Why 5/3/1 Sucks

“The author has mocked one of the greatest training programs of all time. Should we allow him to live?”  A paraphrase of one of the worst quotes ever to grace a T-nation article.

Note 1: The title of this post is an example of what is known in the business as “sensationalism”.  If I had titled the post: “Why 5/3/1 is a decent beginner/intermediate program that is probably better that what you were doing before – you idiot – but vastly overrated by the majority of the morons, noobs, wimps and closet cases on the internet, and the book is also a fucking ripoff,” it would be more accurate.  But also too long.  And would not attract as much attention.

Note 2: This is not a personal attack on Jim Wendler.  He is stronger and larger than me, a powerful businessman, an excellent writer (read his article about being a college football walk-on), and seems witty and cool.  I don’t need ad hominem attacks to make my case.  In fact, when you are reading this, assume that I bench 135, have a 2 inch penis, and live in my parent’s basement.  Judge my argument on its own merit.

Note 3: I am not going to show here that Wendler’s program “doesn’t work” or that “5/3/1 will not make you stronger”.  I can just see the internet tough-guy brigade getting ready to defend their guru and his magical program.

What is Bigger-Faster-Stronger?

In the early 2000s, I worked at a gym (and by worked, I don’t mean that I was any kind of trainer or expert – I folded towels and cleaned the bathrooms, got paid minimum wage, and basically just wanted a place to lift weights for free).  I saw three moderately strong HS football players lifting there one day.  Between sets, they were diligently filling out these BFS worksheets.  

For the BFS offseason program you did 2 main exercises a day.  I think (look it up yourself) it was  Mon – Towel Bench (kind of like a foam press), Box Squat; Wed – Power Clean/Deadlift (usually Trap Bar or Stiff Leg); Fri – Bench/Squat,  Week one you did 3×3, 1×10.  Week Two was 5×5.  Week 3 was 5,4,3,2,1.  Week 4 was 10/8/6 (except for exercises where only crossfitters would do that rep range, in which case you did 4,4,2 and dropped the set of 10 from week 1).   After the main work you did assistance work… 2 sets of 8-12 of chinups or leg curls or whatever. You kept track of all your set & rep records, tried to beat your PRs.  And on the last set you did as many reps as you could.  Does this sound familiar, 5/3/1 acolytes?

Note: i am not saying (like some Internet commentators have suggested)  that Wendler “stole” or “copied” BFS. Yes, there are similarities.  Like a Ford Focus and a Honda Accord.  Honda is not suing Ford for copying their groundbreaking 4-wheeled design.  And both are adequate cars that would never be confused with a Lamborghini.

After seeing the system, I decided to give it a try.  I photocopied their worksheets and started lifting.  I think I replaced towel bench with overhead press or something.  And I got results.  After a few months, I ran into those guys again (they usually trained at the high school weight room) and I ranted and raved about how great BFS was.  

They looked at me like I was a yokel who had just discovered soap and was telling them how great it was to shower five times a day.  I still remember the response of the largest, a lineman (who IIRC had about a 315 power clean @ bw of 275).  His response:

“Dude, do it for three years like we have and then see how much you like it.  You think you are going to keep going up every week?  5-4-3-2-1, fuck that.  I hate those fucking weeks.  You know what else sucks?  5×5.  Fuck that too!  If I go to college and they have us still doing BFS, I think I’m gonna shoot myself.” 

What is the 5/3/1 program?

In my blog in 2009, I posted that I was going to do a program where you focused on 1 big exercise a day and trained 4x a week.  The exercises were Squat, Deadlift, Bench and Military Press, the same exercises in 5/3/1.  You can believe me or not, but I had never heard of 5/3/1 and was not referring to that program. 

Those are good choices for main exercises.  The program worked for me.  For a time.  Then I stopped making progress. 

What is the 5/3/1 book?

It is 97 pages long.

Page 1-5: title, dedication, contents, etc.
Page 6-7: Wendler used to be a high-BP, gear wearing, 1000 lb squatter.  Now he is too busy and wants to just lift raw – and with 5/3/1, he is strong again.  Very important takeaway: The author of 5/3/1 says that it is best for people who are too busy and need something simple.
Page 8-10: The 5-3-1 philosophy.  Basically, 3×5, 3×3, 1×5,3,1, 3×5 (light).  Add 5 lbs to upper body maxes and 10 lbs to lower body maxes and repeat.
Page 11: A list of days of the week that you can train on.  Seriously.  And a picture of Wendler squatting.
Page 12-18: How to do the main exercises.
Page 19-20: About chalk, belt, wraps, shoes, etc.
Page 20-22: The percentage scheme that you should use.  Not getting into it here.  Wendler says to start light, using 90% of your max as your max.  Which is good advice, especially for morons, who figure that they once sort of benched 315 with 3 guys helping but that was a year ago, so their max is about 350, which is the weight they want to bench at a meet in 4 months.
Page 23: On your last set, do as many reps as you can.
Page 24-31: A sample of how to plug in numbers into a template in case you failed math.
Page 31-45: Acceptable Assistance Exercises and how to do them:
dips, chins, pushups, rows, shrugs, db bench, db mil, db incline, bb incline, lunges, step-ups, leg press, back raise, good morning, gh raise, situps, db side bends, hanging leg raises, ab wheel
Page 45-51: How much assistance exercises you should do.  Various choices with catchy names.
Page 52-54: Well-written exhortation not to be a pussy.
Page 55-58: How to warm up.
Page 59-60: Do conditioning.  Push a prowler or run hills.
Page 61: 3 day a week version for pussies
Page 62-63: 2 day a week version for busy pussies.
Page 64: 1 day a week version for people who should kill themselves.
Page 65-66: How to use excel
Page 67-76: FAQ, not too bad, except where he says that 5/3/1 is for beginner – or advanced lifters
Page 77-84: Success stories.  Yeah, i’m pretty sure “Bill Smith went from 340×1 on bench to 315×5!!” and its ilk should go on the cover of the book, or at least not take up 9% of its contents.
Page 85-87: Percentage charts for the calculator-challenged
Page 88-96: Photocopy these charts for your use.
Page 97: Picture of Wendler and his son.

