5/3/1 for Beginners (App & Program Guide)

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Sep 22,2022 | 11 min read 3057

What is 5/3/1 for beginners?

The 531 Beginners program is a variation of Jim Wendler’s famous 5/3/1 workout philosophy, but specifically tailored for those that are relatively new to barbell strength training. If you follow the principles of 5/3/1 correctly and consistently, you can expect the 5/3/1 beginners program to help you rapidly increase your squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press strength. 

The principles behind 5/3/1 are rooted in evidence that compound lifts can help you build strength rapidly, especially for beginners that are just getting started in the workout journey. As such, the 5/3/1 workout is based on 4 major barbell compound lifts: the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, and the overhead press. As a newcomer to the practice, focusing your work on these 4 compound lifts will help you gain strength efficiently in all the major muscle groups.  

5/3/1 for Beginners is incredibly popular and is freely available on the Reddit r/fitness wiki. Getting a little complicated? Don’t worry, use the Boostcamp app to visualize exercises on different days, learn more about variations, and track your progress all on your mobile device. The Boostcamp app is free to use and available for download on iOS and Android. 

This digitized program is intended to serve as a companion to Jim Wendler’s article - as such, do refer to Jim’s original article for a more comprehensive rundown of the 5/3/1 training philosophy. In particular, Jim's 5/3/1 Forever book contains over 50 training templates in addition to other useful bits of information. If you seek a deeper understanding of Jim’s philosophy, this should be your go-to resource!

Why should you do the  5/3/1 for beginners?

In this age of abundant information, starting out as a beginner in the fitness space is trickier than ever. With so many influencers advocating for a myriad of different routines and programs, it becomes extremely easy to get bogged down in complicated systems and ideologies, each claiming to be the superior method. However, one thing is for certain - the importance of mastering the fundamentals cannot be overstated when you are just starting out. With this in mind, focusing on building strength in the core compound lifts is an excellent way to make steady progress in your workout, and is precisely the guiding principle of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. 

In an article written by Wendler himself, he outlines the 3 tenets of 5/3/1: focusing on multi-joint compound lifts, starting with light weights, and making gradual progress. The routine is nothing glamorous or exotic, but its elegance lies in its simplicity and efficiency. By following the 5/3/1 for beginner program, you are sure to make steady gains in strength over each cycle of the routine. Use the Boostcamp app to track your progress accurately and with detail, and to help you stay motivated to reach your goals! 

Who is the 531 Beginners Workout for? 

Despite what many may think, one does not need to be lifting 24/7 to get strong, especially as a beginner. The 5/3/1 for beginners program is centered around the 4 core lifts, the bench press, squat, military press, and deadlift. By performing two of the four lifts each workout along with assistance work, the 5/3/1 for beginners program is designed for those that want to hit the gym for about an hour 3-4 times a week. As such, the program is fantastic for beginners and intermediates who are looking for a straightforward and clearly structured program to follow for an extended period of time. No fancy variations, no need to constantly switch exercises or your general routine - focusing on gradually increasing the weight of your primary compound lifts while doing the appropriate assistance work is where the bulk of your progress will lie. 

Ready? Find a detailed guide below on how to use Boostcamp to best execute the 5/3/1 for Beginners workout!

Getting started

Boostcamp download & onboarding

Key Features

Customize your schedule 

The Boostcamp 5/3/1 for Beginners workout is designed to help you perform the routine correctly while tracking your progress conveniently. Use the interface to select the 3 days you will hit the gym that week:

Calculate and Input your weight parameters 

As the 5/3/1 workout is anchored on compound lifts, you will be asked to enter your 1 Rep Max (1RM) for squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press - this is the weight you are able to perform 1 rep of each of the lifts. The name suggests that this is synonymous with the absolute maximum weight you are able to perform a single rep of the movement - while this is technically true, make sure the 1RM you enter was measured when doing the lift with proper form

In the lower half of the screen you will see a 1RM calculator and outputs an approximate 1RM for you based on your current routine. To get a more accurate idea of your personal figures, simply go to the gym to find out the 1RM you are comfortable with. We suggest starting with a fairly conservative 1RM weight to help your body adapt to the volume and intensity of the PHAT workout. Don’t be alarmed or impatient if the lifts feel light to you initially; remember, the lifts are calculated as percentages of your 1RM, and you don’t need to be training at or very close to your maximum tolerance all the time for long term gains!

