Throughout history, human beings have constantly worked to improve themselves and their surroundings.
Look at locomotion, for example: For thousands of years, Paleoman, whether he was eating grains with his brontosaurus burgers or not, commuted to work on nothing but his two excessively hairy feet.
Imagine the envy ol’ Paley would feel if he knew that in just a few thousand years we’d have not only domesticated crops, we’d have domesticated horses – which certainly beats the snot out of walking – eventually leading to comfy carriages, paved roads, and finally, being stuck in four-hour gridlock along the 405 behind two El Caminos belching out exhaust.
Since 5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System to Increase Raw Strength was released two short years ago, author Jim Wendler has been inundated with suggestions from well-meaning readers to modify or “improve” the system he described in Testosterone last year.
While the nature of the modifications may vary, Jim says in terms of their worth, the vast majority might as well have been written on toilet paper:
- “How the hell could a program work on one human and not on another?”
- “An effective program works because it’s based on physiological principles. That’s why it works it the first place.”
- “But what about individualization and training specificity?”
“Bullshit,” barks Wendler. “I hear that ‘I need a specialized program’ crap all the time and it gives me a freaking headache.
If you squat, your legs will get bigger, whether you’ve got long levers, tight ankles, or you think your mother never loved you. Not that I blame her, either.
I was at a seminar recently, and some guy was trying to convince me how glute-ham raises didn’t work for him,” says Wendler. “I told him it wasn’t that glute ham raises didn’t work, it’s just that he sucked at doing them.”
T Nation: So with two years removed and thousands of 5/3/1 guinea pigs training, logging, and blogging, is Jim Wendler saying that there are no improvements, or even modifications to be made? Did 5/3/1 skip the horse and buggy and just emerge at Bugatti?
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Wendler. “Let’s go through a few typical scenarios.”
T Nation: Modification #1: I’m a competitive powerlifter. How do I tweak this for my goals?
“I have a whole book on this coming out called 5/3/1 for Powerlifting,” says Wendler. “The biggest modification pertains to switching around the weeks and adding some heavy singles.
In the original 5/3/1 Manual, the weeks look like this:
- Week 1: 3 x 5 reps
- Week 2: 3 x 3 reps
- Week 3: 3 x 5, 3, and 1 rep
- Week 4: Deload
In 5/3/1 for Powerlifting, I switched week 1 and week 2 around and added a few singles, so it basically looks like this:
- Week 1: 3 x 3, plus a few singles
- Week 2: 3 x 5 only perform requisite reps
- Week 3: 3 x 5,3,1, plus a few singles
- Week 4: Deload
This system is superior for powerlifting as it includes the necessary heavy singles, yet by switching the weeks around and only performing requisite reps in week two, you never train heavy two weeks in a row.
Thus, it allows for more overall recovery.”
T Nation: Modification #2: I’m a busy guy and hitting the gym four times a week is tough. Any lower frequency ideas that still yield gains?
“I get this a lot, and I have a kick-ass answer. Move everything to two times a week and do the following:
Monday: Squats 5/3/1, leg press 5 x 10, stiff leg deads 5 x 10, abs
Thursday: Bench press 5/3/1, dumbbell press 5 x 10, dumbbell row 5 x 10, biceps curls (yes, curls).
Include three days of hard conditioning (hill sprints) on nonconsecutive days.
Monday: Deadlift 5/3/1, safety bar squat 5 x 10, good mornings 5 x 10, abs
Thursday: Overhead press 5/3/1, chin-ups 5 x 10, dips 5 x 10, biceps curls (no, the joke isn’t on you, biceps curls).
Include three days of hard conditioning (hill sprints) on nonconsecutive days.
I’ve advised a lot of busy guys to follow this routine and virtually all got bigger, stronger, and in better shape faster – and for longer – because there’s so much less potential for burnout.”
T Nation: With the reduced frequency, Wendler says there’s no need to deload, and each training cycle now goes six weeks instead of the usual four. And for those guys who think that this sounds like their mama’s split, Wendler says look out.
“The 5 x 10 assistance work is no joke, if you hit it hard. It’s definitely not a pussy split – in fact, it could be the best variation of all.
Following this split is the reason I decided recently to do another meet.”
T Nation: Twice a week of lifting: Are you sure that’s enough volume?
“I think most guys – even guys with all kinds of time to train – would be better off stripping down their volume and stepping up their conditioning,” says Wendler.
“Something almost magical happens to the body when you get in great condition. You look better, feel better, and you perform better.
This is essentially what we did when I played football and I seem to recall that everyone on the team was in shape.””