So please, unless you want to get hustled, do not spend $25 on this glorified pamphlet.  Do the program if you want, but if you must spend money, buy “Dinosaur Training”.  It is 10x more entertaining, has 5x as much content, and provides actual suggestions for 1) writing your own program and 2) not doing the same thing in 4 week cycles for the rest of your life.

Who is 5/3/1 good for?

If your previous workout was bench press, curls and leg extensions, you will make gains and likely start posting on internet forums and reviewing the book on Amazon.

It is also good for:

  • Beginners (defined by the ability to perform the exercises correctly – those who cannot should pick up a copy of starting strength instead)  up to Intermediates (defined by the cessation of 5/3/1 gains and the ability to write one’s own program like a big boy)
  • Guys who are too busy to learn about training but still want to be moderately strong
  • People who are stupid and/or lazy
  • Athletes who need a decent training program and could care less about learning anything; also, busy/disinterested coaches
  • T-nation dick-riders and Wendler ball-garglers

What is your point?

Here are my main objections to 5/3/1 and the summary of all this rambling:

1. Do not expect 5/3/1 to work long-term.  You will eventually plateau.  If you add 10 lbs to your squat every month and 5 lbs to your bench, and start with a 225 bench and 315 squat, in five years of 5/3/1, you will be squatting 915 and benching 525.  Raw.  Do not expect 5/3/1 to take you to the upper reaches of powerlifting unless you think there  is something magical about the number sequence 3,3,3,5,5,5,5,3,1,5,5,5.

2. Stop asking Wendler stupid questions on online forums.  You are only embarassing yourself.  If you cannot answer every possible 5/3/1 question with this blog post and google, then buy the book.  If you still have questions, you are too dumb and should not under any circumstances be allowed in a dangerous place like a gym.

3. Stop classifying 5/3/1 as an “advanced program”  That means you, lift.net.

4. Stop riding Wendler’s cock. This means you, T-nation.  Some jabroni invented a mod of 5/3/1 called  8/5/3, (or 8/6/3, i can’t care) .  The T-nation editor prefaced the article about this program  with this asinine quote: “The author has monkeyed with one of the greatest training programs of all time. Should we allow him to live?”  This goes double for his internet fan club at that site and elsewhere.  If you are gay, that is fine.  That is a personal preference, not a reason to choose a training protocol.

5. The book is 97 pages and apparently sells for 24.99.  Some of the pages are blank.  So the picture of Wendler and his son cost you more than a quarter.  The pages of people saying how good the program is cost you $1.75

6.  Please under no circumstances attempt to justify any of the above criticism by saying that “Beyond 5/3/1” is better and people should spend more money on that.

7. Summary of summaries: The 5/3/1 program is adequate.  But in no way innovative.

78 thoughts on “Why 5/3/1 Sucks

  1. this was a funny post. also, it carries some truth along with the humor.

    of course wendler wants to make a buck where he can. namely, by writing an e-book and selling it to people like me: someone who wants to be strong but lacks the knowledge or intelligence to make their own program. a program that actually makes them stronger, that is. I do not hold that against him, and neither do you, it seems.

    what I would like to add on the plus side is that wendler seems to have a low tolerance for bullshit. this, I would say, is his biggest strength (pun intended, oh yes).

    • Greetings, my Swedish friend. Glad you liked the post. I see you are getting results from 5/3/1. Which is good – you are the target audience.

      To clarify, in cultural terms that you will relate to, Hrothgar and his men trained 5/3/1. Beowulf also started out with a basic program. But after a year or so, Hygelac switched him to something more advanced. (Grendel took too many anabolics – which strengthen the muscles, but leave the tendons weak)

      • the cultural reference gets an a for effort. using the characters from “the long ships” would be very impressive, though.🙂

        just out of curiosity I wonder: at what point, roughly, in your training did you switch from BFS to something else? and can this something else be a template be something from westside?

        for me personally, I feel that 5/3/1 still has plenty to offer with regards to strength development.

  2. @lyfta (I can’t figure out how to reply to a reply). I will check out “the long ships”. I studied Beowulf and Old English for 2 semesters. I have all my training logs and will have to look back to see. I personally have done westside program 2x for about a year each time and got almost nothing out of it. More about this in a blog post, but this is basically the same thing I will say: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2013/05/29/west-of-westside/

    I switched when BFS stopped working. Which is when you should stop 5/3/1. I am looking forward to an archealogical/statistical study of my training. I do believe I made good progress on a HIT-type program at one point. Not the Mentzer “forced reps every 2 weeks” or the Darden “slow motion for weak muscles” programs, as those are rightfully mocked as gibberish. But on a Leistner/Kubik type of routine: “Squat a big weight for a lot of reps. Press a big weight for a lot of reps. Chinup/dip a lot. Deadlift a big weight for a lot of reps. Farmers Walk. Vomit!”

    I hope my next few blog posts will be useful to you.

  3. I agree 100%. When 5/3/1 was popularized, my first question was if we already had tried and true programs that worked wonders such as 5×5 and 20 rep squats, why do we need a new one? As if 5×5 and 20 rep squats didn’t work anymore or never existed? Leave it up to advanced marketing to change what the masses believe over time. The marketing professionals are good at what they do and while that is a good thing to help people like Jim in gaining popularity and making a few bucks, it still kind of disgusts me a bit. Marketers literally do control what people believe in. Protein anyone? 6 meals per day? Low carb diets? It’s all a bunch of marketing crap!!!

