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5/3/1 - Can It Work for Powerlifting?


Has anyone used 5/3/1 for Powerlifting? How did it work?

I like the approach and it seems people get stronger, however I am not sure how it will work for powerlifting. It seems like the weights are really low. If you max 400, it would take you 27 weeks before the program calls for 400 x 1.

Now, I get that you should be able do more than the prescribed reps, but even if you got 400 for 8 instead of 1, does that really carry over to a big max lift on meet day?

If you have used 5/3/1 to prepare for a meet, I'd like to know how it worked for you.





DoubleDuce: Thanks for the link. I've read the articles and books. I posted because I wanted to hear how well it actually worked for people.

Are you a competitive powerlifter who has used the program? How did it work for you? How did you work in the heavy singles Wendler recommends for PL?


I haven't done a meet yet while on it. Been on it for 6-ish cycles. I've also been dropping weight in that time frame.

I've played around with the singles. I now am doing (not exactly Jim's setup):

3, 3, 3+
Then work up to several reverse band singles

Week 2
5, 5, 5+

Week 3
5, 3, 1(no plus)
Then work up to several straight weight singles

Week 4
Speed band work

If you really want to look through what I've done, you can look through the last few pages of my log, though I haven't been recording most of my conditioning work:


I love it. I'm staying strong (while dropping weight) and managing to heal up some injuries too.


I took out the deload week. You can probably do this for the first few cycles without any problems. That will help speed things up.

The carry-over I'm not too sure about and I think it varies lift by lift and if you're geared or not. But you know what? If you can do 8 reps instead of 1, how much time do you think would have to invest to build up your 1 rep max to a decent level? Not much I bet.

Just like for the same reasons people give advice to put on muscle first and then drop your weight. Build the base and then work on the details later.


I own the hardcopy of 531 for powerlifting. There's a lot of extra info in there specific to powerlifting vs. the first edition for raw strength.

The only significant change to the "offseason" program is weeks 1 and 2 are flip flopped w/ week 2 being 3x5 for required reps only. Weeks 1 and 3 are required reps only plus a few singles.

I generally start w/ a training max of 90% of my 1RM. I add 5lbs each month for bench/squat/DL instead of 10lbs for squat/DL. I never deload unless I'm feeling beat up. When I do the singles, I generally shoot for speed off the chest, out of the hole or off the floor and keep it 10lbs lighter than the training max. I generally pause the bench on the singles as meet prep and reversal strength.

Bench 1RM - 295
Training max - 265

Week 1 3x3 plus single at 245
Week 2 3x5 required reps only
Week 3 5/3/1 plus single at 255
Week 4 Deload 3x5 (if you need it)

Then the next month I go 270 train max and hit 250 and 260 for singles and so on.

My goal is generally hitting the single w/ speed off the chest. I do lots of downset reps after the work sets. My downsets are mostly for hypertrophy.

The general goal by switching up the weeks is to prevent CNS burnout apparently.

I'm not a big believer in 5 or more reps unless I'm warming up or doing downsets so my version is more like 321 than 531. I like staying fresh and saving the big ones for meets. Something I learned reading Ed Coan's stuff.

I plan on a meet late March so I'll know if this is effective or not by then. But I feel much much stronger using this as each session I feel very refreshed and ready to go by not constantly going too heavy. Being 35 yrs old, I'm finding recovery isn't as graceful as it once was.


These are questions I've been asking myself since reading the book.

Why train months to get to where you already are? And why focus on rep PRs if your goal is a higher 1 RM?

I would like to hear whether successful powerlifters have used this program and blasted through plateaus. I don't care about beginners. Of course you're going to progress. I'd like to hear from people who have been competing 3+ years and have a variety of program experience in their past and tried this program.


The powerlifting version isn't about rep PR's. Remember - when you rep out on that last set, it's still considered a max effort.

The beauty of this program is if you decide to do singles, it's like any other powerlifting program. Just use the required reps as warmup to your singles goal that session. There is nothing in the program stopping someone from going heavy. It really is a genius program because it's so flexible.

And this would be geared toward intermediate to advanced guys because we are the ones who need the percentages and structure in order to make gains. Going too heavy too often doesn't cut it like when we first started out. We have to be disciplined in order to make gains.

This program is nothing more than a fancy label put on old school powerlifting routines. If it was good enough for Coan, Karwoski, etc., it should work for everyone else. No matter what avenue you choose, you cannot get away from periodization. How you periodize it is up to you; whether it be 531 or Dave Tate's 9 week powerlifting routine or whatever. Pick a program and try it to SEE IF IT WORKS FOR YOU. The basics are still the same. Heavy weight and low reps.


I've been powerlifting for 10+ years and have done probably 3-4 meets a year since I started competing. 5/3/1 put about 22lbs on my raw total in 6 months. Not a bad gain given how long I've been doing this. I've since switched to a higher volume approach and am responding very well. The higher volume approach seems to be better for me. However, if I only had 60-90 minutes to train, I'd switch back to 5/3/1.




Cprimero: thanks for posting - great example of someone using 5/3/1 for powerlifting competitions!

The training logs & meet results really show how the program has worked.


I'm not really an experienced powerlifter by any means as I've only been lifting for less than 3 years and have only done two full meets, but I have run about 17 cycles of 531 since September 2009. Used it leading up to my first meet as written with no modification and totaled 1300 in my first meet.

Used the 5-3-1 for PL meet prep template for the 2 months before my second meet and totaled 1488, hitting two all time PR's in squat and DL (missed my gym PR in bench but still hit a meet PR).

The meets were separated by about a year and a half, so 188 pounds in that time (minus 6 months as I was recovering from cancer).

In my opinion, 5-3-1 The Original is awesome to run for your offseason to get a lot stronger. As you get closer to meets, switch over to the 5-3-1 for Powerlifting template and start working in heavy singles. Adjust your assistance work and conditioning depending on your goals. Simple and effective.


VTBalla34: Thanks. Excellent progress - very encouraging.