• Review: Beyond 5/3/1

    Review: Beyond 5/3/1

    Jim Wendler recently published his new book: Beyond 5/3/1, which is a revamp of his classic strength program. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Jim is a very famous coach in strength circles, as well as being a lifetime athlete and lifter. After a college football career, he ended up in Powerlifting, where he has squatted over 450kg in competition. Jim Wendler is a coach who really does walk the walk. A lot of his experimentation is done on himself, and I think this shows. His words are not theoretical advice based on some study done on a couple of uni students; they are based on his experiences from making himself and his athletes obscenely strong.

    He is also famously blunt-spoken. Most of his best quotes aren’t printable here, but if you get the chance to google ‘Jim Wendler quotes’ then it’s well worth the time. This is one of the few profanity free ones:


    So I mentioned before that this is the follow up from 5/3/1, his original program and book. Essentially, 5/3/1 is a program based off of cycling volume (how much) and intensity (how heavy) for the main lifts over three weeks. I always really liked his principles of being conservative, consistent, and constantly making small increases. When it comes to getting stronger, these are fine principles. I feel that too many people want results right now but then get disheartened and drop out when they’re not instantly setting world records. A 2.5kg a week increase equals 130kg a year. I’d be happy with an extra 130kg on my squat by the end of this year.

    5/3/1 was a good program, but I think that Beyond 5/3/1 is a much more useful book. It offers different variations on the program including: a high-volume version, using back-off sets, a Powerlifting-specific variation, including dynamic effects, and his famous Joker sets.

    I won’t talk about each of these individually because to get the full concept you need to read the book rather than a two line summary. Suffice to say, there is a clearly set out way to tweak the core concepts of 5/3/1 in order to change the focus. I’m assuming that Jim has gotten a lot of dumb questions concerning how to implement some of the suggested tweaks in his original book, because the exact percentages and workout are laid out for each of the variations.

    The entire program is centred around improving the main lifts: squat, dead, press, and bench. For guys looking for some more speed (i.e athletes) then he has incorporated a version with power cleans, and then written out program a where it replaces the deadlift and one where deadlifts are included as well.

    He talks about workout frequency, since ‘how many days a week should I lift?’ is apparently his most common question. He covers the sort of factors which all effect the number, but he then turns it around on the reader. His answer it with a question: “How many days of the week are you willing to emotionally, socially and physically commit to training?”

    If you’re unwilling to commit to training twice a day, six days a week, then don’t start a program based around that. You’ll start missing sessions and then probably stop altogether. If you can only commit to two days a week, then it’s better to plan your program around that.

    The one problem I have with 5/3/1 is that I have seen it either given to or tried by novice lifters. I don’t think anyone below an intermediate level should be performing heavy singles. Novices should stick to some sort of linear progression such as Rippetoe’s Starting Strength or even Greyskull Barbell’s LP.

    In the future I will write an article outlining the other common option for intermediate lifters: the Texas Method; however next week I’ll be writing a report on the seminar I attended yesterday with World Champion and Olympic medalist Dimitry Klokov.