531-of-a-kind

I’ve tried this training model before, but I tweaked it (because obviously I knew better) and I got reasonably good results. However, this time round I re-read the articles I used last time and decided that now I was more grown up and had considerably (marginally) less of an ego that I would actually follow the plan properly. Turns out, I didn’t know better.

The training plan is Jim Wendler’s 531 programme for strength, and it ticks all the boxes for me:

  • Simple
  • Challenging
  • Effective
  • Not ridiculously long workouts
  • Periodised
  • Room for some flexibility
  • Allows for focus on fitness, flexibility, functionality, as well as just strength
  • Not boring!

I will link to a great article from the man himself which give a much better explanation, but here’s the basics…

First off, you have 4 days a week in the gym. Each day focuses on one of the four main lifts you’ll be working on, which will usually be deadlift, squat, bench press, and military press. Here’s where I made one tweak (sorry Jim), as I’m currently only willing to train 3x per week due to other priorities (the gym is important, bit it isn’t top of the list), so I’m just hitting the big 3: deadlift, squat, bench.

Wendler says there’s no point in training unless you’re using specific percentages of your 1RM (one-rep max), and I agree if you are specifically working on performance or serious muscle gain but I don’t think it’s necessary for general health, fitness, fat loss, etc. Because this programme is for strength there are very specific percentages to use, so make sure you know your 1RM in the main lifts you’re training. In order to prevent injury and overtraining we take 90% of this actual maximum as your working max and then calculate the percentages based on this number.

The weekly plan looks like this (not including warm-up sets):

  • Week 1: 3×5 at 65%, 75%, 85%
  • Week 2: 3×3 at 70%, 80%, 90%
  • Week 3: 5,3,1 at 75%, 85%, 95%
  • Week 4: 3×5 at 40%, 50%, 60%

As you can see, after every 3 working weeks there is a deload week…don’t change this! This was one of the tweaks I made originally, only deloading every 2 or 3 cycles, and my progress suffered. Trust in Jim, he knows his stuff.

For each new cycle you should increase your upper body 1RMs by 2.5kg (5lb) and your lower body 1RMs by 5kg (10lb). Don’t be tempted to jump up by more than this, no matter how you feel. The compound effect of the small increases will avoid plateaus or injuries, and when you look over the course of 12 months you will have increased your bench and military press by 30kg each, and your squat and deadlift by 60kg each!

Assistance work after the main lifts is primarily for building muscle and preventing injury, so choose assistance lifts which work muscle groups used in the main lift. There are some great resources online about assistance lifts but I’ll share some that I’ve been using:

Deadlift – Romanian deadlift, barbell rows, KROC rows, pullups

Bench – incline dumbbell press, pullups, military press, tricep work

Squat – leg press, good mornings, lunges, hanging leg raises, crunches

I’ve usually been picking 2 or 3 assistance exercises per workout and performing 4-5 sets of 10 reps.

I’ve just finished my second cycle, and after my 3rd cycle I am going to retest my 1RMs. It’s been a solid lesson in willpower to not jump up more than the prescribed amount each cycle, and to stick to the deloads, but man am I feeling good! My 1RMs at the start were as follows:

  • Squat – 120kg
  • Bench – 100kg
  • Deadlift – 160kg

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with my progress, and to see what I can pull out of the bag when I retest.

Click here for the best article I’ve found on 531, and here for Jim Wrndler’s official site.

If you’re impatient or inconsistent then perhaps this programme isn’t for you, but if you are up for making some solid progression over the next 12 months then I massively recommend it!

Have you tried 531 before? Let me know how you found it!

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