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My first Jim Wendler 5/3/1 cycle

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Sep 19, 2015 6:05:32 AM

My first Jim Wendler 5/3/1 cycle

I have done my first Jim Wendler cycle and I am stoked. I hope I can continue this program for a year without any stalls, because that would make me an elite lifter by definition. Here are my impressions after a month of 5/3/1.

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Getting back to training after vacation

In August 2015 i went to California in the states and did not do a lot of training. I stayed on top of my game using my 30 day challenge apps, but I did not touch a barbell once. Before I went I felt like I had a hernia or even broke some deep down layers of my stomach. My numbers went up on the bench press and the deadlift, but my squat stalled for considerable time. So from a training perspective the last three months have been a bit of a mixed bag. 

As I made good experiences with a 10x3 template, the Stronglifts 5x5 program and sticking to a program for one year I thought Jim Wendler 5/3/1 could work for me. After the the break it was a good opportunity to get into a new program.

I checked some reviews on YouTube and also watched an intervew with Jim Wendler himself which gave me the final push to go for it. Just be careful with that interview as it does not talk about the program and the intricacies of it, but more about his life. 

Hitting all the lifts

First cycle on Jim Wendler 5/3/1 all green

In the picture above you see all the lifts I did August / September 2015 in kilograms out of my Jim Wendler calculator. This works als for pounds, but if you interested in details just download the picture and look at the progression. I explained this lifting template in an earlier post, if you need details.

Success breeds success. In my first cycle of the program I was able to hit all of the prescribed lifts at prescribed weight. I could not say that for a program in a long time. What I found especially positive about this experience was my 120kg squat by 5 repetitions followed by singlets of 125, 130 and 135 kg. Pulling this one of after staying of training for about a month was huge for me, as my current one repetition maximum for the squat is at 140kg.

If you are not sure about the deload to 90% that Wendler prescribes when starting the program, please do not hesitate to try it. I personally think it was very good and it sets you up for success. The more lifts you hit the more confident and stronger will you get and your body has the time to adopt to the new loads in increments without failing.

The patience will pay off in the long run, so stay away from being greedy. If we assume that i will progress with successfullly comleting all of my sessions for ayear I will end up with a 200kg squat and a 235kg deadlift. That would mean a 60kg increase on both lifts. The details are illustrated below on how my last cycle will look in a year. By this time I will have reached Hugh Jackman levels of lifting, doing 200kg for reps on the deadlift.

Final cycle of Jim Wendler one year experiment

How to autoregulate when on 5/3/1 

Autoregulation is just a fancy term powerlifters use to express that there are bad and good days in the gym and that you should rip it on the good days and take it down a nodge on the bad days. This one needs a bit of brain activity on your part and actually reading Jim Wendler's books to get the best out of it for yourself.

For me there are three components of autoregulation beside the core lifts being Joker Sets, Accessory work, and Down sets for volume. The core set in the Wendler system is you last set of the day of the main program where you do as many repetitions as possible. If I hit 9 on five repetition week, seven on a three repetition week and five on a 531 week it is a good day so I will rip it with further Joker Sets for the day. In the case of not getting to these numbers I will go for five more sets of the first work set of the day to get some volume in, which I call down sets. This ensures that I get volume in on weak days and power work in on good days. For me this helps as I have well defined If.. then scenarios for each session.

Same goes for accessory work. If you spent more time doing your accessory than with the core program you might be doing something wrong. Depending on the day I opt for no accessory work due to weakness or lack of time or body weight exercises like dips and pull ups on a good day.

Changes in diet

I did not change my diet that much. I am already eating a balanced diet anyway with a lot unprocessed proteins and carbs. My take on it is fairly similar to that of Wendler and you will find my thoughts on diet in this post.

The only thing I've changed as that I have enlarged my supplement stack from Whey protein and casein only to taking creatine, CLAs and BCAAs. This was achieved by purchasing the Lean muscle bundle from my protein, which is a steal compared to getting my usual tub of optimum nutrition merchandise in my local shop. I will do a deep dive on the differences at a later stage.

When researching my new stack I came across some Biotest products when searching for "Jim Wendler supplement stack" on the internet. I would not recommend those due to the further research I did.

Impact on strength

Jim Wendler progression within first cycle

The above picture only compares the calculated one repetition maximums within the first cycle. Looking at this I already got stronger, although I am roughly back at the levels that I had before taking my break. 

This in itself is already a great achievement and If you want a detailed rundown than you will find me crunching the numbers on 5/3/1 on youtube.

Use a one repetition maximum calculator to set yourself some goals when you walk into the gym and improve over time. This will help to stay focus and to know what to do to progress.

How to use a deload week when travelling

In the final week of this cycle I had to travel for business purposes and could not stick to the 4 day a week training schedule. As it was a deload week I just simply did the squat and bench press session on Monday, travelled to Germany on Tuesday to come back on Friday and do my military presses and deadlifts on Saturday. I think this worked out all right.


My first cycle went by fast and with fun and I am happy to have chosen this program. Once the calculations are done you walk into the gym, lift, suceed and improve. Experimenting with the Joker Sets and body weight accessory keeps the routine interesting while keeping focus in the core program on what matters most. All in all a promising start and I am excited to see what the next cycle will bring.

Further reading

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