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Wendler 531 cycle [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jan 11, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Jim Wendler cycle

Wendler 531 cycle

This is to jelp you to understand what a Wendler cycle is and how you can use it to your advantage. If you want to learn more about the program please check also my youtube channel where I filmed and commented my progression on 531.

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Who is this Wendler guy ?

Jim Wendler is a strength coach, former powerlifter & high school footballer from the U.S. He is a father and likes to ride his motorcycle which also lead to a moajor accident in the past and put him out of his training routine for a couple of month. 

While training on the conjugated method / westside method and reaching his goals there he fell back on his football days when he was more agile, explosive and enduring and changed his training routine up.

He combined how knowledge from that football training and powerlifting routines and wrote two books. At the core is the 5/3/1 principle. The concepts here are explained in the 5/3/1 book. His publication Beyond 5/3/1 expands upon the developed principles to fill in some gaps especially around autoregulation and acessory work around the 5/3/1 core principle.

If you wanted to be critical on his approach, then you would point out that there are not a lot of studies and samples for his theories which are clinically proven. 

I personally like him for his straight forward outspoken style without overcomplicating things based on his personal experiences. If you are looking for an advisor around strength who is / was actually super string and went through it himself, Wendler is the right guy for you.

What is a cycle ? 

When it comes to programming I personally think it can be hard to understand the different components of a program before making crystal clear what each component is. Therefore here a little overveiw, which will also come in handy for you to evaluate other programs.

A cycle consists of different phases and focuses on a main goal which are all geraed towards one common fit ness and/or strength. Cycles are longer than phases and usually contain some kind of switch of focus during the training by incorporating different phases. I found that most cycles are atleast a month long.

Phases concentrate on one particular subgoal of the goal of the cycle. Let's say your goal within a cycle is to improve strength. Components of strength are explosiveness, grip strength, responsiveness of the nervous system, muscle size and recovery. The phases than would hone in on these subgoals to stimulate progress in them. You would have a eplosive phase, grip strength phase etc. until you end a cycle when all of these components have been adressed. Phases usually consist of at least one and maybe more sessions.

A session is the act of going to the gym on one particular day from walking into the doors until finishing the work of the day. Sessions usually split into upper / lower body as it is usually not recommended to train both on the same day when incorporating weightlifting.

The subclass of session are sets. A set is a certain number of repetitions for a certain exercise which is repeated with rest in between. 

A repetition is a full range of motion on a particular movement to stimulate muscle growth, explosiveness or recovery. 

Here an example to break this all down for you for easier comprehension:

  1. Cycle Goal: Strength ( 1 - 3 months)
  2. Phase sub goal: Develop explosiveness ( 1 week - 1 month )
  3. Session to achieve subgoal: Lower body explosiveness (1 day - 1 week)
  4. Sets: 5 sets of five sled pushes with 100kg
  5. Repetition: Sled push to end of parking lot and back

What is a Wendler cycle ?

Now that we have clarified what a cycle is we can dive into the specifics of a wendler cycle. In his 5/3/1 book wendler developed a cycling method which consists of four phases which are

  1. 5 repetition Phase
  2. 3 Repetition Phase
  3. 1 Repetition Phase
  4. Recovery Phase

The sessions within the phases stay the same which are for each phase

  1. Squat
  2. Bench Press
  3. Deadlift
  4. Overhead Press

What varies are the load that you pick and how many repetitions you are doing. Generally you will work heavier with less repetitions when you progress through the cycle from 5 to 3 to 1 and than have one phase of recovery to restart another cycle. 

Depending on how often you train a week this will influence how long a cycle will take. As there are four sessions per phase it breaks down as followed when the time components is apllied:

  • Train 4 times a week = 4 sessions a week = 1 Phase a week = 1 Wendler cycle a month
  • Train 2 times a week = 2 sessions a week = 1 Phase in 2 weeks = 1 Wendler cycle in two month

I hope you get the gist of it, otherwse feel free to reach out if you not help in computing yout time needed in the comments below.

How many cycles can I run ?

In theory you can run unlimited cycles on the Jim Wendler program. Still reality will catch up with you and you will stall at some point.

As lon as you are getting stringer with the 531 workout keep going. When you see that you are not making any more progress for two cycles in a row I would recommend to do one of these three things:

  1. Reset the Program by recalculating and retesting your 1RM 90%
  2. Switch program
  3. Mix up 531 with the principles out of beyond 531

For me personally the first cracks started to show after 6 cycles in December 2015.

What do I have to take care of when on a Wendler cycle ?

Calculate your number right before going in to the gym. You should know what you have to put on the barbell and how many repetitions you want to do on your top set before you start your sessions. In my personal opinion this is achieved best by having a prefilled excel spreadsheet based on your starting statistics. This can be used to calculate your number into the future and have a well designed predetermined plan.

Everything you need to achieve this is explained on the Jim Wendler calculator post.

Another key components to take care of is to get enough sleep and eat enough when on the program, so that your muscles are rested and have anough nutrition to develop and get stronger.

When would I cycle off Wendler ? 

Pretty simple, when you do not get stringer anymore and your body has adapted to the program so much, that you need something else to shock the system to grow. This adaption though takes defenitly longer than a month...

What is your paersonal experience with the program ?

I had a lot of fun playing around with the numbers and achieved my goals with it. Defenitly recommended. 


Further reading on Wendler 531




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