Over on our Q&A section, we often get many programming questions. It’s not uncommon to receive questions regarding how to implement certain aspects of programs in combination with other programs. For most people, the general recommendation is to follow the program as it is intended. The developer of the program had intentions and reasons for why they laid our the programming as such, and changing it no longer makes it that program. However, over the past few years, I’ve played around with figuring out how to take ideas from Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 and implement them into my own programming. So if you’re a fan of Jim’s work, but also like to run a conjugated program, there could be some really good adjustments to your program just by simply trying some of these out for a training cycle or two.

Let’s get to it.

Max Effort Backdown Sets

Anyone that follows my training log knows that after my main movement on max effort day, I perform a few backdown sets to acquire more volume. This works great for truly building upon the main movement and not just “testing” it. One of the things we know on max effort day is that generally we are working up to a 1-3 rep max for the day. You can also work up to a five-rep max if you wish, if you’re just jumping back into a training cycle. What rep max you use doesn’t really matter, but just know that the more weight you use, the higher your percents will be for the backdown sets. Essentially, when you hit these rep maxes, you are setting your training max for the day. Here are some variations I’ve tried with great success:

Standard 5/3/1

For this option, after you have worked up to your rep max for the day, you are now going to perform the traditional 5/3/1 set up off those numbers. Ideally you will run the same max effort movement for three weeks in a row here. The layout is as follows:

Screenshot 2015-12-21 14.29.04

So for an example, let’s say your max effort movement is a low box squat. You work up to 405 for a three-reps max on week one. Your back down sets would be as follows:

  • 265x5
  • 305x5
  • 345x5+

On week two, you would attempt to PR on the low box squat for a three rep max. Ideally you will just make a small PR attempt of, say five pounds. Then on week two, you would run off that number (in this example, 410).

  • 285x3
  • 330x3
  • 370x3+

The great thing about this setup is that you are setting multiple PR’s week in and out. You will also be running off numbers that are applicable for THAT day. You likely won’t PR every single week, so it’s auto-regulating in nature based upon what you can hit. You’re also getting excellent technique work in with the lighter weights and truly improving your ability to get better at a movement that you should suck at.

Top End 5/3/1

This option is a more intensive based approach and works better when you are rotating max effort lifts more frequently, such as every week. Since the lift with be changing so frequently, you can’t run a full-fledged 5/3/1 cycle. You will still work up to your rep max for the day as the same option as above, but here are the prescribed back down sets:

  • 95%x1+
  • 85%x3+

Just like the first option, you get multiple changes to hit different rep PR’s and continue to build upon the lift you are training for the day. The reason for the two “as many as possible” sets is that with only two sets of backdowns, you can acquire more volume to make up for lack of the third set.

Supplemental Options

With these supplemental options it works best when you know a PR that you’ve hit for the movement (ideally a 1-5 rep max), but if you haven’t, you can go strictly by feel. Since this is a second movement for the day, it works much better with the added volume so that the hypertrophy will help build you max effort movement, so pick good exercises that you know will have direct carryover. Ideally, you will run this for at least a three-week cycle, but I’ve even had success at running them for nine-week cycles. Just make sure that after each three-week cycle, you increase the training max you are using like you normally would (five pounds for upper body movements, and 10 pounds for lower body movements). The great thing here is that you don’t really need to deload due to the lower percentages that are run. I’m not sure I would push this for more than 12 weeks, though, without deloading and then picking a different supplemental movement.

Boring But Big

Here on this option, you will be performing the Boring But Big protocol that Jim utilizes. However, this is only to be used on your supplemental movement. This is a great option for those that need to add mass to fill out a weight class, train with minimal equipment, or train with minimal time.

If you know of a rep PR for the movement, here are the ideal percentages to use:

Screenshot 2015-12-21 14.28.51

First Set/Last Set

With the protocol, each week you will take the first set from the traditional 5/3/1 and hit as many reps as possible across three sets. Here would be the ideal percentages to use based upon the rep max you are running your numbers off of:

Screenshot 2015-12-21 14.29.13

Standard 5/3/1

This option is designed only for the supplemental movement on dynamic effort days. This is will be run off a 90% training max for beginner to intermediate lifters, and an 85% training max for advanced lifters. The percents are based the same as above on max effort days, but just know the numbers will be not be off a daily training max, hence why the training max MUST be used. This works well for common lifts that you perform like front squats, good mornings, close grip bench press, etc. You can use whatever movement you want here, just make sure the training max you are running off of is rather current.

Screenshot 2015-12-21 14.29.24

Dynamic Effort Work-Up Sets

Something I like to do from time to time is implement work-up sets after my dynamic effort work. I took a lot of time and experimentation to get these percentages to work out right with clients and my Purdue Barbell lifters. This option is certainly not for everyone, but the principles are still rooted in 5/3/1. If you opt to perform your work-up sets, please understand that your accommodating resistance should be set at approximately 20-25% of the lift you are training for that day. If you do not do this, I cannot guarantee that the percents will work out in your favor.

Dynamic Squat Cycle

Screenshot 2015-12-21 14.29.38 

Dynamic Deadlift Cycle

Screenshot 2015-12-21 14.29.56

Dynamic Bench Cycle

Screenshot 2015-12-21 14.30.20

Breaking It All Down

At the end of the day, how you opt to implement any of the above work is totally up to you. I would recommend that you only use one option at a time to get a gauge of how it works for you and truly see the rewards. After a lot of time experimenting on myself and clients with many of these principles, I’ve found that it not only packs on some serious mass, but builds some incredible strength while keeping numbers manageable and easy to plan for each training session. I by no means take credit for the work Jim did, but I just found a way to implement his methods into a system that I already believe in. There is no doubt that 5/3/1 is an amazing program, and so is the conjugate system. With the perfect blend, you can enjoy both training programs and still be N.O.V.