It might sound difficult, and you might be asking yourself how to begin, but hopefully I’ll be able to provide you with a pretty solid path to:
- Understand 5/3/1
- Determine your training weights and rep maxes
- Make solid progress
5/3/1, What Is It?
5/3/1 is a weight training program. It is comprised of 4 main movements: Bench press, Squat, Deadlift, and the Military Press. That’s it. It’s very straight forward, and is meant to accomplish slow and steady goals.
I probably don’t have to go into detail here, because I’m sure you’ve already read Reviewing Jim Wendlers 531 Program, right? It has detailed information about the 3 mesocycles- 5/5/5, 3/3/3 and 5/3/1. It also has a link to a handy spreadsheet that will take all of the planning work out of your workouts.
Rep Maxes, How To Determine them?I assume that if you are reading this article, that you are essentially a beginner, or maybe an early intermediate lifter. If you weren’t, you probably would already have answered many of these questions through practice and experience. So as a beginner, it is necessary to determine a good starting training max-that is, a weight that you can theoretically lift 1 repetition of. Now, you don’t need to put a shitload of weight on the bar and kill yourself in this quest. In fact-I highly advise against it.
5/3/1 is intended as a conservative program for adding consistent weight to your lifts. Exceeding your abilities is not an effective way of doing that. It will paradoxically do the opposite, to be honest with you. So if you are starting out and you are looking for a good training weight, load up an amount of weight that you think you can get 3 or 5 reps out of. Then do that weight-no matter the exercise-for a maximum number of reps. Do NOT sacrifice form for reps!
Let me state it again: Do NOT sacrifice form for reps. This will once again foil your plans to make progress.
So, take your max-say it is the bench press and you can bench 155 for 7 reps. In being honest, we subtract 10% off of that number once we determine our 1RM. For the nerd effect, here is the calculation that Jim Wendler uses in his examples:
Weight X Reps X .0333 + Weight.
Our example would be:
155x7x.0333+155= 191lbs. We would then subtract 10% for a total of 170lbs (or thereabouts, depending on the calculator used). This is your 5/3/1 training max.
If you’re being smart, you’ve already downloaded the spreadsheet, and as your perform your rep max tests, you’re just plugging the weight and reps into the spreadsheet and letting it do all the work. Meathead.
Your first bench cycle looks like this (using the above max):
Make Solid ProgressIf you follow this program with sincere honesty, and if you approach your training sanely, and safely, you will always make progress. Increase your upper body movements by 5 or 10 pounds per cycle (not per week, follow the calculations for the 3 mesocycles). Increase your lower body movements by 10 pounds per cycle (until you reach a more intermediate level).