Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 Strength Training Program Review

Today we will examine Jim Wendler’s famous Beyond 531 PDF system. I want to point out, before I proceed, that 5/3/1 is not a generic, cookie-cutter “program” that can be easily analyzed. Jim Wendler has produced over 500 pages of content about 5/3/1 through his various book publications, including the original 5/3/1, 5/3/1 for Powerlifting, and Beyond 5/3/1.

There are literally several dozen versions of the 5/3/1 program in these books that cater to a variety of goals, including improving conditioning, getting faster and jumping higher, enhancing strength in general, and yes, setting PRs on the big three for powerlifting.

An in-depth review of every single variation of 5/3/1 is virtually impossible in an individual review. I will have to stick to the popular versions of 5/3/1 floating around the internet, unless you want to read a 100,000 word article or watch a four hour video.

I will mention revisions Jim made to the current book Beyond 5/3/1 whenever possible as I address the original 5/3/1 program. It is worth noting that the original 5/3/1 was published in 2009, which means five years ago. This original template has been substantially changed and, in my opinion, improved by Wendler. Most people still use the original variation, so our review will focus on it.

If you’re interested in doing ANY version of the program, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Beyond 5/3/1. Wendler’s book contains his latest and greatest thoughts regarding 5/3/1. You need to update your knowledge base on 5/3/1 if you are unfamiliar with “First Set Last” or “Joker Sets”. You can’t do Wendler’s current program without understanding the concepts discussed in Beyond 5/3/1.

Context and History of 5/3/1

We’ll start by giving a bit of context to the origins of the 5/3/1 program. It is ironic that Jim Wendler invented 5/3/1 when he decided to leave powerlifting. Yes. When he quit powerlifting, Jim Wendler came up with the 5/3/1.

More or less, Wendler didn’t like being “fatass” who was useless for anything except squatting at monolifts. Walking around the block left him out of breath, he claims. Thus, he wanted to design a program that looked at strength holistically; he wanted to incorporate conditioning and mobility into his overall approach to strength.

Wendler reverted to a simple percentage-based training program by removing the complexity of the Westside-style training that he had been using. As a youth football player, Wendler was almost certainly exposed to the Bigger, Stronger, Faster lifting program that influenced 5/3/1. Designed specifically for competitive athletes, this program served as a fantastic framework for people wishing to improve their overall condition without focusing explicitly on powerlifting.

In case I haven’t made my point explicit, the original Wendler program was designed as a viable alternative to powerlifting. Powerlifting was never intended to be the focus of 5/3/1. It is important to remember this.