Have you stopped progressing on 5/3/1? Have you exhausted the assistance templates without getting much in return? It’s probably time to move on and start thinking about what to do after 5/3/1. This article is going to cover:
- Why Has 5/3/1 Stopped Working?
- Looking For an Individualised Strength Program?
- Solution Time: What You Need to Do to Progress as an Advanced Lifter
- A Possible Programme Option After 5/3/1
- What Programme Would I Suggest After 5/3/1
- What to Do After 5/3/1: Frequently Asked Questions
- Next Steps
Not getting stronger sucks, so let’s get you progressing again…
Why Has 5/3/1 Stopped Working?
If Wendler’s 5/3/1 has stopped working then it’s likely because you’re accidentally violating the SRA (Stress, Recovery, Adaptation) cycle. And yes, as an advanced lifter, I’m simply assuming that your sleep, diet etc are all taken care of so don’t factor in.
“5/3/1 is either not providing you enough stress and/or not allowing you enough recovery”
Possibility 1 – 5/3/1 Not Providing Enough Stress:
One of the biggest issues with the original 5/3/1 was that it didn’t provide enough stimulus for most people. This was addressed in beyond 5/3/1 with the addition of assistance templates and joker sets. However, every method eventually has its limit, and adaptive resistance catches up, meaning that the exercises, sets, rep schemes and even the weekly structure become stale.
Possibility 2 – 5/3/1 Not Allowing Enough Recovery:
Alternatively, the issue could be that now that you’re much stronger, 5/3/1 no longer provides you enough time to recover. I tend to find that this isn’t the case for most people, but it can be if you’re someone who really attacks the joker sets and then follows this up with something like boring but big, especially for the squat or deadlift which really ends up taxing your recovery.
So How Do You Know If You’re Not Getting Enough Stress or Enough Recovery?
Not enough stress:
If 5/3/1 isn’t providing enough stress then there’s a good chance you’ll feel like you could do more total work across the week as a whole. For example, if you squat on monday, feel like you could squat again on thursday, but then have to wait until next week simply because that’s what the programme says. It’s also likely that the weights you squat, bench and deadlift will be fairly stable, not going down but also not going up.
Not enough recovery:
Do you feel overly sore most of the week? Do the bigger 5/3/1 assistance template workouts feel like they’re killing you off? Do you sometimes struggle to complete sessions? (Deadlift sessions especially) Are the weights you squat, bench and deadlift decreasing? Chances are that you’re not getting enough recovery.
Both of the Above?:
Do you feel sort of torn between feeling like you need to push harder to make progress, but then getting too beaten up from pushing harder and then needing to back off? Do the weights that you squat, bench, deadlift and overhead press fluctuate up and down every few weeks based on your fatigue patterns? 5/3/1 might be giving you both of the above issues.
Looking For an Individualised Strength Program?
If you want someone to take the guesswork away, why not have me (your friendly neighbourhood professional strength coach) design you a custom strength programme
We’ll have a comprehensive, detailed chat about your training and then I’ll craft your program custom for you.
No more guessing or overthinking.
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.
Solution Time: What You Need to Do to Progress as an Advanced Lifter
Say it with me folks…
“Resetting your Maxes is NOT the Solution”
If you’re violating the SRA principle, no amount of resetting your maxes is going to magically create progress. Your body will not suddenly respond differently to the same stimulus, nor will it suddenly start recovering better for no reason. You can’t cheat physiology.
In order to progress, you need to solve the two SRA issues mentioned above:
- You need to provide more stimulus to force your body to adapt
- You need to allow more recovery time in between those stimuli
How to Practically Do That
To provide more stimulus than you were getting on 5/3/1
- Consider changing rep schemes (2’s, 4’s, 6’s, 8’s, heck maybe even 10’s if you’re feeling wild)
- Use more exercise variations (Pauses, Tempos, 1 and a 1/4 reps)
- Play around with more diverse assistance and accessory work.
To allow more recovery than you were getting on 5/3/1
- More frequently include light and medium days
- Use more exercise variations and rep scheme changes to provide these lighter or medium days
- Select more appropriate assistance work (Big But Boring 5×10 squats to assist your squat is not the best choice for stronger lifters)
- Consider a longer-term programme that systematically changes training variables such as volume, intensity, sets and reps over time.
