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The 5/3/1 Philosophy for Beginners

The 5/3/1 Philosophy for Beginners

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 (if any).

Now if you're a beginner and are working out without any guidance whatsoever, it's 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 isn't stupid (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. Remember that the training max must be correct and if in doubt, err on the side of "too light". Principles guide life AND training.


Squat – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5x5 @ First Set Last (FSL)

Bench – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5x5 @ FSL

Assistance work


Deadlift – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5x5 @ FSL

Press – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5x5 @ FSL

Assistance work


Bench – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5x5 @ FSL

Squat – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5x5 @ FSL

Assistance work

The program is set up the same way – taking 80-85% of your max and working up  slowly. All percentages are based on that training max. 

No reps on any barbell lift should be slow, grinding or not done with excellent form.  Total control of the barbell on the eccentric (lowering) phase; explosive and total control on the concentric phase (raising of the bar). If any of your reps fail to adhere to these standards during your training cycle, YOU DO NOT INCREASE YOUR TRAINING MAX.  You must earn the right to add weight to the bar.  Your technique and form should never be compromised.

Assistance Work

Assistance work is super important - you need to build some muscle! Each day perform ONE exercise from each category. Perform 50-100 total reps (do whatever sets you want to perform - that doesn't matter) of each exercise.  If you are too weak to get all the reps (chin-ups/pull-ups for example) then simply choose a SECOND movement to complete the total reps.  This is incredibly simple to do.

The three categories to choose from are: push, pull and single leg/core.

Push: dips, push-ups, DB bench/incline/press, triceps extensions/pushdowns

Pull: chin-ups/pull-ups, inverted rows, rows (DB/machine/BB), face pulls, band pull-aparts, lat pulldown, curls

Single Leg/Core: any abdominal work, back raises, reverse hyperextensions, lunges, step-ups, Bulgarian one-leg squats, KB snatches, swings

In my opinion, the most important assistance movements are DB squats, DB rows, chins/pull-ups, push-ups, dips, back raises, ab wheel (any abdominal movement) and body weight squats.  A beginner should shoot for the following standards for assistance work:

  • Chin-ups or pull-ups - 10 reps
  • Push-ups - 35 reps
  • Dips - 20 reps
  • DB squat - 1/2 body weight for 20 reps

The standards above are the base level of general fitness.  You cannot complain about your strength and size if you cannot do 50 push-ups and 20 chins/pull-ups.  The basics must be stressed.


  • Perform Defranco's Agile 8 prior to each workout and should be done every single day.
  • Perform 10-15 total box jumps or med ball throws PRIOR to lifting.
  • Tues/Thurs/Sat/Sun some kind of running or conditioning should be done. This will largely be based on your own goals, your current fitness level and what you have access to. DO NOT run yourself into the ground with conditioning; follow the "5/3/1 50% Rule" when conditioning.

If you don't understand some, most or any of this, it's probably because you haven't read the book and don't have the foundation to understand the variation.  You can get the full program and explanation which includes many variations to choose from in both paperback or pdf which is available for immediate download.

Read More:
Training 2 Days/Week
Football & Basketball: Coach's 5/3/1 Experience
These Keep Me Going
Blood, Sweat and Football: A 5/3/1 Family


Jim Wendler's D


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