531 Boring But Big (App & Program Guide)

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Nov 19,2023|14 min| 10866

Mastering the 5/3/1 Workout: Your Ultimate Guide

What is 5/3/1 BBB?

The 5/3/1 Boring But Big (BBB) program, developed by Coach Jim Wendler, is a variation of his famous 5/3/1 workout philosophy. Being one of the most popular variations of the workout, it is a long-followed and efficient routine. If you follow the principles of 5/3/1 correctly and consistently, you can expect the 5/3/1 BBB program, created by Coach Jim Wendler, to help you rapidly increase the your squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press strength, which can also lead to increased muscle mass.

The principles behind 5/3/1 are rooted in evidence that compound lifts can help you build strength rapidly. 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. These four lifts, along with accessory exercises such as lunges, cover all the major muscle groups, and targeting each group twice weekly will help you quickly gain strength.

The 5/3/1 BBB program is incredibly popular and 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, including his effective training system. 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 5/3/1 BBB?

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. The 5/3/1 first edition program has several variations, mainly differing in the type of assistance work to be done after the core lift of the day.

The BBB, boring but big variation, is what Wendler himself considers to be the “most popular, effective, and brutal accessory plan” of them all. Wendler’s philosophy is largely aimed towards strength, and should be properly distinguished from more hypertrophy based routines. As such, the routine is designed for you to progress in the weight you are able to press, bench, squat, and deadlift as effectively as possible, and not focused necessarily on quickly putting on muscle mass. That is certainly not to say that you won’t gain mass following the 5/3/1 principles, but be mindful that the strength component is the main focus here, and the BB variation is designed to maximize strength gains through accessory lifts.

For 5/3/1 BBB, you are asked to perform the main strength component of that day, then do an additional 5 more sets of 10 reps at a lighter weight based on your training max (TM), which is ~90% of your current 1 rep max (1RM). The first cycle will have you perform the assistance sets at around 50% of your TM, then increasing from there for each cycle to maximize strength gains. By following the 5/3/1 BBB 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 BBB for? 

If you’re not in this just to look good, but actually be able to progressively heavier weights in the four compound lifts, 5/3/1 BBB is one of the best programs available for you. the 5/3/1 BBB is designed for those that want to hit the gym 4 times a week, targeting one of the four core lifts for each of the days. As such, the program is fantastic for those with some experience lifting and is 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.

Due to the high-volume and intensity of 5/3/1 BBB, it may not be the best program for beginners. If you are relatively new to barbell strength training, we suggest you start with 5/3/1 for Beginners. If you are new to working out in general, we suggest you start with the Greg Nuckols Beginner Program to build your technical proficiency. Both programs can be found on Boostcamp.

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

Boostcamp Download & Onboarding

Program Layout

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 BBB FAQ

Wendler 531 BBB accessory work?

Accessory exercises for Wendler 531 BBB are included in the Boostcamp App. After the main compound movement of the day, you are to complete an additional 5 sets of 10, followed by either 5 sets of lat work or abs work.

You could add additional accessories after the prescribed movements. That said, we recommend that you refrain from adding additional exercises for the first few weeks until you acclimate to the program.

What assistance exercises for Wendler 531?

As described above, day 1 and 3 includes lats work, which can be lat pulldown, pull-up, or seated rows (machine). Day 2 and 4 includes abs work, which can be hanging leg raises, abs crunch (weighted), or cable crunch.

When to start Wendler 531 BBB?

5/3/1 BBB is a challenging program with high volume. The goal of the program is to build a solid muscular base with high volume to run other 5/3/1 programs after. Jim Wendler himself does not recommend BBB for people who have only been training correctly for less than 1 year.

If you are relatively new to barbell strength training, we suggest you start with 5/3/1 for Beginners. If you are new to working out in general, we suggest you start with the Greg Nuckols Beginner Program. Both programs can be found on Boostcamp.

What to do when you plateau on Wendler 531 BBB?

If you find that for several weeks you have stalled on gaining strength on your main lifts, then you need to troubleshoot.

  1. Did you set your 1RMs too high? If so, you should drop the exercise weights to a more realistic number (Boostcamp You tab> Program Settings>1RM settings).

  2. Do you need a deload on 531? For the deload, Jim recommends doing the 5x10 work or cutting it down to 3x10. Use your best judgment and what you feel is best for your body.

  3. Did you add too many accessories? If you added your own accessories, maybe consider cutting that down

  4. How is your sleep and diet on 531? If you are not eating enough food, the high volume on 5/3/1 could be too taxing for you to recover from

What are the Wendler 531 programs?

There are many templates for 5/3/1, which you can find in Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Forever book or his website jimwendler.com. Boostcamp also has 5/3/1 for Beginners digitized free on the app.

How much should I eat on Wendler 531 BBB?

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 for most people. 

If you are looking to cut on 5/3/1 BBB, we recommend doing it at a slight calorie surplus and be conservative with your 1RM inputs to be more conservative.

How to set TM on Wendler 531?

In general, you can use 90% of your actual 1RM max. For more in depth, we recommend reading this article by Jim Wendler himself.

When to switch from Starting Strength to Wendler 531?

Once you can no longer progress weights on a workout to workout basis, you should switch to a program like 531 BBB.

When to deload on Wendler 531?

For the deload, Jim recommends doing the 5x10 work or cutting it down to 3x10. Use your best judgment and what you feel is best for your body.

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. After completing this cycle, it is recommended to start a new cycle with higher training maxes or take a deload week before starting a new cycle.

5/3/1 Program Wrap Up

Overall, the 5/3/1 program is a great program to follow, and you can get it right on the Boostcamp App! Check out the Boostcamp App for some great programs. Also, be sure to follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!