Review - Does 5/3/1 Work? Jim Wendler's Linear Progression Program for Strength Athletes Explained

what's going on guys it's Bromley at

Empire barbell and today we're gonna do

some programming evaluation I've had

some requests to pick apart

5:31 along with some other ones I'm

gonna get to you down the road but this

is the one that's probably been around

the longest its freshest in most

people's minds because you see it

everywhere so Jim Wendler came up with

531 it was one of the first really

successful ebooks that tried to simplify

strength training for the masses and

it's had a ton of success but at the

same time it also comes under a little

bit of scrutiny because when you're

trying to cast a wide net over all the

potential lifters that might buy your

product you're also going to do some of

them a disservice by not providing

specific enough or maybe advancing the

progression at an appropriate rate now

that's something you can't really hope

to do when you're trying to cast a wide

net like that which is why the

importance of individual learning and

individual programming maybe from a

coach or a professional is so high so

down the road you're eventually gonna

have to dig a little deeper and find how

you can program for yourself a little

bit more specifically taking into

account your own special circumstances

now this is now this is basically 531 in

a nutshell I cut off all the fluff I got

rid of all the things you don't really

need to calculate one of my frustration

is when I first ran this was over ten

years ago was I took the time to

calculate all the percentages down a

full 12-week training block only to

realize that the introductory

percentages were just for warm-up sets

it doesn't really matter they don't

contribute to the overall volume that

much if you do an appropriate warmup all

the way up to your you're working

percentage is how you run the warm-up

doesn't really matter I mean he he'll

have going into day one it'll be you

know 65 75 then eighty-five percent each

one for five reps finishing with five or

more and that that approach really isn't

that important so I opted not to put it

here so really the whole program really

hinges on one working set to failure

followed by whatever accessory gets

prescribed for that day so for the main

set these are your progressions week one

85% week to 90 we 395 that addi load I

also didn't put the specific D load down


doesn't really matter so this operates

off of what we call plus set sum plus

sets are pretty popular there in a lot

of different programs juggernaut

features plus sets Grayskull LP swede

burns v set basically it's saying the

last set you do for this one it's the

only set you do is done for as many reps

as possible so you want to hit at least

five on week one but ideally you hit

more now this does a couple things one

it provides intensity critique let's say

starting strength is that when you start

light with the linear progression giving

yourself a room to increase each week

there isn't really enough of a stress to

cause a temptation at that phase it

almost feels like busywork you're

setting a baseline of work and it's not

until you've been at it for a couple

weeks you start to encounter poundage

--iz and amounts of volume that actually

cause you to grow so it almost feels

like okay we can do a little bit better

even if we're not pushing it at higher

percentages we can still push it with

some rep work we can still add some

effort to the working set that's gonna

help you increase your performance down

the road it's also a good method of

autoregulation because they can tell you

about what your strength is doing

without really having a max or handle

heavy heavy poundage 'iz so as you run

through this wave when you repeat the

next cycle five pounds heavier five to

ten pounds heavier you have a good

barometer for what you did on week one

for week five so let's say you beat

those reps at heavier weight that's a

really good sign that you're improving

the way you should be improving so I

really like plus sets I've actually

included them a lot in my own

programming during different phases and

also five-three-one strongly recommends

and this is one of the things that gets

right taking 90 percent of your training

max so that actually backs you off a

little bit so it prevents people from

over representing their strengths which

everybody does and when you run a

program like this and I've had problems

with it with my own clients where when

you run a program and you start too

heavy you go off your last let's say

meet PR which was maybe eight months ago

instead of what you can actually do now

you hit that brick wall a little too

quick so with all progressions it's

really vital you back off far enough

remember give yourself that runway give

yourself that runway to pick up momentum

so by the time you get into the weeds

you can

push it a little bit farther if you're

hitting a brick wall week one we -

you're really not getting it anywhere so

you start back off so 85% really like

75% which is a 10 rep max or so for most

people so that plus set you might get 10

11 12 reps

90% that's 80% starting out you might

get 6 or 8 reps 85% you might get you

know 3 4 or 5 reps so you're getting

more reps this is much more rep based in

the beginning and then the rate of

increase is so small because you run

through 85 90 95 or 90% of that when

you're starting out and each week you

only add 5 to 10 pounds so you're just

bumping a little bit of weight and then

the next cycle a little bit of weight so

this represents six weeks of cycling and

you can see it's only this little bit of

margin that you increase your

performance at each rep range or at each

percentage threshold so one of the

critiques of 5:31 is that it's very slow

and it is slow but it's it's slow by

design 1 as a training principle of not

trying to jump weight too quickly you

