Jul 20, 2013

Strength Training Discussion - Wendler 5/3/1

Here's the second in a series of posts from Jake on strength training.  He's been studying up on a number of the "gold standard" strength programs out there, and sharing executive overviews of the methodologies.  You can locate this and other related articles using the "Strength" tag in the category search at right.

Any questions, experiences, or insights to share?  Post to comments!

II.  5/3/1 by Jim Wendler

"What would Conan do?" - Jim Wendler
The 5/3/1 program is very simple compared to the Westside methodology (and that's pretty simple minus the bands and chains). Here's a quick overview:

Essentially the program can be broken down into 4 week cycles, and the emphasis is long term strength. Don't be tied down to the exercises too, you can sub in push-press, jerks, power cleans, power snatches, front squats, Olympic pulls, full clean and jerks, full snatches. For clarity I'll stick to the Big Four that Wendler talks about which are Press, Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift.

You can train anywhere from 2 days to 4 days (5 wouldn't be a stretch either) a week. The big version is roughly Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday with one of the Big Four on each day. That's right; Jim is saying squat big once a week in the baseline model of his program. Now to be clear there are tons of ways to make this work, and Jim highlights a 3 day full body version similar to Rippetoe's Starting Strength squatting 3 days a week, and a 2 day version, with multiple versions of each.

Jim's cycles emphasize doing 3 sets of 5 on week 1, 3 sets of 3 on week 2, a set of 5, 3, and 1 on week three, and a de-loading week at 3x5.  The last set on each exercise being as many reps as you can do. This is how he measures progress and PRs, reps at weight. He uses a pretty good predictor formula of a 1RM. It is not 100% accurate, but it'll do the job. It looks like this:

Weight x Reps X 0.0333 + Weight = Estimated 1RM. 

I did it on my 5 rep maxes and it's close enough. 

Percentages for each workout and week get progressively tougher.

  • Week 1: 65%, 75%, 85% for a set of 5, with the last set at 85% being as many reps possible
  • Week 2: 70%, 80%, 90% for a set of 3, with the last set of 90% being as many reps possible
  • Week 3: 75%, 85%, 95% for a set of 5, a set of 3, and a set of 1, being as many reps possible
  • Week 4: 40%, 50%, 60% for a set of 5. No extras because you are de-loading
Here is how you use this program.  Whatever your maxes are currently, not your best ever, but your current best, start off using 90% of that as training max.  Using that training max you plug your numbers into the percentages listed above.  After you go through a cycle, only increase your maxes by 5 pounds – seriously.  Your max might have gone up more, but this program is focused on long term.  Then re-plug your new 5 pounds heavier max into the percentages and go again for another four weeks.  Eventually you may get stuck.  When that happens, take your new current max and drop it to 90% and start over.

Jake’s Two Cents:  This program is essentially an intermediate program.  If you are just starting to get under the bar, you can make significant gains fast due to the novice response which I’ll cover in a later edition, with a more aggressive beginner program like Starting Strength.  But this will work too, just not as quickly.

The rest of the program plays out similar to Louie over at Westside with assistance exercises, different emphasis though. Louie firmly believes that the assistance exercises are the key to developing weak spots and advocates up to 10 extra workouts a week. Jim recognizes them as assistance exercises that are useful, but not the main course of the meal, as such he has a few templates to use, my favorite is the “I’m not doing Jack Shit” for assistance exercises.

That is essentially the 5/3/1 methodology. It isn't tied specifically to powerlifting (though technically neither is the Westside Methodology), and is more in line with the general strength that Rippetoe advocates.  For the CrossFitter that wants to add some more strength work to his or her routine but still wants to have time to do the METCONs, this is a good option.

Hope it helps, and until then – Chalk Up.

- Jake


Matt B. said...

Jake, thanks for these summaries and your take on the "so what" to a crossfit'er.

Jake78 said...

Thanks Matt! More to come too!