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Wendler’s 5/3/1

Experience: Advanced, Intermediate
Days per week: Four, Three
Equipment: Barbell, Bench Press, Squat Rack
Great for: Everyone, Powerlifter
Focus: Full Body

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. Augustine Garcia

    Steve, if your goal is to lose weight, you should do something different. You can’t get stronger and smaller, unless you are obese.

    Isaac, follow the program…Do not customize the program. You must follow the program as written to get maximum results.

    Dydo, caloric intake helps with your recovery. If you are consuming less calories than you need, your body isn’t going to fully recover. You might as well get shitty sleep too. If you want to recover properly and get stronger, stay with the program and eat your ass off.

  2. I have been doing the program since May and have loved it. It’s the first lifting program I have been able to stick with and not burn out on it. Results have been great
    Dydo– I have been doing the workout since May of 2019, and I am also trying to lose weight. It has worked fine for me. My rate of weight loss has slowed down a bit the past month or two but I still notice the slimming effect so I assume that is adding some lbs of muscle rather than fat (at least that’s my hope) Either way it is working. Also trying to get a run, swim or bike ride in a couple days a week as well.

  3. I have been doing 5-3-1 for 12 weeks and really like the fact that if I’m pressed for time I can at least get in the main lift. I have a question, open for opinions… I’m run it like this: 3 days work 1 day rest. For the first 3 days I do barbell rows, Squat, bench press…. rest…. 2nd 3 days I do: power cleans, military press, deadlift… I’ll try to do some higher intensity workouts after the main lift that have the main lift in it + other exercises that I won’t be doing the next day. Trying to include pull-ups, dips and ab work a couple of times a week. Sometimes it’s just body weight or lighter weight, but I really enjoy kettlebells so that is used a lot…. Is this too much time between main lifts? I’ve been seeing good gains but sometimes the workload is a bit much.

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