What is the 5 3 1 Weightlifting Method: Unlocking Your Strength Potential


Are you seeking a simple yet effective weightlifting method to enhance strength and break through plateaus? The 5-3-1 weightlifting method might be the solution for you.

This approach, created by powerlifter Jim Wendler, focuses on the fundamental lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift, making it an excellent choice for those wanting to improve their overall strength and muscle development.

So what’s the point of this program? How does it work? How did it earn the name it has now? These questions are to be answered as you progress through this article.

Overview of 5/3/1 Method

The 5/3/1 method is a popular, time-tested training protocol focusing on strength gains. Created by powerlifter and strength coach Jim Wendler, it’s designed to help you efficiently progress in your main lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.

This program consists of four-week cycles, emphasizing three primary rep ranges five reps, three reps, and one rep. You’ll perform one each week, starting lighter and eventually reaching near-maximum loads during the cycle.

Jim Wendler

Jim Wendler, the method’s creator, boasts decades of experience in powerlifting and coaching. With multiple lifting titles and years of coaching, he designed the 5/3/1 program to prioritize simplicity, consistency, and gains.

To utilize the 5/3/1 method, follow these steps:

  1. Calculate your one-rep max (1RM) for each of the four main lifts.
  2. Determine your training max (TM), which is 90% of your 1RM.
  3. Select your training template, such as “Boring But Big,” “The Triumvirate,” or “Bodybuilding.”
  4. Progress through the 4-week cycle using prescribed rep schemes and percentages based on your TM.
  5. Adjust your TM at the end of each cycle, and repeat.

With the 5/3/1 method, consistent effort and adherence to the program result in steady strength gains. Give it a try, and watch your lift numbers skyrocket!

Foundational Lifts

Since this is a weightlifting program, the exercises are naturally a part of a weight-training exercise. There are squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and the overhead presses.


The squat is a crucial lower body exercise in the 5 3 1 weightlifting method. This compound movement targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core. To perform a squat, rise with your feet shoulder-width apart, gently lower your hips as if sitting in a chair, and return to the standing position.

Bench Press

A staple upper body exercise, the bench press primarily works your chest, triceps, and shoulders. Lie on the bench with the barbell aligned above your chest, grip the bar shoulder-width apart, and lower it to your chest before pushing it back up.


The deadlift targets your posterior chain, engaging your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. To execute the deadlift, approach the barbell with feet hip-width apart, bend at the hips and knees, grasp the bar with an overhand grip, straighten your legs, and lift the weight from the ground until you’re fully standing.

Overhead Press

Lastly, the overhead press works your shoulders, triceps, and core. With a shoulder-width grip on the barbell, press the weight overhead, starting from your collarbone, and extend your arms fully.


Remember to focus on these movements, as they form the foundation of the 5 3 1 weightlifting method. They will help you develop strength in a push-pull pattern and balance muscle development.

Workout Structure and Progression

How do you structure the program? And how do you progress through it? Read our elaboration below to find out.

Training Max

In the 5 3 1 weightlifting method, you start by calculating your Training Max, which is ninety percent of your true one-rep max (1RM). This lower percentage helps ensure proper form and steady progression while reducing injury risk.

Percentages and Cycles

The main structure of a 5 3 1 workout consists of four weekly microcycles, focusing on different rep ranges and percentages of your Training Max:

  • Week 1: three sets of five reps (65%, 75%, 85% of your Training Max)
  • Week 2: three sets of three reps (70%, 80%, 90%)
  • Week 3: 3 sets, mixed reps (5 reps at 75%, 3 reps at 85%, 1 rep at 95%)
  • Week 4: Deload week – three sets of five reps (40%, 50%, 60%)

Progressive Overload

After each full four-week cycle, you’ll increase your Training Max. Add five pounds to your upper body lifts (e.g., bench press, shoulder press) and ten pounds to your lower body lifts (e.g., squat, deadlift). This steady progression helps you effectively build strength and muscle.

Deloading and Recovery

A vital element of the 5 3 1 method is the scheduled deload week (Week 4). During this time, you train with lighter weights to give yourself the best possible chance to recover and prepare for the next cycle of progressive overload. Pay attention to sleep, nutrition, and mobility work for optimal recovery.

Conditioning and Assistance Work

This section will explain the items and exercises that can help you in your program.

Accessory Lifts

In the 5 3 1 weightlifting method, you’ll find that accessory lifts are an essential part of your strength training program. Incorporate multi-joint movements such as lunges, rows, and presses for added resistance training.

These movements help to target not only the primary muscles but also the stabilizers, promoting overall strength and stability.

Chin-ups and Pull-ups

These two upper-body exercises are valuable additions to any workout routine. Chin-ups, with your palms facing towards you and close together, engage your biceps and lats. On the flip side, pull-ups with palms facing away, primarily target your lats and upper back. Including both exercises in your program will ensure balanced upper body development.

ExercisePalms FacingPrimary Muscles Targeted
Chin-UpTowards youBiceps, Lats
Pull-UpAway from youLats, Upper Back

Table1.0 Showing exercises, preferred form, and primary muscles targeted


Dips are another cornerstone exercise for building upper-body strength. This multi-joint movement engages your chest, triceps, and shoulders. You can easily modify dips to better target specific muscle groups by adjusting your hand placement or body angle.