Begin your journey, and reap the rewards!

After the onboarding steps, simply select the corresponding day and week you are working and follow the listed exercises. Don’t forget to record your weight and reps after each set on the rightmost column of each row! Workout notes can be added to each day, and you are able to record the assistance work you performed in conjunction with the main lifts using the “Add Exercise” function at the end of the list. Simply select “Complete Workout” when you are done, and all of your progress will be recorded.

Proper form is paramount to getting the most out of your workout, while minimizing your risk of injury. Click on each exercise for videos to help you maintain proper form and posture through each movement. 

5/3/1 for Beginners FAQ

What assistance exercises should I do for 5/3/1?

Assistance work should be done to complement the main compound lifts of the day. Aim to complete about 50-100 of one exercise from each of the following 3 categories:

Push: Dips, push-ups, dumbbell bench/incline/press, tricep extensions, tricep pushdowns 

Pull: Chin-ups, pull-ups, rows (Dumbell, machine, barbell), inverted rows, face pulls, band pull-aparts, lat pulldowns, curls

Leg/Core: Any abdominal exercise, back raises, reverse hyperextensions, lunges, step-ups, bulgarian one-leg squats, kettlebell snatches, swings  

How should I incorporate assistance exercises into the 5/3/1 program?

Remember, building pure strength comes from performing the 4 core compound lifts. Assistant exercises are just that - aids to help you perform the compound lifts better. Wendler mentions overdoing it on the assistance work as one of the main mistakes people make when following 5/3/1. Ideally, you should use the assistance exercises to address your deficiencies in the core lifts: finding it difficult to keep balanced in a squat? Doing some ab work can help you stabilize your posture through the whole range of motion; having trouble maintaining your grip on the deadlift? Some forearm exercises may help alleviate that problem. 

Is 5/3/1 for Beginners right for me?

This beginner program is excellent for those who want to build strength in all the main muscle groups of the body, and will help you gain familiarity with the barbell exercises that should serve as the foundation of your future progress. We wholeheartedly recommend this program to beginners and those with some experience that want to transition into Wendler's 5/3/1 school of training. If you are completely new to the workout space and would like a more introductory program, check out the Greg Nuckols Beginner Program. Both programs can be found on Boostcamp and are completely free to access!

What Should I do after 5/3/1 for beginners? 

The program on boostcamp has a length of 3 weeks, and you are able to start a new cycle of 3 weeks afterwards to continue the same routine. Try testing your 1RM for all the lifts again, make any changes to the 1RM parameters necessary, and begin the cycle again. If needed, take a week in between cycles to deload, lifting at lighter weights to give your muscles a chance to recover without losing much progress. 

Once you feel more comfortable with the 5/3/1 routine, consider checking out more advanced programs like the 5/3/1 BBB on Boostcamp to further progress your workout. 

How much should I eat on the 5/3/1 program?

We recommend eating at a calorie surplus so you can build strength and muscle. In general, gaining 1-2% body weight per month is appropriate and tells you that you’re on the right trajectory. 

If you are looking to cut on 5/3/1, we recommend maintaining a slight calorie surplus and veering on the conversative side for your 1RM inputs.

Why is it called the 5/3/1 program?

The program is called 5/3/1 because each week your main set target reps change from 5 reps, to 3 reps, and finally to 1 rep at gradually increasing intensity relative to your 1RM. It is intuitive to think of 5/3/1 as referring to the routine on the final week of each cycle, where you should perform one set of 5, followed by one set of 3, and then a set of 1 rep.