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The bench press, squat and dead lifts.  These are the three staple exercises of power lifting.  These are also probably some of the best exercises for you.  There are no other exercises that help with gains in muscle mass and strength.  While “Googling” these exercises one day, I came across a program that caught my eye.  This was Jim Wendler’s: 5/3/1 training system.

Now this program isn’t particularly “special” in any way.  He hasn’t re-invented the wheel or discovered some new way to get huge!  He believes in “big compound lifts, keeping the set and rep schemes simple, and de-loading every fourth week”.  Where it is different is how you start.  Start light, progress slowly and break your own PRs. (Personal Records)

The program consists of 4 training days.  You can do two or even three days but I’m going with four.  If you want to know more about the two day program, then go buy his e-book.  On a side note, the e-book is not expensive and a solid read.  I recommend people to go buy it if you would like to examine the full extent of the training.  Jim Wendler worked hard on it and I would suggest you support him.

Before you start the program, you have to know your maxes on the four main lifts.  Once you have your maxes, you want to take 90% of this number.  Lots of people ask Jim Wendler why he suggests this and his answer, “By starting out at 10% less than your max, you won’t burn out, and you won’t plateau.”

Each Training Cycle lasts 4 Weeks and the days look like this:

Day 1 – Standing Military Press and Assistance Exercises

Day 2 – Deadlift and Assistance Exercises

Day 3 – Bench Press and Assistance Exercises

Day 4 – Squat and Assistance Exercises

The first week for the main lifts you will perform 3 sets of 5 reps. (3x5)

The second week you will perform 3 sets of 3 reps. (3x3)

The third week you will do 1 set of 5 reps (5x1), 1 set of 3 reps (1x3) and finally 1 set of 1 rep. (1x1)

The fourth week is an easy week and you will perform 3 sets of 5 reps.  This is a de-loading week.

Once you’ve finished the four weeks, you go back to the start but add 5 pounds to your max on the Military Press/Bench Press and add 10 pounds to the Squats/Deadlifts.

The 5/3/1 Method


Week 1

65% x 5 Reps
75% x 5 Reps
85% x 5 Reps (This set you can allow yourself to do more reps if you can)

Week 2

70% x 3 Reps
80% x 3 Reps
90% x 3 Reps (This set you can allow yourself to do more reps if you can)

Week 3

75% x 5 Reps
85% x 3 Reps
95% x 1 Reps (This set you can allow yourself to do more reps if you can)

Week 4

40% x 5 Reps
50% x 5 Reps
60% x 5 Reps (De-loading Phase, Let your body rest a bit.  Don’t push past this rep range.)

Assistance Exercises

Jim goes in to some detail of different exercises but overall accomplishments of the assistance exercises are as follows:

-    Strengthen weak areas
-    Aid the four basic lifts
-    Provide balance and symmetry to your body and your training.
-    Build Muscle mass.

Assistance exercises are only to be performed after the main lift has been done.

Assistance Work #1: Boring But Big

After you perform the main lift; simply follow-up with the same exercise for 5 sets of 10 reps.  The weight varies and you can pyramid down, use light weight, whatever.  As long as you perform the 5x10, you’re good.

Assistance Work #2: The Triumvirate

The main lift followed up by two more exercises that work with the main lift.  Ie. Military Press might be followed-up with dips and chin-ups.

Assistance Work #3:  I’m not Doing Jack Shit

Exactly how it sounds.  Go in.  Do the big lifts.  And that’s it.

Assistance Work #4:  Periodization Bible by Dave Tate

This pattern of assistance work is inspired by an article Dave Tate wrote called The Periodization Bible, Part 1.

A sample looks something like this:

Day 1 – Military Press 5/3/1 followed by:

Shoulders or Chest – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Lats or Upper Back – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Triceps – 5 sets of 10-20 reps

Day 2 – Deadlift 5/3/1 followed by:

Hamstrings – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Quads – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Abs – 5 sets of 10-20 reps

Day 3 – Bench Press 5/3/1 followed by:

Shoulder or Chest – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Lats or Upper Back – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Triceps – 5 sets of 10-20 reps

Day 4 – Squat 5/3/1 followed by:

Low Back – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Quads – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
Abs – 5 sets of 10-20 reps

Assistance Work #5 – Bodyweight

All of the assistance work is body weight exercises: Chins, dips, glute-Ham raise, leg raises, push-ups, one leg squat and sit-ups.

Jim Wendler Principles

And there we have it.  Obviously there are more details in regards to the exercises, why that rep range and what the author does.  But if you want those details, again, support Jim Wendler and buy his e-book.  FYI I will be constantly be saying this over the next year while I’m doing this program.  Whenever I get the chance I will refer you back to his e-book.  It’s only fair!

Next week or two I will post my starting “maxes” and the first part of the program.  I will also go over my goals for the next year and what I want to achieve!  I’m looking forward to this and I hope that some other people who read this might think about trying this too!
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