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Jim Wendler 5/3/1 Joker Sets explained [Article, Video]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Aug 23, 2015 7:20:24 AM

Jim Wendler 5/3/1 Joker Sets explained

Joker Sets are being used in the Jim Wendler 5/3/1 weightlifting program to auto-regulate good and bad days. You will increase your top set by 5 - 10% in weight and aim to complete the repetition maximum for the day. Joker Sets have been brought in by Wendler in his iterations of the Wendler 5/3/1 program as powerlifters criticized it for its lack of autoregulation and is published in Beyond 5/3/1.

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Auto Regulation means adjusting the daily training to the body's needs on a given day. The rate of perceived exertion or short RTE can be used as a basis to judge this. What you basically do is to do an educated guess on how hard the last set felt to push yourself further in your training. This also means that you should have knowledge of your body and how it behaves at the limit. The more experienced you are, the more likely it is that you can use autoregulation. Stay away from autoregulation without a coach if you are a beginner.

Autoregulation in any program mainly assures that you are not undertraining by implementing additional challenges when the core program feels too easy so that you ensure that you will progress at the fastest possible rate your body allows without breakdown. If you want to learn more about autoregulation I recommend this article by Mike Tuscherer about RTE methods applied in powerlifting.

How do you define a good day in 5/3/1

A good day in 5/3/1 highly depends on your personal preferences and body. As a rule of thumb, I liked the ideas provided in the attached YouTube video which points out that you have to earn Joker Sets on the given top Sets of the day.


How do you define a bad day in 5/3/1?

A bad day on 5/3/1 would be when you struggle to get beyond the 5, 3 or 1 repetition on your top set. If this is the case implementing Joker Sets would mean training to failure which you should avoid in training. In training, your goal has to be to never miss a rep or set to be ready for your meet.

  What is a top set?

The top set is the most challenging set of your day in weightlifting. This is the set where you either go the heaviest or for the most repetitions. Everything after or before on that given day were sets with less weight and/or fewer repetitions. If you do a program like Stronglifts 5x5 or German Volume training which has 10x10 repetitions I would personally say, that the last set could be considered your top set, as your body is the most exhausted when attempting it.

How do you do a Joker Set?


I have taken an example out of my calculations sheet to demonstrate how a Joker Set works. Purposefully I left them out in my version of the calculator, as they are highly dependent on individual development and circumstances and not part of the core curriculum. 

Here you see an example of a 5 repetition maximum week. The 3x5 worksheet including the top set at the middle of the day. Let us say you do 7 - 9 repetitions and feel good after it. Take a 5 - 10 minute rest and go for the Joker sets aiming to complete the higher loads. Stop when you do not feel like you could complete the next set with all repetitions anymore. You could argue that you are implementing a new top set with your joker sets for the session on a given day, but I personally think that is a technicality.

Further reading on Wendler 531



Topics: Jim Wendler 5/3/1, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman