I’ve been a big fan of Jim Wendler’s writings on strength for awhile. For those that aren’t aware, Jim’s one of the big boys over at EliteFTS, a former football player and competitive powerlifter. Like most of my favorite strength-writers, Jim’s always managed to keep things simple, to the point, and effective. There’s a definite trend towards overcomplicating things; it’s the people that can explain strength training in simple and practical terms that will benefit you the most.
Recently Jim’s released a new ebook simply called “5-3-1”. What the hell is that, you ask? In simple terms, it’s a program. However, I hate to use that word because of all the negative connotations involved. It’s better to say that this is a strategy for training.
The book starts out by detailing Jim’s own history as a powerlifter, how he pursued his own training, and what led to him to this particular routine. This is where he really hooked me – as someone that’s come to realize that blind pursuit of bigger lifts isn’t really in the cards, his opening really appealed to me. I’m at a point where I still want to lift and be as strong as I can be, but I have no interest in doing that with crazy powerlifting gear, or while sacrificing general fitness and health as I have in the past. He makes it clear up front that this arrangement is designed exactly with that in mind.
The rest of the book is just straight to the chase. He lays out the foundations of the program, which is a four-week training cycle. The big lifts you’ll be training are the military press, squat, bench press, and deadlift (and yes, there are allowances made for some substitutions if you can’t do some of those). This basic cycle is where the 5-3-1 name comes into it. The first week involves sets of 5, second week sets of 3, and the third week is three sets of 5-3-1 respectively. The fourth week is an easy week for deloading purposes. It sounds simple, and that’s the beauty of it: simple is effective, as we so often forget.
There’s some detail about how to estimate a 1RM and then compute your numbers for each four-week block based off that. There’s nothing new or revolutionary here (nor is anything claimed to be, I should add), but there are major points scored for making it very easy to digest as well as “idiot proof” – something that’s lacking in virtually every discussion of periodization. If you can’t figure out how to set up a plan based on what he lays out here, then you didn’t pass elementary school math.
These are the real gems here, in my opinion. Instead of pages of theory-wanking, you get a deceptively simple plan that can be milked for years. The four-week cycles that are the basis of this system can be extrapolated for months down the line, thanks to Jim’s plan for progression, and when you do hit a wall, there’s ways around that, too. Instead of “just a program”, you’re getting an actual strategy that can set you up for gains over the long run – if you’re just willing to stick to it and put in the work.
This is a far cry from most mass-marketed “programs”. If you’re the type that needs a “new workout” every eight weeks, then you probably won’t like this. If you’re more interested in getting results than playing around with every new thing that comes out, then this is right up your alley.
The rest of the book is given over to exercise demonstrations and several examples for incorporating assistance work after the sets for your main lifts. Some of this is redundant if you’ve paid attention to prior EFS articles, but you can’t really complain about it because it needs to be here. It’s solid info and there’s never any harm in having it in one place. There are also options given for varying the routine in several ways, say if you can’t make it to the gym four days a week, which will undoubtedly come in handy.
All in all, this book is very complete and very useful. As I said, I’m a big fan of Jim’s writings on the subject, and this is no exception. If you’re one of those that needs a lot of fads and fancy gimmicks and wanking over theory, you won’t like it. If you just want a good productive program and a simple strategy that you can use to get strong (which is what I personally gravitate towards these days), then I’d highly suggest picking this up.
You can pick up a copy over at EliteFTS.