  4. On Wendler’s fb, he sounds like hes Satanic with a post he wrote. I’m not religious, but I have my limits. I bought his book before I read the post and it’s always bothered me.I also didn’t like how the book is filled with other peoples workouts for filler with a 531 version. Its OK a lot of tattoo beard Juggernaut gimmick theme. They always have a theme like Dorian with go to failure.

  5. 5/3/1 worked well for me, then as you said, I plateaued. I get a kick out of how the dumb asses are more concerned about assistance work than the four lifts. It’s simple, pull-ups between all exercises and dips. Done.

    Great stuff

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  7. There wasn’t any actual critique of the program. It was a wordy way of saying that T-nation shouldn’t hold Wendler in such reverence. Great. Anyone that can rub two brain cells together and has access to the internet knows you don’t have to buy the actual book to follow the program.

    • “There wasn’t any actual critique of the program.”

      Yes there was, you lazy, illiterate slob.

      but to reiterate: it’s not bad, especially for beginners/intermediates, and it will work for a while, then you’ll plateau.

      oh that’s not enough? you want me to critique “Squat” and “3×3”?

      “Anyone that can rub two brain cells together and has access to the internet knows you don’t have to buy the actual book to follow the program.”

      But yet thousands still did. This post was addressed to the ones who were considering joining them.

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  9. The goal of the program is to get the minimum required reps at a particular weight on the last set so you can move on to the next cycle. It gives you a goal each workout. How you warm up to that set or what you do after really is up to the lifter. The goal is to keep progressing. There is PLENTY of flexibility within the program. Just gotta use the brain and stop following like sheep. You will plateau on any program, but like any good program, there is always a continuation – what is it you call that again……oh yea, a cycle. I doubt most who say 531 is inadequate haven’t done it for a TM reset, don’t know how to listen to their bodies or just flat out want too much too fast.

    • Your comment is so nonsensical that I thought it was written by a spam generator.

      “The goal is to keep progressing.”

      How profound. Yet if you do 5/3/1 forever – you won’t.

      “Just gotta use the brain and stop following like sheep.”

      So don’t follow the program?

      “You will plateau on any program, but like any good program, there is always a continuation – what is it you call that again……oh yea, a cycle”

      So you’ll plateau – but because 5/3/1 has cycles – you won’t plateau.

      “I doubt…” I assume you mean you DON’T doubt.

      “haven’t done it for a TM reset,”

      guilty because i don’t know what TM is or how it “resets” I’m guessing you’re not talking about Transcendental Meditation but really about the Texas Method which every powerlifter followed in the 70s and 80s and was invented by Mark Rippetoe in 2011.

      “don’t know how to listen to their bodies”

      Because Jim Wendler can listen to your body better than you.

      “just flat out want too much too fast.”

      I’m sure you’re eminently qualified to know what “too much” and “too fast” are.

      I made a blog post to argue that 5/3/1 is a decent (but overrated) program that won’t work forever, and is not for advanced lifters. I love how people come to my comments section to insist that 5/3/1 is a decent program for average lifters, but it won’t work forever.

      • I don’t even think 5/3/1 is that great for new lifters. Why? It encourages shit form. Most people with a strength-oriented focused are hungry for rep PRs, which 5/3/1 conveniently gives you the opportunity to try for EVERY FUCKING DAY. Combine that with few working sets, and for many people, a large proportion of your [lacking] volume will be grinders. Not good.

        Beginners, do just about anything to build up your work capacity, then most seem to have better success in strength if they move on to a high volume sub-max style of training that allows them to move heavy weights for a lot of good reps without grinding or causing excessive burnout.

        Seriously, 5/3/1 is good for begintermediates who have enough experience to be able to do the exercises correctly, enough self-control and body awareness to avoid grinders most of the time, and yet are too fucking lazy/busy to add an extra half hour to their session to actually get some reasonable volume in. Kind of a limited group.

        • Nice comment. I’ve seen it too. “yay i got my 1RM for 9”
          my buddy Emilio would do deadlifts but between “reps” would like straighten up, stretch his arms, spin in a circle, cough, take a sip of water, rechalk, etc. Ok you can’t blame 5/3/1 for this but he couldn’t figure out how come like 455×4 gave him 465 at the meat.

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  11. I like this article even though I’m running a variation of beyond 5/3/1 right now there’s nothing magical about it. It’s just a rep scheme pretty fuckin simple.

    • You don’t judge a blog post based on one sentence either, you moron. The book contains very little information, all of which is available for free. Someone’s VERY bitter about wasting their money, LoL.

  12. What’s. Your point?

    1. 531 has worked for me for 5 years. Seems long-term to me. “Do not expect it to take you to upper reaches of power lifting.” Making it to the top of powerlifting take more than a proper program. Your entire life needs to be dedicated to it. Youre hating on 531because it won’t make somebody the strongest power lifter around, but whether one reaches that high level has a lot more to do with will and work ethic than a program

    2. How does ppl asking stupid questions online make 531 a bad program?

    3. If by advanced you mean complicated then you’re right. 531 is simple, and it works for dudes whos lives are not geared around breaking records with shriveled balls.

    4. I don’t even know what this point means. Stop being a fan of wendler cuz it makes you mad? Why don’t you stop being a hater.

    5. Book sells for 20$, same as a 30 rack of beer. Priorities. For as popular as it is, that is very cheap.

    7. Nothing in lifting is innovative, it’s all been done. Lift progressively and you’ll get bigger and stronger.

    You are a clown and this article sucks.

    • I think I’ve. Made. My points. Abundantly. In the post. And in the comments.

      1. “531 has worked for me for 5 years. Seems long-term to me.” SHIT I WAS WRONG. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING.

      “Making it to the top of powerlifting take more than a proper program… a lot more to do with will and work ethic” So you lack will and work ethic?

      2. “How does ppl asking stupid questions online make 531 a bad program?” It doesn’t. But it helps me feel confident that most of the people who slavishly follow and defend 5/3/1 are stupid and/or The comments on this post are further proof.

