T Nation

Trouble Understanding 5/3/1/ Workouts

I learned Chemistry using Magic the Gathering.

Got an F, but turned straw into gold, so that was cool.


If it makes you feel any better I was in the same boat. I avoided running it for a couple of years because I couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and that was before Forever and all this leader and anchor stuff. You’ll figure it out.

It basically runs:

Main lift, runs in four or seven week waves
Supplemental lift, weights determined by main lift usually
Assistance, where you do bodybuilding shit

There are a few differences depending on the template but I think it generally follows that pattern.

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I guess I have been doing this long enough that I forget how someone might get confused.


I wouldn’t believe this possible, but I have a friend and wife (two separate people) that felt the same way. Both were relatively new to barbell lifting, and they found 531 utterly confusing even with an app, book/article, etc… I would have to go into the garage, and literally say things like “now put X amount of weight on the bar, and do 5 reps. Okay, now that you’ve finished do 10 dips. Now put Y amount on the bar and do 5 reps.”

I would leave and go inside for 5 minutes, and I come out and they’re doing something completely different and be lost. My friend would be like “why can’t he just tell us exactly what to do?”, and I would say that’s exactly what he does.


Dude this is awesome!! It has answered a lot of my questions and is making BBB seem a lot better now! Wish Krypteia was on there.

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@samul this is solid, solid advice.

I heard someone say once that rich people become rich by spending money on things that expand themselves and their lives.

@dagill2 what does the “5+” and “5?” Mean?

5+ means a plus set. You push the weight listed to technical failure, aiming to break a rep PR (ie. Do more reps with that weight than the previous time you lifted that weight)

5? I’m not too sure, what template have you plugged in? I might be able to answer for you.

As @dagill2 said, the 5+ means aim for a PR on this set. So push that set, but not necessarily to technical failure.

The 5 means just that, five. Do 5 reps at that weight and then rack the weight.

The 5? Is a joker set. It’s optional and allows you to autoregulate your training. In my opinion, they should be used very sparingly, if at all, and only on days where the weights really are flying up.

Just a quick comment, it’s unusual to do jokers and FSL and BBB and then add assistance. I would probably eliminate FSL or BBB sets.

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I phrased that poorly in my original post, use antiquity’s definition. Or better yet, use Jim’s.

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This is why I am not a big fan of BiB. It lets you make silly programs.

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That’s the difference between standard 531 and 5s pro.

Standard 531: the + after the top set number means that number (5, 3, or 1) is a minimum for the day, but you try to get a rep PR. The idea is that every week you shoot for a rep PR.

5s Pro: instead of shooting for a rep PR every week you do sets of five for every set, regardless of week.

That’s the problem with things like Blackiron Beast, they don’t give you the full picture. Forever isn’t great either until you’ve read the original book and Beyond, because it assumes you know both of them.

Yes, it’s very simple when you get down to it, BUT it assumes/requires a degree of knowledge about training that if you don’t have, you’ll struggle.

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What I’ve been doing is 5-10 rep warm up sets going up by small amounts (usually around 30 pound increments depending on lift) and using that for a warm up until I get to my “working weight” then doing 2-3 sets with the working weight then dropping the weight and doing one final AMRAP (just shy of failure).

I haven’t been counting those warm up sets or the ending amrap set as working sets. So seeing Jim’s program it seems I’m almost doing BBB, albeit a slightly modified version, with a higher TM % for my working sets.

There’s also a chance I’m way off base here and need to step back and evaluate more.

If you want to do 5/3/1 then start with 40% of your TM if you can. Let’s use 300 lbs as an example to make my math easy. The following is Jim’s recommended warm up.

40%, 120 x 3-5
50%, 150 x 3-5
60%, 180 x 3-5

The next set is your first “working” set at 65%, 70%, or 75% depending on the week. Here’s how week 1, the 5s week, would look.

65%, 195 x 5
75%, 215 x 5
85%, 245 x AMRAP (5 is the minimum but if you’re close to that then your TM is too high.)


BBB would have you doing 5x10 in most cases.

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I love how @wanna_be has called out that 531 is confusing (which it definitely would be if you haven’t read it all or started with the original and developed an understanding of how its evolved), and in the helpful responses above we have used the following:

four week or seven week waves
supplemental lifts
assistance work
put x weight on the bar
5+ and 5?
plus sets
amrap sets
technical failure
Rep PR
PR set
Joker sets
Standard 531
5s Pro
TM %

And we have been helping him with the basics of this easy to learn program !!! LMAO


This is correct. I have made a technical error and started with a book too far into the program. It was previously recommended to get the other books and I plan to.

It might be my google Fu but foguring out his books and what they contain and where to start is absolutely confusing. He might be a great trainer and coach but his book/website is lacking critical information to the new customer.

I genuinely wish I had a question to answer.