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5/3/1…. GO!

5/3/1

 

While Jim Wendler himself will attest that the program he blessed us with is anything but revolutionary, it was his approach to methodically break personal records. As with some of the more basic programs, this one is no different in that it utilizes fundamental compound movements as the focus with a slow and steady approach to improve upon strength. The program is for all levels of lifters, but it should be known that it works most effectively with 1 rep max numbers already put forth. This means if you are still developing a 1 rep max because you are new to lifting, it may be best to come back to this program once you have plateaued.

 

The lifts are your oyster

 

This program really can be implemented to just about anything, but keep in mind that Jim Wendler had some basic goals in mind when developing this strategy: to be strong and not useless. His book on the matter is an easy read and very informative as far as the plan and his outlook. I urge you to read it. With that in mind, just know that while it can be used for just about anything, it holds true to the core compound movements held high in powerlifting: squat, bench, press, and deadlift.

 

Accessory work

 

Referring to the section above it should be understood that the program tends to run hand in hand with foundational compound lifts, so accessory work should never become the focus. Instead you can target weakness that will benefit a lift, but being mindful that it is only to come secondary to the baseline program. Some examples of this might be developing better grip strength to help with deadlifts, incorporating dips (bodyweight or weighted) to build on a push movement, or even something as simple as pull ups (bodyweight or weighted) to compose a stronger back to help with any pulls. I personally have seen accessory work overtake this program when attempted to coincide with crossfit programming. Not to say you can’t build two bridges at once, but it should go without saying that making one bridge your focus will likely render the better outcome. You must be mindful when deciding to dedicate time and effort to building strength, not wasteful.

 

How it works

 

The way I prefer to explain the program is its ability to grow relative strength. The program itself isn’t designed to eventually have a week where you deal with a 1 rep max. Instead the relative strength increases over time. If at the start of the program you could squat 200 for 4 reps, but now 2 months in can squat 200 pounds for 10, you have effectively gotten stronger. The weight delegated throughout the program is all percentage based and begins with using a 531 calculator to generate a spreadsheet of lifts. The numbers will vary from person to person, but the lift scheme remains the same:

 

 

Week 1

 

1 set of 5

1 set of 5

1 set of max reps

 

Week 2

 

1 set of 3

1 set of 3

1 set of max reps

 

Week 3

 

1 set of 5

1 set of 3

1 set of max reps

 

Week 4

 

Deload

 

The weight started with most commonly is based on 90% of your 1 rep max. This is the number you will use for any given lift when inputting your weights to develop the program. The weight used each week, as designed, will increase marginally over a steady period of time. After all, slow and steady wins the race.

 

How long is the cycle?

 

Depending on who you are or what your goals are, the best and/or worst part about this cycle is that it can be recycled over and over again. There will come a time that you hit a wall, and it may not even be on a failed lift. You might burnout, get bored, or just decide it isn’t for you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can reenter a new 90% 1 rep max and generate a whole new template to begin with. Jim Wendler even gives us a nifty formula to calculate an estimated 1 rep max if we opt to never actually test a 1 rep max. The formula is based on a weight we lifted ”X” amount of times, but shouldn’t be a weight we can lift over 10 times, instead a weight we can lift 4-8 times. Moral of the story is you can run this bad boy into the ground if you want, and drive it until the wheels fall off. It’s your call.

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