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
Split
Intermediate
3
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.

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360 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Thu, 03/13/2014 - 20:56
Diana

If I am a 29 year old athletic female just starting this workout should I be worried about protein shakes/supplements or just focus on getting my protein through foods that I eat throughout the day? I am an overall healthy ester but have no experience with any sorts of supplements other than gel packs when I ran a marathon. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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Posted Sat, 12/14/2013 - 15:58
mohamed sabry

Hi steve,

I'm really weak at all pulling stuff for the back, it needs to be a primary muscle. ..how should I make it work??

Thanks

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Posted Wed, 11/27/2013 - 10:07
Jesse

For all these workout plans where it says, for example, 4 sets of 10-20 reps, is that 4 sets at the same weight?? Or does that imply 2 warmup sets and 2 working sets?
I haven't really followed a strict program before, but would like to give this a try..
I usually only do 1 or 2 working sets..

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Posted Sat, 11/16/2013 - 13:58
Jeff

Is the 531 Powerlifting something that high school football players should be using? Most football strength training programs include: Power cleans, snatches, push press, Glute-Ham machine work, single leg squats, Romanian Deadlifts, straight leg deadlifts, etc.

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Posted Fri, 11/01/2013 - 16:15
yarin

Hi,
I'm a 30 yrs old beginner (did stronglifts 5x5 for 6 month) and I gain mass but also a lot of fat and apparently I'm stalling in all the lifts but I cannot eat more since my BF bypassed 20%.
Does 5/3/1 routine can work on a cut combined with 30 min cardio sessions after the workout?
Thanks!

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Posted Thu, 10/17/2013 - 11:28
Josh Hayes

Would this workout be good for high school football players?

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Posted Tue, 10/15/2013 - 18:24
Anonymous

The abcd workout doesnt make sense and the "boring but big" section of this article doesn make sense either. why would you even write this article. GAY!

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Posted Tue, 10/01/2013 - 19:55
jeff

hey steve i was wondering if you could come up with a wendler split for me. I am 16 years old and currently bulking. I have been using a legs/push/pull split, but iam only doing this at home with 30 pound dumbbells and a pull up bar I also count macros. it would be a great help

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Posted Wed, 09/18/2013 - 06:20
Anders Bylund

coude you make this in to a fullbody rutin? like split it in thre days, first week is like ab/cd/ab and week after is cd/ab/cd? but still following the set and reps.

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Posted Tue, 09/10/2013 - 13:49
Russ Monk

So What would I do for my other lifts during a 3 day a week cycle?

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Posted Thu, 09/05/2013 - 19:30
Calvin

Hi. Quick question about the strength building assistance work...what does it mean when it says Bench Press 5 x 10 x 50%? Could you please explain that in terms of reps and sets?

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Posted Fri, 08/30/2013 - 15:06
jason p

Two questions: I've been following this for 4 months, for the first time I missed my last rep of the last set on both the 3x5 and 3x3 days. What should I do regarding adding weight for the next mesocycle? Should I add, stay where I'm at or decrease?

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Posted Thu, 08/15/2013 - 17:40
Dylan

Hey guys, I 99.9 percent sure I've misunderstood this workout. So the 5/3/1 stands for reps not sets? And there's only 3 sets per workout with the 5/3/1 rep cycle, correct?

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Posted Fri, 04/04/2014 - 12:45
dwight schofield

i believe that you are correct sir. that's my understanding ... you do three sets. for the first set you do five reps, the second set you do 3 reps, and the third set you do one rep. and even though the work out doesn't call for it, make sure that you do some bicep work. if you don't, you may suffer a serious arm injury (tear a bicep tendon off the bone ) like i did, which required surgery that took over a year to recover from. it also cost my hundreds in medical bills and time off work.

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Posted Fri, 05/29/2015 - 09:41
don

bumping an old ass comment for this. You sir need to stop promoting your "tear off the bone" propaganda. This wouldnt have happened if you had any clue how to deadlift. The only way you get a bicep tear on a deadlift is if you are doing it completly wrong. I am sorry this happened to you, but anyone that knows anything about a deadlift isnt even concerned by this. So stop trying to scared people that this workout doesnt have any bicep workouts in it... That is not what this routine is for.

MikeWines's picture
Posted Fri, 05/29/2015 - 11:42
MikeWines

Many lifters have torn a bicep utilizing a mixed grip while deadlifting so it occurs more often than you might think.

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Posted Fri, 05/29/2015 - 12:26
dwight

i know how to deadlift...and i tore my bicep anyways. evidently,contrary to what you said, you CAN tear the bicep off the bone in the forearm, (not to be confused with a bicep tear) when you are doing it right. and your comment about not having a clue how to deadlift is a little over the top on the "abrasiveness scale"... and it was totally uncalled for, especially when you are accusing someone who knows how to dead lift properly who of not knowing how.

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Posted Sun, 08/11/2013 - 14:10
Rory

How many working sets reps I'm confused??

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Posted Sun, 08/11/2013 - 14:09
Rory

How many working sets on core lifts and how mAny reps? I'm confused I got 3 warm up sets that's bout it anybody?

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Posted Fri, 07/05/2013 - 05:54
Kyle O'Donnell

I guess I'm a little dumb do ask this question. But it's just squat one day, bench the next, OHP the next day and deadlift the next day? Are you allowed to do other lifts on those days too?

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Posted Mon, 06/17/2013 - 21:26
Sal

Are the 5/3/1 numbers representing reps-which means I am only doing

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Posted Fri, 06/14/2013 - 06:59
Sal

What actually does 5/3/1 represent? Does this represent reps for the 3 sets and that's it.....Thank you....Sal

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Posted Mon, 06/10/2013 - 22:07
Paul

How much rest should it be for the assistance work on "Boring But Big" for the 5 x 10 x 50%?

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Posted Sat, 06/08/2013 - 16:49
dave

Hi, I have a question. I am new to weight lifting. Should the overhead press be standing or seated. I see in your sample video of the overhead press that it is seated. What would be the difference?

Thanks,

dave

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Posted Sat, 06/08/2013 - 12:02
Sean

So my understanding is that I increase my each of my core lift sessions by 5 or 10 pounds each mesocycle?

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Posted Thu, 05/30/2013 - 05:18
Travis

I have two questions, one which lift can/should I add bicep workouts and also, would it be okay to do some lifts twice a week? Hope to hear back soon!
Thanks!

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

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
Sean

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
Dave

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
Dave

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
Ryan

Steve,
What is the recommended warm up and is it different for each core lift?
Thanks,
Ryan

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

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
mickey

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
Gerson

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
Damian

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
john

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
VT

Hi there,

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

Thanks,

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

Hi,

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.

Thanks.

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

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
Kev

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
Mar

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
Joey

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
Salvate

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
Zach

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
alex

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
Joey

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
Alex

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
Josh

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.

http://www.jimwendler.com/2011/09/531-for-a-beginner/

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

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

Friday
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
Joey

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