A Jim of All Trades

Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 Lifting Program – Follow Up

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Back in February I wrote about my first months doing Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 weight lifting program. To provide a very brief explanation, it is a power lifting program that focuses on four lifts: shoulder press, bench press, deadlift and squat. The program outlines a repeating four week schedule where during the first three weeks you lift progressively heavier weights until you’re just about to your limit lifting close to a calculated training max, the fourth week you lift lightly to “deload” (recoup), then you start all over again. You can read much more about it in my previous post or on the official website.

I said I’d follow up after I had done it some more and I’m finally getting around to it. I continued with the program until about three weeks ago, which amounts to eight months from when I started in December and five months from when I last checked in.

Overall I like the program and would still recommend it. I did get burnt out on it after doing it so long, but I think that’s only natural.

First of all, I didn’t see any more real gains with my upper body lifts. This is NOT the program’s fault. I tore one of my pecs a few years ago and since have been stuck with pressing movements; there simply isn’t any more growth to be had, so no weight lifting program can be judged by my pressing abilities.

Leg strength, though, is a different story. The program recommends doing legs twice per week, squatting on one day, deadlifting on another. I decided to do them on the same day though, deadlifting first, then squatting. I explained this in the previous post, but basically deadlifting is more fun to me and was my priority. In the first three months of the program I had good results. Previously I had been stuck on a bit of a plateau and after finishing those three months I maxed out and got a new personal record.

I hesitate to talk about actual numbers because I don’t know how it will be perceived, but will share my deadlifting stats here to put some figures behind my story. – PLEASE NOTE – Don’t take this the wrong way … 1) don’t be impressed, I’m not strong compared to other lifters; YouTube searches will yield many examples of smaller guys than me picking up heavier weights, and 2) don’t think I’m trying to show off, I’m well aware of how my strength stacks up against others and know I’m comparatively weak in the weight lifting world (see #1).

Okay, with that out of the way…

I’m six feet tall. When I started the program last year, my deadlifting max was 455 lbs.  Body weight would have been right around 170. When I maxed out again in February, I cleanly got 470 lbs. Body weight then was about 175, give or take a pound or two. So that’s a 15 pound improvement in three months; I can live with that.

Current body weight is 177.

I continued to follow the program over the past five months and things went well. Roughly half way through I did start to have problems getting the weights the program prescribes, so I had to recalculate and start fresh. This is perfectly normal and how it’s meant to work; the program breaks down how much weight you should lift each day for the primary exercises, but when the amounts become too much, you simply reassess based on your new/current strength.

Things went well but I was getting burnt out and decided July would be my last time through, and that I would max out at the end, then move to something else. I’ve always wanted to deadlift 500 pounds and was hopeful that I’d finally be able to get it.

The week before I was going to max out I managed to get 460 lbs for three repetitions. Jim Wendler’s rep calculator (a formula used to estimate your one rep maximum based on the number of reps you can lift a lesser weight) shows that lifting 460 three times is about the same as lifting 500 once, so I figured I was right at my goal and planned on trying for it the next week.

When the next week came I warmed up and worked up in weight properly. I got 450 with relative ease. My next attempt was going to be 480, then I’d try for 500.

I put 480 on the bar, lifted, got it about two inches off the ground, then had to put it back down. I just could NOT get that weight up. I rested for a few minutes and tried again, that time I couldn’t even get it off the ground. Talk about being mad and disappointed. There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to lift that. I’m confident in my preparation; I actually treated it like a weight lifting meet as I prepared: eating right, not going to the gym for anything else in the week prior to maxing, cutting out cardio for a couple weeks prior to conserve energy… I just bombed it.

The only explanation I can really think of is that I psyched myself out… it was all mental. I had never tried for 480 before and think I doubted myself when it came time to get it. This wouldn’t be a first time occurrence for me in the weight room; I can definitely lack confidence and have failed in other lifts before for no other reason than psyching myself out.

I initially thought about trying again the next week but decided not to. I came to terms with it a bit more and thought my body needed a break by that point. There’s really little point in it, too. I love setting and getting goals, but do I really need to pick up 500 lbs? No. Getting 460 three times is enough for now and I can always try this or another program again later if I get the bug to go for more weight. So no, I’m not quitting forever, just doing different things for a bit before I’m motivated to try for heavy weight again.

Anyway, this turned into more of a story about me than the program itself. Sorry. The program does stress reps and talks about moving away from maxing out. There’s something behind that, too. So what if you don’t get a one rep max, if you’re able to pick up a heavy weight for more repetitions than you ever could before, that’s still success. That’s sort of the case for me… when I started the most I had ever done was 455 once and just a few weeks ago I did 460 three times, that’s obviously an improvement.

So overall I still think this is a good program and would recommend it. Personal limitations and failure at the end aside, I observed continual strength gains throughout the course of the program, slow and steady. And to be clear, the program doesn’t call for any maxing out, so you have to enter into it accepting that you’ll be measuring yourself by reping out, not maxing, unless you do like I did and max out from time to time to measure yourself.

If anyone has any questions about it, feel free to ask.
Thanks for reading and happy lifting!


Written by Jim

August 4, 2013 at 8:38 am

2 Responses

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  1. Yes, I have a question: Why can’t I deadlift 500 pounds?

    Only kidding. WOW you lift an incredible load my friend! Very very impressive. You should be super proud of your gains, they are very real and, significant. That kind of progress only comes from plain old hard work, clean eating, proper rest — you’re making it look easy! Congratulations!


    August 7, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    • Haha, good question Sophie. Just do this program and you’ll be pulling 500 in no time. ;)

      Thanks for the compliments. Failing on the last day left a sour taste in my mouth, but I am happy with how it went and my progress. Doing some other stuff right now, but will likely go at it again later in the year.


      August 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm


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