T Nation

5/3/1 PR Set Rep Schemes


First and foremost huge to you Jim and your 5/3/1 program. I've read all your books and use them, as well as my (hopefully) good sense, as my training Bible. Also love the philosophy and passion beyond the mere set/rep schemes.

And I have a question, specifically, about the rep schemes. The methodology behind getting strong involves moving heavier weights for lower reps; hence the 5/3/1. But it seems to me the "ideal" number of reps on your + sets is both a matter of preference and much debate. I've always started light and increased the weight per cycle until I could only achieve one additional rep on the + sets. So 6, 4, or 2 depending on the week, at which point I shave a percentage or fixed number and recalculate. Two steps forward, one step back, repeat.

I note in Beyond 5/3/1 when talking about Joker Sets you recommend capping the + sets (or PR set) at 10, 8 and 5 respectively. "Capping" your hardest set of the week at 10, 8 and 5 doesn't reconcile in my mind with 5/3/1. You're doubling and then some the rep scheme in weeks two and three, and arguably doing a hypertrophy set in week 1. I fully understand and am on board with the idea of starting light, but...

Can you please explain this? Why shoot to exceed the minimum by two, three, even five times (on week three)???

Thanks much,



Capping the sets prior to the joker set is just so you don't entirely blow your wad before you get to the joker set(s). As your training maxes increase, you won't make it to 10, 8, or 5 reps on your final sets of the required reps. If you are only getting 1, or 2 reps more on your final set, this is fine and typical.

I cannot speak directly for Jim, but my guess is that his training maxes are low enough that he has to cap his final sets because he can do enough reps to risk injury, or have nothing left for the joker sets. At his strength level, he can get away with much lighter training maxes relative to his 1RM and still make 1RM gains. For weaker lifters, this may not be the case.


Understand completely Joey and don't disagree at all. Just trying to better understand the methodology in an effort to be something other than a Lemming following a prescribed program. If you "cap" your PR set at 10, 8 and 5 that indicates you (probably) have a rep or two in the tank still, as Jim would say. Doing 6-12 reps on your hardest set of the day seems counterintuitive to me, if we accept the premise that developing pure strength is about moving heavier weights for lower reps; and generally speaking I'd define lower reps as 5 or less.

In the end as long as you're making your minimum reps none of this probably matters THAT much, but I'm curious as to why Jim recommends overshooting the minimum by such a large margin...


I not sure if he recommends overshooting by that much, so much as he is saying "IF you get to 10 reps, stop". Some people can rep for days with submaximal weights; others, like myself, rarely got over 7 or 8 reps on my 5s week, for example. I still made plenty of progress.

Don't sweat the overshooting thing. If you are making progress by only getting 1-2 extra reps on your final sets, keep it as-is. If you aren't making progress, maybe reset your maxes much lower so you can hit more reps on the final sets for a change. Higher reps, say 8-12, doesn't necessarily mean you aren't getting stronger overall. I think saying that increasing your 1RM only occurs with heavier weights and under 5 reps isn't always true. It just depends on the lifter.

Jim may have a totally different view on this. I wanted to offer my experience, as I used to feel the same as you. "Why am I not seeing the 10-12 reps on my 5s week?" I thought I was doing it wrong for a while. Then I started to see PRs and I didn't care anymore.

The main idea of 5/3/1 still stands, start with 85%-90% of your true 1RM and adjust when progress stalls.


You can get strong in any rep range. If your squatting 300x20, and a year latter your squatting 400x20, your 1RM has moved as well. Forget nonsense about certain rep ranges for strength, hypertrophy, or endurance, Strength is king, Wendler understands this, thats why he dosen't worry about rep ranges, just that you get stronger week to week in the rep range you feel comfortable / enjoy
I personaly run 531 closer to my max, because I enjoy low reps. I only hit the target reps each week 5-3-1, and then drop 10% and rep out. So if it's week #1 squats, I'd squat 405x5 for top set, then go 365 for 8-9 and go home, on week #3 I'd go 455x1 top set, then go 405 for 6-7 and go home. I think people over think some of this shit, just get stronger week to week in a way you enjoy. The whole point of 531 is to simplify strength training, which it does, but eveyone still over thinks evry little detail. Squat and leave :stuck_out_tongue:


Thanks to both of you for the constructive replies and, Joey, totally get and hear what you're saying.


Because I believe you can get stronger at different rep ranges - that has been my experience, anyway.


wow, didn't think Jim would actually answer himself, hadn't seen him around here in a long time, good to see. I think I basicaly said what he did, but I wouldn't of put words in his mouth if i'd know'n he'd show up. mabey there's hope for this place yet. Latter