Strength Training Basics: 5/3/1 Program

There have been a plethora of strength training programs created over the decades. Perhaps none are more popular, practical, and effective as the 5/3/1 program.

What is 5/3/1?

The 5/3/1 program was developed by Jim Wendler with a focus on gaining strength in the “Big 4” lifts -- squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press. These four compound exercises offer tremendous carryover to other lifts in the gym as well as many other aspects of athleticism.

Why is the 5/3/1 Program Effective?

It's a simple method for slow but steady gains in strength. Since the program provides a steady increase in intensity, lifters can expect to continue to progress throughout each cycle. However, the 5/3/1 method does take dedication. If you’re constantly going off and on the cycle, you won’t see steady gains

How Does the 5/3/1 Program Work?

One training cycle of the 5/3/1 program lasts four weeks.


Each week of the 5/3/1 program training cycle is broken down into a four-day schedule.


Each training day is dedicated to one of the major compound lifts -- bench, squat, deadlift, or overhead press.


All weights should be based on a lifter’s one-rep max (1-RM). If you don’t know your current 1-RMs on the big lifts, there are countless free calculators online to determine the appropriate load to use for the program.


Each week during the program, you will have specific rep-set goals for all of the major lifts:

  • Week 1: 3×5 (3 sets of 5 reps)
  • Week 2: 3×3 (3 sets of 3 reps)
  • Week 3: 3×5, 3, 1 (1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps, and 1 set of 1 rep)
  • Week 4: Deload (3 sets of 5 reps)

The fourth week is always a deload week. This helps reduce both mental and physical fatigue that accumulates during the course of a hard training cycle all the while enabling you to feel fresh and hyped for the next training cycle to begin.

As you start the next 4-week training block, you should be able to add 10 lbs to the 1-RM calculation for the lower body moves and 5 lbs to the upper body exercises and repeat the 5/3/1 cycle.

What About Accessory Work?

While accessory lifts are not the primary focus of the 5/3/1 method, they should be included as they can increase overall training volume (which benefits hypertrophy) while at the same time sparing your joints, ligaments, tendons, and CNS of performing nothing but heavy compound exercises. Plus, research has shown that a variety of exercises are better for muscle growth over the long term as it allows you to stress muscles from different force vectors.


With that in mind, select a few exercises that complement the major lift of the given training day and perform them for 3-4 sets at the end of your workout.


Here’s an example bench day utilizing the 5/3/1 method:

  • Exercise #1: Bench Press -- 5/3/1 method
  • Exercise #2: Dumbbell Incline Press -- 5x15
  • Exercise #3: Chest Supported Row -- 5x10-12

Is the 5/3/1 Program Right for Me?

Truth be told, Wendler’s 5/3/1 program can be (and has been) used by lifters of all experience levels. More often than not, though, intermediate lifters (those who have already mastered the basic lifts and have accrued a serviceable amount of muscle and strength) are ideally suited to start the program.


With 5/3/1, you accomplish a goal (i.e. make progress) every workout. Some programs give no guidelines on how to progress from one week to the next.


If you’re looking to build massive amounts of muscle and strength without spending endless hours in the gym, then the 5/3/1 program is definitely worth trying. It consists of short, but intense, training sessions, where you will be able to make progress steadily, so long as you train your ass off and eat right.


And, to help take your performance to the max during your intense training sessions, make sure to take a serving of HyperMax-3D Pre Workout 20-30 minutes before hitting the gym!

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