first cycle and feeling great but seriously concerned that my arms are NOT growing nearly as much as the rest of me... what can i do?

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Posted Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:28
elias g

I discovered that this plan works great for olympic lifting. Instead of doing squats and deadlifts I do cleans and snatches using the three day a week plan. I get a great workout and I invest a lot less time in the gym.

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Posted Tue, 11/06/2012 - 11:10

I don't get this. so for example on week one imma be doing 5 sets of 10reps and every set, do I add weight?

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Posted Sun, 10/21/2012 - 11:16

Props to Steve for monitoring the comments and providing solid answers. Much appreciated.

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Posted Mon, 10/01/2012 - 10:53

I guess the authors dont come back after a certain amount of time.

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Posted Sun, 09/30/2012 - 20:35

Hey I was curious if any of you guys were familiar with crossfit? I was wanting to get your opinion on this routine I come up with. Is it beneficial for strength and conditioning?

Day 1: Squat & Bench Wendler's program with 1 short metcon (crossfit circuit)
Day 2: 1 crossfit 20min. AMRAP
Day 3: OH pressing & Deadlift with 1 short metcon
Dav 4: 1 crossfit 20min. AMRAP or a sealfit durability workout

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Posted Mon, 09/24/2012 - 13:52

I really like this powerlifting routine but am a bit concerned about the lack of bicep and back activation. It seems that some bicep and back movements are thrown in on deadlift and overhead press days but I'm not sure this would be sufficient enough for consistent growth, fascia stretching, and activation of the back and bis. I realize that this is more of a powerlifting routine and seems to hit all other areas with large compound movements but do not want to neglect my back and bis. I feel like if I modified this split to incorporate them on shoulder day or deadlift day a bit more, I would be neglecting either shoulders or lower back/hams by pushing out some of the accessory lifts for those corresponding muscle groups (depending on the day I throw it in). I could always add them more but then the workout would likely last longer than an hour or so and I don't personally believe that longer workouts translate to more growth and strength. "Overhead Press Workout Day - Assistance Option B", for instance, has two shoulder workouts (mainly delts), and two bicep workouts, only one of which hits back. I've been training and studying bodybuilding/powerlifting for about 12 years and for me personally, this isn't a sufficient workout to activate my delts, bis, or back. I'd need a main lift and at least two accessory lifts on the same group to get sufficient fiber activation and trigger growth (this is assuming I'm not running a routine like GVT, DTP, etc... More of a standard strength or bodybuilding split: 4x12s or lower reps, incorporating dropsets, rest pause, etc...) Any suggestion on modifying or perhaps a suggesting on a different well rounded powerlifting routine to build strength but still hit all major muscle groups sufficiently? I'm really interested in getting my numbers up in powerlifting and incorporating a new routine that focuses more on powerlifting but am having troubles getting something that hits all areas well.

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Posted Mon, 09/24/2012 - 16:39

I should also clarify, when I say "bis and back", I'm referring to upper back, rhomboids, and lats. Not lower back since that would be hit well with deadlifts and accesory lifts like reverse hypers, good mornings, etc...

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Posted Mon, 10/22/2012 - 15:12

5/3/1 calls for a set of any type of pullup between all pressing sets.