Review – Wendlers 5/3/1 (Week 12)

I’ve just completed my third four week block on the Wendlers 5/3/1 strength program so I thought it would be a good time to review the program and share my progress to date.

What is Wendler 5/3/1?

In a nutshell it’s a strength training program where each workout is performed 4 times during the course of a cycle.   Simply stated, you will have 4 bench press workouts, 4 squat workouts, 4 deadlift workouts, and 4 overhead press workouts.

Using your 1RM (the maximum amount you can lift for just one rep) your workouts are then calculated using the percentages outlined below.

Week 1. Warmup, 75% x 5, 80% x 5, 85% x 5

Week 2. Warmup, 80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 3

Week 3. Warmup, 75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1

Week 4. Deload week – 60% x 5, 65% x 5, 70% x 5

For a more in depth run down on the program check out this article in Muscle & Strength or be old school like moi and buy the book. 😉

Wendler 5/3/1 – Cycle 1

Looking back over the 3 cycles I found the first cycle the hardest.

I was working with a much heavier weight than I was comfortable with and for a much larger volume than I was used too.  That first cycle I did each squat session with Joe because there was no way I would have done the prescribed weights alone without a safety net (and he kept me honest, with both depth and completing all the reps/sets).

I was ok training solo for both the press and the deadlift, but on week 2 of bench press I was unable to do the work alone as I didn’t feel confident unracking and racking the bar (I was ok once I got the bar in in position).  As such on that first cycle I only did a couple of bench sessions choosing to keep my one session a week with Joe as a squat session since my bench was strong by comparison.

Cycle 1 results;

Back Squat 33% increase, Deadlift 6% increase, Strict Press 14% increase and on only 2 bench sessions in this cycle I still managed an 8% increase.

Although I probably had an increase in strength, in my opinion the gains I made in this cycle came from an increase in confidence due to the amount of time spent under a “heavy” bar repeatedly doing each movement on a much more regular basis than I was accustomed too.

Wendler 5/3/1 – Cycle 2

This time around the weights were HEAVY and I had to do all my bench sessions with Joe as the weights I was lifting were right at the edge of limits, however as a trade off,  I was more confident  squating and my technique had tidied itself up so I was able to do my squat sessions alone.

During my first cycle of Wendler I’d found week one the hardest and it was even more so during this cycle because I’d increased my 1RM’s by such a large amount.  This meant I was lifting much more weight this cycle and as such I found myself failing during the last few sets in both weeks one and two.

I did however enjoy week three (75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1) as by the time I reached this week I’d been strength training for 6 weeks and I was starting to feel stronger (as opposed to just more competent).

Cycle 2 results;

This cycle the increases were far more even across the board with a 6% increase in my squat and press, a 7% increase in my bench and an 11% increase in my deadlift.  I was pleased that last months 1RM on my squat was a solid triple this month and that I broke the 100 on my deadlift.

Wendler 5/3/1 – Cycle 3

I’ve got to admit this cycle went a little awry.

The HPU Playoffs, Easter and the Anzac Day holidays were during cycle three, so the standard four week cycle stretched out to 6 due to taking time off.

I had completed Week 1 before the “long lay off ” and on my return I continued with week 2 and MAJORLY struggled, so much so that I had to do what the book suggests and used 90% of my actual 1RM to base the working weight’s on, (even then it was a struggle) I probably should have just started the cycle again, but you live and learn.

Week three I managed “ok” and nailed the singles which was pleasing.

Cycle 3 results;

A 1% increase across the board. I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed especially given that I had to REALLY work for that extra 1kg increase. (Thank the lord for incremental plates I say).

However, although I wasn’t impressed with the increase in my 1RM’s this cycle, I did see real progress in my deadlifts this time around and what I used to struggle to lift off the floor I can now tap and go repeatedly (well 5 or so times). #gratitude

Wendler 5/3/1 – The wrap up

The results speak for themselves and I’m definitely stronger with a whopping 43% increase in my squat over the three cycles and a more modest (yet equally impressive imo) 17% on my bench, 18% on my deadlift and a 23% increase in my strict press.

More importantly I’m much more confident now whenever I approach a bar even when it’s not one of the four lifts that I’ve been focusing on. Believe me, Joe would have had a near impossible time getting me to do any snatch training prior to Wendler.

Wendler 5/3/1 – What’s next?

Well after talking with Joe and Anna we will do another Wendler cycle but this time we are going to focus on 4 different lifts being deficit deadlifts, front squats, power cleans and push presses.   Any increase in strength on those 4 lifts are immediately transferable into a WOD or competitive environment.

Although yesterday I was slightly bummed about my “meh” results, I’m excited about Cycle 1 (the encore).

Let the “fun” and strength gains begin!

Till next time





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