T Nation

Substituting Exercises?


Hey guys, I’m thinking of (kinda) giving 5/3/1 a go.

Before I say this, I understand that this is NOT the true 5/3/1 program, nor will I complain if it doesn’t produce the same results. I am simply using the idea and rep/set scheme as 5/3/1.

Does anybody recommend against switching back squats out for front squats and bench press out for push press?

My reasons are that besides deadlifting, I perform hip thrusts, good mornings, and RDLs, as assistance work. Not very heavy, but light weight for 5x10-15, like most of Wendler’s recommend assistance exercises. So my posterior chain gets a decent amount of work in. Much more than my quads. That’s why I’m thinking of front squats instead.

And my reason for push pressing instead of benching is simply because I don’t like benching and I have had a nagging right shoulder pain for a while that I still can’t figure out. Only benching and pushups cause the pain (I have good form and don’t skip working my back/rear delts), so until I figure out, I’m looking for a substitute.

I’m open to any comments and opinions on whether or not you guys think switching these two exercises and following the set/rep scheme of 5/3/1 is a good idea or not.



Personally, knowing what is wrong with my shoulder, why, and how to fix it would be my priority.
Sometimes its as simple as technique; sometimes its not

There are endless recommendations in his books, on the net, this website, his forum, etc.
Google is your friend

People have used floor press and weighted dips in lieu of benching. Plenty of options.

You may also want to look at your assistance exercises. Find the right ones for you. They may alleviate your shoulder issue.

Push Press, Push jerk, Military press, Klokov press can all be used for Main and assistance vertical pressing exercises.

same with front, back, bodybuilder, box, front straps, and zercher).

But I am sure you will get someone that says you are a sinner if you veer from the path and totally disagree with what others have done. Its your path.

If you want to follow the book by the book do the book and all the recommendations Wendler has given. People have had great results with the programs Jim has laid out.
There are so many variations of everything there really is no boredom unless you just get tired of 531 at this weight and that %. It is one of most popular templates with the most flexibility.

However, You dont have to follow the book to do the same rep, set, % scheme.

Do what you want not what someone else says. Nothing is a matter of fact.

If you are not happy doing it then why do it at all.


Front squats are fine to use instead. I agree with the bench thing you should find the cause of the issue, try closer grip etc. For now you can do push press instead but I would have flat pressing on both days as assistance, lighter wait try to figure out how to fix the issue. Flat press machines and dumbells are OK if you have some type of injury that might heal in a few weeks but if you can get it resolved slowly add back bench press.


If memory serves it actually says front squat is fine as a substitute in one of the books. I’d probably just do a second press day or try as low an incline bench as possible while getting your shoulder fixed though.


Well…at least you are doing hip thrusts.


You are doing front squats for the wrong reasons. Cart before horse kind of thing.

For the shoulder, google is not your friend. Get it looked after by a competent person. Do what doesn’t hurt and get better.

I don’t bench and only front squat. But I don’t fool myself all the hip thrusts are where it’s at.


5/3/1, 5x5, 8x3, 3x8… these are all tactics that can be applied to pretty much any muscles/exercises you want to improve. I like doing behind the head shoulder presses more than front presses because it hits more shoulder muscles instead sneaking in help from the chest, but either way I’m still using 5x5.


this cannot be closer to the truth in my case. i used to be a pro tennis player, played college afterwards and all that so my right shoulder developed some incredible amount of wear and tear that started hurting when benching. i had it looked by an ortho and gave me two options: surgery or physical therapy. i did the therapy and it worked and after 6 months i was back in the gym but shoulder was still pinching after benching, or push ups, etc even with little weight applied. one day someone at the gym pointed out my elbows flaring out when benching so i took at step back and worked on my technique long with chest, shoulder, and back mobility/strength. that was about 2.5 years ago. ive been doing 5/3/1 for almost a year and no shoulder pain including bench going up from 175lbs (3/4 range) to 245lbs (full range). my advise would be to take a step back for a few months so you can lift healthy for the rest of your life.


How many glute and hamstring assistance exercises do you need in your program at a time?

Have you considered using front squats as assistance?

The push press is clearly very different from the 4 lifts 5/3/1 was designed for, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to use it as one of the 4 main lifts while following the 5/3/1 principles.


There is an entire section in the 5/3/1 book about this.

Read the book.


Well, I did pretty much the same and I’m in the third cycle.
Using front squats as main lift works good. I started with a lower TM on purpose to perfect technique and I gotta say it’s working great.
Not sure about your reasoning tho, I do them because I’ve always done them and I prefer them to back squats, plus doing a lot of overhead lifts my traps are often sore on squat days and the bar on the back impairs my back squat performances.
I also knew in advance that I wanted to learn and try cleans/power cleans so front squats are helpful.
If you’re in a 4 days split, there will be two days between deadlift day and squat day. So if you’re working a lot the posterior chain on deadlift day, you can go for squats and leg press on squat day.

Push press, I’m not so sure.
I still can’t figure out if push press actually improves the overhead press, in fact I plan to switch it with weighted dips starting next month, using the same math of the other main lifts for weighted dips.
Push press feels more like an in between of a strength and a power move, it’s probably more useful (a) for olympic lifts and (b) as an assistance tool.
If you want to push press to improve your push pressing, obviously, do it. It works fine using the 5/3/1 protocol, it will improve in a similar manner the overhead press does (so slow and lots of cursing), but as technique improves you’ll be able to push press a bit more easily than you strict press. Timing and technique really do help on PP.

As someone mentioned, the behind the neck press is quite surely superior to push press for overhead pressing. It’s probably superior to the overhead press too. But with your shoulder issue I wouldn’t attempt to go heavy with it, at all.
Try with very light weights, assess how your shoulder does and see from there. Pressing behind the neck can be a good diagnostic tool to check your shoulders health and expose possible issues - you’d still need to solve your shoulder issue as soon as possible anyway, btw.

Also, close grip bench press as an assistance exercise sounds like a good jolly reagardless of what you end up doing.
I seem to understand that when it comes to upper body pressing movements, you’ll reach a point where triceps are more and more relevant the more the loads increase.


Robson press is superior, imo.