T Nation: Modification #3: My shoulder hurts with all the heavy pressing. Can I dump the 5/3/1 shoulder pressing in exchange for something else?
Shoulder pain is a common thing, so it would make sense to just remove heavy shoulder pressing until (if?) it clears up, right?
Bad move, says Wendler. Although shoulder pain may be typical, the answer isn’t to change any of the 5/3/1 lifts, but to change the assistance exercises instead.
“For guys with sketchy shoulders, the only pushing lifts should be the 5/3/1 overhead press and bench press,” says Wendler. “The rest of the upper body work should be lat work, face pulls, triceps pressdowns, and the like.
In other words, keep the main presses, but no additional pressing!”
T Nation: Modification #4: Performing squats and deadlifts in the same week is just too much for me.
“Grow a set of balls,” says Wendler. “I don’t really have anything more to say to that kind of pissing and moaning.”
T Nation: When pressed to expand on what could be taken as ‘less than helpful’ advice, Wendler says following the Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Monday rotation – thus allowing five days between lower body workouts – can be helpful, as is the new twice-a-week rotation already noted in Modification #2.
“But don’t forget to still grow some balls,” adds Wendler.
T Nation: Modification #5: Sets of five-rep deadlifts are too much for me.
“Is this article sponsored by the Vienna Boys Choir?” asked Wendler.
“Look, during the five rep week, you’re doing sets of five with 65, 75, and 85 percent. Only the 85% set can even be considered hard by someone with a functioning set of testicles.
So you’re telling me you can’t do one hard fucking set?”
T Nation: Wendler notes that even very strong individuals – guys whose five rep poundages exceed 500 pounds or more – should have no problem with the sets of five.
“I really think guys sometimes talk themselves into being pussies,” says Wendler. “Truly strong guys got to be that way by training hard, there’s just no getting around that. I don’t care how smart you think you are – if you don’t train hard, you’re a pussy, and you can’t call yourself strong.
And again – it’s one set! Gimme a break already!”
T Nation: Modification #6: Are there any other lifts that I can apply the 5/3/1 loading scheme to?
“You’ll be surprised by my answer, and how I came up with it,” says Wendler.
“I tore my labrum and my rotator cuff, and I need to get the bone shaved down. In other words, I can’t press for shit. But I still love to train.
So with pressing out of the question, I started applying 5/3/1 to some other big lifts. The first one I tried was barbell rows.”
“I started at 225 pounds for 10 good reps. Six weeks later or so, I was up to 285 x 16.
So yeah, you can apply 5/3/1 to other lifts, and yes, it even works with barbell curls.”
T Nation: Wendler cautions not to overdo this scheme – don’t try to perform 5/3/1 with four different lifts per workout – but as long as they’re major barbell lifts, don’t be afraid to experiment with things like barbell rows, barbell curls, and power cleans.
“Just please don’t email me looking for help applying 5/3/1 to lateral raises and triceps pressdowns.”
Parting Shots and Kick Ass Advice
T Nation: Powerlifting modifications, alternate frequencies, exercise substitution options – what’s next on the radar Jim, different rep schemes for Republicans and Democrats?
“Stop trying to reinvent the wheel, and stop believing that you’re this newly evolved life-form that needs a special set of rules.”
T Nation: According to Jim Wendler, these are the only rules that you need:
Every plan should have:
- Strength Component (the 5/3/1 lifts)
- Hypertrophy Component (the assistance lifts)
- Conditioning (sprinting, hill sprints, etc.)
“The first thing you need to do is figure out what your goal is. Once you do this, you can determine your priorities, which determines how much time you devote to each component.
So if you want to get stronger, you prioritize the strength lifts more and pull back on the other two. If you want to get bigger, you prioritize hypertrophy and do less low rep training and sprinting.
But at NO time, ever, should you dump one of those three things completely. That’s when you can potentially run into problems.”
T Nation: So for example, if you wanted to get single-digit lean, you wouldn’t dump low rep strength training altogether and just sprint every day. You might cut back somewhat, but if you were smart, you’d keep a bit of low rep work in there every week.
Ditto getting bigger or stronger – there’s absolutely no reason to eliminate conditioning work completely just because you want to get as big as possible, nor should you dump hypertrophy work altogether if your goal is to deadlift a thousand pounds.
Jim likens this to the type of prioritizing virtually every adult performs every day.
“You got your job, your family, and your hobbies. You figure out your priorities and basically find a way to make it work and keep all three in balance.
Why can’t people apply that logic to training?”