Heavy 531 with No Max Sets

I literally just signed up so hopefully i’m posting this in the right spot.

I’ve written up heaps of 531 programs, love me some excel, but atm i’m experimenting with reducing the amount of maxing as it is often the reason for my burnout/fatigue.I have done a variation of the 531 for powerlifting style where the 5’s week does not max but have thought about trying a program with purely straight sets and getting volume in via back off sets as other powerlifters do. For example:

Week 1:
Set 1 - 5 x 65%
Set 2 - 5 x 75%
Set 3 - 5 x 85%
Set’s 4. 5. 6 - 6 x 65%

Week 2:
Set 1 - 3 x 70%
Set 2 - 3 x 80%
Set 3 - 3 x 90%
Set’s 4. 5. 6 - 5 x 70%

Week 3:
Set 1 - 5 x 75%
Set 2 - 3 x 85%
Set 3 - 1 x 95%
Set’s 4. 5. 6 - 4 x 75%

Obviously the TM would be heavier, or perhaps not even using a TM as 95% for a single on he third week should be fairly easy and give you room to progress slowly with good form.

Has anyone run something similar? What are your thoughts?

you could just do something like the 5 progressions template where you do 5 reps of each set regardless of percentages.

1 Like

I don’t see the point. You’re removing one vital aspect from the program. The TM and the autoregulation what comes with it.

If you want to try 5/3/1 with heavy sets of 1-5 reps accompanied with supplemental volume - do beyond 5/3/1. Just skip the amraps and do TM work/jokers if you feel like it. It is fully explained in the book.

1 Like

This makes no sense. It’s basically FSL with less reps after week one. I’m also unsure how the plus sets could cause burnout. Because they’re based on your TM, they’re light enough to hit hard without compromising recovery. They’ll kick your arse on the day, but that’s the whole point. When you can’t hit decent reps, you reset and start again.

Looks like another try at tinkering with 531 unnecessarily.

  1. People do not burn out from “max sets”, they burn out because of the dumb stuff they do around it, and then don’t take recovery seriously.

  2. Using this method, there is no way for you to monitor your bar speed at your top sets. No way to tell if your TM is correct.

  3. Those back off sets already exists, and they are called FSL.

  4. Don’t fuck with the program.


I think the new book should have this on a blank page at the start of every chapter.

1 Like

Yet people would still try. It’s honestly breathtaking how often people disregard what they just read as if it wasn’t even there.

1 Like

I’m only now starting to understand that. I cannot fathom why you would try a program if you didn’t like it or didn’t understand it in the first place.

I used to do my own programming because I didn’t quite get a buzz from other programs. I took bits and bobs from lots of different systems and because I worked consistently and hard I got results despite the programming being suboptimal.

Once I decided to give 531 a go, I bought the second edition and Beyond. I didn’t even put a single finger to keyboard in Excel until I’d read the second edition front to back and was confident I had a basic understanding of it. I didn’t start implementing ideas from Beyond until I’d read through it several times and had run a couple of basic 531 cycles to get a feel for the program in its most basic form.

NONE of that was hard. Or complicated.

Seriously, if youve been training for a short time and think you can build a better program than something that’s been proven over time you’re delusional or stupid, but go ahead and see what happens.

1 Like

Wow this is a hostile community on here hahaha. You also all assume alot immediately without any thought. I did preface by saying that i’ve written up many 531 programs in the past. I didn’t think i’d also need to preface that I have in fact read the first, second and beyond editions of 531. I am very aware of FSL, joker sets and 5’s progressions and I have run around 20 cycles of 531 in the past few years and have used it with clients in my career. I am actually very experienced with the program.

Tbh if you haven’t made modifications in the past to suit your comfortabilities, those of clients and their ability to recover for sports or even just to change things up for a cycle, you’re crazy. This isn’t about making the program “better” it’s about trying new things and seeing what works because everyone is different and there’s plenty of other programs that run similar protocols to immense success.

Forums should be about constructive criticism not pointless jabs. Jim’s a hero of mine for all that he’s done for me and my career. But he can’t write everything for you guys that’s why we’re here

My school paid for me to spend a weekend at a coaching workshop with one of the highest level S&C coaches in the world. He directly trains Olympic athletes, and oversees programs for most of his university’s athletic teams. In short, he’s a badass in his field with the results and credentials to back it up.

I picked his brain as much as I could without getting slapped with a restraining order. He has also been gracious to respond to my questions after the seminar ended, helping me refine my school’s S&C program. Like Jim’s books, he provides advice simply, with little BS.

