nSuns has grown from humble origins to become a popular strength program, but is it actually any good? In this complete nSuns 5/3/1 program review we’ll look at:
- Background on nSuns
- nSuns Program Overview
- nSuns Program Explanation
- nSuns Programme Progression & Periodization
- nSuns Program Spreadsheet
- Looking To Get Strong Without the Headache?
- Modifying nSuns
- nSuns Program: The Pros
- nSuns Program: The Cons
- nSuns Program Review: is nsuns a good program?
- Best Alternatives to nSuns
- nSuns Strength Program Frequently Asked Questions
- Next Steps
Let’s jump straight in.
Background on nSuns
What is nSuns? (nSuns Explained)
nSuns is a popular strength program named after it’s creator, reddit user u/nSuns.
It is inspired by Jim Wendler’s 531, whilst also using sheiko style volume based programming.
You might also see it referred to as nSuns 531 LP, which refers to it being a linear progression (I’ll explain progression approaches in detail later in the article)
nSuns Program Overview
The overall structure of the nSuns strength program is basically a condensed version of 5/3/1 with some extra training volume tacked on. The typical structure is a 4 day upper lower split repeated with slight weight adjustments each week. Here’s an overview in table format for easy reading:
*Please note, these are expressed as a % of your true max so that they can be compared against other programmes and literature. I have already factored training max into these numbers.
nSuns Program Explanation
Looking at the absolute mess of sets, reps and percentages in the table above you might be wondering:
How Does nSuns Program Work?
nSuns is essentially a condensed version of 5/3/1 with some extra volume thrown on top. Each day you’ll perform a main lift, secondary lift and then assistance work.
nSuns Main Lift
For you main lift, Squat, Bench and Deadlift each have a 5 rep, 3 rep and 1 rep+ day that is used to test rep maxes and adjust weights for the following week.
Then after the rep max test set is done, you follow up with 6 more working sets which descend in weight.
There is one additional bench press day in which you follow a pyramid type approach, building from 8’s at 60% up to 4’s at 75% 1rm and then back down to 8’s at 60%.
nSuns Secondary Lift
After your main lift is done, you’ll perform 8 sets of your secondary lift, all within the 3-8 rep range and all within 30-65% of your 1 rep max in the main movement.
So if you’re asked to do 8 reps at 65% in the overhead press, that’s 8 reps at 65% of your best bench press.
nSuns Accessory Work
There’s no set accessory prescription on nSuns, instead you’re meant to pick 2 to 4 exercises that target your weak points and/or build size in the related muscles. For example, for bench press, your accessory exercises might include things like:
- DB Bench Press
- DB Flyes
It’s also recommended to add in back exercises on upper body days, so things like pull-ups and rows are good choices.
nSuns Without Accessories
nSuns without accessories is a good idea for many people, especially if you’re short on time or recovery. Remember, nSuns is a high volume programme, in fact, by the time you’ve completed your main and secondary lift you will have performed 17 working sets of compound lifts. For many people that is already plenty of work.
What days do you do nSuns?
Where possible, aim to maximise the time between first and second upper and lower body workouts, for example:
- Day 1 (Bench A) – Monday
- Day 2 (Squat) – Tuesday
- Day 3 (Bench B) – Thursday
- Day 4 (Deadlift) – Friday
This allows for 2-3 days recovery between similar session types.
Rest Between Sets During nSuns:
Research shows that 3-5 minutes of rest promotes better strength results than resting for anything less. However, for since you’re performing 17 working sets, this means your workout will take around 80-90 minutes not including warm ups or accessory work. When you add those in, an nSuns workout can end up taking closer to 2 hours.
You might find that you can reduce your rest times for your secondary lift to around 90s. Your recovery won’t be perfect, but if your conditioning is okay you should be able to make it through the session and save some time.
nSuns Programme Progression & Periodization
nSuns will have you making progress using linear progression on a weekly basis. Each week you’ll lift slightly more than you did the week before.
