5/3/1 for a Beginner

Generally, I tell everyone to just do the program as is, regardless of training age.

Of course, if you’re a trainer and are using the program with a novice athlete or someone new to training, simply use your experience to make whatever changes are required – though there shouldn’t be many.

Now if you’re a beginner and are working out without any guidance whatsoever, it’s probably best to just stick with the basic program. One of the worst things a young lifter can do is take advice from other beginners on message boards –  they usually have all the advice and none of the experience.

Below is one beginner modification that’s permissible, and effective.  It’s a subtle, easy way to add in some extra work on the main lifts without  compromising the program or the philosophies it was built upon.

You perform a full-body routine, three days a week. Full body strength routines are the best way for novice lifters to quickly get strong, provided the program is    non-retarded (i.e. adheres to an intelligent progression system).

Instead of just one main lift per workout (using the 5/3/1 set-up), two main lifts are used for additional weekly exposures. The second main lift, however, should not be performed 5/3/1 style; instead, use a standard 3 sets of 5 reps, starting at 55% of your training 1RM for the first set of 5 and increasing the weight by 10% each successive set.

The exception is the deadlifting day with presses as the second lift. Just do  5/3/1 here across the board.


Squat – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Bench – 55%x5, 65×5%, 75%x5
Assistance work


Deadlift – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Press – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Assistance work


Bench – 5/3/1 sets/reps
Squat – 55%x5, 65%x5, 75%x5
Assistance work

The program is set up the same way – taking 90% of your max and working up  slowly. All percentages are based on that training max.

The first thing I’ll be asked is, “What do I do for assistance work?” Because you’re doing a full body routine each day and using compound lifts, you need to keep the assistance work to a minimum. Chins, dips, back raises,  neck work, and curls will serve you well. Stick with that.

The above program is nothing revolutionary, but it’s effective. When you’re given a training max and the exact percentages to use every workout, it removes all doubt as to what’s heavy, medium, or light. This is simple and easy  to use for any beginner.

Intermediate lifters, provided the percentages on the non-5/3/1 days are lowered  by 10 percent each set, can also use this basic structure. (As you get more  experienced, you can’t handle the extra work at a heavier percentage.)


  • Comment by Aaron — September 7, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

    Would a program like Greyskull LP by John Schaeffer be a good option for a beginner or intermediate?

  • Pingback by 5/3/1 Fullbody for Beginners - Muscle and Brawn Forums — September 8, 2011 @ 8:32 am

    […] Fullbody for Beginners 5/3/1 for a Beginner 5/3/1 for a Beginner – JimWendler.com […]

  • Comment by Tully — September 8, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    In your opinion would this be a way to continue after Starting-Strength stops producing gains in the way that it is designed too? Or would it be better to deload and attempt to continue gains at a slower pace than the program calls for (with Starting Strength)?

    Currently I am at:

    Squat: 255 3×5
    Bench: 160 3×5
    Deadlift: 295 1×5
    Press: 125 3×5
    P.Clean: 115 (Low weight, working on form)

    I am almost positive I have a few more weeks of steady gains, especially if I switch to 5Lbs additional load per workout. Is it possible that I could fuck myself if I continue to load each workout, overloading and setting myself back?

    Bonus question: Nice shirt, how do you feel about Darkthrone from ‘The Cult is Alive’ onward? (I pretty much disregard ‘Panzerfaust’ through ‘Sardonic Wrath’, hah).

  • Comment by Jim Wendler — September 8, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

    This or the standard 5/3/1 program would be fine.

  • Comment by Jim Wendler — September 8, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

    I am not familiar with that program.

  • Comment by boxer — September 9, 2011 @ 6:46 am

    […] 5/3/1 for a Beginner – JimWendler.com […]

  • Comment by Shane OBrien — September 9, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

    Can you do back exercises for the assistance exercises on squat/bench days and then chest assistance exercises on deadlift/press days?

    Thank you

  • Comment by Jim Wendler — September 9, 2011 @ 5:28 pm

    Just follow the 3 day/week, totaly body workout I posted (if you want to do this).

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  • Comment by joe — September 14, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    Jim, sorry for the dumb question: For the non 5/3/1 days where you are using the percentages, are these percentages based on the total used for the month, so that the weights used would stay the same during the wave?

  • Comment by Jim Wendler — September 14, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

    The percentages are based on the training max.

  • Comment by Alex — September 16, 2011 @ 8:52 am

    In which interval, do i increase weight and how much?

  • Comment by George — September 20, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    Hey here are my Max PRs i was wondering if these were enough for the 5/3/1 program (not the beginner program)
    Bench: 205 lbs
    Deadlift: 355 lbs
    Squat: 300 lbs
    Overhead: 140lbs

  • Comment by Jon — October 1, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

    Jim, how would you handle the deload week?

  • Comment by Matt — December 7, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    Hi Jim,

    For the 3×5 sets (55%x5, 65×5%, 75%x5), how do we progress from wave to wave? do we stick with the same percentages/weights for the entire cycle?

  • Comment by Jim Wendler — December 7, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

    It’s all based on your training max – that is how you progress (this is in the article).

  • Comment by Abe — January 12, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    I’ve just started 5/3/1 as a beginner, I’ll definitely be looking at this alternate program, thanks!

    The question I had was about progression. As a beginner, with the associated newbie gains, does it still make sense to raise the training max only 5 lbs a month? I was planning, for the first few months at least, to recalculate my max based on your formula every month, based on how many reps I managed to do in week 3. Is this ok, or should I just use the 5 lb increase and simply do more reps in the “almost to failure” set?

  • Pingback by On Lifting | Rx the WOD — January 23, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

    […] we all have to pack on raw strength and  it will come from lifting. A lot of lifting. Adding Wendler’s 5/3/1 to my daily WODs helped a ton in getting closer to RX weight in many WODs and certainly may prove […]

  • Comment by Gardash — April 15, 2012 @ 6:45 am

    Dear Jim,

    As a novice/intermediate who wants to train 4 days a week.. what should the 4th day look like? Simply a press/light-deadlift?

  • Comment by Joe — May 1, 2012 @ 4:26 am

    I absolutely LOVE this program, and am pissed that I’ve been lifting off-and-on for almost 15 years and just only a few weeks ago found it. I’ve always been a BIG believer in working the main lifts hard and heavy then eat, rest, repeat without all those extra iso-crap exercises. For anyone who is looking to get strong and big do this program AS IS with no changes as you’re probably want to do. Give it time (I’m talking 1 full year NOT only a month or 2) and dedicate yourself to it and you’re guaranteed to blow away your current PR’s and will probably have to buy a new wardrobe. Thank you, Jim. It’s a pleasure to know there are still “old-time” lifters like you around giving us real knowledge instead of the crap in the mags that have lifters spinning their wheels and turning them off to lifting after a few months =-)

  • Comment by John — June 9, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    Do the percentages stay the same for the second main lift throughout the program. For example, my week 3 workout would be Bench 5/3/1(75%,85%,95%) and Squat 3×5 (55%,65%,75%). Or, could I progress those percentages as well, maybe going week 1(55%,65%,75%), week 2(60%,70%,80%), week3(65%,75%,85%). This would still allow for some progression, but not at the same rate as traditional 5/3/1?

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