I love the 5-3-1 template. I don’t always use it, but I have done in the past and when I did it got me pretty damn strong. Today I’m going to use it as a base for a little rant.

Firstly, I would like to thank Jim Wendler for his massive, simple contribution to strength and conditioning. A silent genius.

If your client has learnt how to brace and how to fire their glutes and has the mobility to squat, deadlift and at least some sort of bench press variation, they have a pretty complete skill-set. This is what we call GPP, or General Physical Preparedness. Why are they not spending time training basic patterns? Yes, the same ones that you are preparing them to be able to perform?

Let’s forget the people who can’t do this yet, I’m addressing the trainers whose clients can.

You have them ready to go? So go!

There is a reason this road has been walked a thousand times… Because it leads to progress. In the business, they are often called “gains”. Ultimately this the only way to create a base of strength and power across the WHOLE body, not to mention athletic performance that can be taken to the next level.

How to Build GPP 

Sports specificity and overly complex movements are seldom necessary.

It is the effect of a stronger body and mind, and the hormones and muscle that comes with the practice of big multi-joint movements that have the true carryover.

Nothing flashy or sexy, and it doesn’t make you look clever. In fact, it makes you look, for the most part, the opposite. But in the eyes of who? People who don’t want to challenge themselves, and make any excuse possible for their shortcomings. The big lifts may be simple, but I never said they are easy. Don’t make excuses.

Before people cry about their shitty posture, their height or lack thereof, genetics, or a personal hatred for doing something you suck at.

I have a message for you.

At some point, just shut up and get under the bar.

It doesn’t have to be a straight bar, it can be a safety bar, a Zercher or front squat, you can de-load the bottom portion of the squat with chains… You can even box squat. But try it, until you get better at it.

Pull from the floor, blocks, racks, with a trap bar, but just do it.

Press, if not on the bench then from the floor, with a swiss bar, a football bar, with chains to even further de-load the shoulder joints.

And if you have the mobility to do so then press overhead. And if not, work on mobility and focus on more of the horizontal press if you can, perhaps have a purely dynamic training day where you focus on developing power, on the day where you may have pressed overhead.

But at some point, if your client is fit and able, and he or she wants to build muscle, strength, power and testicular fortitude (yes, ladies can have this too) then unlock and open the gate for them. Teach them the most important lesson of all, how to make yourself comfortable at being uncomfortable. Now repeat with them until you, and they, know better…

What does it entail? 

Horizontal Push (bench press variations). Vertical Push (military press variations). Hinge (pull from the floor, blocks, rack or hip thrust variation if they have serious back injuries). Squat (no words needed, or they shouldn’t be). Lunge (split squat variations, travelling lunges etc). Horizontal Pull (bodyweight rows/bench pulls/dumbbell rows). Vertical Pull (pull up or down). Single-leg with posterior chain bias (RDL, reverse lunges). Single-arm press variations (both horizontal or verticle).

Drag and push the sled, carry heavy dumbbells, flip tyres, climb ropes, sprint hills, do bodyweight drills, Sandbags. Dynamic work with kettlebells, plyometrics and med ball work. Swing a sledgehammer and slam a ball, jump the rope, hit the heavy bag, there are so many simple, time-tested ways of getting fitter and stronger.

With your healthy, injury-free and healthy male or female clients who are in search of strength and fitness beyond that of a normal person,  you must assess their goals. If achieving these milestones is not among their early goals then we must ask ourselves… Will we ever reach the level of high school athletes?

There are literally children all around the world who are more than capable of outstripping all of your clients and probably all of the readers. I’m talking between the ages of 15-17. This is a reality.

So if you have spent a few months or years in the gym, and you are not testing the basics, ask yourself why? And then turn to your trainer and ask them why too.

Now there are a million reasons why these exercises, in the long run, may not work, but until you have turned the key and tested the engine… You will never know. No amount of complexities and tiny tweaked variations are going to make that much difference. If you have the stability and mobility then you are ready to watch your mind and body change.

Now if you want me to break down Jim’s work stage by stage I’m not going to do that, you can do yourselves a favour and buy the latest of his work here.


I’m going to give you a very simple template, that was mentored by his work. I will add its intermediate in nature. If you buy the latest edition of 531 it has a fantastic beginners template within. But this is one of the templates I use for a female client who is training for a tough mudder and a powerlifting meet back to back.

The Template

You should have 4-week or 3-week waves in training. The stronger a client gets, the more important it is to have the de-load.

