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Wendler 531 Training System – Complete Guide 2019

Are you looking for new approaches on how to get stronger and boost progression anew?

Then the Wendler 531 Training System might be the exact thing you are looking for!

In today’s article, I’ll go more in-depth about Jim Wendler’s program, covering all details that are important to know, guys.

So stay tuned if you want to increase your performance and strength!

Jim Wendler’s 531 program is designated for advanced athletes. It aims for slow but steady progression.

This is especially interesting for people with gigantic strength and for older people, whose ability to regenerate is no longer the best.

Originally, this program has been designed for maximum strength development. Due to the high volume and a variety of assistance exercises, this program combines all areas that are considered optimal for hypertrophy.

Man doing dumbbell flys in his Wendler's 531 Training system

531 program overview

First of all, let’s take a short overviewing look at the Wendler 531 Training System.

Training level: advanced/professional

Goal: Strength and muscle growth

Frequency: 3/4 days per week

  • 3-4 training sessions per week (depending on your regenerative capacity
  • Each training day is dedicated to one exercise: for example, one-day shoulder press, one day squat and so forth…
  • One training cycle lasts four weeks
  • In the first week, the program includes 1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps and 1 set of 1 rep. This results in 5/3/1 where from the program’s name is derived
  • The fourth week is designated for a ‘deload’ week
  • Each of these sets is calculated in advance as a percentage of your 1RM (refers to the weight you can lift just once with maximum effort)
  • You can train on any day; Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday or Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Sunday. That’s up to you.

Normally every week has four training sessions:

  • Training A: Squats + Assistance
  • Training B: Bench Press + Assistance
  • Training C: Deadlift + Assistance
  • Training D: Shoulder Press + Assistance

If this allocation does not present sufficient time to regenerate, it is possible to reduce the frequency down to 3 sessions per week.

However, then it is necessary to extend the 531 cycles to 5 weeks instead of the original 4 weeks.

Nevertheless, all four workouts with 3×5 are performed consecutively, only the last slips into the next week. As already mentioned, the fifth week will be the ‘deload week‘.

All main exercises (squats, bench press, deadlift and shoulder press) are performed with the following intensities (% of 1 RM).

For reasons of regeneration, leave 1-3 rir (reps in reserve) before muscle failure to avoid overreaching.

Intensities in Wendler’s 531 Training:

  • Week 1: 1. Set: <65% x 5 reps, 2. Set: <75% x 5 reps, 3. Set: <85% x 5 reps or more
  • Week 2: 1. Set: <70% x 3 reps, 2. Set: <80% x 3 reps, 3.Set: <90% x 3 reps or more
  • Week 3: 1. Set: <75% x 5 reps, 2. Set: <85% x 3 reps, 3. Set: <95% x 1 rep or more
  • Week 4: 1. Set: <40% x 5 reps, 2. Set: <50% x 5 reps, 3. Set: <60% x 5 reps
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As starting weight Wendler proposes the current 1RM of the respective exercises minus 10%. This results in 90% of the 1RM.

Even though very few people are able to drop their egos and follow this advice, eventually this is one of the key factors to successfully complete this program.

Let me make it more clear with an example:

Imagine your 1RM is 100kg, which results in 90kg being 90%.

Therefore, in the first week you do 3×5, the first set with 65% of 90kg, the second with 75% of 90kg and so on.

Thereby, it is important to mention that if you start too heavy, you will most likely reach a plateau, stagnate and burn out very quickly after no time.

Now as you’ve been warned, it’s up to you whether you want to achieve maximum results or burn out and waste your potential;)

Progression

At the end of each cycle, the 1RM of each exercise is increased (optimally). As a rule of thumb, lower body exercises around 5kg and upper body exercises around 2.5 kg.

In general, this program focuses on more advanced athletes. Beginners can increase much faster and are better advised with other training programs in the beginning.

For advanced users, slow but continuous progression is optimal. If you manage to increase 2.5kg on benchpress over 8 months a year, you have improved your personal best by 20kg. Not many can claim that from last year;)

Assistance Exercises

Man doing french press for best performance in Wendler's 531 Training System

The task of the assistance exercises is fairly obvious, supporting your main lifts to get even stronger. This is done by targetting your weak points or by increasing the training volume of the corresponding muscle group.

Typically Wendler recommends 5 sets of 10 reps – with a 1-minute break between sets. As a result, in addition through the complex basic exercises, a fatigue stimulus is set.

The main exercises can also be used as an assistance exercise, but if done so, you should use a lower intensity at around 50% of your 1RM.

531 program exercise selection

This is the parting of the ways. Each and every one of you has to decide individually which concept to follow.

For his program, Jim Wendler offers different approaches with regard to the choice of assistance exercises.

Assistance program 1: Boring But Big

Simple setup, but really hard.

You should definitely keep a healthy and proper diet throughout this program and get sufficient rest. If you obey these parameters, you’ll be rewarded accordingly.

If you’re doing the program for the first time, start with the assistance exercises of 30-40% of your 1RM for the 5×10 reps.

For this approach, next to your main basic exercises, you repeat the main exercises for a second time. But this time with 5 sets of 10 reps each. In addition, you choose one assistance exercise, also 5 sets of 10 reps.

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Training A:

  • Squats 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Squats 5×10
  • Leg curl (hamstrings) 5×10

Training B:

  • Bench press 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Bench press 5×10
  • Rowing 5×10

Training C:

  • Deadlift 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Deadlift 5×10
  • Hanging Leg Raise 5×15

Training D:

  • Shoulder Press 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Shoulder Press 5×10
  • Pull-Ups 5×10

Assistance program 2: Triumvirate

For this program similar assistance exercises have been chosen, but not the same. This provides space to experiment and optimize.