      3. “it works for dudes whos lives are not geared around breaking records with shriveled balls.” So 5/3/1 does not help you break records? Or it does not shrivel your balls? Or either? Cause I’ll agree to both. So I guess we’ve found some common ground.

      4. “I don’t even know what this point means…stop being a hater” It means that if you don’t praise Wendler effusively for selling an overpriced, overrated, unoriginal, uninspiring book – or if you disagree with his fan club – then you’re a hater.

      5. “Book sells for 20$, same as a 30 rack of beer. Priorities.” If he sold it for $500, that would the same as a bottle of Krug Brut Vintage 1988 Champagne. By your logic, if weighttraining is a higher priority to you than drinking expensive champagne, you should buy the book.

      7. “Nothing in lifting is innovative, it’s all been done. Lift progressively and you’ll get bigger and stronger. ” So why did you buy the book?

      I am a clown! See my icon!

      • In your article you said. What’s your point? And then listed 5 stupid points. That’s what my “what’s your point” was corresponding to, I wasn’t actually asking you.

        1. Right, you are wrong, it has worked for me and many others long term, so How can you prove that 531 doesn’t work long term?? What is your basis for this statement?

        2. I agree those people are probably tools, but then again so is anyone wasting time bitching about people positing on online forums.

        3. No–Im just not trying to be an elite power lifter, that’s not where I dedicate most of my will and work ethic. I’m just a strong dude, but those that i know who are, could have gotten there with any of 20 different programs. Because they want it more than anything…

        Also your reasoning skills suck trying to make the jump from my original statement to ” you lack will and work ethic.”

        3. Im trying to break my own personal records not take grams of test (shrivel balls), and waste time piling chains and bands on the bar to break world records. Kudos to those that do, but that’s now what 531 is about as far as I can tell.
        So yes 531 does help me break records, but no, it doesn’t shrivel my balls.

        4. That’s just an awful analogy and again makes no sense. The analogy was saying if you’re willing to pay 20$ for a 30 of A Bud light, you can cough up 20 for 531 if u want.

        The dumb comment about champagne could make sense but economically it doesn’t since the market for workout programs wouldn’t allow that…so it’s a moot point, stupid comment.

        5. Why buy aMy book on training by that logic? I don’t buy things because they’re innovtive. For example, there’s probably 1000 books on human anatomy, it’s all the same info and concepts for the most part, yet you still need one, so you buy the one that makes the most sense to you and suits your learning style. Who says something being innovative makes it valuable it worth having?

        • Ugh, your logic is terrible. You can’t use claims that “it worked for me”. Even if you provided proof, that’s a sample size of one. Oh sorry it works long term for many imaginary people. So do magnetic rings.
          Anyway maybe I’ll write more later to rebut you. In the meantime I’m uh glad that the book has not helped you become an elite powerlifter because that was not what you wanted.

          • You are a joke… So how many people need to say that it works for them year after year to refute your claim? My logic is perfectly clear. You made a universal claim that 531 does not work long term with zero evidence. You say eventually you will plateau… That is strictly opinion and not based on objective fact…. So is your whole article.

            1. Show me proof that 531 does not work long term
            2. show me proof that another program works long-term without “imaginary” anecdotal reports.

            .

          • Also 531 has not helped or hurt my ability to become an elite powerlifter. I simply don’t want to, so not sure what that was supposed to mean.

          • “That is strictly opinion and not based on objective fact…”

            um, it’s kind of based on experience and the fact that i don’t see any reputable textbooks or authorities advising lifters to do 3×3, 3×5, 5,3,1, 3×5 endlessly. But your imaginary results and that of many other imaginary elite powerlifters who all have been allegedly following 5/3/1 for years has changed my mind.

            “show me proof that another program works long-term”

            no, because they don’t. you can’t just do the same thing for repeating four week cycles endlessly.

  13. I think your critique of 5/3/1 was a victorious hurrah of witty, meaningless content and a giant billboard that says “I like to hear myself talk”, if that’s what you were aiming for.
    As far as not being a personal attack, you basically gave a good portion of the books contents
    away, which is a bit different than the 5/3/1 program itself being available on the internet, those
    are two different things. One could say that is a breach of intellectual property. But I digress, let me continue on why I quite frankly think you are full of shit.

    (Note 3: I am not going to show here that Wendler’s program “doesn’t work” or that “5/3/1 will not make you stronger”. I can just see the internet tough-guy brigade getting ready to defend their guru and his magical program.)

    I’m not sure where the nuance is here? you kinda did just that when you outright exclaimed “5/3/1” will not work forever. It seems kind of convenient to hold on to the notion that your
    statement is protected by the fact that you never said it didn’t work, just that it didn’t work
    forever.

    Also, call me a simpleton but I didn’t really see any point of referencing the BFS progam? It seems like you were trying to illustrate a conceptual outline of the common programming of
    both of those programs being obsolete. Your punchline seemed to be 3 kids who ran the program for 3 years and didn’t make progress? I can’t speak for them, but I can say a measely
    3 people is a massive and glaring bit of anecdotal evidence. I seriously do not see
    any reason for talking about the BFS program and the 3 kids who followed it for any reason
    other than engaging in journalism.

    1. Do not expect 5/3/1 to work long-term. You will eventually plateau. If you add 10 lbs to your squat every month and 5 lbs to your bench, and start with a 225 bench and 315 squat, in five years of 5/3/1, you will be squatting 915 and benching 525. Raw. Do not expect 5/3/1 to take you to the upper reaches of powerlifting unless you think there is something magical about the number sequence 3,3,3,5,5,5,5,3,1,5,5,5.

