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Wendler 5/3/1 Program – How to Build Muscle and Strength Cycles into CrossFit

Learn how to build muscle and strength. Some time ago I wrote an article about different strength cycles and barbell programs and suggested 5 of them. Recently I decided to do one of them again and took the Wendler 5/3/1 Program.

5 Strength Training and Barbell Programs You Need to Know About

To be honest, my biggest weakness is gymnastics and I should actually work on that part… but I just like strength work.

And to be honest again here, it´s those legs that are still the weakest part. But instead of choosing a Squat program, I feared losing my upper body form (it is pool season!) and therefore did a whole body program.


The Wendler 5/3/1 is a strength cycle over 4 Weeks. Starting with 5 reps in the first, 3 in the second, and a mix in the third week, before deloading in the last week.

The last set is always an AMRAP. Out of the results you get in this AMRAP, the program calculates your new 1 rep max.

Try the 5 x 5 Plan

It is an advantage to know your current max before starting the Program, but you can calculate it if you know your 3,5,10 or whatever max. I used an App (Wendler Log) to note my results and let it calculate my training volume.

That is one of the most interesting parts of the Wendler 5/3/1. You get everything, including your warm-up sets with an exact and personal weight guideline and even the rest times between is given. Best part is: It tells you which plates you have to use.

The overall goal is to increase your 1 rep max. Out of this result, the new circle is calculated when finished the first. The deload week helps to avoid plateaus.

You do the 4 main lifts. Military Press, Deadlift, Bench and Back Squats.

The 5/3/1 strength training program can be used for all experience levels but is generally recommended for intermediate athletes. If you are looking for short training sessions, and slow but steady progress, then 5/3/1/ might be great for you. Jim believes starting light allows a lifter more room to progress forward.

Wendler 5-3-1Source: CrossFit Inc
build that strength!

Brand new lifters are usually able to progress more quickly from a beginner routine due to practising the lifts more frequently.

Advanced lifters can benefit from its long term training focus.

Try the 3 Day Split


  • Week 1: 3×5 (3 sets of 5 reps)
  • Week 2: 3×3 (3 sets of 3 reps)
  • Week 3: 3×5, 3, 1 (1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps, and 1 set of 1 rep)
  • Week 4: Deloading (3 sets of 5 reps)
  • Once the cycle (4 weeks) is completed you will start your next cycle using heavier weights.

 You train 3 to 4 times per week with this strength training program.

5/3/1 has you do one of four workouts on your training days:

  1. Squat and assistance work.
  2. Bench Press and assistance work.
  3. Deadlift and assistance work.
  4. Overhead Press and assistance work.
Overhead PressDeadlift
Assistance WorkAssistance Work
Bench PressSquat
Assistance WorkAssistance Work

When choosing your beginning weights you must first know your maxes for the main 4 lifts

Set 165% x 570% x 375% x 540% x 5
Set 275% x 580% x 385% x 350% x 5
Set 385% x 5+90% x 3+95% x 1+60% x 5


How to Build Muscle and Strength – Week 1

This starts with 3 x 5 warm-up reps. The weight remains the same over the whole circle.

Working weight is 167kg, 90% of my original 1 rep max which was about 185kg. Then:

  • 5 x 108kg
  • 2min Pause
  • 5 x 125 kg
  • 2min Pause
  • Amrap at 142kg

I did 10 here which brought my 1 rep max up to 189kg

Afterwards you can add assistance work. That´s the tricky part. I decided to go for the Assistance program called “Big and Dumb”. This focuses on the main lift with 5 x 10 reps at 50% working weight, 1 min pause.

Try the German Volume Training

How to Build Muscle and Strength – Week 2

Warm up

  • 3 x 117 kg
  • 2min Pause
  • 3 x 133 kg
  • 2min Pause
  • Amrap at 150 kg

11 here, MaxRep now: 200 kg

Assistance work with increased weight

How to Build Muscle and Strength – Week 3

Warm Up

  • 5 x 125kg
  • 2min Pause
  • 3 x 142kg
  • 2min Pause
  • Amrap at 158kg

7 here, 1RM: 195kg

Assistance work with again increased weight.

mental strength garrett fisher deadlift how to build muscleSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc
Fisher stomps through his Deadlifts

Week 4 – Deload Week

Warm Up

  • 5 x 67kg
  • 2min Pause
  • 5x83kg
  • 2min Pause
  • 5x100kg

Within this circle of 4 Weeks I increased my 1RM about 15kg, according to the Program.


To be honest, I still doubt that I can hit the 200kg, but the interesting part is that in the AMRAPs and the assistance work I was able to go longer and harder and I say this is owed to CrossFit. Being used to doing mid to heavy Deadlifts for higher reps helps you go hard!

I increased my 1RM at every lift. Without doing 1Reps. This leaves me uncertain about the value of these stats but what I can definitely see and feel after only 4 weeks is:

  • I gained almost 4 kg (which takes me usually months of training)
  • I look bulked and stronger. Back in the Box I crushed heavy weight WODs with ease


What I wanted to make clear here is an often asked question. Does it make sense to add a strength circle into your CrossFit training even if you have to leave out several WODs?

If you add in assistance Work to your lifts you cover almost everything you need. You have pullups, weighted dips, hanging leg raises (which you can do as strict T2B).

You will not get worse at Burpees nor at HSPU.

In my case I can´t even get worse at Gymnastics as I sucked here before too. But increasing your main lifts will help you with the OLY lifts, bodyweight movements and of course heavy weight WODs. I for one have to get rid of the gained mass and finally kick myself into Gymnastics!

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