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5/3/1 Beginner: Is Assistance Work Really Needed?

Hello, first post

So I’ve ran starting strength before and my highest ever squat was 150kg for a set of 5. This was quite a while back and I’ve recently gotten back into training and decided to run 531 beginners. I have read wendlers second addition and have Forever on order and I’ve been waiting 2 weeks so far. Anyway…

I have a question regarding assistance work. I completed the first workout on Monday and will be shortly be doing Wednesdays, but the assistance work on Monday really took me by surprise. The squat and bench workouts did not seem to be an issue, as the weight was light and I managed over 11 reps on each of the plus sets. Pretty simple stuff as expected for a first session. But the hardest part of the workout by far was the assistance work. 50 - 100 reps for each catagory, really? This doesn’t make sense to me. I was dead on my feet after doing 50 curls and 50 pressups, considering this was after performing 11 sets each for both the squat and the bench if you include warm up.

Is the assistance in this program really needed? I cant see me stalling anytime soon given my training history and former PRs. The first workout took me nearly 2 hours and the assistance work took probably 40 minutes on its own. I should mention i worked out all my 1rms prior to starting do I’m definitely dealing with the correct weights.

Should I just do less reps? Or is it the case I’m not used to this kind of programming yet? I’m also feeling sore as hell today.

If 50 curls has you dead on your feet, you NEED to do the assistance work, as you are in AWFUL shape.

Work the assistance work in between the main and supplemental work to save time.

Use less weight if you need to.


Maybe your load management is off? How did these 40 minutes look? Take a weight that you can curl for some 20+ reps on your first set. Try to get to 50 in 3 sets. Rest maybe 1 minute.

Do be honest I started off with chins, but again I was tired from the work and could only manage 3 reps per set. I then did 30 odd curls to make up the reps which were easier

The pressups I did in sets of 5 - 10 and I did 35 sit ups. Maybe I’m just really unfit

I’m gonna see how I get on with today

It was more being tired after the main work due to the amount of reps and then doing the assistance.

Right. I am saying that is a sign you are in bad shape, and assistance work will help with that.

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Is it critical for me to do conditioning aswell then?

It absolutely is. It’s a required part of ALL 5/3/1 programs.


Would running be okay?

Your book may include some examples. Otherwise, here is an article from Jim


Thanks for all your advice. Today’s session was actually quicker and better than Mondays. Endurance on the assistance has picked up quite drastically. I think I’m just really unaccustomed to this kind of work

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Assistance is not necessary, that’s why its called assistance, but one of growth factors are within volume, and assistance is what provides volume.
The fact that some bodyweight work is hard for you, is not a good sign tho. For me nowdays main exercise and supplemental work is only 30% of my total volume. After deadlift 531 id do box squats, then sumo deads(3x12), 1-2 sets if leg curls and extensions, then upper body work - supersetting weighted dips with chins and rolling extensions with curls, then abs and then stretch… Its is 1h40min up to 2h total. And then i am a bit tired but my metabolic condition is shit and im working on it so a 2h workout at the gym doesnt wear me out so much


This doesn’t make sense to me. I was dead on my feet after doing 50 curls and 50 pressups, considering this was after performing 11 sets each for both the squat and the bench if you include warm up.

You can break up your assistance work.

2x10 seated rows
3x10 curls

You might handle this better or just drop the weight

Is the assistance in this program really needed?

This is your call to make but it’s there for a reason. Just don’t the guy who doesn’t do it then complains that 5/3/1 didn’t build your arms, or you are getting tendonitis or you stalled out or…

I almost jumped in on 531 Beginner recently but looking at the high volume scared me off. I just don’t have the time to spend that long in the gym and I’m also eating at a deficit currently to lose fat and was worried about the impact of high volume while doing that.

I was going to try it anyway but I found the Full Body Training routine from the Beyond 5/3/1 book and have been using that instead. It’s early on but all is going well so far and I feel like it suits my goals better. Like the Beginner program, it is full body every workout and PPL but it’s a lot less volume and just feels so efficient. It may be worth looking into for you if the high volume continues to be an issue.

I get why you’re getting a lot of replies stressing the importance and benefits of higher volume (i will try a higher volume 531 program at some point in the future) but you also have to go with what works for you.

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Are you still doing the prescribed Assistance work with this program?

The version in that book is just three lifts (a push, a pull, a leg), three days a week - no prescribed assistance beyond that.

M: squats 531, 5x10 db press, 5x10 db rows
W: squats 65%-85%, bench 531, 5x10 chin-ups
F: squats 65%-85%, press 531, deadlift 531

It’s a lot of squatting but I like that so it works for me.

I can’t do chin-ups yet so i’m using lat pulls on wednesday. I also superset the db stuff on Monday.

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Apologies. I missed the Beyond part of your post.

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I’ve started doing some of my assistance work in between my FSL sets which saves me about 20 minutes or so. I do feel this is quite a bit of work for a beginner program though. Muscle memory will see me through this program for a while but I’m not used to doing loads of reps of press ups. For me it was always 3 sets of 5 on starting strength and go home.

Does anybody use running for cardio as I don’t have access to any of Jim’s recommendations as I workout at home and have no hills nearby.

Of course. I believe running is important for any athlete. Just do sprints or whatever intervals and shuttle run.