Here’s a video I made with some further details on getting stronger as an advanced lifter.
A Possible Programme Option After 5/3/1
At this point, you know that 5/3/1 isn’t working anymore, plus you know the things you need to do to make progress. But what specific programme actually accomplishes those things intelligently? Here’s an option you could try after 5/3/1.
Chad Wesley Smith’s Juggernaut programme is a solid, classically structured linear (technically block) periodisation model. It starts with higher volume work at lower intensities and ends with lower volumes of work at higher intensities.
Block 1: 10’s Phase
Block 2: 8’s Phase
Block 3: 5’s Phase
Block 4: 3’s Phase
Each phase also has a pattern of accumulation, intensification, realisation and deload. For example block 1 looks like:
- 5×10 @ 60% in week 1,
- 3×10 @ 67.5% in week 2,
- 1×10+ reps @ 75% in week 3,
- And 3×5 @ 60% as a deload in week 4
Each lift is still only performed once per week, so the weekly structure is similar to 5/3/1, but the use of changing phases with different rep schemes and intensities presents a whole new stimulus to keep progress coming. Plus, the intelligent variation of stimulus over time allows for better recovery.
Coach’s Thought: Juggernaut is a solid choice for your next programme after 5/3/1, with enough similarity to feel like a logical next step, but enough difference to ensure that your lifting numbers keep moving in the right direction.
What Programme Would I Suggest After 5/3/1
Juggernaut is a solid choice of programme after 5/3/1, and if I only had 10 seconds of your time that’s exactly what I’d recommend.
However, if you allowed me a few minutes, I might offer a bit more nuance. I think that at this point in your training career, it can be a really good idea to start thinking more about crafting your training programme around you as an individual. By now you most likely know…
- Which exercises seem to work for you and which don’t
- The amount of volume and intensity you can tolerate
- How many weeks you can push before needing a deload.
- Your weak points and areas to address
So you can start to adjust your training to suit your own specific needs.
For Now, Here’s What I Would Recommend:
Design and follow a properly periodised strength programme using the overall structure shown in the table below, but adjust it based on your own knowledge.
You can adjust and select your own:
- Frequency (How many times you’ll do each exercise per week)
- Volumes (Total sets)
- Intensities (Weights used)
- And you can adjust how many weeks you spend in each training phase
“You’re smarter than you think, it’s time to start adjusting your own training for YOU”
The benefits of this approach are:
- You get to be more involved in the training process and use your own insights.
- You get stronger, as periodised programmes have been shown to outperform non-periodised programmes (Williams 2017)
- You get less injured, as you’ll actually be listening to your own logic, using exercises, sets and reps that work for you.
And yes, it feels a bit daunting at first (Heck, if it’s a bit too daunting, consider hiring me just to consult with you and we can build your programme together.) But I can promise that taking more ownership of your own training is 100% worth it.
What to Do After 5/3/1: Frequently Asked Questions
How effective is Wendler 5/3/1?
5/3/1 is an effective late-intermediate programme for most people, but eventually, you’ll outgrow it.
How long should I do 5/3/1?
You should do 5/3/1 for as long as it keeps you progressing. For you, this might mean multiple cycles of 5/3/1 stretching out for a year or more, or it might mean 3-4 cycles and you’re done. It really depends on your genetics.
When should I stop 5/3/1?
You should stop following wendler 5/3/1 when you can’t make progress on each 3-week cycle anymore. Specifically, if you have completed 2 cycles of 5/3/1, with a deload in between, and used joker sets and assistance templates, and your lifts still haven’t increased, then it’s time to move on and think about what to do after 5/3/1.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for some action…
1) Try out Juggernaut, or build out your own training programme, and if you want a bit more guidance, consider having me help you to create a custom programme.
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.
‘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 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.
Williams, Tyler & Tolusso, Danilo & Fedewa, Michael & Esco, Michael. (2017). Comparison of Periodized and Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 47. 10.1007/s40279-017-0734-y.