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Wendler 531 for beginners [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Apr 6, 2016 10:00:00 AM


Wendler for beginners ?

Probably Stronglifts 5x5 and Starting Strength are more valid choices for beginners than Wendlefr 531 based on my personal reference and what I could gather in the ever-expanding universe of crap AKA the internet. Hope you enjoy the detailed reasoning below.

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What is Wendler?

Mr. Wendler is a person first and furthermost. As you can see on his own blog he is quite a fan of metal. In his sports career, he authored three books, 5/3/1, Beyond 5/3/1 and 5/3/1 for powerlifting. The 531 program gained quite some popularity in gyms over time and I personally have done it myself. The program can be reviewed in more detail in my explanation of the Jim Wendler calculatorand six months review.

What is a beginner?

As a beginner means a lot of things to a lot of people let's define the term first, before moving on to commenting on whether 5/3/1 is suitable or not.  The general definition of  a beginner is:

"A person just starting to learn a skill or take part in an activity."

Moving on from the general to the specific we can say that the program is 

  1. Designed for strength development
  2. Uses free weights
  3. Uses the barbell as a form of free weights
  4. Uses the squat
  5. Uses bench press
  6. Uses the deadlift
  7. Uses the overhead press

Here you already see that there are seven dimensions in which you can be a beginner when starting on Jim Wendler 531. The more of these movements and goals you have not followed yet, the more of a beginner to 5/3/1 you are. In addition, the cycles and calculations required can be quite overwhelming for someone who is just new to the topic of strength training. 

Pros and Cons of Wendler for beginners

To start with the pros of Jim Wendler for beginners is that there is a lesser risk of injury than with other, more aggressive programs and that you can progress for longer until you stall, as the program has a slow ramp. If you are able to have the patience and work through all the numbers, you will also learn quicker and understand more of the principles of lifting as other beginners who do not invest the time.

This being said, I personally think that the Cons for beginners outweigh the pros. Due to its slow progress, the program makes not full use of the advantage of quick adaptation that beginners have. It is ok for beginners to be a bit more aggressive in their progression if they start from a healthy base. This is the nature of the game. There is no need to postpone plateaus. There could actually be a case made to progress beginners quicker to the limits (within reason) to gain experience at the limit.

Which other options do I have as a beginner?

Very valid and often used alternatives are Starting Strength and Stronglifts 5x5. It seems like there is a neverending debate online about which is the better program. I have only done 5x5 so far and was very happy with it. A lesser-known alternative that you might want to consider is the Powerliftingtowin Nobvice program. Looks solid to me and I use their website quite a bit for inspiration and knowledge.


In a nutshell, I would consider Wendler less suitable for beginners as they can progress quicker on other programs, the risk of injury with the loafds they use is relatively small (given good form has been emphasized before starting the program), and performing the program correctly needs experience in calculating your one-repetition maximum. A further point is that beginners might lean from training to failure too often on Wendler on the AMRAP set.

Further reading on Wendler 531



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