5-3-1 Workout Program: Everything You Need To Know

The 5/3/1 workout program, created by Jim Wendler, focuses on building strength through a structured progression of core lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.

By following specific rep schemes and gradually increasing weights, lifters can achieve steady strength gains.

Keep reading for a detailed explanation of the program's structure, benefits, and variations.

Program Structure

The 5/3/1 workout program is meticulously designed to build strength through a systematic approach centered on four core lifts.

This structure ensures balanced development and progressive overload, crucial for continuous strength gains.

Core Lifts: Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press

The backbone of the 5/3/1 program consists of four fundamental exercises: the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.

These compound movements engage multiple muscle groups, promoting overall strength and stability.

Each lift is performed once per week, allowing for sufficient recovery time and focused effort on each movement.

Weekly Breakdown of Rep Schemes

The 5/3/1 program operates on a four-week cycle, with each week emphasizing a different rep scheme to balance volume and intensity.

This varied approach ensures comprehensive muscle engagement and continual progress.

  • Week 1: 3 Sets of 5 Reps The first week focuses on building a solid foundation with three sets of five repetitions. This rep range provides a balance between strength and hypertrophy, ensuring muscles are adequately challenged without excessive strain.
  • Week 2: 3 Sets of 3 Reps In the second week, the rep scheme shifts to three sets of three repetitions. The reduction in reps allows for an increase in weight, emphasizing strength development and preparing the muscles for higher intensity.
  • Week 3: 5/3/1 (1 Set of 5 Reps, 1 Set of 3 Reps, 1 Set of 1 Rep) The third week is the pinnacle of the cycle, featuring the 5/3/1 structure. Lifters perform one set of five reps, one set of three reps, and one set of a single rep at a higher weight. This progression tests maximum strength, pushing muscles to their limits and stimulating significant growth.
  • Week 4: Deload Week with 3 Sets of 5 Reps at Lighter Weights The final week serves as a deload phase, with three sets of five reps using lighter weights. This period allows for recovery and adaptation, reducing the risk of overtraining and preparing the body for the next cycle.

Calculating Weights

Accurately calculating the weights for each lift is crucial to the success of the 5/3/1 program.

This process involves determining your one-rep max (1RM), establishing a training max (TM), and applying specific percentages to structure your workouts effectively.

Determining Your One-Rep Max (1RM)

The one-rep max (1RM) is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition of a given exercise.

Knowing your 1RM is essential as it serves as the baseline for calculating the weights used throughout the 5/3/1 program.

To determine your 1RM, you can either perform a direct 1RM test or use a 1RM calculator based on submaximal lifts.

For a direct test, ensure you warm up properly, gradually increasing the weight until you reach the maximum load you can lift once with proper form.

Alternatively, you can perform a set of repetitions at a lower weight and use a formula or online calculator to estimate your 1RM.

Establishing the “Training Max” (TM) at 90% of 1RM

Once you have your 1RM, the next step is to establish your training max (TM).

The TM is set at 90% of your 1RM. This conservative approach helps manage fatigue and reduces the risk of injury, providing a more sustainable path for long-term strength gains.

To calculate your TM, simply multiply your 1RM by 0.9. For example, if your 1RM for the squat is 300 pounds, your TM would be 270 pounds (300 x 0.9).

Specific Percentages Used for Each Set Across the Cycle

With your TM established, the 5/3/1 program uses specific percentages of this TM to determine the weights for each set in the four-week cycle.

This structured approach ensures consistent progression and optimal load management.

  • Week 1: 3 Sets of 5 Reps
    • Set 1: 65% of TM
    • Set 2: 75% of TM
    • Set 3: 85% of TM
  • Week 2: 3 Sets of 3 Reps
    • Set 1: 70% of TM
    • Set 2: 80% of TM
    • Set 3: 90% of TM
  • Week 3: 5/3/1 (1 Set of 5 Reps, 1 Set of 3 Reps, 1 Set of 1 Rep)
    • Set 1: 75% of TM (5 reps)
    • Set 2: 85% of TM (3 reps)
    • Set 3: 95% of TM (1 rep)
  • Week 4: Deload Week with 3 Sets of 5 Reps at Lighter Weights
    • Set 1: 40% of TM
    • Set 2: 50% of TM
    • Set 3: 60% of TM


Progression is a key principle of the 5/3/1 program, ensuring continuous improvement and strength gains over time.

By systematically increasing the training max (TM) after each cycle, the program maintains its effectiveness while minimizing the risk of injury.

Increasing TM by 5 Pounds for Upper Body Lifts and 10 Pounds for Lower Body Lifts After Each Cycle

At the end of each four-week cycle, you increase your TM to continue challenging your muscles and promoting growth.

The program prescribes a specific increment: add 5 pounds to your TM for upper body lifts (bench press and overhead press) and 10 pounds for lower body lifts (squat and deadlift).