Using the wealth of information he passed on to me, as well as the 5/3/1 books, I spent a rainy weekend over the summer when my kids had friends over to design my own plan. It was beautiful. Widely accepted percentages, rep schemes, recovery, speed, agility, etc… I was convinced it would send me and my athletes to record breaking performances.

It was 5/3/1 with FSL.

I don’t know much about much, but I know enough to realize what I don’t know.

Do the program.


The hostility comes from the abundance of moronic “look what I did to 5/3/1 to make it totally different even though I never bothered trying it in the first place please tell me it’s ok” questions on this forum, along with people asking if they can do FSL and BBB at the same time. I wouldn’t categorize your post with these, but hope that helps explain some of the shortness. Your proposition is similar to a 5’s pro/FSL done slightly incorrectly, but it’s close enough to it that you might as well do the tried/proven/tested version first. You mentioned doing a bunch of cycles, every try this version? I get where you’re going with trying to get more volume at a heavier weight with the modification. If you’re hell bent on doing it you could always try it and let us know how it went, I’d be curious.

I personally did not meant to be hostile. I just think doing 5/3/1 + FSL with high TM and without pr sets is way inferior to regular 5/3/1 or any of its variables. I might work, but it is not 5/3/1 because the principles are lacking. The Beyond done with TM PRs and jokers is closest to your programming. At least in my opinion. That is why I tossed it to you.

I also did “program” a lot of stuff earlier. Usually getting mediocre results, or even injuries. I still tend to overthink at times, but obeying the rules/principles of the program makes sure I’m not doing anything incredible stupid.

Wendler gives VERY clear quidelines, rules what to follow, and a lot of ready progression models/programs. It is incredibly simple. I always have gotten best results from following the simpliest 5/3/1 programs just as written. That is why I often follow the program as closely as I can. All the empirical evidence is there. It is your call.


How would you progress, or what would you do week 4? (Or week 5, if you take the 4th week deload?)

I’ll admit, in the past, I’ve done something similar to what you’ve come up with. To me, it seemed like a scientifically proven super program. Work super hard for 3 weeks, deload, repeat!

The problem I ran into was at some point, the "5’s week "turns into a “Max Set of 5.” Then this is followed by a “Max Set of 3.” And finally, the easy single week becomes “New PR week.”

Hitting a top weight, three weeks in a row, in 3 different rep ranges is very taxing. And a fast way to burn out.

You could avoid this issue by following 5/3/1 principles like start too light, and progress slowly. Focus on bar speed. It would probably work best after building a base with some lighter Rep PR work.

Isn’t there a 3/5/1 lay-out that’s similar?

1 Like

Doing the minimum reps but using a higher training max is basically the same thing as the normal program once you begin to stall out which means there isn’t much room for progress.

However the original question using the recommended training max % (90% of 1RM to start) may not be a dumb question depending on other variables. I would at least do minimum reps then FSL with max reps. The only way to know if it works is do the original program for at least 6 months, then try this modification for another 6 after a reset. Worst case you don’t make as much progress for 6 months but it may not be a complete waste of time.

I hear you with the hostility. I’m always surprised at responses.
I like your question. I also like what you outlined. A simple program in the beyond book has week 1 5x5 at 75%, week 2 5x3 at 85% week 3 5x1 at 95%. I have used this in the past and was pleased with the results. The 95 was tough and I floated 92-97 depending on how things felt. I moved the training max up slowly. Nothing wrong with thinking,and tinkering just with complaining .

I didn’t understand the hostility either when I first came to T Nation. I didn’t understand why the regular posters and Jim were always so short with people, I almost dumped 5/3/1 because I thought everyone was up their own ass. It wasn’t for a few months later, after joining Jim’s personal forum to get more information, that I finally understood the program and why everyone was so being short:

Because every. single. day. people ask the same exact question you are asking: “will my version of the program work?”. And every time, we give the same answer, “do the program as written”. This happens over, and over again because everyone thinks they are some kind of snowflake. But you aren’t. You’re not, I’m not, your clients aren’t, no body is.

So when you don’t understand why every body is being “hostile”, just double check yourself, because you are the same as everyone else that has come through here, and people have answered this question about one million times. You are the same as I was just a few months, ago - hell, just look at my previous posts. The sooner you understand why the program is the way it is, the better off you will be.

Trust us, stop writing your own versions of 5/3/1, pick one of the MANY programs that have been proven to work, and, most importantly, don’t fuck with the program.


If that experienced could try going rogue…