    Oh my, how do i go about addressing this without ripping content from the book, I’ll just say
    this and the 5/3/1 owners will know. Jim Wendler never makes grandiose claims that you will
    indubitably make progress at the rate of 5 and 10 ounds respectively a month. In fact,
    he specifically says “People always scoff when I want their bench to go up by 20-25 pounds their first year.” Let’s see, there are 12 months in a year, and a rate of 5 pounds a month on your bench, 5×12 = 60, 60 does not = 20 or 25, Well, that one is pretty much crushed, good showing of your own laziness, though.

    Do not expect 5/3/1 to take you to the upper reaches of powerlifting unless you think there

    Why do you talk about some concept of an expectation of 5/3/1 making you great in powerlifting after exclaiming so thoroughly how the program is geared for lazy trainers? Secondly,
    there are many versions of 5/31, there is 5/3/1 for powerlifting, (this is in the book)
    boring but big, the 5/3/1 hypertrophy protocol, 5/3/1 was never marketed as something to take someone to the pinnacle of powerlifting. In fact, if you bothered to read the book, Jim Wendler
    even writes specifically that 5/3/1 was birthed from his quitting of competitive powerlifting because he had lost his balance of physical ability FROM competitive powerlifting.

    I won’t bother addressing the meaningless wit. These are the facts, one argument to another. 5/3/1 never claimed to be innovative, a large central theme in it is bringing back lifters
    to simple basics, it has never purported to innovate anything, Jim Wendlers explanation of how he thought of it is hardly evidence for that.

    I look forward to your rebuttal.

    Sincerely,
    5/3/1 fanboy –

    • “One could say that is a breach of intellectual property.” One could also say that it’s a review of a book without much content.

      “It seems kind of convenient to hold on to the notion that your statement is protected by the fact…” Let me explain it to you, because you seem a bit slow. What I’m saying is that almost anything works at first when you change your program up. So claims like “IT WORKED FOR ME! I GOT STRONGER IN 12 WEEKS” should be viewed with suspicion. Especially if the person then thinks that they should just do 5/3/1 forever

      re: BFS, sigh, it’s an anecdote to illustrate that doing the same endless program (a program suspiciously like Wendler’s btw) is a recipe for boredom and plateau. Hang on let me find the one exception to the rule, the one guy who did BFS or 5/3/1 for ten years straight and won the Olympics. There. See! You’re right! 5/3/1 is great and not at all modeled on a weight training program for busy high school football coaches in the 1980s.

      oh the whole rest of your comment is just tedious drivel. Fine, i give up. You guys win. 5/3/1 is an excellent program. Do it for your entire life. I was wrong it will not put on 60 lbs on your bench every year. It will only put on 25. So if you do it for ten years and you bench 225 when you start, you will bench 475. Because it will keep working forever. Then if it stops working, send Wendler more money and buy more of his books. That is the key to success. You have found it. It is for lazy trainers and competitive powerlifters, advanced and beginner lifters. It is innovative. Oh wait, you say it’s not innovative. Fine. Yes. What now? It is for people quitting powerlifting because they were hurt. Okay fine. You are not successful or strong, but it’s not 5/3/1’s fault. It is not Wendler’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault. Okay? Happy? Congratulations.

      • “One could say that is a breach of intellectual property.” One could also say that it’s a review of a book without much content.

        Witty drivel

        Let me explain it to you, because you seem a bit slow. What I’m saying is that almost anything works at first when you change your program up. So claims like “IT WORKED FOR ME! I GOT STRONGER IN 12 WEEKS” should be viewed with suspicion. Especially if the person then thinks that they should just do 5/3/1 forever

        Who then specifically is this aimed at then LOL? Your entire thesis is a continuous ever receding pile of bullshit hanging by a thread.
        If your point is that the program is “nothing special” because almost anything works when you change your program up, then you’ve clearly illustrated yourself as ignorant of the fact that 5/3/1 doesn’t purport to be anything special, again, the central theme is bringing convoluted lifters back to a basic grounded set of principles to get stronger. Many programs do this, It seems your argument has more direction against the audience than the program itself, and that is just idiocy.

        (a program suspiciously like Wendler’s btw)

        This would fall in contradiction to your following comment:

        Note: i am not saying (like some Internet commentators have suggested) that Wendler “stole” or “copied” BFS. Yes, there are similarities

        oh the whole rest of your comment is just tedious drivel. Fine, i give up. You guys win. 5/3/1 is an excellent program. Do it for your entire life. I was wrong it will not put on 60 lbs on your bench every year. It will only put on 25. So if you do it for ten years and you bench 225 when you start, you will bench 475. Because it will keep working forever. Then if it stops working, send Wendler more money and buy more of his books. That is the key to success. You have found it. It is for lazy trainers and competitive powerlifters, advanced and beginner lifters. It is innovative. Oh wait, you say it’s not innovative. Fine. Yes. What now? It is for people quitting powerlifting because they were hurt. Okay fine. You are not successful or strong, but it’s not 5/3/1’s fault. It is not Wendler’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault. Okay? Happy? Congratulations.

        Was anything actually said here? I mean to be honest you got a slight grin out of me, but at the end of the day all 5/3/1 is, stripped to its core PRINCIPLES, is
        a 4 week cycle with a deload, with a little room for overtraining because you’re using 90% of your max, That doesn’t mean that the additional information Wendler gives you do not have merit. By the way, I find your American Psycho picture at the top to be in bad taste.

        • Don’t quote entire paragraphs. It makes your comments hard to read.

          Re: Intellectual property, it’s not witty drivel. It’s you accusing me of reprinting Wendler’s book, when what I did is fair use.

          I don’t know what you want from me. 531 is an all right intermediate program that will work for a while. If you don’t care about being very strong or you’re too busy, by all means have at it.

          Thank you for your concern about the American Psycho background. I now
          know it’s unpopular in the not-very-serious-about-lifting, semi-coherent,Wendler-fan demographic though, and I will adjust accordingly.