want to hang out at a certain threshold

in order to adapt to that for a certain

period of time instead of just trying to

jump very aggressively but to to take

into account the wide net it is trying

to cast it's trying to cater to the

lowest common denominator which is going

to be people that are overeager people

that start with their max is too high

people that try to push too aggressively

to far or people that are too eager to

see strength gains and will ditch the

program because of this so because of

the slow patient methodical approach a

lot of people have had success with it

because it's pushed them to follow these

principles they might not otherwise a

followed however a big contingency of

people that are following 5 3 1 or newer

lifters or novice lifters and because of

that they leave a lot on the table with

this low volume approach also with the

mandatory D load every four weeks again

casting a wide net it's better to err on

the side of less work rather than more

because more is not always better but

with a big pool of novice athletes

following your program they have a lot

more potential to get work in you know

novice lifters don't need to deal owed

they didn't work hard enough to marry

daddy load also a 95 percent yeah that

might merit a deal

but with 90% of that when you're hitting

a 5 or 6 rep max on week 3 sets of 5 or

6 don't marry daddy load either D loads

are pretty much reserved for when you've

been running with so much volume for so

long that you need a break to clear out

or when the percentages have gotten too

high for too long where again if you

keep pushing you're just gonna regress

and take steps backwards the idea is

you've built up so much fatigue that you

need a week to let your body catch up

before you can really express those

strength gains so I have a little bit of

problem with that I'm not gonna tell

anybody to modify this because as soon

as we start modifying it it's not

five-three-one so just take this

information with a grain of salt and you

know try to try to think critically as

you look at other programs down the road

so that you can apply this to see what

the best possible course may be now when

you get down here and you're actually

firing closer to that 95 percent range

because remember you started back 10

percent when you actually get close to

working 85 90 95 for those three weeks

and yeah D load is is gonna become more

important because each week is gonna be

that much more taxing you're gonna be

much closer to your ceiling which means

you know recovery is gonna be a lot

harder so down the road I definitely

think that's advised but early on it

seems a bit unnecessary now I can't be

too hard on this program because it does

exactly what it's supposed to do again

cast a wide net taking into account most

of the people that are going to read it

or as popular as this program is it

probably did itself in it the people who

followed it a very good service by

taking that very conservative approach

because if it took a more aggressive

approach I promise there be a lot more

people left behind by this program but

this should also be a jumping block

advanced lifters or I think people

who've been competing for a longer

period of time people who have a better

handle on how they recover and what they

can get away with in their training

eventually will need to advance past

something like this this is not going to

take somebody to very elite numbers but

that's important to know that we segment

training off based on how developed you

are what you do in the first year you're

starting off it's not going to be what

you do in the year that you're trying to

get an 800 pound deadlift those are two

different phases of training so this is

more appropriate it's kind of an a

foundational introduction to how these

progressions work and how you should

expect to increase at what rate you

should expect to

prease so I think there's a lot of good

discovery to be had in this for people

that are newer and are getting into it

so 531 works off the principle of a

simple linear progression it just has an

extra added element of complexity in the

way that it waves so this is a normal LP

once or twice a week depending on which

one you follow you're going to add a set

amount of weight so if you start it I

don't know 70% for your sets of five

you're not even adding percentages it's

just a set amount five to ten pounds and

there's some that have you do that on

both days now novices can get away with

that they can progress linearly every

few days on the same the same

progression something like starting

strength eventually progresses at the

Texas method where you're only

progressing one day a week and then you

have other days that are either lighter

days or intensity days and the added

complexity actually allows more recovery

which is again the difference between

more novice and more advanced lifters

but starting out simple lp's it's just

five to ten pounds each time so over a

great many weeks you see this net

increase in weight at the same set and

rep threshold so very slowly volume has

grown very slowly intensity has grown

and in that time your body should have

adapted in a pretty substantial manner

it's very dry it's very boring but it

works very well so when you're starting

out I frequently recommend that

beginners start out with a very simple

progression so they can feel how it's

the progression from week to week that

drives progress not necessarily this

monumental effort that you do and any

one given workout five-three-one

is still a linear progression but these

linear cut the linearity is split up

into these four week intervals so you're

still only adding five to ten pounds at

each threshold but it's every four weeks

so this wave goes up 85 90 95 D load and

then plus five pounds plus five pounds

plus five pounds back down to a D load