To guide you with this, nSuns uses rep max sets with specific weekly weight increase suggestions.
nSuns Weekly Increases
nSuns uses rep maxes tests each week for your squat, bench and deadlift at around 85% 1rm. The reps you achieve in these weekly tests are then used to adjust your training maxes, which are used to calculate your lifts the following week.
nSuns Training Maxes
In the nSuns spreadsheets you’ll find online, and in the app, you’ll see that you work from a training max.
Generally speaking, a training max is around 90% of your true one rep max.
In the program overview above the numbers are based on your true max so that we can easily compare them against other programs. I manually factored in the training max with those numbers.
In all the spreadsheets all you’ll need to do is enter your maxes and the inbuilt maths will take care of the rest.
Speaking of which…
nSuns Program Spreadsheet
The smolov program is a nightmare t run without a proper smolov spreadsheet. To help you out, here’s a pre-formatted excel spreadsheet I found over on LiftVault.
nSuns 531 App
There’s also an nsuns app you can use to streamline your training process:
Looking To Get Strong Without the Headache?
If you want to spend less time thinking about programs and more time making progress, why not consider having me design a custom strength programme for you?
You send in your details, answer questions about your training numbers, goals, training history, equipment etc, and then I craft your program custom for you.
I also throw in a check-in each month, just to make sure that everything is working well, and to make any adjustments if needed. Learn more by clicking the link.
nSuns 3 Day
If you can only train three days per week, here’s a 3 day version you can use:
- Day 1: Bench Press (With Rep Max Test) and Overhead Press
- Day 2: Deadlift and Bench Press (Higher Rep)
- Day 3: Squat and Sumo Deadlift
These three training days should be non-consecutive, e.g. monday, weds and friday.
nSuns 5 Day
If you want to train five days per week instead of the typical 4 day nSuns approach, then there’s here’s the template structure for nSuns 531 5 day:
- Monday: Bench and OHP
- Tuesday: Squat and Sumo Deadlift
- Wednesday: Overhead Press and Incline Press
- Thursday: Deadlift and Front Squat
- Friday: Bench and Close Grip Bench
In essence, all you’re doing is adding an extra upper body day that focuses on the overhead press and incline press. The sets and reps for this extra day are identical to most other days, and also include a rep max test.
nSuns CAP3, which stands for the Cyclical AMRAP Progression 3-week program, is a popular variation of the nSuns program.
Instead of being a recurring 1 week programme it uses a 3 week approach, making it more suitable to late intermediates or early advanced lifters.
You can read more about it here.
nSuns Program: The Pros
Okay so now that we’ve covered nSuns in detail, here’s what I like:
- Variation in set, rep and intensity structure
nSuns uses a decent variety of set, rep and intensity prescriptions, which should help to prevent training getting stale by providing unique stimuli.
- The nSuns program has plenty of conversation around it
Since nsuns is reasonably well known and originated on reddit, there’s plenty of discussion on the topic, all you need to do is google:
– “nsuns program reddit”
– “nsuns results”
nSuns Program: The Cons
Now onto the things I don’t like, and I’ll be honest, there’s a lot.
- The Total Weekly Volume Is WAY Too High For Most People
nSuns has you performing 17 sets of squats and deadlifts per week, and 34 sets of bench press and close variations. Compare this to something like the texas method where you perform 6-9 sets of squats or deadlifts, or 5/3/1 where you perform 3 main sets + 2 joker sets, and you can see that it’s triple (or more) the total workload! For most people, that’s WAY too much, and your risk of both overtraining and injury goes through the roof.
- Sessions Take Too Long To Complete
Linked to the point above, getting through 17 sets per workout, plus warm-up and accessory work takes close to 2 hours. That’s a LONG time to be in the gym, especially if you have work or family commitments.
- The Average Intensity is Too Low
The nSuns strength program makes some weird programming choices that just don’t align with modern sports science. For example, the overall intensity is too low to be optimal for strength adaptations. You spend most of your training time at 60-75% 1rm, whereas optimal strength training would be above 80%.