Every 3 weeks you will have time factored in to re-assess the needs of the clients, and this is how you ascertain which accessories are needed to tighten up on weaknesses these patterns expose (starting to understand why they are so important?)  Progress shows us we have made the right decisions and a lack thereof means the opposite.

I’m not saying that these percentages are best, but they are very simple. And if you have no idea how to progress strength-wise, 5-3-1 is as good a place as any to start. I am not talking at the very start of their journey. But really, it shouldn’t take long to get a client to perform basic exercise variations with sets of 10 in perfect form with lighter loads. But when we are past this and injury free, this is where periodisation in some manner is key.

For the first 3 weeks, we need to find a starting point. This can be done with any of the key indicator lifts, which are variations for the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Over-Head Press (OHP) suitable for the client’s physique.

  • Week 1 – Warm up to 4 working sets of 6.
  • Week 2 – Warm up to 5 working sets of 5.
  • Week 3 – Warm up to 1 set of 5, 1 set of 3 and 1 set of 1 (an easy single). This introduces them gradually to a heavier load at the highly skilled exercises.

The data you collect is going to help you determine the Training max. That’s why it’s an easy single. The lighter you start, the higher the ceiling for strength gains.

If you have a stronger individual who really pushes themselves then take 10% off the 1RM and explain why.

The basics of a cycle 

  • Week 1 – Work up to a work set with 90% of the training max (for 3 or as many as possible).
  • Week 2 – Work up to 85% of the training max (for 5 or as many as possible).
  • Week 3 – Work up to a 95% of the training max (for 1 or as many as possible).
  • Week 4 – This will be a de-load, and you will use around 55-65% of the training max. The stronger the client is, the more you force them to use the lighter loads.

This is where we can practice with a little more volume. So for the sake of it lets run 5 x 5 at 65%. I like this week to use the lighter loads to practice the form and change or tweak the pattern slightly. This is where you can try a slightly wider stance, or pause the squat in the deepest position. Yielding isometrics where you pause at the weak point in the deadlift or bench presses where you pause upon or hover just above the chest.

In other words, you can work on weak points here, but at the same time give the body (especially the CNS) a needed rest from the hammering it gets for most of the month.

When I say working set, what do I mean? 

I mean where we use the heaviest loads and or push ourselves to near failure (I recommend we leave 1 in the tank and keep the form perfect).

There are 2 options.

I can do the requisite reps. Which is warm up to 3 reps at 90%, 5 reps at 85% And then a fast single at 95%. Or you can push the envelope. It’s all about how you feel. Are you feeling good? Well then push godammit! If you’re not, then hit the reps and move on.

If you have set the training max properly then you will have gas in the tank to push.

After the de-load, simply add 2.5 k to the training max for the pressing exercises and 5k to the squat and pull.

Force them to leave the ego at home.

Just get them into a cycle of progression. You can cycle the accessories in a manner that suits the client, the goals, the body type. And the conditioning and mobility and all the fluff. I’m not going to cover this. What I’m trying to hammer home is that if there is not progression, what are they here for? Now I’m a trainer with a lot of older and injured clients and it’s not as simple as this across the board. But the number of trainers I see that just using fluff work and clickbait exercises and never apparently working the basics, it just stuns me. Even with the amount of information available and with the rise of Crossfit, F45, Strongman/women competition, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, the Highland Games and many others strength sports.

This is where you need to start reading and trying out these programs. Like Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, you should really have read and tried both. Start learning how to really make people strong. These 2 mentioned books/templates are the most basic out there and are super effective in changing people’s lives.

We can’t always be prepared – well unless it’s for the zombie apocalypse.

There is only a little long-term benefit to this, yet strength is essential for survival even in the modern world. Grip, muscle mass, leg strength and agility are key indicators, above nearly all others, for longevity.

Sit back and think about this. Someone has poor mobility and agility, so they slip and fall. On the way down they reach to grip the door handle or railing, but the grip is too weak so they keep falling. There is little to no muscle mass on the leg, so the hip breaks not only from this but from the osteoporosis in the brittle bones.

How many loved ones are going to suffer this? It only takes 3-4 hours a week to prevent. Strength is never a weakness!

The version I gave you reads 3/5/1. And I’m not going to give you any more. Take the 20$ out of your pocket and do yourself a favour.

Stay strong,

Coach Fletch.

Author - Fletcher Dalrymple - Personal Trainer & Mentor

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