We first reported about the 5/3/1 method in April 2009. The brainchild of Jim Wendler, a world-class powerlifter and now strength coach and senior editor of Elite Fitness Training Systems (visit them at elitefts.com), it’s one of the most effective ways to get brutally big and strong that we’ve ever come across. Learn how to do it below, and then apply it to the workouts we gave you in “Build an NFL Neck” in this April’s issue.
HOW TO DO 5/3/1
1. Find or estimate your one-rep max on the barbell shoulder press, deadlift, bench press, and squat. This is the most weight that you can handle for one perfect rep. Be conservative.
2. Now subtract 10% from each of those numbers. These are the new maxes you will base each lift on. For example, if you’re sure you can bench press 225 pounds for one rep, 90% of that max is 202.5 pounds. For simplicity, round this down to 200 pounds. This is your new “max” for the program.
3. Each week, you will perform three sets of each lift. The first week, you will do sets of five reps. The second, sets of three reps. In the third week, you will do three sets of five reps, three reps, and one rep respectively, and in the fourth week, you will deload and do sets of five again with much lighter weights.
4. Each set will be done with a specific percentage of your new max weight. The percentages will increase each set.
It looks like this:
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|65% x 5||70% x 3||75% x 5||40% x 5|
|75% x 5||80% x 3||85% x 3||50% x 5|
|85% x 5||90% x 3||95% x 1||60% x 5|
5. On the third (last) set of each lift, you can perform more than the given number of repetitions. Because you’re basing your lifts on a much lighter weight than your actual max, it should be easy to get more than the prescribed reps on every set, but only push it on the last one. You can go for as many reps as possible some days (say, get 15 reps on your five-rep day), or, if you’re feeling tired or rushed, just get a couple more than is prescribed, or even the minimum number. This is up to you and you should go by how you feel. However, you should never go to total failure. That is, do not perform reps until you cannot do another one with good form. In general, leave a rep or two “in the tank” on this last set. On the first two sets, always do only the prescribed number. These count as warm-up sets. Note that in the Week 4 (deload) workouts, you should not go for a maximum number of reps. Let yourself recover by completing only the five prescribed reps.
6. After four weeks, add five pounds to your max (the one you calculated, not the one you started with) on the shoulder and bench press and 10 pounds to your deadlift and squat max. Recalculate the percentages and begin the cycle again. You can continue doing this for many months. When the weights start getting so heavy that you can’t get the prescribed reps anymore on the third set (or you’re barely getting a rep or two more and it feels very heavy), take 90% or more of the max you’re working with and begin again.
7. You should record the number of reps you get on the last set every week. This should motivate you to break your own “rep records”. By consistently breaking records, you ensure that you’re getting stronger.
8. Always start your workouts with one of the four main lifts using this system, and then perform assistance exercises afterward. On upper body days, you can follow your shoulder and bench press with chinups, dips, and various other pressing moves, and on deadlift and squat days, you can do leg exercises and then work abs. There are many ways to do this. You can follow the workouts in the “Build an NFL Neck” story for simplicity.
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