Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Jim Wendler and am not receiving payment or other compensation for this article. I just like the guys writing and programming.
When it comes to training programs, there are really only two things I look for:
simplicity and effectiveness.
I have been running Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program for the better part of a year (with a few forays here and there into simple “powerbuilding” splits for variation), and it more than meets these requirements, while at the same time allowing for the individual to find a specific template that works for his set of goals and lifestyle. There are programs for everything from MMA to football, with the focus of Wendler’s philosophy being slow, steady (and injury free!) strength gains, combined with solid conditioning and mobility work.
Although I love weightlifting, and it is a very important part of my life, I am also a busy person with many other interests outside the gym. 5/3/1 allows me to get in, get the work done and get out in a reasonable time, while still making excellent progress over the span of the year.
I started 5/3/1 for a straightforward way to maintain strength while getting my body acclimated to jiu jitsu and kickboxing again after a shoulder injury last year took me out of lifting heavy for a bit. I wanted to stay away from anything with gimmicky or esoteric exercises, or anything that would require much equipment outside of a barbell and squat rack.
As I became accustomed to the workload, I would run a few cycles of one Wendler program, then another, all following his basic 5/3/1 template, but adding in one of his many plug-ins, seeing what I liked and what worked for me.
I went from being down around a 290 bench, 345 squat, 400 deadlift to 350, 405 and 445, respectively at 175-180 pound bodyweight (my deadlift is a definite weak point and should not reflect poorly on the programming) over the course of the year, all while maintaining several days a week of martial arts, lots of travel, motorcycles, a demanding “club life,” running my growing brand and so on.
The programming operates around the concept of working at a “training max” that is lower than your actual 1 rep maximum on any given lift, and working to build strength via “rep PRs” more often than hitting single repetitions at maximum weight, which leads to good strength gain and solid volume without breaking the body or risking injury. Never fear- this program is still very challenging, and with tweaks like “joker sets,” “first set last,” and so on, the high weight and ball-busting volume desired by the most hardcore of iron addicts can still be achieved. However, for the majority of folks who are looking for a training regimen that doesn’t require you to have a NASA level comprehension of advanced calculus, a gym full of medieval torture equipment and rubber bands, and more chains than a True Norwegian black metal show- this is for you.
I get a lot of messages from people asking what training programs I run or recommend, and the volume of these messages always ramps up in a staggering way toward the beginning of the year. Consider this my recommendation across the board- go check out jimwendler.com, and get a copy of the latest version of 5/3/1, get started on it, and stick with it. I think you’ll find the programming to be intelligent, doable but challenging, and extremely rewarding.