5/3/1 For BJJ

5/3/1 is probably the world’s most popular strength training regime. This program was invented by American powerlifter Jim Wendler in American in the mid 2000s. Due to 5/3/1’s popularity when BJJ athletes are first getting into strength training the Google algorithm will often have them reading about this program, with many wondering if it is optimal for BJJ. In this article we will explore how BJJ athletes can use 5/3/1 and some of its limitations.

Is 5/3/1 Good For BJJ?

5/3/1 is not ideal for BJJ athletes. 4 days a week of lifting is excessive for BJJ players who should lift 2 to 3 times a week. 5/3/1 is a powerlifting program and focuses on building maximal strength while BJJ athletes need to develop speed and explosiveness which is best developed through jumping, plyometrics and VBT.

What is 5/3/1?

The goal of 5/3/1 is to make an athlete such as a BJJ player strong all over by building maximal strength in the strict press, deadlift, bench press and squat. 5/3/1 is made of 4 mini training cycles which consist of 3 weeks of linear progression and then a deload in the 4th week. Following the deload athletes restart the program with slightly higher training loads. This is an example of a typical rep and set structure over a 4 week cycle.

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Set 1 x5 Reps @ 65% 1RM x3 reps @ 70% 1RM x5 reps @ 75% 1RM x5 reps @ 40% 1RM
Set 2 x5 reps @ 75% 1RM x3 reps @ 80% 1RM x3 reps @ 85% 1RM x5 reps @ 50% 1RM
Set 3 x5+ reps @ 85% 1RM x3+ reps @ 90% 1RM x1+ reps @ 95% 1RM x5 reps @ 60% 1RM

As you can see the 5/3/1 program gets its name from the number of reps an athlete performs during their last set over training cycle.

In week 1 of the program the athlete hits 5 reps at 85% of their 1RM, 3 reps at 90% of their 1RM in week 2 and then 1 rep at 95% in week 3. During set 3 in all weeks athletes can perform a max rep set and try to hit a new PR.

Wendler created 5/3/1 to provide athletes with a simple program that helps them perform high amounts of quality reps and consistently increase their strength over a prolonged period of time without stagnating or breaking their bodies.

Wendler recommends the program be performed 4 days a week with each workout being designed around one of the 4 exercises (squat, deadlift, bench press and strict press). Wendler also recommends a number of assistance lifts which can improve your performance on the 4 main lifts

What are 5/3/1’s Limitations for BJJ Athletes?

The limitations of 5/3/1 for BJJ athletes is too many training sessions. BJJ players should lift weights 2 to 3 times a week. The focus on bench press which have limited carryover to BJJ. The lack of speed and power training which is important for BJJ athletes when shooting takedowns, scrambling, bridging or making fast movements.

4 Training Sessions A Week Is Excessive

Lifting weights 4 times a week is suitable if that is your only form of exercise or you are playing light recreational sport in addition. However, if you are serious about your BJJ training and are on the mats more 2 to 3 times a week this is too much training volume. This will result in fatigue and increase your chance of getting injured. Your performance on the BJJ mats will suffer.

BJJ athletes should lift 3 times a week when they are not preparing for a competition and then and only 2 times a week during competition preparation. You do not want to be lifting weights 4 times a week and being on the BJJ mats 3 + times a week.

No Speed/Power Training

5/3/1 is great for athletes looking to develop maximal strength and achieve competence in the powerlifting movements. While maximal strength is important on the BJJ mats, speed and power are equally if not more important and are not training in the 5/3/1 program.

To develop their explosiveness and speed BJJ athletes should be utilising movements such as velocity based squat training, bounding broad jumps, barbell jumps, tuck jumps and power cleans.

5/3/1 For BJJ Example Program

We have designed  a 5/3/1 inspired strength program which has been altered to better suit the needs of BJJ athletes. We have limited the number of weekly workouts, included some power and speed training and threw in some exercises with higher carryover to BJJ.

Session 1 (Monday/Tuesday)

A1: Tuck Jumps, 6X4

A2: Bounding Broad Jumps, 6X4

B: Power Clean, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

C1: Back Squat, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

C2: Bent Over Rows, 3X8

Session 2 (Thursday)

A: Barbell Jumps, 6X4

B1: Push Press, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

B2: Pull Ups, 4 sets, Max Reps

C1: Clean or Snatch pull, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

C2: Kettlebell Preacher Curls, 3X12


5/3/1 is not the best strength and conditioning program for BJJ athletes but with a reduction in the number of weekly training sessions, swapping out some of the exercises and the introduction of speed focused movements it can be a simple and useful program to improve BJJ athlete’s speed and strength. Give our modified 5/3/1 strength program a go and let us know if you see any performance improvements on the BJJ mats.


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