so it zigzags back and forth that added

element of complexity draws out the

progression much longer and it gives you

more time at a specific threshold so

this threshold of eighty-five to

ninety-five percent

notice how much of that band that you're

going to be staying in over that

six-week period right so it's only these

small deviations on the outside but the

average weight is not going to change

that much and that gives you more time

to adapt more time to progress more time

to perfect your technique and see all of

the foundational development you want to

see so that ceiling of yours pops up

more over time this also does a good job

of illustrating the psychological

benefit of the plus sets because you're

only getting back to the same percentage

range every four weeks it can be that

much more frustrating to try to chart

progress when you're moving at a snail's

pace is adding five to ten pounds each

time so the plus sets like let's say at

the highest percentage range four weeks

down the road you get the opportunity to

see how many more reps you got at a

little bit more weight than you started

with so it kind of reinforces the good

work that is being done in the process

so again it's another reason I like plus

sets ultimately I don't really have a

bone to pick with five-three-one I think

it's a really solid foundational program

if for no other reason than to get your

feet wet with how these progressions

work down the road with other programs

the idea of progression doesn't really

change there's different types of

progressions you can load linearly you

can wave load you can step load you can

apply that with varying percentages you

can kind of tweak how aggressively you

change percentage week to week and how

often you cycle back there's all these

added elements of complexity but this

type of pattern is still the

foundational driving force between how

you grow and that's ultimately more

important when it comes to handling your

main list I also like the options they

give you for accessory a good example

like they have the boring but big

protocol just five set to ten do your

top set same exercise drop a certain

percentage knock off five set to ten I

mean that's one of the most proven

methods of getting big and strong is it

take a compound barbell movement and do

it for a lot of sets and a lot of reps

it works very well

it also helps improve your technique

downside of something like this as if

you are newer there aren't really enough

touches for you to really get good you

want repeating sets ideally to be able

to reinforce technique can get more

comfortable under the bar one all-out

set with very new

lifters not really ideal in my opinion

it doesn't mean you're not going to grow

from it just means you could potentially

do more work so I do recommend the

protocols that when the recommends to

have you doing more sets of more reps

with the same movement I think for you

newer guys that'll go a long way this

also keeps in line with one of my

biggest tips for novice and even

intermediate lifters it's keep it simple

stupid this progression is very simple

it's very easy to follow and it's worked

with enough people you just have to have

the presence of mind to know after so

many weeks am i doing too much work too

little work or just the right amount of

work just a ride about a work never

feels like the right amount of work okay

it for that you have to look at your

numbers am i progressing if you're

progressing it's the right amount of

work an igloo point out that this block

is applied to four days each day is

dedicated to one lift so you have to

lower body to upper body squat bench

press deadlift overhead press I like

that it encompasses all of those

exercises it's like four of the you know

big vital exercises that are related to

general strength development and

competing overhead press is a big one

that gets overlooked by a lot of people

but if you're not if you feel like

you're not doing enough you leave it

something on the table it may be

appropriate for some of you to switch to

something where say you squat twice a

week or overhead press twice a week

something like the Grayskull LP is a

good example of prioritizing frequency

when the volume is low if you're not

doing a lot of volume on one lift that

means you can get away doing it more

often and for a lot of people that are

trying to refine technique and get past

that novice age that might actually be

the way to go everybody's a little bit

different a lot of people I train squat

twice a week without any problem and

some of them it's been a game changer

that extra frequency has really helped

them develop pass a point that they

otherwise would have some people really

really struggle especially if there's

any amount of volume in the leg workout

after the squat so you have to be really

diligent in pinpointing what your

maximum recoverable capabilities are

because it is different for everybody

that being said if you are new to linear

progressions if you have not followed

simple set progression structures like

this I highly recommend you give this

one a try if I was to tweak it for

anybody I might add in more sets at the

beginning so something like week one my

be five sets of five with a plus set at

the end week to three sets a three week

one you put all out on that one big set

and repeat that's another very

productive structure it's not that

different than the main progression it

just includes a little bit more of that

percentage specific work to help dial

that in overtime there's a lot of ways

to structure it like I said these are a

dime a dozen if there's anything you

were looking for me to cover that I did

it go ahead and leave it in the comment

box or better yet go ahead and join our

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it for today guys thanks for watching

until next time this is Bromley at

Empire barbell I'll see you