Wendler’s 5/3/1

Workout Overview

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Introduction to the Wendler 5/3/1 Routine

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 is all about starting with very light weights while progressing slowly and consistently. This extremely popular strength training program is based off of the rep schemes 5, 3, 1, as the name suggests. Throughout the routine you will work with percentages based off of your max, and strive to hit rep PR’s each workout.

Is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 for you?

5/3/1 can be used for all experience levels, but is generally recommended for intermediate athletes. If you are looking for short training sessions, and slow but steady progress, then 5/3/1/ might be great for you. Jim believes starting light allows a lifter more room to progress forward.

Brand new lifters are usually able to progress more quickly from a beginner routine due to practicing the lifts more frequently. Advanced lifters can benefit from its long term training focus.

Wendler 5/3/1 Explained

5/3/1 is built around cycles. Each cycle consists of 4 weeks. Each week you will be training either 3 or 4 days per week. Four days per week is ideal. Each day should be focused around one core lift. These lifts are Military Press, Deadlift, Bench Press, and Squat. If you decide to run this program on three days per week, you will still only perform one main lift per day. This means you will not perform the same lifts, on the same day, each week. You must perform all four lifts before repeating.

You will have rep-set goals for all of the major lifts each week.

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: Deloading (3 sets of 5 reps)

Once the cycle (4 weeks) is completed you will start your next cycle using heavier weights.

5/3/1 Example Week

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4
Standing Military PressDeadliftBench PressSquat
Assistance ExercisesAssistance ExercisesAssistance ExercisesAssistance Exercises

Picking the Weights

When choosing your beginning weights you must first know your maxes for the main 4 lifts. You will then want to take 90% of your maxes; these will be the numbers you base your first cycle (first 4 weeks) off of. For example, your 1RM in the bench press is 315 pounds, you use 285 (90%) as the base number for your training-weight calculations. Here’s how it works:

5/3/1 Cycle

 Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
Set 165% x 570% x 375% x 540% x 5
Set 275% x 580% x 385% x 350% x 5
Set 385% x 5+90% x 3+95% x 1+60% x 5

You may notice the last set shows 5+, 3+, and 1+. During these sets you will be going for as many reps as possible. You do not want to go to failure, but your goal should be a new rep record each workout.

Let’s go over an example. We’ll go ahead and choose the deadlift as our lift.

  • 1RM = 500 Lb
  • 90% = 450 Lb

5/3/1 Example Cycle

 Week 1Week2 Week 3Week 4
Set 165% of 450 = 292.5 Lb x 570% of 450 = 315 Lb x 375% of 450 = 337.5 Lb x 540% of 450 = 180 Lb x 5
Set 275% of 450 = 337.5 Lb x 580% of 450 = 360 Lb x 385% of 450 = 382.5 Lb x 350% of 450 = 225 Lb x 5
Set 385% of 450 = 382.5 Lb x 5+90% of 405 = 382.5 Lb x 3+95% of 450 = 427.5 Lb x 1+60% of 450 = 270 Lb x 5

After finishing your first cycle (first 4 weeks) you will add 5 Lb to your 1 rep max for the upper body exercises (bench press and military press), and 10 Lb to your 1 rep max for your lower body exercises (squat and deadlift) and recalculate your working numbers.

Assistance Work

You may perform assistance exercises alongside 5/3/1. But remember these are for assistance and should not take away from your main lifts. There are several different ways you can include assistance exercises into your 5/3/1 routine. Examples are as follows:

  • Boring But Big –

After performing your prescribed working sets and reps follow them up with 5 sets of 10 reps of the same exercise. This is the most popular of the choices.

  • The Triumvirate –

You want to limit each workout to only 3 exercises, including the main lift. Only 2 lifts will be assistance exercises. You will need to experiment and figure out which exercises are the most beneficial for you.

  • Dave Tate’s Periodization Bible –

Specific exercises are mentioned in Jim Wendler’s book. This was inspired by an article Dave Tate wrote.

  • I’m Not Doing Jack Shit –

You do not perform any assistance work. You go to the gym to perform your main lifts, and that’s it. This is not recommended, unless you have limited time.

  • Bodyweight –

Here you will perform all assistance exercises using your bodyweight. It is recommended that you do a minimum of 75 reps per exercise.

Full Wendler 5/3/1 Routine

Below is the full routine, and a link where you can customize, print, or download to your device. Just plug in your max, and let it do the calculations. Bring a pen to the gym, and scribble off the days/sets as you go! To edit the spreadsheet customized to your lifts, click HERE. You can also print, or download.