Remember to incorporate this versatile movement into your routine to strengthen further and diversify your workouts.

  • Chest Dips: Leaning forward, with hands farther apart and elbows flared out
  • Tricep Dips: Keeping your body upright, with hands closer together and elbows tucked in

By incorporating these exercises into your 5 3 1 weightlifting method, you’ll bolster your strength training program and ensure well-rounded physical development.

Target Audience and Adaptations

Are you just starting out? Or are you an intermediate? Either way, this program very much can be your best friend.


As a beginner, the 5 3 1 weightlifting method is an excellent starting point for you. It provides a simple and structured program that focuses on core lifts, aiding in building a solid foundation. You can begin with the following steps:

  1. With your palms facing towards you and close together, Chin-ups ss, deadlift, and overhead press.
  2. Base your training weights on 90% of your 1RM.
  3. Follow the prescribed sets, reps, and percentages for each week in the program.

Intermediate Lifters

As an intermediate lifter, the 5 3 1 method offers options for customization, allowing you to tailor the program to suit your specific goals. Adaptations include:

  • Assistance exercises: Choose from accessory movements to target specific muscle groups or weaknesses, such as dips, pull-ups, or lunges.
  • Training frequency: Adjust the number of weekly training sessions depending on your recovery and schedule.
  • Intensity variations: Manipulate intensity by using techniques like Joker Sets or Boring But Big.

Calculating and Monitoring Progress

We cannot stress enough how important it is to monitor your progress. It can help you track where you are in terms of progress, identify areas where you need improvement, and bring a sense of achievement to your routine. Here’s how you monitor your progress.


To measure your progress with the 5/3/1 weightlifting method, you’ll need to determine your 1-rep max (1RM) and track your as many reps as possible (AMRAP) sets. Your 1RM is the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition. You can estimate your 1RM using a formula or test it in the gym but always remember to prioritize safety.

AMRAP sets are essential for breaking plateaus and pushing past your limits. On 5/3/1, the last set of each session is usually an AMRAP set. Record your reps during these sets to monitor your progress and adjust your training as needed.

Online Calculator

To simplify the process of calculating your 1RM and training weights, you can use an online calculator. An online calculator asks for your current lifting weights and then provides the following:

  • Your estimated 1RM
  • Your training weights for each 5/3/1 cycle
  • Progression tracking

By regularly tracking your 1RM and AMRAP sets, you’ll be able to monitor your progress efficiently and make necessary adjustments in your training. Online calculators make staying consistent and focused on your weightlifting goals easy.

Overcoming Plateaus and Variations

Plateaus are a normal part of a weightlifter’s journey, but you can adjust to overcome them. Deload weeks and changing accessory exercises are two methods to help you break through a plateau.

Deload weeks involve reducing your training volume and intensity, allowing your body to recover and adapt.

5/3/1 Workout and Program Variations

The 5/3/1 workout offers numerous variations to help you stay engaged and progress in your strength program. Some common variations are:

  • Boring But Big (BBB): Involves 5 sets of 10 reps of the main lift at ~50% of your training max, following the core 5/3/1 sets.
  • First Set Last (FSL): After completing the 5/3/1 sets, you perform additional sets with the weight used in the first work set.

Additionally, there are ways to customize the assistance exercises and templates to better focus on your goals, such as:

  • Triumvirate: Focusing on three key assistance exercises
  • The Periodization Bible: Incorporating a variety of assistance exercises
  • Bodyweight workouts: Emphasizing bodyweight exercises alongside the main lifts

Remember that the key to continued success in the 5/3/1 program is to be patient, make adjustments, and track your progress.

Wrapping Up

5-3-1 weightlifting method has proven to be an effective and adaptable program for many athletes. With its focus on progressive overload, you’ll find that you can continuously make progress while avoiding the pitfalls of overtraining.

This method is designed to be simple and easy to follow, making it an excellent choice for those new to weightlifting or seasoned lifters looking to switch up their routine. By cycling through a variety of intensities, you allow your body to adapt and grow.

Incorporate accessory exercises to develop your strength further and provide a well-rounded approach to your training. Remember, consistency is vital, and with the 5-3-1 method, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your weightlifting goals.

Frequently Ask Questions

What is the 5/3/1 weightlifting method?

The 5/3/1 method is a strength training program designed by powerlifter Jim Wendler. It focuses on the three main powerlifting exercises: squat, bench press, and deadlift. The program is centered on progression, aiming to increase your strength over time steadily.

What are the benefits of following the 5/3/1 method?

Benefits of the 5/3/1 method include steady, consistent progress in power, customizable for different goals and experience levels, low risk of injury due to progressive loading and deload weeks, and encouragement of accessory work and conditioning to create a well-rounded athlete.

Can I modify or add exercises to the program?

Yes, the 5/3/1 method encourages adding accessory exercises to address weak points or meet specific goals.

It’s also possible to replace the main lifts with variations (e.g., sumo deadlifts instead of conventional). Just maintain the program’s core principles and adhere to the progression and deload structure.

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