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5-3-1 I’m Not Doing Jack Shit

By Jim Wendler

Intermediate (2-3 years)
9 minutes/day | 4 days/week | 4 weeks
Good for
Gain Strength, Powerlifting
Barbell, Flat Bench, Squat Rack
Average Cardio Intensity
Average Exertion

The 5/3/1 Philosophy

The 5/3/1 philosophy is more important than the sets and reps. Whenever I feel like I’m getting sidetracked or want to try something different, I revisit these rules to make sure I’m doing things the right way. Even if you decide this program isn’t for you, these basic tenets have stood the test of time. Take these things to heart, and you’ll be greatly rewarded.

Emphasize Big, Multi-Joint Movements

This really isn’t any secret. Beginners have been told to do this for years, and advanced lifters swear by these movements. Multi-joint lifts are lifts that involve more than one muscle – i.e., not an isolation exercise like leg extensions – and allow you to build the most muscle. These lifts are the most efficient for building muscle and strength. Examples are the squat, deadlift, bench press and power clean.

Start Too Light

My coaches emphasized this to me when I was in high school, but unfortunately, I didn’t listen. Hopefully you will. Starting too light allows for more time for you to progress forward. It’s easy for anyone – beginner or advanced – to want to get ahead of themselves. Your lifts will go up for a few months, but then they’ll stall – and stall, and stall some more. Lifters get frustrated and don’t understand that the way around this is to prolong the time it takes to get to the goal. You have to keep inching forward. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most lifters. They want to start heavy, and they want to start now. This is nothing more than ego, and nothing will destroy a lifter faster, or for longer, than ego.

Progress Slowly

This goes hand in hand with starting light. Slow progress might not get you the best rewards today, but it will tomorrow. The longer you can progress, even if it’s by one rep or 2.5 pounds, 9 the more it means that you’re actually making progress. People always scoff when I want their bench to go up by 20-25 pounds their first year. They want the program that will put 40 pounds on their bench in 8 weeks. When they say this, I ask them how much their bench went up in the last year, and they hang their heads in shame. I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want progress – even it’s just 5 pounds. It’s better than nothing. It’s progress. The game of lifting isn’t an 8-week pursuit. It doesn’t last as long as your latest program does. Rather, it’s a lifetime pursuit. If you understand this, then progressing slowly isn’t a big deal. In fact, this can be a huge weight lifted off your back. Now you can focus on getting those 5 extra pounds rather than 50. It’s always been one of my goals to standing press 300 pounds. In the summer of 2008, I did just that. When someone asked me what my next goal was, my response was simple: “305 pounds.” If you bench press 225 pounds and want to get 275, you have to bench 230 first.

Break Personal Records (PR’s)

This is where the fun of this – and any – program begins and ends. This program allows you to break a wide variety of rep records throughout the entire year. Most people live and die by their 1-rep max. To me, this is foolish and shortsighted. If your squat goes from 225x6 to 225x9, you’ve gotten stronger. If you keep setting and breaking rep records, you’ll get stronger. Don’t get stuck just trying to increase your one rep max. If you keep breaking your rep records, it’ll go up. There’s also a simple way of comparing rep maxes that I’ll explain later. Breaking personal records is a great motivator, and it’s also a great way to add some excitement into your training. When you do this, the sets and reps carry much more meaning. There’s something on the line. You’ll have greater focus and purpose in your training. You’ll no longer have to just do a set of 5 reps. You’ll focus on beating the number and beating the weight. All of the above concerns are addressed in this program. Even if you don’t follow this particular program, I believe these things should be emphasized no matter what you’re doing or why you’re training.

The 5/3/1 Program

This is a very easy program to work with. The following is a general outline of the training I suggest. I’ll go into detail on each point in the chapters to follow. 

  • You will train 3-4 days per week (this will be up to you).
  • One day will be devoted to the standing military press, one day to the parallel squat, one day to the deadlift and one day to the bench press.
  • Each training cycle lasts 4 weeks.
  • The first week you will do 3 sets of 5 reps (3x5).
  • The second week you will do 3 sets of 3 reps (3x3).
  • The third week you will do 1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps and 1 set of 1 rep (5/3/1).
  • The fourth week you will do 3 sets of 5 reps (3x5). This is an easy deload week.
  • After the fourth week, you begin again with 3 sets of 5 reps.
  • Each week and each set has a percentage to follow, so you won’t be guessing what to do anymore.

This is my favorite. I don’t recommend it, but it’s useful for non-beginners who have limited time to train. The I’m Not Doing Jack Shit program entails walking into the weight room, doing the big lift for the day (bench, squat, military or deadlift), and then walking out. I’ve done this plenty of times, especially when I’ve trained in commercial gyms. There are some advantages to this. You’ll be supremely focused on one thing: getting your sets done and breaking a PR. You won’t be worried about your assistance work, whether a machine is going to be available, or how much good mornings suck. I’ve made this deal with myself many times before I’ve trained: If I do X weight for X amount of reps, I’m leaving. I do this fairly often, and I’m sure it seems odd. I recently went to a commercial gym, warmed up, did my working sets and set a huge PR. I sat there for a little while, then decided to leave. As I was walking out, I looked around at the other people training, and I wondered whether anyone else had set a personal record that day. For my part, I know I walked out of there better than I did when I walked in. 

The disadvantages here are obviously the lack of both volume and balance, but it can work for a while. If I had very little time to train, I’d do this. Sometimes, when you’re struggling to find time to train, you think you can’t make progress. With this type of training, you will. 

Show More

Standing Barbell Military Press (AKA Overhead Press) demonstrationPlay Standing Barbell Military Press (AKA Overhead Press) demonstration
3 sets, 5 reps, (rest 60s)
Use the 5/3/1 method
Show Alternative Exercises

Barbell Deadlift demonstrationPlay Barbell Deadlift demonstration
3 sets, 5 reps, (rest 60s)
Use the 5/3/1 method
Show Alternative Exercises

Barbell Bench Press demonstrationPlay Barbell Bench Press demonstration
3 sets, 5 reps, (rest 60s)
Use the 5/3/1 method
Show Alternative Exercises

Barbell Back Squat demonstrationPlay Barbell Back Squat demonstration
3 sets, 5 reps, (rest 60s)
Use the 5/3/1 method
Show Alternative Exercises

Date Created: 12/7/2020, EST

Last Updated: 12/14/2020, EST

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