The Massive Iron 531 Powerbuilding Method

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5/3/1. Mention this form of periodization and 90% of the lifting community immediately associates it with Jim Wendler… And for a good reason. Jim produced an incredibly popular training style that was based around this number scheme.

Long before Wendler’s e-book blossomed into the cult favorite that it is today, two quality programs existed that used very similar protocols. John Christy, who was a huge proponent of two and three day per week programs, had his own 531 program. It was a three week cycle that targeted major lifts as follows:

  • Week 1: 5×5, 5 minutes rest between working sets.
  • Week 2: 6×3, 4 minutes rest. Use 10% more weight than Week 1.
  • Week 3: 7×1, 3 minutes rest.  Use 5% more weight than Week 1.

The Bigger, Stronger, Faster program – which is often listed as a possible inspiration for Wendler’s 5/3/1 – had some subtle differences, but it was close enough to draw speculation:

  • Week 1: 3×3, 1×10
  • Week 2: 5×5
  • Week 3: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

The point in noting this somewhat similar programs is simple: to show you that there is nothing new under the sun. Any modern number schemes you run into, and combinations thereof, are not new.

Related – Massive Freak 4 Day Powerbuilding Split

With that said, it doesn’t mean programs like 5/3/1 are without value. Two programs that use a similar number/set scheme or periodization cycle can feel completely different. The devil is in the details.

I am a numbers guy. Always have been. I had worked towards a math minor in college, until I decided that lifting was more important than going to class. I’ve always loved statistics, probability, computer programming, and matrices. Number combinations excite me.

For this reason, and because I love training options, I decided to make my own training program using the 5/3/1 periodization sequence. Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Deadlifts

Massive Iron 5/3/1 Workout

A few notes on this program.

Massive sets. On the big lifts, your last working set is called a “massive set.” It is pushed for as many quality reps as possible. This means that you should stop that set when you feel like you might fail on the next rep, or when your form starts to deteriorate.

During your “1 week” you only have one working set for squats bench and deadlifts. Perform this set all-out, but in a safe manner.

Autoregulated progression. I strongly dislike linear progression. Strongly. I believe it places too much focus on the addition of weight, and removes focus (for the majority of trainees) off of form. The goal becomes “add 10 pounds and hit 5 reps at any expense,” instead of performing safe, quality reps.

The average lifter will plateau or stall quickly on linear progression. Another downside. It’s simply not sustainable.

Autoregulated progression is. And it’s safer.

Each massive set will determine when you add weight. During your “5 week,” add 5 pounds to a lift when you reach 10 or more reps on the final set. During your “3 week,” add 5 pounds to a lift when you reach 7 or more reps on the final set. During you “1 week,” add 5 pounds to a lift when you reach 5 or more reps on your only set.

  • 5 Week – When you reach 10+ reps on your massive set, add weight.
  • 3 Week – When you reach 7+ reps on your massive set, add weight.
  • 1 Week – When you reach 5+ reps on your massive set, add weight.

How much weight should you start with? Good question.

  • 5 Week – Start with your 15 rep max for a lift.
  • 3 Week – Start with your 10 rep max for a lift.
  • 1 Week – Start with your 5 rep max for a lift.

For example, if your bench press max is 200 pounds, your approximate 15 rep max would be about 120-125 pounds. Your 10 rep max would be about 150 pounds. Your 5 rep max would be about 175-180 pounds. You can calculate your approximate 5, 10, and 15 pound maxes here:

Deloads. You will also notice that my 5/3/1 program contains no arbitrary deload weeks. I believe these are a complete waste of time.

Train hard, and if you feel crappy add in an extra day or two of rest in between workouts. If you feel REALLY fried, THEN plan a deload week. But never, ever plan a random deload week when you don’t need one and are feeling good.

Wendler’s has you deloading every fourth week. In my opinion, this is a colossal waste of time. You are throwing away 13 weeks of strength and muscle gains each year. Arbitrarily.

You can run this program indefinitely.

Assistance work. Use the same weight for each set of a given exercise. When you can perform the goal number of reps per set, add a small amount of weight to this exercise. This is a must!

This is a powerbuilding program. Progressive overload is king. If you aren’t pushing yourself you might as well be doing pilates or yoga. You’ll receive the same amount of muscle gains.

“5” Week – Powerbuilding Workout

Here is a example schedule:

  • Monday – Squat A, Deadlift Assistance
  • Tuesday –  Bench A
  • Thursday – Deadlift A, Squat Assistance
  • Friday – Bench Assistance
Squat A, Deadlift Assistance
“5” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats (Last Set – Go Massive)  5  8
 Power Shrug Hell  *  8
 Reverse Hack Squat – Good Morning Style  3  10
 Leg Extensions  3  15
 Planks  3  60 sec
Deadlift a, Squat Assistance
“5” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts (Last Set – Go Massive)  5  8
 Front Squats or Leg Press  3  8/15
 Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift  3  10
 Bodyweight Lunges  1  100
 Ab Wheel Rollouts  3  10-15
Bench Press a
“5” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Bench Press (Last Set – Go Massive)  5  8
 Dumbbell Rows  2  15
 Arnold Press  3  10
 Cable Triceps Extensions  3  12
 Machine Rows  2  15
 EZ Bar Curls  3  12
Bench Press assistance
“5” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Dumbbell Bench Press  4  10
 Lat Pull Down  3  12
 Seated Overhead Barbell Press  3  10
 Close Grip Bench Press  3  10
 Seated Cable Rows  2  15
 Hammer Curls  3  12

“3” Week – Powerbuilding Workout

Here is a example schedule:

  • Monday – Squat A, Deadlift Assistance
  • Tuesday –  Bench A
  • Thursday – Deadlift A, Squat Assistance
  • Friday – Bench Assistance

After performing the primary exercise, use the same assistance work performed during week one.

Squat A, Deadlift Assistance
“3” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats (Last Set – Go Massive)  3  5
Deadlift a, Squat Assistance
“3” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts (Last Set – Go Massive)  3  5
Bench Press a
“3” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Bench Press (Last Set – Go Massive)  3  5
Bench Press assistance
“3” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Dumbbell Bench Press  4  10

“1” Week – Powerbuilding Workout

Here is a example schedule:

  • Monday – Squat A, Deadlift Assistance
  • Tuesday –  Bench A
  • Thursday – Deadlift A, Squat Assistance
  • Friday – Bench Assistance

After performing the primary exercise, use the same assistance work performed during week one.

Squat A, Deadlift Assistance
“1” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats (Go Massive)  1  3+
Deadlift a, Squat Assistance
“1” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts (Go Massive)  1  3+
“1” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Bench Press (Go Massive)  1  3+
Bench Press assistance
“1” Week
Exercise Sets Reps
 Dumbbell Bench Press  4  10
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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.