The 5/3/1 strength-training method is how you turn goals into gains


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I sometimes struggle to see the big picture of my workout routine. Today I combined sprints on the treadmill with upper body weights and core work. It felt great, but inquiring minds want to know, how the heck can I match this workout with others so that, as the woke fitness kids say, “goals become gains?” Trainers across the country agree: Wendler’s 5/3/1 technique is the smartest, safest ways to move up in weight.

Unlike more rigorous plans that help you add to your weighted squats and deadlifts, Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, says that the 5/3/1 technique, founded by strength-training legend Jim Wendler, is more gradual. “It’s a form of progressive overload, and it’s meant to get you stronger over the long haul,” says the trainer. Over the course of 3-6 months, you build a stronger and more reliable foundation as opposed to adding 50 pounds over the course of a month.

The program is popular among off-season athletes, but anyone can benefit from the comfortably rigid structure as well as the recovery periods incorporated into each month. (Note: recovery is often the missing ingredient in the recipe for getting stronger). At first, learning the pattern of 5/3/1 proves a little tricky. But once you find the rhythm, you’ll be throwing around weight (in a safe, non-obnoxious way) like an old pro.

Put on your gym clothes and let’s get down to business with Wendler’s 5/3/1.

bench workout
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Before we break it down, let’s review the basic structure of the Wendler’s 5/3/1 method. The 5/3/1 only deals with four moves: the bench press, the military press, the deadlift, and everyone’s favorite—the squat. Within the three to four workouts per week, depending on your schedule, you’ll never work the same muscle groups twice in one day. (Don’t pair squats with deadlifts or military presses with bench presses).

How to find your one rep max

To start, you’ll need to determine your one rep maximum, or the highest possible weight you can use to safely complete a given move. (You can do this either with an online calculator, or at the gym. And this tool will show you how you compare to other people who weigh the same as you do.) Use your one rep max to calculate percentages needed for the workout routine. For example, if your one rep max for deadlift is 135 pounds, start with 90 percent, or about 120 pounds. Each week, increase the weight by upping the percentages by five each. The first week, you’ll find 65 percent, 70 percent, and 75 percent of that number, rounding down to the nearest five, and follow the 5-3-1 rep structure throughout the month. (More on that later! No need for math-induced panic! I promise, this is all much clearer in numbers.)

If calculating your personal plan sounds like a drag, there are—thank you internet!online calculators that will do it for you. Since you’re just getting started, let’s opt for three workouts per week. Here’s how one month of workouts should look for you.

Here’s a template for the first month of Wendler’s 5/3/1

Week 1: [90% of one rep max] x 5 reps each day

Make sure to leave 48 hours between each training session to give your body a chance to properly recover.

Day 1: Squats and bench presses  

  • Warmup
  • Squats: 5 reps at 65, 70, and 75 percent (remember, round down)
  • Barbell presses: 5 reps at 65, 70, and 75 percent
  • Accessory movements: These should be 2-3 workouts designed to compliment the work you’re doing during your 5/3/1 movements. For example, you could pair your squats with pull ups and pushups, and your barbell presses with weighted lunges and 100 meter sled pushes.

Day 2: Deadlifts and military presses 

  • Warmup
  • Deadlifts: 5 reps at 65, 70, and 75 percent
  • Military presses: 5 reps at 65, 70, and 75 percent
  • Accessory movements

Day 3: Bench presses and squats

  • Warmup
  • Barbell presses: 5 reps at 65, 70, and 75 percent
  • Squats: 5 reps at 65, 70, and 75 percent
  • Accessory movements

Week 2: [90% of one rep max] x 3 reps each day

Day 1: Deadlifts and military presses 

  • Warmup
  • Deadlifts: 3 reps at 70, 75, and 80 percent
  • Military presses: 3 reps at 70, 75, and 80 percent
  • Accessory movements

Day 2: Bench presses and squats

  • Warmup
  • Bench presses: 3 reps at 70, 75, and 80 percent
  • Squats: 3 reps at 70, 75, and 80 percent
  • Accessory movements

Day 3: Military presses and deadlifts

  • Warmup
  • Military presses: 3 reps at 70, 75, and 80 percent
  • Deadlifts: 3 reps at 70, 75, and 80 percent
  • Accessory movements

Week 3: [90% of one rep max] x 5, 3, 1 reps each day

Day 1: Bench presses and squats

  • Warmup
  • Bench presses: 5 reps at 75 pecent, 3 reps at 80 percent, and 1 rep at 85 percent
  • Squats: 5 reps at 75 percent, 3 reps at 80 percent, and 1 rep at 85 percent
  • Accessory movements

Day 2: Military presses and deadlifts

  • Warmup
  • Military presses: 5 reps at 75 percent, 3 reps at 80 percent, and 1 rep at 85 percent
  • Deadlifts: 5 reps at 75 percent, 3 reps at 80 percent, and 1 rep at 85 percent
  • Accessory movements

Day 3: Squats and bench presses

  • Warmup
  • Squats: 5 reps 75 percent, 3 reps at 80 percent, and 1 rep at 85 percent
  • Bench presses: 5 reps 75 percent, 3 reps at 80 percent, and 1 rep at 85 percent
  • Accessory movements

Week 4: [90% of one rep max] x 5 reps each day

You’re de-loading at this point, so percentages remain at 65 percent. 

Day 1: Military presses and deadlifts

  • Warmup
  • Military presses: 5 reps at 65 percent, 5 reps at 65 percent, and 5 reps at 65 percent
  • Deadlifts: 5 reps at 65 percent, 5 reps at 65 percent, and 5 reps at 65 percent
  • Accessory movements

Day 2: Squats and bench presses

  • Warmup
  • Squats: 5 reps at 65 percent, 5 reps at 65 percent, and 5 reps at 65 percent
  • Bench presses: 5 reps at 65 percent, 5 reps at 65 percent, and 5 reps at 65 percent
  • Accessory movements

Day 3: Deadlifts and military presses

  • Warmup
  • Deadlifts: 5 reps at 65 percent, 5 reps at 65 percent, and 5 reps at 65 percent
  • Bench presses: 5 reps at 65 percent, 5 reps at 65 percent, and 5 reps at 65 percent
  • Accessory movements

And there you have it. For the next month, you’ll kick things off by adding 10 pounds to the lower body lift and 5 pounds to the upper body lift, then recalculating your 90% starting point. Just keep going until the Rock calls you up and asks you to be on The Titan Games

Okay, let’s talk cardio. Here’s what it’s like to take 3 dance classes back to back (to back). Plus, a playlist that will make you wanna dance. 

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