This incremental approach is designed to ensure steady progress without overloading your muscles too quickly, which could lead to injuries or plateaus.

For example, if your TM for the bench press is 200 pounds at the end of the cycle, it will be 205 pounds for the next cycle.

Similarly, if your TM for the deadlift is 300 pounds, it will be 310 pounds for the following cycle.

Benefits of Gradual Progression for Steady Gains and Injury Prevention

The gradual progression approach of the 5/3/1 program offers several significant benefits.

First, it ensures steady strength gains. By making small, consistent increases to the TM, your muscles are continuously challenged, which promotes growth and strength development.

This steady progression helps avoid the common pitfall of plateauing, where gains stagnate due to lack of increased stimulus.

Second, gradual progression minimizes the risk of injury.

Rapid increases in weight can lead to overtraining and strain on muscles, tendons, and joints.

By limiting the increments to 5 or 10 pounds, the program allows your body to adapt slowly and safely to the increased demands.

This approach helps maintain proper form and technique, which are crucial for preventing injuries.

Additionally, the psychological aspect of gradual progression is beneficial.

Smaller, manageable increases in weight can boost confidence and motivation, making it easier to stay committed to the program.

The consistent sense of achievement from successfully completing each cycle with slightly heavier weights reinforces dedication and enthusiasm.

Assistance Work

Assistance work in the 5/3/1 program complements the main lifts by targeting specific muscle groups and addressing weaknesses.

This additional work ensures balanced development and enhances overall strength.

Importance of Assistance Exercises

Assistance exercises are crucial for several reasons.

They help address muscle imbalances and weaknesses that the main lifts might not fully target.

By including these exercises, you can improve overall muscle development and stability, which in turn supports the primary lifts.

Assistance work also provides variety, which can help prevent workout monotony and maintain motivation.

Types of Assistance Exercises

There are various types of assistance exercises that can be incorporated into the 5/3/1 program.

Bodyweight exercises, such as pull-ups, dips, and push-ups, are excellent for building strength and endurance without the need for additional equipment.

These exercises engage multiple muscle groups and enhance functional strength.

In addition to bodyweight exercises, additional lifts can be included to target specific muscles.

For example, barbell rows and dumbbell presses can complement the bench press and overhead press by working the back and shoulders, respectively.

Leg curls and lunges can support the squat by strengthening the hamstrings and quadriceps.

The key is to select exercises that address your specific needs and goals, ensuring balanced muscle development.

Detailed Explanation of the “Boring But Big” Variation

One popular variation of the 5/3/1 program is the “Boring But Big” (BBB) template.

This variation emphasizes volume to promote hypertrophy alongside strength gains.

After completing the primary sets of a core lift, you perform additional sets of the same lift at a lighter weight, typically around 50-60% of your TM.

For example, after finishing the main sets of squats, you would perform five sets of ten reps (5×10) at 50-60% of your TM.

This high-volume approach helps build muscle mass and endurance, complementing the strength-focused primary sets.

The BBB variation can be applied to all four core lifts, providing a comprehensive and challenging workout.

The BBB variation also allows for customization.

You can choose to perform the additional sets with the same lift or a similar, complementary exercise.

For instance, after bench presses, you might do five sets of ten reps of dumbbell presses instead.

This flexibility helps keep workouts varied and can address individual needs and preferences.

Key Principles

The 5/3/1 workout program is built on several foundational principles that ensure its effectiveness and sustainability.

Understanding and adhering to these principles is essential for achieving optimal results and long-term success.

Starting Light to Build a Solid Foundation

One of the key tenets of the 5/3/1 program is starting with weights that are manageable and not overly challenging.

This approach helps build a solid foundation by allowing you to focus on proper form and technique, which are crucial for preventing injuries and ensuring long-term progress.

Beginning with lighter weights also aids in acclimating your muscles and joints to the demands of the program, reducing the risk of burnout and overtraining.

By starting light, you create a sustainable path for consistent improvement.

Slow and Steady Progression to Avoid Plateaus

Gradual progression is another cornerstone of the 5/3/1 program.

Increasing your training max (TM) by small increments—5 pounds for upper body lifts and 10 pounds for lower body lifts—ensures that you are continuously challenging your muscles without overwhelming them.

This method helps avoid plateaus, as the steady increases provide a constant stimulus for growth.

Slow and steady progression also minimizes the risk of injury, as your body has time to adapt to the increased loads, maintaining overall training longevity.

Adhering to the Program for Optimal Results

Consistency and adherence to the prescribed structure of the 5/3/1 program are critical for achieving the best results.

The program is designed with a specific progression and rep scheme that balances volume and intensity, ensuring continuous improvement.

Deviating from the program, such as by increasing weights too quickly or skipping deload weeks, can disrupt this balance and hinder progress.

