5/3/1 for Dumbbell Bench/Overhead Pressing

Good news: I can do full-ROM dumbbell and barbell pressing with minimal to zero shoulder/elbow pain again!

Bad news: Even though I can do barbell pressing, due to the fact that my left shoulder is naturally much more unstable than the right (Elhers-Danlos symptoms), it’s not a smart idea for me to treat barbell presses as a main movement.

Because of this, I’m potentially forced to always use dumbbells for my main presses (unless there is some miraculous breakthrough for my symptoms haha). My goal is hypertrophy, and I don’t care about putting up any specific numbers on barbell presses. However, I do love 5/3/1’s programming and am wondering if there is an issue with using it on lifts like seated DB presses and incline DB presses?

The biggest issue I see is low-rep work being difficult with dumbbells, but can’t I just use a lower TM to remedy this? Is there is any other issue with using 5/3/1 on dumbbell pressing? Has anyone tried this? Am I dumb for even considering this haha?

As for why I want to use 5/3/1: I love its long-term approach and its various supplemental programs like BBB. Considering my joint history and my symptoms, I feel that 5s Pro + intelligently planned supplemental work is my best bet to double/triple my pressing numbers over the next 5+ years.

TM management would fly out the window quickly, as increasing 5lbs per side on a DB is a 10lb total increase.

Can you incline bench with a barbell?



My plan to deal with this was by either increasing the TM by 2.5lbs a cycle, or increasing it by 5lbs every 2 cycles.

I haven’t tried incline barbell pressing yet. I tried flat bench pressing a few days ago, only with 145lbs or so just to see how it felt. My shoulders felt fine at the bottom. The issue is that when the weights get heavy or I get fatigued, I’ll end up pressing more with my right side since it’s a lot more stable.

The only way around this I can think of is by having a very low TM and doing 5s Pro for the barbell press, and then doing the supplemental with dumbbells.

I feel I’m misunderstanding a few things. Are you saying you also cannot barbell bench, so you would be doing dumbbells for pressing AND for benching? I originally read this as just for pressing.

And how would you manage a 2.5lb increase with dumbbells? Or a 5lb increase? Do you have microplates?

Oops. I meant pressing as in all pressing movements, not just the overhead press. I edited the title to make this clearer. I can use a barbell for benching and overhead pressing, but only with light weights and staying far from failure. With dumbbells, I can go harder with the volume and get closer to failure, but it’s still not safe for my shoulders to hit failure. However, I can go hard enough with dumbbells to get a muscular stimulus. So far, I can’t do that with barbells.

As for the TM, I meant this…

Cycles 1/2: TM is 100lbs. Calculate percentages based on this, and round to the nearest dumbbells.

Cycles 3/4: TM is 105lbs. Calculate same as above.

With the TM situation, you’d be changing the TM but not actually having any meaningful impact on weight used for the cycle due to availability of bells.

Do you have access to a smith machine by chance?

Yeah, the weights used would barely change. And for something like BBB, they wouldn’t change at all for several cycles. Would that be an issue, though? I would think not as long as I do “better” with the weights next cycle (more control, faster rep speed, lower rest times, etc).

And I don’t have a gym membership yet, so no smith machine right now.

Whelp, those are the pitfalls as I see them. Ultimately, exercise will get you bigger and stronger.

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What would you do this in this situation? Would you still pursue 5/3/1 since you believe in it? Or would you choose something else since hard barbell training is off the table?

We run into an ideological issue. I would absolutely pursue 5/3/1: I do not see this as 5/3/1. DBs are assistance in 5/3/1: not main or supplemental. This feels square peg/round hole for me. I’d look into barbell work arounds: shoulder saver pads, slingshots, smith machines, etc, so I could still have heavy bilateral training. If that was non-viable, I’d co-opt some Dan John kettlebell work into those DBs.

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This was exactly the phrase that came to my mind.

I would not do 531 with dumbbells as main lifts, i would pick another method that was suited for my goals.

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I see your guys’ point. I could apply the 5/3/1 rep scheme for dumbbell presses, but doing percentage work on dumbbells will probably be tricky at best, and a mess at worst. And low-rep dumbbell work (which will inevitably happen) definitely tends to be a mess.


For me, dumbbells lend themselves to hypertrophy work far better than pure strength work.


The issue is I frankly don’t know how to progress with them over time. With pulling and leg movements, I can go to failure pretty safely. But even with dumbbell pressing, I have to stay away from failure. With push ups I can consistently go 1 or 2 reps away from failure, however, without risking shoulder inflammation/pain.

That’s why I was thinking about doing 5s Pro + BBB on dumbbell pressing since I can really only do non-failure accumulation training for it. It’s frankly annoying haha.

You can “progress slowly” in many other ways. Standard double progression, escalating density training etc. You can still stay within the principles of 531 without having to use the rep scheme.

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EDT is something I am considering. I tried double progression for dumbbell pressing but couldn’t do it consistently without issues, since it’s not safe for me to go hard on pressing sets. For example, if I get 7/8/8/8 the previous week on a standing dumbbell press, going for 9/8/8/8 this week isn’t worth it even if I can get those reps.

Shooting for a total number of reps (and not caring about reps per sets) seems to be the best option, and it’s what Wendler recommends for assistance. The issue is that I don’t know how to progress that, since I can’t do only assistance work and no main work in my training, right?

That’s the thing: when you stop trying to make it 5/3/1, you can progress however you want!

Let’s take this great idea from Dan John. Press ladders. 2-3-5-10. Do 5 rounds of it: that’s 100 reps. Do that workout ONCE with a set of dumbbells and record the weight used and the time it took you to complete.

Next workout: use heavier weights OR use the same weight and beat your previous time. ORRRR, if you cleaned only the first rep of each set, clean the first 2 reps. ORRR do 6 rounds. You can see where this is going.

Instead of sort’ve doing 5/3/1 and getting sort’ve 5/3/1 results, you make your own progression and you own it.


Trying to beat the time reminds me of EDT. And Jesus Christ, that’s a lot of reps haha.

And you’re right. I gravitated towards 5/3/1 since I love its principles and it’s what I would be doing if I could do the standard barbell lifts.

You can still use the principles of 5/3/1 without the percentages. I do.


Out of curiosity, which principles do you use and how do you apply them? Or is it as simple as you remembering to start light, progress slowly, and have balance in your training?