Here is a quick article that will give you an idea as to why we chose to do a liner progression for our lifting. Although this article talks specifically about the 5/3/1 program (our Red Track) the same principles apply to the 10/8/6 – 2×20 program (our Blue Track). These programs have been tested for years and produce results. We also like it because we can incorporate strength training AND conditioning for EVERYONE with the hour timeline we have for a class.
5/3/1: How to Build Pure Strength
by Jim Wendler | 07/07/09
Tags: Powerlifting & Strength
Here’s what you need to know…
Getting good at the core lifts will have a huge carryover into everything else. Start light, progress slowly, and leave out the ego in order to bust PRs.
Use a specific percentage of your one-rep max to lift 5 reps, then 3 reps, then 1 rep. These percentages are based on 90% of your 1RM.
Complement 5/3/1 training with assistance work to build muscle, prevent injury, and create a balanced physique. Options include chin-ups, dips, lunges, and back extensions.
Look, arguing about strength training theory is stupid. And the reason I came up with 5/3/1 was that I wanted a program that eliminated stupid thoughts from my head and just let me go into the weight room and get stuff done.
I’ve been training for 20 years, and this is what I’ve learned.
A Powerlifter’s Progress
My best powerlifting accomplishment in the 275-pound weight class was a 1,000-pound squat, 675-pound bench press, 700-pound deadlift, and a 2,375 total. No, I wasn’t strong at all! Sure, I could waddle up to the monolift and squat, but I couldn’t do anything else. Really, all I could do was squat, bench, and deadlift.
Today I have different aspirations. I want to be able to do a bunch of different activities and still kick ass in the weight room. I want to be as mobile, flexible, strong, and in as good a condition as I possibly can. That’s how I came up with 5/3/1.
The core philosophy behind 5/3/1 revolves around the basic tenets of strength training that have stood the test of time.
Basic Multi-Joint Lifts
The bench press, parallel squat, deadlift, and standing press have been the staples of any strong man’s repertoire. Those who ignore these lifts are generally the people who suck at them. If you get good at those, you’ll get good at other stuff, as they have such a huge carryover.
While it may seem counterintuitive to take weight off the bar when the goal is to add weight to it, starting lighter allows you more room to progress forward. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most lifters. They want to start heavy and they want to start now.
This is nothing more than ego, and nothing will destroy a lifter faster, or for longer, than ego.
This ties in with starting light, and it keeps lifters who want to get big and strong yesterday from sabotaging their own progress.
People want a program that will add 40 pounds to their bench in eight weeks. When I ask how much their bench went up in the last year, they hang their heads in shame.
Break Personal Records
5/3/1 is set up to allow you to break a variety of repetition records throughout the year. Notice that it’s “rep records” and not “one-rep max.” Most people live and die by their one-rep max. To me, this is foolish and short sighted.
If your squat goes from 225 x 6 to 225 x 9, you’ve gotten stronger.
After you finish the first cycle, you add five pounds to your 1RM calculations for the two upper-body lifts and 10 pounds to your 1RM for the squat and deadlift.
One Goal Per Workout
With 5/3/1, you accomplish a goal every workout. Some programs have no progression from one day to the other.
Another unique feature is that final all-out set in each workout. You don’t have to go beyond the prescribed reps if you don’t feel like it, but there are real benefits to doing so.
I’ve always thought of doing the prescribed reps as simply testing your strength. Anything over and above that builds strength, muscle, and character.
Yes, that last set is the one that puts hair on your chest, but the system doesn’t work without the sets that precede it. I tried cutting those out but I got smaller and weaker. There might be only one really hard set, but the other sets are still quality work.
Along with the bench press, squat, shoulder press, and deadlift, 5/3/1 includes assistance exercises to build muscle, prevent injury, and create a balanced physique. My favorites are strength-training staples like chin-ups, dips, lunges, and back extensions.
5/3/1 and Discontents
I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from lifters who used 5/3/1 to overcome plateaus in strength and size development. And it’s not just from advanced guys. I received a thank-you from a guy who went from 135 for 1 rep on the bench to 135 for 17.
The program has also received criticism from lifters on two fronts: that lifters are told to start too light and build too slow.
“Start too light” refers to my insistence that the prescribed loads are calculated off of 90% of the lifter’s 1RM. If your 1RM in the bench is 315, why calculate loads off a 1RM of 285?
My response? People who freak out about the 90% thing are usually weak in the first place. You don’t need to operate at your max to increase your max. Why people get so bent out of shape about taking two steps back if it means they’ll be taking 10 steps forward is beyond me.
Then there’s the “disconnected from reality” problem. Few lifters are willing to acknowledge their true 1RM.
At one time, I did a seminar every week. Every time, without fail, when I asked someone what their one-rep max was, I’d get this: “Well, about three years ago I hit 365 for a triple, but that was when I was training heavier…” Most guys just don’t have a clue.
By using the 90%, I account for this BS. By using weights they can actually handle, guys are building muscle, avoiding burnout, and most importantly, making progress every workout.
None of this is exactly revolutionary. I learned this in my freshman year. I’ve always made my best gains when I left just a bit in the tank.
As for the “build too slow” criticism, people tell me that they don’t want to take three months to build up their strength. Where are you going to be in a year? Forget that, where are you going to be in five years, when you’re still benching 205 with your ass halfway off the bench?
The pursuit of strength is not a six-month or one-year pursuit. It’s a 30-year pursuit for me. You’ve got to be smart about it. But everyone wants everything right now.
Here are the keys to making it work:
Start with a realistic idea of your one-rep max, and follow my instructions to base all training weights on 90% of that max. You can make it really easy on yourself by spending a couple of workouts working up to a four-rep-max set of each of the four core lifts.
Your 3RM should be about 90% of your 1RM. Once you have that 3RM, you can skip a step in your calculations and just use it for all your subsequent percentages.
The final set of your core lift in each workout is the one that produces mass and strength, so give it everything you have, and get as many reps as you can with that weight.
The exceptions are the deloading workouts in Week 4. You’re giving your muscles a break, not trying to establish new PRs.