Progression and Gain

The game of lifting isn’t an eight-week pursuit. It doesn’t last as long as your latest program does. It’s a lifetime pursuit.

5/3/1 is not about your one rep max. It is set up to break multiple “rep personal records”. You should be aiming to break your maxes from the previous cycle, in your next cycle.

After finishing a cycle, add 5 Lb to your 1 RM for upper body movements, and 10 Lb to your 1 RM for lower body movements and recalculate your training weights.


If you stall, or max out on a lift, reset your working number. Recalculate your 1 rep max, take 90% of that, and start the program again. You only need to reset the lift(s) that you have stalled on. Continue with the other lifts as prescribed.

Tips for Wendler’s 5/3/1

  • Do not customize the program. You must follow the program as written to get maximum results.
  • Start with the right weights and progress slowly. Do not rush it!
  • Do not train more than two days in a row.
  • Do conditioning work whenever possible. Jim likes hill sprints, just never the day before lower body training.
  • Eat and sleep properly!
  • Military Press can optionally be substituted for Dips as accessory.
  • Jim recommends the Conventional Deadlift over the Sumo Deadlift as a 5/3/1 movement.


Jim Wendler created the 5/3/1 program because he was tired of all the arguing about strength training theory. He did not want to think about what to do when going to gym. All he wanted was something that simple and easy to follow.

I wanted a program that eliminated stupid thoughts from my head and just let me go into the weight room and get shit done. – Jim Wendler

A Year of Progress on 5/3/1 (by Gabriel Malone)

Jim Wendler’s Original 5/3/1 and his new follow-up: Beyond 5/3/1


    1. Trevor

      Brandy, I do this program for 12-16 weeks (3-4 cycles) and then switch up a different routine for 8 weeks and then go back into 5/3/1 for the allotted time mentioned. Ive found this is best for my progress, personally.

    2. -D-

      The theory is that you can run it indefinitely. When you stall, meaning, you can’t add anymore weight to the bar and achieve the prescribed reps, you’ll recalculate your 1RM, then take 90% of that and start over. Sometimes, you’ll want to switch up the accessory lifts when you get bored or if a weak point changes. Personally, on deload week 4, I don’t do any of the main or accessory lifts that I use on weeks 1-3. For instance, for my bench deload week, I may perform decline bench for 3 sets of 10-12 leaving a couple reps in the tank. I will follow that up with two accessory exercises (I like to use machines on my deload week) – usually Hammer Strength Incline 4 sets of 10-12 reps and Chest Press 4 sets of 10-12 reps.

  1. Adam

    Appreciate the download on this site, but quick question, i incorporating the accessory lifts in to this, say on chest day, doing fly’s, dumbbell incline, body weight dips, all at a 5×10 after the working sets are done. Squats Day other associated leg exercises at 5×10 after working sets an so on but not exceeding more then 3-4, is this a good read on how the program is suppose to operate?

  2. Dthielfoldt

    I’m on a doctors orders “no cardio” from being sick, but he said I can weight lift, so I’m excited to start my first day today! I never know what to do with weight lifting unless someone is programming it and I always make my husband come up with something, so this is it! Looking foward to having something to follow.

  3. ryno76

    I’m on a doctors orders “no cardio” from being sick, but he said I can weight lift, so I’m excited to start my first day today! I never know what to do with weight lifting unless someone is programming it and I always make my husband come up with something, so this is it! Looking foward to having something to follow.

    Make sure you follow it according to the book (at least at first) as there is an entire philosophy and purpose behind the program design that people miss. I follow the basic principles, but don’t follow the vanilla 5/3/1 program anymore.
    The only real criticism I have against it is that the basic program doesn’t have a lot of pulling/rear delt work unless you pay attention to what Jim has written elsewhere about it. For example, he recommends you superset your main pushing movement with a pulling movement, a point that is often missed.
    He often adovcates using chin-ups which offer far less rear delt activation than a rowing variation according to most EMG studies. I would recommend more focus on horizontal pulling and direct rear delt work rather than vertical pulling since the program has a heavy “push” focus.  
    My $.02. Good luck!

  4. Dthielfoldt

    what condition makes it so you can’t do cardio but you can lift weights?

    Bouncing between bronchitis and sinus infections since before Christmas.  Doc wants to clear up my sinuses first, which in turn affects my lungs and chronic coughing.  Cardio starts the heavy coughing and it cycles again, so far it’s working. 

