Are you looking for a simple strength programme which gets results? The 531 strength training programme created by Jim Wendler is as simple as it gets and highly modifiable for those with slightly differing goals or focuses, the principles remain the same. If you haven't read any of Jim's work then you should, he has a lot of good things to say to the aspiring powerlifter and strong guy alike. The beauty of 531 is this, it is supremely simple and applied consistently and correctly will make you stronger.
This article will explain the main principles and application of the 531 strength training programme so that you can start getting stronger today, but if you want to learn more about how to tailor 531 to your particular goals then I suggest you check out the official 531 e-book here. Jim gives tons of variations and tips which are beyond the scope of this post and reading his work has had a huge effect on our training and coaching so please check him out. And although 531 isn't the be all and end all for strength training it teaches some very valuable lessons in the art of getting strong which you don't get told enough when first starting out. So whether you are a new lifter or experience lifter stuck in a rut listen up, its time to go back to basics.
The 531 Training Programme Key Principles
These key principles of 531 do not change regardless of your goal or experience level and if you can't stick to these then maybe 531 isn't for you, if you can then you are ready to begin the basic 531 training programme.
- All percentages are calculated off of 90% of your 1 rep max. This means that you will be starting light and it might feel a bit easy to start with, if your ego is too big to handle putting in quality work with light-moderate weights you aren't ready to be as strong as you can be. So if your 1 rep max bench is 100kg you base everything you calculate for the 531 programme off of 90kg. So if week one calls for 65% of your bench max it is 90x0.65=58.5kg. Work out 90% 1 rep max for all the main lifts; Squat, Deadlift, Bench, and Overhead Press, these will form the basis to calculate your first cycle of training.
- Each cycle lasts 4 weeks and you complete each lift once per week. Once you have completed 4 weeks you add 2.5kg to upper body lifts and 5kg to lower body lifts to the number you calculated from prior to starting the programme. So using the bench press example above you would add 2.5kg to 90kg and calculate 65% from 92.5 to find your numbers for this cycle.
- The last set of each lift is a max out set represented for example by 3x5+. This means you life the first two sets for 5 reps and NO MORE but the third set if you can squeeze out more reps you should do and record the number you get. So if you see the + sign you know that this means the last set is a max out set, this is where you can go balls to the wall and start gaining some strength.
The Numbers for 531
So you have calculated 90% of your 1 rep max for all of the main lifts and want to know what you will be lifting when. Here you go:
Week 1- 3x5+ Set 1- 65% Set 2- 75% Set 3- 85%+
Week 2- 3x3+ Set 1- 70% Set 2- 80% Set 3- 90%+
Week 3- 5,3,1+ Set 1- 75% Set 2- 85% Set 3- 95%+
Week 4- 3x5 Set 1- 50% Set 2- 50% Set 3- 50% (Deload Week)
It is as simple as that, you train super hard within the 531 framework for 3 weeks and deload on the 4th week. Deloading can be important in allowing the body to fully realise the strength gains you are making which can be blurred by accumulated fatigue and are advisable in the pursuit of strength. That being said we have applied and seen 531 work with great effect by simply stacking two cycles directly on top of one another, deloading after 6 weeks instead of 3. IF you choose to do this you would follow weeks 1-3 as above, recalculate your lifts as explained and start at week 1 with the slightly increased weights.
Can't be bothered to calculate what you will be lifting for each lift each week? There are some great 531 calculators online which you can plug your 1 rep max in to and get every single lift for the 4 week cycle provided. If you choose to do the 6 week cycle without the deload simply add 2.5kg to upper body lifts and 5kg to lower body lifts after the first 3 weeks and plug them back in to the calculator for the next 3-4 weeks of training (You must deload after this!)
Which Split, Assistance, and Nutrition on the 531 Training Programme?
Keep your training split as simple as possible when using the 531 training programme from as little as two days up to four. We have had very good results using a 3 day training split like this. Monday- Squat, Wednesday- Bench, Friday- Deadlift/Press. What assistance work you choose depends entirely on your goal and Jim delves in to this issue in the e-book so check that out for guidance. We advise keeping each day to one main assistance exercise and a couple of higher volume moves which support the target lift of that day. E.G Bench- Row and tricep volume work, Squat- Hamstring and glute assistance, Deadlift and press- Chin ups, and shoulder volume work. The assistance work will differ greatly dependant on your goal but for the aspiring lifter less is sometimes more, use your energy to get stronger on the main lift.
Nutrition on the 531 training programme isn't covered hugely and depends once again on each individuals goals but if strength is the priority then its as simple as a lot of protein rich foods and enough calories to support your aim of lifting more weight. This being said we have employed 531 while on a caloric deficit with great effect.
The 531 Training Programme
This basic outline of the 531 training programme should give you enough to get started on the road to strength. It may seem extremely simple, and it is! This is what we love about 531, simple principles of strength training in an easy to understand format. If you stick to these principles and record the reps you are hitting on your max out sets then you will get stronger. It will require patience, belief, hard work, and consistency but when did anything worth having not require these?
531 will force you to be accountable and to see if you are getting stronger. And in the strength game, this is essential. Once you have mastered the basic 531 framework there are tons of modifications to make this programme even more effective, we will cover these in another article.
Go lift and always remember, the only way to get stronger is by slowly adding weight to the bar.