          • Generally those who follow 5/3/1 to the tee are going to become serious because they are adhering to common sense principles of getting stronger. Don’t worry I won’t quote your paragraphs anymore, I figured you’d appreciate the readers digest version of my retort. What I am saying is that the notion that 5/3/1
            “will not work forever” is stupid and rests on the assumption that the program is set in stone, when it is made abundantly clear that one should troubleshoot their programming when they stall. I don’t how how the fuck else you want that to happen, he states go back to using 90% of your max, what do you want the book to say? 80%? 70%? Should it include different rep ranges? I figured when we trained for strength we trained in a low rep range on the main lifts, so that we could develop the neural pathways to push heavy weights. 5/3/1 does not forbid you from using higher rep ranges on exercises other than your main lifts, you can do whatever the fuck you want on the assistance and supplemental lifts. I still don’t see where the “won’t work forever” thing stems from, you stall in a lift, you reduce the weight and start over, and maybe tweak your frequency, volume, assistance and supplemental lifts, that is all. These are things you do for any program, unless you want to nitpick the percentage 90%? I don’t know what you’re even arguing anymore, if 5/3/1 purported to be concrete in all its content, then yeah, you might have a point, doing the same exact thing forever in lifting doesn’t work, no fucking shit. But it isn’t, and so your argument again loses ground.

          • “if 5/3/1 purported to be concrete in all its content, then yeah, you might have a point, doing the same exact thing forever in lifting doesn’t work, no fucking shit.”

            You need to reread your 5/3/1. I couldn’t find where he says anything about varying the basic program. You can change your assistance work wooo. Or you can do it 3 days a week. Oh you can reset your maxes. That’s called doing the same program forever.

            I can only critique the actual book. If he doesn’t give me plans to adapt beyond “buy the sequel” then so be it. Don’t get mad, Wendler wrote the thing, not me.

  14. Pingback: 5/3/1 Still Sucking | Coach's Blog

  15. I think the rep ranges themselves are hardly relevant, which is what you seem to be unhappy with, the fact that the numerals themselves don’t change. Again, do you want the repetitions to change? Suggesting those big lift reps to become a variable, It’s arbitrary. There are only so many rep ranges one can lift heavy weights with, because if you’re purporting higher rep ranges
    for the squat, deadlift, bench, etc, then you are in direct disagreement with the concept of specific adaptation to imposed demands, and if that’s the case, then heavy weight for low reps is something you simply don’t agree with. I will say it again, there is only so many other rep ranges one can use and still be training the nervous system and fast twitch fibers in order to develop the specific strength for heavy weights. Also, the only other option other than reducing volume, (and resetting your maxes IS reducing volume don’t get it twisted, volume does not = sets) is to increase volume, and for that again, It’d merely be your strength philosophy. Are you actually going to bring anything to the table regarding this? Because the only way I see this going is you turning this into a pro-broz-method pissing match, which would be the far end of the spectrum and thus the epitome of what i said, regarding going the other way from reducing volume. I am not sure how you want the program to change from a 4 week cycle with a deload, which is what should be focused on, not the reps or sets, remember, this is a program in bias to strength, there isn’t a whole lot of room for a colloquial western periodization program with that goal in mind.

    • how many times do i have to say this:

      5/3/1 is a okay (but overpriced and overrated) intermediate program that will work for a little while and then you’ll plateau.

      oh sorry not you and your friends. you’ve found the magical elixir.

      it’s the same four big exercises and 3×3, 3×5, 5,3,1, 3×5 yawn rinse repeat.

      use all the big words you want it still doesn’t make you righter.

      look at all the time you’ve saved doing 5/3/1 – and how it has freed you to defend Wendler and his mediocre pamphlet on the internet.

      • “5/3/1 is a okay (but overpriced and overrated) intermediate program that will work for a little while and then you’ll plateau.”

        Then you can deload, eat more. and sleep more, and continue to make progress at a slower but still continuous rate, you’ll plateau on any program brother. but a plateau is not a dead end, just a steep incline.

        it’s the same four big exercises and 3×3, 3×5, 5,3,1, 3×5 yawn rinse repeat.

        Wait so, strength revolves around variations of the press, squat, bench, and deadlift? who knew, oh yeah that’s a good point, in addition to reducing volume you can also change exercises.

        use all the big words you want it still doesn’t make you righter.

        Lol? Thanks for the compliment I guess, but I’d hardly call my words ” big”, not
        sure how this detracts from anything I’ve said in any case.

        look at all the time you’ve saved doing 5/3/1 – and how it has freed you to defend Wendler and his mediocre pamphlet on the internet.

        I forgot you weren’t sitting there typing right back at me, my bad.

        • “Then you can deload, eat more. and sleep more,” Or change to a better program?

          “you’ll plateau on any program brother” Yes. So change? Or keep doing it for five years?

          “in addition to reducing volume you can also change exercises.” Only assistance exercises. Read the book.

          re big words: “Nervous system and fast twitch fibers in order to develop the specific strength for heavy weights.” “concept of specific adaptation to imposed demands” “a colloquial western periodization program” Yet you don’t know the difference between volume and intensity. Also, must I point out that you have been doing 5/3/1 for FIVE YEARS. Which is kind of like being in the eighth grade for five years tbh. BTW I talked to Wendler and even he agreed that you should buy more of his books instead of doing 5/3/1 over and over.

          “I forgot you weren’t sitting there typing right back at me”
          also got a workout in between. Also, it’s my blog and you’re being wrong on it.

          https://xkcd.com/386/

  16. “you’ll plateau on any program brother” Yes. So change? Or keep doing it for five years?

    A: I don’t think changing the program is the answer, i believe in deloading.

    “in addition to reducing volume you can also change exercises.” Only assistance exercises. Read the book.

    A: Incorrect, one such example of this is being able to trap bar deadlift.

    Yet you don’t know the difference between volume and intensity.