This also means you get very little exposure to heavy lifts, which is an essential part of strength training and powerlifting, especially if you want to compete.
- Percentage Prescriptions Don’t Work Perfectly For Secondary Lifts
nSuns bases some of the weights you use in secondary lifts off of the weights you lift in primary lifts. The problem with this is that it doesn’t account for individual differences in strength ratios. For example, if you have a strong front squat, then performing front squats at 30-50% of your back squat will just be so light it’s not doing anything.
On the other hand, if you have a relatively weak sumo deadlift compared to your conventional deadlift, you might find sets of 6-8 at 65% of your conventional deadlift pretty challenging.
nSuns Program Review: is nsuns a good program?
In my opinion, nSuns is a suboptimal strength program for most people for a variety of reasons.
The volume is way too high, the intensity is too low, and so a lot of your training time ends wasted performing junk volume.
Listen up, for strength development:
“More work does not always equal better”
I’m not saying that nSuns doesn’t work (there’s plenty of evidence that it does) What I’m saying is that you could get just as strong in literally half the workout time following a simple program like the texas method. nSuns has added a bunch of extra work for very little additional benefit.
And yes, you will build some extra muscle on nSuns, which is good, but you could build WAY more muscle by planning a dedicated hypertrophy block into your training calendar.
Overall, nSuns is a classic example of overcomplicated something that already worked (5/3/1) and ending up making something not quite as good in the process.
Best Alternatives to nSuns
There are plenty of solid alternatives to nSuns that will get your squat, bench and deadlift increasing without having to perform dozens of sets. Some suggestions include:
nSuns vs 5/3/1
The main difference between 5/3/1 and nSuns is in the total number of sets you perform. 5/3/1 has you performing 3 main sets plus 2 joker sets, whereas nSuns has you performing 9 main sets plus 8 secondary lift sets.
Since 5/3/1 has been proven to work, and requires significantly less time and complication, I would recommend following the regular 5/3/1 program for a few months before trying nSuns.
nSuns vs BBB
The main difference between nSuns and BBB is that nSuns has you performing sets of 3-8 reps across two exercises, whereas BBB has you performing 5 sets of 10 across the same exercise.
So nSuns will have you doing 9 sets of back squat, 8 sets of sumo deadlift and then 2-3 sets of 2-3 exercises accessory work.
Whilst 5/3/1 + ‘big but boring’ will have you doing 3 main sets, 2 joker sets, and then 5 sets, all of which will be back squat.
nSuns Strength Program Frequently Asked Questions
Is nSuns a beginner program?
No, nSuns is not a beginner program. The total amount of sets is excessive for beginners, who likely only need 3 to 5 sets of a movement per workout in order to make optimal progress.
Is nSuns suitable for masters lifters?
No, nSuns is not suitable for masters lifters. The total amount of sets and training volume will very likely be too much for most masters lifters to recover from.
Is nsuns too much volume?
Honestly, yes, for most people nSuns is too much volume. Typically an upper/lower strength program would use 3-10 working sets per day, with every set beyond this point providing diminishing returns but significantly extra fatigue. nSuns has you performing 17 working sets plus accessory work.
Is nSuns a hypertrophy program?
No, nSuns is not a hypertrophy program. The sheer amount of sets in nSuns will certainly help you build some size, but the overall rep scheme is too low for optimal hypertrophy training, and there isn’t enough exercise variation for maximal muscle size development. If your main goal is bodybuilding, I recommend checking out my 4-day upper/lower split hypertrophy programme.
nsuns without deadlift?
You can absolutely run nSuns without deadlift, in fact it might actually make the program more reasonable by reducing the total amount of lower body work you’ll have to perform.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time to lift some stuff.
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‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.
Freitas de Salles, B., Simão, R., Miranda, F. et al. Rest Interval between Sets in Strength Training. Sports Med 39, 765–7