  5. Colin

    How do I calculate this program for weeks 5-8? I am about to finish the first four weeks of the program and I want to make sure I am getting the percentages right for the next cycle.

    1. James

      You simply get your current training maxes and add 5 pounds for OHP and Bench Press and 10 pounds to Deadlift and Squat. Then you recalculate percentages based on the 5 3 1 program.

  6. Paul groeniger

    I am 66 years old and have wanted a program to better my strength. Starting tomorrow. I check back in a month or two!

  7. Robert Lewis

    I do not understand setting up rep schemes on 5 then 3 and then 5, 3, 1 for 3rd workout if you are supposed to max out on the last set of these workouts with reps. This then takes you out of the desired rep scheme. Why have it set up to do a weight for 3 reps but then do it 6 times taking you from a low rep scheme to a medium rep scheme. I also see articles on Jim Wendler’s 5, 3, 1 that say not to go to failure on these last sets. Then others that say go at it as hard as you can. I would think that a workout based on sets of 5 would want to keep it at 5 reps and the same when doing 3 reps and then a single rep. Are these not intended to coerce a distinct stimulus?

  8. -D-

    On the last set you want to get the minimum rep count. I think the program works better when you go all out on the last set though. The first two sets help you gauge whether you want to try a personal rep record or hold back a little if you’re not feeling it.

    1. Robert Lewis

      Yes, I know that you always want to get the minimum prescribed reps but Wendler has you starting out so light that the last set in workout one with a 5 rep scheme ends up being a set of 8 and in workout 2 where it is a 3 rep scheme the last set ends up being a set on 6 etc. Generally speaking you choose the rep scheme because you want the stimulus that that rep scheme provides. If your low rep shemes end up being medium rep shemes for some months you do not have the low rep workouts your plan indicates that you desire. If for instance Mendelson says “train for triples” he means do 3 reps even if you are training with 60% when you start out his training cycle. I have been using Wendler’s system for quite a while except I don’t deload I just rest. If your muscles are not recovered and need rest there is no such thing as deloading them with a light weight you are just loading them at a lower percentage.

  9. -D-

    So if you have been using it for a awhile, I assume you are making progress? If you’re not and you do not believe in the system, go do something else.

    1. Robert Lewis

      I have made some progress but like everyone else I would like more. Part of making progress is having a deep or thorough understanding of why you are doing what you are doing. The idea of what to do with the third set has some variation in articles I have read. I have read that it is recommended that you do as many reps as you can on the third set but that you do not need to do this at any point only the minimum is required. I have read that most often Jim Wendler leaves 2 to 3 in the tank and only goes all out once and a while. I assume that at some point I will try something else. I really just wanted opinion on what the purpose of designing rep schemes is if you do not need to follow it. I merely find it curious even if it works.

  10. John V

    Thank you so much for the write up!

    I actually on my 2nd month of doing 5/3/1 and im loving the progress! I am specifically following the periodization bible (3 accessories) with 2 backoff sets after the main lifts. My question is – is it alright to have around 4-5 accessories after the main lifts? On the periodization template, they suggest 4 however I feel like the upper body lacks rear delt work and I like to add flyes on my bench press day. Any advice?

    Also, what’s your thoughts on having a db bench press on overhead press day, then arnold press on bench press day?

    Thank you so much!

  11. Parker

    i have just started using the 5/3/1 but I have one question. I found my projected max for squat to be 445. So I took 90% of that and then 65%, 75%, and 85% of that number for my three sets. When doing that the weights came out really light. My last set was 335×5 which was super easy. Just the week before starting this program I had done 385×5 for my last set. What’s the purpose in lifting such light weight? I don’t see how it works. Instead i have been skipping the 90% thing and taking the set percentages straight from my max and those weights seem just right for me I got 7 on my last set. With the other way I could have gotten probably more than 12. I don’t see how doing that would have helped me. Thoughts?

  12. -D-

    The goal is not to miss the reps perscribed and the lower the percentage of you 1 RM, the longer you can run the program without a re-set. You’re trying to build strength slowly over years not 6 week, 2 months, or what have you.

    On my very first 531 program, I thought the same way as you and was ready for a re-set after 8 weeks. When I actually lowered my percentage I ran the program for 48 weeks before a re-set….I was stronger had less pains and felt fresh almost every workout, unlike the first time I ran it, where I felt the exact opposite of those three things.

  13. Matt

    If you are performing the 5 sets of 10 reps as the accessory work, what percentage or weight should you be using? Should it change each week of the cycle and with each different cycle?


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