However, the setup carries the risk that the athlete gets into a state of obsession with optimization how he can ideally integrate every muscle group.

The basic rule is: constrain yourself down to a few exercises and improve gradually. Constantly changing the exercises should be avoided because at the end of the day you get anywhere but not much stronger.

In addition to the main exercises, you choose 2 assistance exercises for 5 sets of 10 reps each.

Training A:

  • Squats 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Leg press 5×10
  • Leg curl (hamstrings) 5×10

Training B:

  • Bench press 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Dumbbell Bench Press 5×10
  • Rowing 5×10

Training C:

  • Deadlift 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Good Morning 5×10
  • Hanging Leg Raise 5×15

Training D:

  • Shoulder Press 3×5 -3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Dips 5×15
  • Pull-Ups 5×10

Assistance program 3: I’m not doing jack shit

Only the bare necessities.

It is not recommended by Jim Wendler, but especially for experienced athletes, this is a way to stay in shape when being short on time.

Furthermore, it is also viable to combine two training sessions. For example, squats/bench press or deadlift/shoulder press.

As already mentioned above, you focus on the most essential stuff. This means just the main basic exercises and no additional assistance work.

This approach is reasonable for powerlifters. However, if your focus is not solely on strength and you also want to prioritize muscle growth, then this program might not be optimal for your goals.

Training A:

  • Squats 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1

Training B:

  • Bench press 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1

Training C:

  • Deadlift 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1

Training D:

  • Shoulder press 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1

Assistance program 4: Periodization bible / Dave Tate

Lastly, in this approach, Jim Wendler refers to Dave Tate and has compiled the following combination of both athlete’s programs.

Basically, in addition to the main exercises, you chose 3 assistance exercises for 5 sets of 10-20 reps each.

This could look like the following:

Training A:

  • Squat 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Hyperextensions 5×10-20
  • Leg extensions 5×10-20
  • Ab-roll outs 5×10-20

Training B:

  • Bench press 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Incline Dumbbell press 5×10-20
  • Triceps pushdowns 5×10-20
  • Facepulls 5×10-20

Training C:

  • Deadlift 3×5 – 3×3 – 5/3/1
  • Leg curls (hamstrings) 5×10-20
  • Leg press 5×10-20
  • Hanging Leg Raises 5×10-20

Training D:

  • Shoulder Press 3×5 – 3×3 -5/3/1
  • Lateral side raises 5×10-20
  • Row variation 5×10-20
  • Triceps overhead press 5×10-20
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How should the assistance exercises be done?

Once again, the baseline for your calculation is your 1RM. As the training weight, Jim Wendler recommends starting with 40-50% and increase by 10% for each large cycle (5 weeks = one cycle).

Man uses barbell to fix muscle imbalance

Your goal should be to accomplish 8-10 reps with this weight, not more.

In addition, do not purposefully increase the assistance exercises, they are just as support for the main exercises.

Concentrate on the basic exercises and keep the main thing the main thing.

Optimal warm-up

Particularly important for powerlifters and bodybuilders who have already reached a high level of strength (even though it is important for every athlete!).

Before the main exercises, you should always warm up carefully.

I recommend dynamic stretching and the following benchmarks:

  1. Warm up set: 5 reps with 40% of 90% of your 1RM
  2. Warm up set: 5 reps with 50% of 90% of your 1RM
  3. Warm up set: 3 reps with 60% of 90% of your 1RM
  4. Warm up set: 1 rep with 70% of 90% of your 1RM

The goal is to warm up the muscles, joints, and ligaments. It should not be wasted too much energy during warm-up sets.

It seems too exhausting for you?

Then adjust and reduce the reps from 5 to 3 and 3 to 1.

Breaks

Since this system focuses on power and pure strength the breaks between sets are likely to be longer than average. I recommend durations of 4-5 minutes.

With this, your nervous system (CNS) can recover properly and prevent overloading. It’s not about burning off energy but working towards the goal, getting stronger and increase performance.

Many people fail to realize this point. If you work with too heavy forces, do not pay attention to your nutrition and neglect proper sleep and break, you certainly waste some potential. Eventually, your performance will stagnate or decrease.

I think that’s the opposite of what we want.

Therefore, I cannot emphasize it too often, obey these parameters. You’ll thank me later, trust me.

Final thoughts

To conclude this article, I can definitely say I believe this program is certainly a good choice for all among yourselves who are looking for a new way to increase their strength and improve performance.

Whether you’re a powerlifter or bodybuilder, either one of you can benefit from this program, that’s for sure.

I would not recommend bloody beginners to start into their career with this system. You should at least have some decent time of experience and strength foundation to build upon.

Most importantly, keep an eye on your nutrition, regeneration, technique, execution and range of motion.

Furthermore, do not start off too heavy, this will only slow down your progress and eventually rather hamper and frustrate you than help you on the way towards your goal.

Have you ever used the Wendler 5/3/1 system before? What are your experiences with it? Which variant is your favourite?

Share your experience with us! I am curious what you think about this program!

Thanks for reading,

Claas

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Claas

Claas

Hi, I'm Claas. I am a passionate fitness and performance lover. For several years I have been training and developing my personality with dedication, ambition, and commitment to pursue my goals. During this time, I already had the opportunity to support many friends, family members and athletes on their journey to achieve their goals, both athletic or performance driven. Whether about nutrition, training, performance or self-development, for the last few years I was able to steadily improve my knowledge to provide our clientele with all my experience. I believe the key to a happy life, to pursue your goals, overcome challenges and convert your dreams to reality, is based upon mastering our four underlying four pillars; nutrition, fitness, productivity, and mindfulness.

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