5-3-1: Raw Strength Training

Fundamentals of Gaining Raw Strength: My take on 5/3/1

The simplest base program for use in the Dynamorphic Training System

Thanks again to “Cotten” for filling me in on this one years ago.

This is a review of “The simplest and most effective training system for raw strength” 97 pages condensed to …. THREE. You are most welcome.

Please understand that this is an intermediate level program so if you are just starting out “Starting Strength’s” program would be better with a linear progression before moving on to intensity periodization.

raw strength program brutal challenge

This program was put together by Jim Wendler and I can’t find much we don’t agree on in his manuscript (though there are exercises to dispute: e.g. good mornings).

He emphasizes compound movements (one of the basic DTS principles), and states that you should be very patient and start light, progress slowly and steadily, and that nothing will stall your progress quicker than your ego.

I couldn’t agree more

“The game of lifting isn’t an 8 week pursuit – it’s a lifelong endeavor.”

Embrace the slow and steady progress in strength because a 5 pound increase every week in your bench over time really builds up. Stronger muscles are bigger muscles. It’s axiomatic.  Have you increased your raw strength in the last few months?

No?  Consider giving 5/3/1 a try.

If you bench 225 and want to get to 275, you have to press 230 first

Jim utilizes 4 basic “foundational” lifts: Military Press (or Strict Press or just the Press), Deadlift, Bench Press, Squat.  Same exercises I’ve focused on for years although I throw Power Cleans in as well, love ’em.

His rep schemes for these lifts use a 4 week cycle

Week 1           3×5 (3 sets of 5 reps) – max out on the last set

Week 2            3×3 – max out on the last set

Week 3            5/3/1 (one 5 rep set, one 3 rep set, one 1 rep set) – max out on the last set

Week 4            3×5 (A lighter week though WRT weight)

Here are some tips from the document that I found important conceptually

Squat – focus your eyes on one point, begin with your hips. Drive your elbows forward. Think of yourself as squatting on a spring ready to unload.

Military Press (Standing Barbell Strict Press) – these are raw upper body strength presses, not push presses, jerks, or thrusters (don’t use your legs)

Bench – ass stays on the bench. Drive your heels into the ground and squeeze your legs as you drive the weight back up.  Err more on the side of narrower grip for shoulder health (Jim’s preference: 18 inches – no jokes allowed).

Deadlift – think butt down, chest up. Initiate with the legs not the back

So how do you start? First, you need to know your individual 1 rep max (1RM) for each lift.

You can max out or you can use 80% of your supposed 1 RM and rep out. Then use this calculation:

(Wt x reps x .0333) + weight = estimated 1 RM

My squat was 315 for 10 yesterday – that would be a 420 max, but the calculator is less accurate with reps above 5…  I can certainly feel that in this 46 year old body.  But I use super-strict form.

Begin the program with 90% of your 1 RM as your “new” 1 RM (thus you are going to go a little lighter than expected – it’s OK, long term you will benefit HUGELY

*You don’t have to train maximally to get strong, you just have to train optimally and consistently.

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
65% 5 reps 70% 3 reps 75% 5 reps 40% 5 reps
75% 5 reps 80% 3 reps 85% 3 reps 50% 5 reps
85% 5 reps 90% 3 reps 95% 1 rep 60% 5 reps


*the last set of the day in the 3/5/1 paradigm you will try to go all out, move the earth (Week 1 – 3).

**Each cycle usually add 5 pounds to all your upper body lifts and 10 pounds to all your lower body lifts

If you are having difficulty with a plateau either take a few days off or begin smaller increments such as 1.25 pound plates or plate magnets. You can get these on Amazon and they are a great investment for the most serious lifters (I use them).

Assistance exercises

These are added to the 3/5/1 regimen after completing the 3/5/1 part your training. I am going to call the 3/5/1 portion the “power” phase.  The remaining will be growth and conditioning

These exercises will serve to:

  • Strengthen weak areas of the body
  • Compliment and help increase the 4 basic lifts
  • Provide balance and symmetry to your body and your training
  • Build muscle mass
  • Enhance the training of the other energy systems.  Remember the importance of time under tension (TUT) of 20-70 seconds in the growth and conditioning phase to better hit the creatine-phosphate system and the anaerobic glycolysis system.

Don’t do too much and end up overtrained. Your plateaus will come quicker if you do. Best workouts are 45 min of dedicated work, definitely no more than an hour.

Dedicated work means that portion of your workout from your first working set (after your warm up) until the end of your workout.  If you are having a bad day, put everything into the 5/3/1 portion – then head on out the door.  That’s being consistent.

If you are having trouble with chin-ups or pullups you can use a Jump stretch Flex Band, or do fewer reps for more sets, or use a machine that most gyms have that take a little bit of your body weight from the movement.

Pumps feel and look great.  Bit don’t go into the gym to get pumped, go in to get that raw strength.  This is your only objective measure of improvement – the weights you lift…

Jim’s favorite routine

1 Monday

Military Press 5/3/1

Dips    5 sets of 15

Chins  5 sets of 10


2 Tuesday

Deadlift 5/3/1

Good Mornings 5 sets of 12

*I would never do GMs; maybe kettle bell swings for sets of 15-20, GHD Back extensions for 10 reps, or even power cleans for sets of 6-8

Hanging Leg Raise or GHD situps     5 sets of 15


3 Thursday

Bench Press 5/3/1

Incline DB Press 5 sets of 15

Dumbell Row 5 sets of 10


4 Friday

Squat 5/3/1

Leg Press        5 sets of 15

*I’m more a fan of step ups, lunges, or Bulgarian squats.  Sled training has much to be recommended as well.

Leg Curl          5 sets of 10

Calf Raise       5 sets of 20

For a two day split do Squat and Bench together, then Deadlift and Military together the next training day. I prefer 3 days of weights and one day of mostly body weight metabolic resistance training.

To do 3 days of weights means that I’ll only get the first three workouts in on week 1 and week 2 will start with workout 4 with the cycle continuing.

If you want the full 97 page pdf on raw strength, click on the link below.


Best,  Lanny Littlejohn, MD

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4 responses to “5-3-1: Raw Strength Training

  1. Write more, thats all I actually have to say. Literally, it appears to be as though you trusted the recording to produce your point.
    You obviously determine what youre referring to, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you might
    be giving us something informative to learn?

    1. Thanks for that Cesar. Volume is critical for muscle growth for sure. For the times I only have 15-20 min to hit the weights doing those base lifts helps as an “anchor” until I can get to a normal volume day. Hope you’re well.

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