5/3/1 for Hardgainers – Jim Wendler

5/3/1 for Hardgainers


Wolves and Sheep

There are a couple things you need to understand if you fall into the hardgainer category. For many, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. While some people have a harder time putting on muscle or getting stronger, others use this as an excuse to mope around, be a victim, and claim how hard they work or how much they eat with nothing to show.

I've seen what hard training is. I don't mean a hard set of squats either. I'm talking day in, day out training that never makes the social media outlets or the news.

However, denying there is such a thing as a hardgainer is admitting that people aren't genetically predisposed to being successful in a given area. Common sense tells us this is ridiculous. A sheep can never be a wolf, no matter what costume he puts on. But the sheep can adopt the principles and strength of the wolf, thereby making him a stronger and better than the other sheep.

Some are born with a silver spoon, others get the leather belt. And if you ever get discouraged because your friend makes bigger gains than you despite his apparent lack of work ethic/training/commitment, you have the wrong attitude.

Good News and Bad News

The bad news first: You are never going to be Ronnie Coleman or Halfthor Bjornsson. But then, neither is anyone else, so get off your frowny victim-box. Once you're in your early-20s, any man that wants to be someone else other than "who he is" is not only weird, it's fucking creepy.

The good news is that you can become much bigger and stronger than you are today. Luckily, what we're missing genetically can (somewhat) be made up with mental strength. It takes no talent to give effort and be disciplined. It takes no talent to be consistent. It takes no talent to be better today than you were yesterday.

5/3/1 for Hardgainers

This program has been built through working with many lifters and athletes and realizing that each lift needs to be trained slightly differently. The squat is trained differently than the deadlift, and the press and bench press are each trained differently.

Training Days: This is a 4-day per week program: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Each training day includes a warm-up, a main lift (squat, standing press, deadlift or bench press) and assistance work.

Training Max (TM): The Training Max will remain constant. The TM for each lift will begin at 85% of your 1RM or estimated 1RM. Every percentage listed in the program is based on your TM, not your actual max.

Assistance Work: Remember that the assistance work must NOT be trained with the same ferocity as the main lifts. You shouldn't be doing curls and rows with the same effort as you would squat. This doesn't mean they aren't important, it means you have to divvy up your effort when you train as there's a finite amount to go around.

If you feel you're burning out due to the assistance work, this is your own fault. Warm-up, do some jumps, do the main lift hard and with extreme focus, then move on to the assistance work.

Recovery: Recovery work on your off days is recommended: Perform the Agile 8 and some light cardio work to help improve your recovery. I always recommend the Airdyne bike, but remember that if you have to recover from your recovery, you're doing it wrong. Twenty to 30 minutes of the Airdyne on your off days will do wonders for your body and mind.

Eating, sleeping, and hydration: All are also essential whether you're a hardgainer, a genetically average human, or a natural-born lifter. At the least, eat a pound or two of meat every day. When I was a broke college student I would cook two pounds of ground meat a day and eat it with some rice and BBQ sauce. Not exactly gourmet food but it got the job done. Believe it or not, food doesn't have to be anything other than utilitarian.

Eat to support your training, not to fulfill an emotional need. At the least, drink a gallon of water a day and be sure you're sleeping enough to feel rested when you wake up.

While everyone has an excuse as to why they can't eat enough, sleep enough, or train enough, the bottom line is this: if you can't do what is necessary for your own success then you must be willing to change it. There's no way around this, no matter how many times you cry about it.

Options: Once you get the hang of this training, you can start doing some different things. When an athlete learns how to push himself and understands what I expect from him, we begin supersetting movements. For example, on Monday we'll squat and do push-ups in between. We also combine our ab work with the box jumps. The Agile 8 is peppered with chin-ups and kettlebell work.

This not only helps cut back on the training time but it gets your ass in shape. And after a couple weeks, what once was tiring becomes the norm. And once that happens, your body and mind changes. And when you approach training as more than just a way to grow physically, it becomes an essential part of your being.