Sticking to the program as designed ensures that you are following a proven path to strength gains and overall fitness.

Focusing on Core Lifts Over Assistance Exercises

While assistance exercises play a supportive role, the primary focus of the 5/3/1 program is on the core lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.

These compound movements are the foundation of the program, driving the majority of strength gains.

Prioritizing these lifts ensures that you are targeting the most significant muscle groups and achieving balanced development.

Assistance exercises should complement, not overshadow, the main lifts.

Keeping the core lifts as the centerpiece of your training allows for a streamlined and effective approach to strength building.

Who Is It For?

The 5/3/1 workout program is tailored to meet the needs of various lifters, but it is particularly well-suited for those with some experience in strength training.

Understanding who can benefit most from this program can help you decide if it aligns with your fitness goals and experience level.

Ideal for Intermediate Lifters

The 5/3/1 program is ideal for intermediate lifters who have a foundational understanding of strength training and are looking to continue building their strength systematically.

Intermediate lifters typically have experience with the core lifts—squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press—and have already established some strength and muscle mass.

For these lifters, the structured progression and emphasis on gradual increases in the training max (TM) provide a clear path to continued improvement.

The program’s focus on maintaining proper form and technique, coupled with its manageable volume and intensity, makes it an effective and sustainable option for intermediate lifters aiming to break through plateaus and achieve new personal records.

Suitability for Beginners and Potential Benefits of Simpler Programs

While the 5/3/1 program can be adapted for beginners, it is generally recommended that those new to strength training start with a simpler, linear progression program.

Beginners often benefit from programs that focus on rapid strength gains through more frequent increases in weight.

These simpler programs, such as Starting Strength or StrongLifts 5×5, allow novices to quickly build a solid foundation by capitalizing on their initial ability to make faster progress.

For beginners who do choose to start with the 5/3/1 program, it is crucial to prioritize learning and mastering the core lifts with lighter weights to ensure proper technique and reduce the risk of injury.

The 5/3/1 program's conservative approach to weight increases can also help beginners develop good habits and avoid overtraining.

Additionally, incorporating assistance exercises can address any initial imbalances or weaknesses, setting the stage for long-term success in strength training.


The 5/3/1 workout program offers several variations that cater to different goals and preferences, allowing lifters to customize their routines while still adhering to the core principles of the program.

These variations provide flexibility and can address specific training objectives, such as hypertrophy or conditioning.

Overview of Different Variations of the 5/3/1 Program

One of the strengths of the 5/3/1 program is its adaptability. Various modifications have been developed to focus on different aspects of fitness.

For example, the “Triumvirate” variation includes only two assistance exercises per workout, allowing for a more focused and time-efficient session.

Another variation, the “Periodization Bible,” involves using multiple rep ranges and intensities for assistance work, ensuring comprehensive muscle development and endurance.

Additionally, the “Bodyweight” variation incorporates bodyweight exercises as primary or assistance lifts, which can be particularly beneficial for those seeking functional strength and conditioning.

The “Full Body” variation, on the other hand, structures workouts to include a full-body routine each session, promoting overall strength and balance.

These variations allow lifters to tailor the program to their specific needs, whether they aim for muscle growth, improved conditioning, or balanced strength development.

Detailed Look at the “Boring But Big” Variation for Hypertrophy

The “Boring But Big” (BBB) variation is one of the most popular modifications of the 5/3/1 program, particularly among those aiming for hypertrophy.

This variation emphasizes volume by incorporating additional high-rep sets after the main lifts.

After completing the primary sets of a core lift, you perform five sets of ten reps (5×10) of the same lift at a reduced weight, typically around 50-60% of your TM.

For example, on a bench press day, after completing the prescribed sets and reps for the bench press, you would then perform five additional sets of ten reps at a lighter weight.

This high-volume approach significantly increases muscle time under tension, promoting muscle growth and endurance.

The BBB variation can be applied to all four core lifts, providing a comprehensive and challenging workout.

An alternative approach within the BBB framework is to perform the 5×10 sets with a different but complementary exercise.

For instance, after the main sets of squats, you might do five sets of ten reps of leg presses or lunges.

This method can help alleviate monotony and target muscles from different angles, contributing to more well-rounded development.

The BBB variation also encourages a balanced approach to assistance work.

While the focus is on increasing volume for the main lifts, it’s crucial to include exercises that address potential weak points and support overall strength and stability.

This balanced approach ensures that while hypertrophy is a primary goal, functional strength and injury prevention are also maintained.


The 5/3/1 workout program, with its structured progression and emphasis on core lifts, offers a sustainable path to building strength.

By understanding its key principles, calculating weights accurately, and incorporating appropriate assistance work and variations, lifters can achieve steady gains while minimizing the risk of injury.

Whether you are an intermediate lifter or a beginner adapting to the program, the 5/3/1 method provides a clear and effective framework for long-term success in strength training.