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Jim Wendler 5/3/1 Joker vs Volume Sets

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Oct 11, 2015 11:16:08 AM

Joker Sets

Jim Wendler 5/3/1 Joker vs. Volume Sets

With the updates in Beyond 5/3/1 Jim Wendler introduces joker sets for autoregulation and also a couple of other templates to add volume to his program, based on what your personal needs are. This post explains my approach to when to use which. So far this yielded a new 180kg Deadlift PR and a 75kg PR for me after being two months on the program. This is an appraoch which is only recommended if you have already lifting experience of a year as it requires good knowledge of lifting theory and your body to make the right decisions in the gym.

If you get dizzy just reading this article, go for a simpler lifting template to start.

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The importance of autoregulation

If you follow a program like German Volume Training or Stronglifts 5x5 two things can happen. First the program does not challenge your body enough on good days and asks too much of you on bad days (stress, sickness, alcohol, take your pick). Second you can get bored and stop the program altogether. 

For beginners this is usually not that much of a problem, as they are progressing fast and seeing the gains they are making. Not so much with more experienced lifters who see smaller gains over longer periods of time, as they already built a solid base and progress is slower.

Entrance autoregulation, which is basically saying, on a good day push it that bit further to get more gains, and on bad days, call it a day after you have completed your core routine. Also it keeps exercising fun and surprising, as you never know what you will have achieved, when you enter the gym.

Autoregulation is about having a plan for the best and worst case scenario.

The volume approach

If you use the Jim Wendler program you are familiar with the as many repetitions as possible top set. The top set of the Jim Wendler program is the sixth set of each session, in which you do the most weight and most repetitions for the day. This in itself is already a piece of autoregulation, because the better you feel, the more repetitions you will do.

I personally would recommend to do not more than 9 repetitions in a 5 repetition week, not more than seven on a 3 repetition week, and not more than 5 repetitions on a 5/3/1 week.

Whenever you enter the gym, you should also have a clear mindset about how many repetitions you are aiming for on your top set. If you do not hit this number, you have failed your goal and therefore you do volume sets instead of Joker Sets.

The Volume sets is five sets of the first work set that you have done on that very day. Depending on the week this is 75% or 80% of your calculated Jim Wendler one rep max. On the 5 repetition and 5/3/1 week you go with 75% for 5 reps per set, on the 3 week repetition week for 80% for 5x3.

Leave yourself 1.30 rest between sets, basically running a mini Stronglifts 5x5 cycle.

The thinking behind this is that you are not strong enough to push beyond your goal for the day, as you did not hit it. Still experience shows that the more you lift, the stronger you get. The ideal repetition and load range for developing strength rather than muscle is in the 3 - 5 repetition range at 75 - 90% of your one rep max. As you already have a full Jim Wendler session in your bones we pick the lower range at 5x5x75% or 5x3x80% to still challenge you, but not crush you and make you fail. 

The Joker approach

The volume approach kiciks in on a bad day on which you have the time to get more repetitions in. On a good day, where you hit all of your goals or have to cap the top set as described, you opt for Joker sets. 

A joker set means that you will increase the weight for the given exercise by 5 - 10% and do another set. So on a 5 repetition week you do 5 rep, on a 3 repetition week 3 reps and on a 5/3/1 week you do 1 repetition. You keep adding 5 - 10% per set until you think you will not complete another set. For me this is usually two to three joker sets added at the end of the Wendler session to push it that bit further.


Opt for volume sets int eh 75% & 3 - 5 repetition range on bad days. Increase your top set by 5 - 10% on good days and repeat until not able any more. This will ensure that you get the right combination of volume and overload in your program to keep you accelerating towards your goals.

Further reading



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