Week One

Monday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Squat

  • Warm-up
  • 65% x 5
  • 75% x 5
  • 85% x 5+ (PR set)
  • 65% x 20 reps (widowmaker set)

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Any abdominal, low back, single-leg movement, kettlebell swing, kettlebell snatch (choose one) – 50-100 total reps

Tuesday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Bench Press

  • Warm-up
  • 65% x 5
  • 75% x 5
  • 5 sets of 5 reps @ 85%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Prowler or Sled – 20-30 minutes

Thursday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Deadlift

  • Warm-up
  • 65% x 5
  • 75% x 5
  • 85% x 5+ (PR set)
  • 5 sets of 5 reps @ 65%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Any abdominal, low back, single-leg movement, kettlebell swing, kettlebell snatch (choose one) – 50-100 total reps

Friday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Press

  • 65% x 5
  • 75% x 5
  • 85% x 5 (no extra reps)
  • 10 sets of 5 reps @ 65%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Prowler or Sled – 20-30 minutes

Week Two

Monday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Squat

  • Warm-up
  • 70% x 5
  • 80% x 5
  • 90% x 5+ (PR set)
  • 70% x 20 reps (widowmaker set)

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Any abdominal, low back, single-leg movement, kettlebell swing, kettlebell snatch (choose one) – 50-100 total reps

Tuesday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Bench Press

  • Warm-up
  • 70% x 5
  • 80% x 5
  • 5 sets of 5 reps @ 90%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Prowler or Sled – 20-30 minutes

Thursday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Deadlift

  • Warm-up
  • 70% x 5
  • 80% x 5
  • 90% x 5+ (PR set)
  • 5 sets of 5 reps @ 70%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Any abdominal, low back, single-leg movement, kettlebell swing, kettlebell snatch (choose one) – 50-100 total reps

Friday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Press

  • 70% x 5
  • 80% x 5
  • 90% x 5 (no extra reps)
  • 10 sets of 5 reps @ 70%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Prowler or Sled – 20-30 minutes

Week Three

Monday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Squat

  • Warm-up
  • 75% x 5
  • 85% x 5
  • 95% x 5+ (PR set)
  • 75% x 20 reps (widowmaker set)

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Any abdominal, low back, single-leg movement, kettlebell swing, kettlebell snatch (choose one) – 50-100 total reps

Tuesday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Bench Press

  • Warm-up
  • 75% x 5
  • 85% x 5
  • 5 sets of 5 reps @ 95%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Prowler or Sled – 20-30 minutes

Thursday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Deadlift

  • Warm-up
  • 75% x 5
  • 85% x 5
  • 95% x 5+ (PR set)
  • 5 sets of 5 reps @ 75%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Any abdominal, low back, single-leg movement, kettlebell swing, kettlebell snatch (choose one) – 50-100 total reps

Friday

Warm-Up: Agile 8 and Box Jump x 10 total reps

Main Lift: Press

  • Warm-up
  • 75% x 5
  • 85% x 5
  • 95% x 5 (no extra reps)
  • 10 sets of 5 reps @ 75%

Assistance:

  • Dip, push-up, or dumbbell bench/incline/press (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Pull-up, row, lat pulldown, inverted row, curl, shrug (choose one) – 50-100 total reps
  • Prowler or Sled – 20-30 minutes

Progression and Notes

  • Standard 5/3/1 rules apply: Your TM increases 5 or 10 pounds after each cycle.
  • Each main lift uses a TM of 85% of your tested or calculated 1RM.
  • If you can't hit at least 5 reps at 95%, you have the wrong TM. Adjust accordingly.
  • Each lift will NOT increase at the same time. This is normal. Keep plugging away. The breakthrough will eventually come.
  • Assistance work is essential but should not be trained like your squat or deadlift.
  • Recovery is as important as training. Be proactive on your off days.