    A: Volume and intensity are more or less colloquial bro terms, volume is actually a function of
    total weight lifted.

    Also, must I point out that you have been doing 5/3/1 for FIVE YEARS.

    A: Must I point out I think you are confusing me with Ike1234? I never claimed to have done 5/3/1 for five years, we are not the same person, I have done many different programs.

  17. “That is strictly opinion and not based on objective fact…”

    “um, it’s kind of based on experience”

    Okay cool, so it doesn’t work for you . That does not mean it does not work for everyone. Your “imaginary” results do not prove your point.

    “and the fact that i don’t see any reputable textbooks or authorities advising lifters to do 3Ă—3, 3Ă—5, 5,3,1, 3Ă—5 endlessly.”

    –Go over to elitefts and see how many “reputable” endorsements there are of 531. Also, why would any strength and condiotioning textbook endorse a workout program?

    “But your imaginary results and that of many other imaginary elite powerlifters who all have been allegedly following 5/3/1 for years has changed my mind.”

    —I have no response to this, because it is not a point or argument, just an ignorant comment.

    “show me proof that another program works long-term”

    “no, because they don’t. you can’t just do the same thing for repeating four week cycles endlessly.”

    –Yea but not all programs do the same thing repeatedly for 4 week cycles endlessly. So again, show me a program that is not 531, that works better long term. WTF program do you folllow anyway?

  18. the most amazing thing is you still reply to this blog since 2013!

    im not a fanboy but i do wendlers variation and tried other programs based on the big 4/5.
    you will stall in any program but this doesn’t make the program bad and advise people not to try it or bash the gains they have from this program just for “switching to new workout ” thing.

    i think you hate the guy /program a lot still, dont know if its only for selling his books in high prices in your opinion or because the program became famous so fast.

    now i would like you to refer me to program you think its better and more perfect in becoming stronger,bigger,leaner, worth buying, and most importantly doesn’t have the “plateau” effect you stressed out as the biggest con in the program

    i think i would know more about your rating , tastes, judgments criteria on what good/bad program is.

    p.s dont mind to paying for it
    dont mind if its complicated

  19. Dude no one invented shit at any time. None of it will keep you from dying. So to comment on this post, amazing. Thanks for everyones time for it simply clarifies how screwed our next life will be. Focusing on this perishable body is a waste of time. No one will care you benched 2000 lbs when your dead cuz the Earth is a grinder nothing lasts forever only our souls. Hang on cuz soon the Internet will loose its freedom of speech as well. I cant wait to see your response ruinXmas. -Peace (cool blog btw)

  20. You know what, I really enjoyed this article. I’m in my mid thirties and several months ago jumped onto the weights/fitness and even started blogging.

    My first port of call was booking a session with a Personal Trainer, which was more to calm my nerves than anything. Then I started doing some research online and came across 5/3/1. Now with my goal simply being to get stronger (been a stick all my life), I found this programme ideal for a beginner.

    However I never brought the book, never saw the point with that much information being out there via a google search. And I’ve never been under the assumption that this programme was the be all and end all of programmes out there. I always planned to keep at 5/3/1 until I felt it was not benefitting me anymore.

    Love the perspective you have given and the honesty that has come with it. I’ll be following your blog for sure!

  21. Just wanted to share, I’ve been on Wendler’s 5-3-1 program since spring – Cycle 7 now, and I’ve only hit a wall one day once so far on the lifts with OH Press (couldn’t get the min on one day’s lift). I do have medical issues and needed a program that gave me focus on the “big” lifts – and allowed me the flexibility to add plenty of “assistance” work in a variety of ways.

    My biggest criticism of Wendler is the lack of training volume (if you worked the program verbatim) – as you age, training volume must increase (in my eyes anyway) – it’s crucial that at the age of 46 that I put in more time into the gym as muscle responds less to activity as we get older. It’s a lot harder to make the gains and I found Wendler to be a good program for doing that. I do like the cycles, structure, just believe the assistance work is lacking (or it lacks some fundamental follow-up to the main lift verbatim). I run my own version of it – and I think it works. With my physical limitations and age, it’s a great program. Follow it up with good nutrition and small intense cardio sessions a few times a week and I believe you have a winner. Best shape of my life in the past 10 years.

    That being said – you are correct in your assessment that the book is really not worth purchasing – I’ve found that to be the case with many training books over the years – but for this one – it was almost comically ironic – I kind of felt misled after buying it – yet the “program” or ideas behind it seem plausible for someone like myself to progress in the gym. It’s not rocket-science – but then again, should any of this be? Unsure – probably the perennial novice in me stating something that a certified (and good) trainer (and yourself) would be able to correctly contradict.

    Good post. Glad to have read it.

  22. is there one point in the article where he explains why the program isn’t good?
    he just bashes the program and says it won’t work for long, but no background on why or whatsoever.
    there are actually some points where the program is not optimal and i was eager to read some of them here, but this article is just not well written.
    no usefull critic in here….

  23. Pingback: The Beast Turned Out To Be A Kitten This Morning | The Old Man's Gym

  24. I am a fan of 5/3/1, but I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of Wendler, I think he’s got a huge ego. I didn’t buy the book, I got it on PDF: you’re right, $20 for 97 pages is a bit too pricey. Going back to my point, there are numerous templates of 5/3/1 and Wendler points out that changing main lifts are fine as long as you stay true to the movement plane (bench press to floor press, bb deadlift to trap bar deadlift). 5/3/1 at it’s core is a collection of principles, up to interpretation. I won’t reiterate any other points made above by 5/3 fanboy. Personally, I think you are a hater who said what you said because you have internet balls and probably nothing better to do but troll somebody who actually made a name for himself in the fitness world. What do you lift? What can you do physically, and what is the program that got you there? If you can do anything close to the people who benefited from 5/3/1, I’d like to know!

    • you are a hater who said what you said because you have internet balls

      learn to read.

