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Start of the one year Wendler 5/3/1 experiment

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Aug 2, 2015 10:38:00 AM

Jim Wendler 5/3/1

Start of the one year Wendler 5/3/1 experiment

This is the start of my journey to go from mid to upper intermediate strength level to elite strength level within a year using the Wendler 5/3/1 program. Start will be after my holidays in california 2015 and end will be the same time next year. The aim is to finish at a one rep maximum of 200kg for the squat, 165kg for the bench press and and 235kg for the deadlift at 80 - 88 kg body weight.

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What is Wendler 5/3/1 ?

Wendler 5/3/1 is a program developed by Jim Wendler to get stronger. During his days as a powerlifter he realized, that the training he did for powerlifting was too specific to produce healthy overall strength. While he was and still is a successful powerlifter he realized, that there are more variations to strength than just the three big lifts. 

The program itself mixes the three most successful rep schemes for strength gains together which are 5x5, 3x3 and one repetition maximum tests. These schemes commonly hold true in most of the literature you will find around weightlifting and also held true for me specifically. Mehdi from Stronglifts 5x5 recommends these repetition ranges, Louie Simmons from Westside and Greg Everett and who is a famous Olympic weightlifting coach. I can prolong the list, but believe me I did some reading and training on this and for strength gains you want to be in the 1 - 5 rep range. Here you will find more details to decide on your rep schemes and load.

The program uses four lifts 

  • 1. Squat
  • 2. Bench Press
  • 3. Deadlift
  • 4. Military press
For Accessory work there are several options which I will not go into in this post. I personally picked the Frank Medrano beginner calisthenics routine as I will go balls out on the last set and leave it at that for the lifts for the day. 

Depending on whether you will train four times a week or not it will impact your mesocycles and how long they will be. If you stick with a four times a week training schedule one mesocycle will be four weeks long and that is the template I have chosen for this experiment. 

Week 1 is a 3x5 week including warm ups. Week 2 is a 3x3 week including warm up and week 3 combines a set of 5/3/1 hence the name of the program. On the last set of the day you go all out trying to max out the repetitions. Week 4 is a deload week. This will all make sense, once you look at the tables below.

Once you are through one mesocycle, in my case a month of training, you increase your one repetition maximum by 5 pounds / 2.5kg for the bench and military press and 5kg / 10 pounds for the deadlift and squat. 


At the start of the program you will use your one repetition maximum to calculate your mesocycles. Wendler recommends using 90% of your current maximums to start off with the program. If you want more details on the structure and the program themselves see this post about 5/3/1. Why this one ? Because it is from the man himself. If you really do need some advise around assistance work the Triumvirate and Boring but big challenge


To put all of that theory into practice for me and to help you out to start I will explain these numbers with video proof, where I can provide it, so that you can follow the process. So these are my current one repetition maxes which by time of writing are roughly three months old:



 The form on all three lifts is far from perfect, that is why I will take them and subtract 10% of them as recommended by Wendler at the start of the program. If you feel super confident in your statistics you could do without that, however it is not recommended and one of the main reasons why people see no progress is that they overload their lifts and do them with shitty form (including me!). 

Based on this my starting calculations look like this:



I have not done a military press since quitting Stronglifts 5x5 in March 2015, so I am going in with fairly conservative numbers on this lift to be on the safe side. For all remaining lifts you saw the video proof which you can fee free to critique on YouTube or in the comments below. I have already worked on the problem that my ass came off the bench there, and still working on it. Once you have written down your starting weights you move on to calculate one mesocycle. For my numbers it would like like this for the first month of training in numbers and roughly in sessions. Followed are 5x5 and triplet sessions I have done this year to give you a feeling how the numbers on paper will look once translated into real life action moving some weight. 


These sessions would look a lot like this:





These sessions should look a lot like these:



This week would be a combination of the videos I have shown you before including one set near 90% of your ever best. Currently I do not have any video material to show for this, but you get the gist of it.



Week 4 is a deload week to complete a cycle before you go up in weight. So these are the numbers as an example for you. If you want to create your own program, I have linked a excel sheet for you to download at the end of this post.

Why Wendler 5/3/1 and not a different program ?

For me personally there are several reasons I will go on Wendler 5/3/1. Most poeple go with what is recommended to them by others and this is also one layer of my decision making. If you have a look at the German channel Raigeki fitness he is using a 5/3/1 rep scheme and this German is a hell of string functional monster. To be honest I am quite envious of his build and what he is able to do.

Furthermore I personally appreciate and cherish Brandon Campbell's channel, as he is a lifter about my level (well a lot better actually) and also my age (mid thirties, sorry Brandon). He has his own review of Wendler 5/3/1 up on his channel and repeatedly said after trying out other programs that he saw good gains on this program the first time he did it. He also voices some concerns of not being happy with the program due to lack of specific instructions for the accessory work, which I fixed by bringing in Frank Medrano's beginner program.

Out of my personal experience I had the most satisfying gains from 5x5 and 3x3 rep schemes. Also Stronglifts 5x5 works with deloads once you fail and I made good progressions through that. In addition Wendler specifically says that he designed this program not for powerlifters specifically, but for poeple who want to increase their general strength. While this is criticized on for me it fits directly and neatly in my overall schedule, which also includes running.

I currently do not use high repetition schemes asin German Volume Training or CrossFit. For German Volume Training the reason being is, that I did not see any strength gains while packing on 5 kg of mass, which does not fit my personal goals of being able to run fast and be string. For Crossfit I lack either the technique when it comes to the Olympic lifts or the strength and I don't particularly want to water down the prescribed WOD's (work out of the days) by scaling them. 

Why such a long time ?

My best results I have seen so far came from sticking to Stronglifts 5x5 for roughly a year. All of the programs I did for just 4 - 5 weeks did not really give me the same satisfaction. Also each professional lifter I see on YouTube (and yes if these guys have a proven track record of lifting heavy stuff of the ground, I will believe them) point out that you should pick a program and stick with it until you see no more gains. Advise is on the side of take a program, run it for a long time, and than switch, rather than switching regularly. 

Further reading

On the deadlift

On the squat

On the bench press