      What do you lift?

      Weights.

      What can you do physically

      Your mom. She’s strenuous.

      If you can do anything close to the people who benefited from 5/3/1, I’d like to know!

      Even my most fervent and illiterate detractors will admit that I can lift nearly as much weight as some of the people who have used 5/3/1. Ok, now you know! Yay, isn’t knowing good?

  25. In all honesty… the only issue I have is that he has never given credit to the BFS program as a source of his inspiration. Allot of writers will at least do that if their program is 100% original.

  26. Hey,

    I started out using 5×5 but i hit a stop and reset but just couldn’t do the weekly increase, and needed to move to a program that was monthly. So I choose 531 my friend choose the Texas method, we both progressed over the months. I progressed a bit faster I believe this is due to the ability in the assistance exercises and working on weak points in a more flexible way so i could concentrate on this.

    I prefer 531 over Texas as i can work with the math and create spreadsheets. Plus due to not having a single volume day, which took ages on a single day and could do no assistance work either.

    I agree the book is a bit of a meh, but who wouldn’t do a book if they could.

  27. 531 is not for beginners. You can use it as one but its more for intermediate and advanced trainees. Your points are weak as is your understanding of the system and deloads, not to mention resets. No program will let you progress indefinitely. If you are not a world class lifter or at least an advanced one, your opinion on what works is as useless as your lifts.

        • Nevermind, I just looked at your numbers lol. JC your EXACTLY the type of guy who shouldnt do this program. Jim had said this before as well. 531 wasnt developed for beginners. He wrote a simple beginners version since people like you think they should do something similar. Which does work and is better than not progressing at all but will not benefit a rookie like you as much as when your actually strong. Get a 500 pound deadlift,405 squat and 315 bench minimum before doing 531. Then use it till it stops and reset or try something else and come back to it. Your nowhere near the experience or strength level to critique anyones program.

        • 1. Criticizes grammar on internet to hide lack of actual argument
          1a. Makes grammar error in comment

          2. Criticizes my reading comprehension of a 90 page book that’s half blank. A book which I summarized, reviewed, and debated ad nauseum with idiots like yourself for the last several years. I’ll go so far as to say I’m the leading expert on 5/3/1. Google “5/3/1 sucks” and see who is on top🙂

          2a. Yet fails to comprehend my much shorter and less expensive post or any of my subsequent comments. Here I’ll break it down once again for simpletons and Wendler apologists like yourself:

          No program will work forever. However Wendler charges $20 for this: “3Ă—5, 3Ă—3, 1Ă—5,3,1, 3Ă—5 (light). Repeat.” The only suggestion for variations are lowering your max, changing your assistance exercises, or training fewer days a week. Or buy his next book. ***I’M NOT SUGGESTING THAT I KNOW A SECRET PROGRAM THAT WILL WORK FOREVER.*** I’m saying that 5/3/1 is the same cookie cutter 4 week program over and over ad infinitum and hence is more tedious than most.

          3. Thinks 5/3/1 is suitable for advanced trainees. Sam, I know Wendler says it is on page 74. What’s he gonna say – that it’s not – and alienate the 70% of the population who considers themselves “advanced”? Did you ever think that he might just be trying to sell more pamphlets, er books? Let me give you a hint – when half an exercise book is spent explaining *how to do the exercises* it is not for advanced trainees. (Starting Strength for example. Notice the word _Starting_ in the title.)

          4. Challenges strangers to lifting contests on the internet.

  28. “1. Do not expect 5/3/1 to work long-term. You will eventually plateau.”

    This holds true for every program. There are natural muscle growth limits and genetic limits of strength. The program does not claim to work forever.

    “Do not expect 5/3/1 to take you to the upper reaches of powerlifting”

    The program does not make such claims. Probably 99.9% of people who lift are not interested in competitive powerlifting anyway.

    “2. Stop asking Wendler stupid questions on online forums. You are only embarassing yourself.”

    Nobody cares. Nobody is born with the knowledge. This is the internet and everyone is anonymous.

    “3. Stop classifying 5/3/1 as an “advanced program””

    Nobody cares what it’s called. Might as well be called “Rainbow and candy rain program”, it doesn’t change anything about the quality of the program itself.

    “4. Stop riding Wendler’s cock. This means you, T-nation.”

    Seems like a problem with T-nation rather than the program. This doesn’t address the main topic of “why 531 sucks”. Again, in real life nobody cares who wrote what on T-nation.

    “5. The book is 97 pages and apparently sells for 24.99.”

    The program is available online for free. Pointless point.

    “6. Please under no circumstances attempt to justify any of the above criticism by saying that “Beyond 5/3/1” is better and people should spend more money on that.”

    Nobody said that. “Beyond 5/3/1” is the same 5/3/1 with a deload every two cycles (meaningless difference in my opinion).

    “7. Summary of summaries: The 5/3/1 program is adequate. But in no way innovative.”

    The program doesn’t claim to be innovative. Also, being innovative does not equate to being good and vice versa.

    I was honestly looking for cons of this program, that’s how I found your article with the title “Why 5/3/1 Sucks”. What I found in the article is that it doesn’t address why is this program bad, why should it be avoided or what better alternative is suggested.

    I could not find a single proper argument against the program here, only things that are indirectly related to the program, like the price of a book or what someone said somewhere on an internet forum.

    • Well it’s tiring to respond to dullards who don’t even understand the gist of the post, and take things out of context, but I’ll try to be helpful:
      (re?)Read the part of the post subtitled “Who 5/3/1 is good for.” Do you fall into one of those groups? Yes? Then you’ll probably get a lot out of 5/3/1. Like I said, it’s not a bad beginner/intermediate program. And you already said you weren’t going to pay for it, so you’re a step ahead of some people. Just try to work on the reading comprehension before you waste time writing long comments my blog, arguing points that have already been discussed – and being generally wrong.

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