Kentucky Strong: 5/3/1 for Strongman

TAGS: Chase Karnes, programming, 5/3/1, strongman, Jim Wendler

What is 5/3/1?

If you haven’t heard of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 by now, then you must’ve been hiding under a rock for the past five years or so. For those who don’t know, 5/3/1 is “The Simplest and Most Effective Training System to Increase Raw Strength.” And those words are taken directly from the cover of the book. The reason it’s been so popular is that it works. And it works while being remarkably simple. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend that you purchase it and read it. You’ll pick up some great information even if you don’t follow the program.

A few reasons I like using 5/3/1 with strongman is the fact that you are using sub maximal weights to build strength. There is less stress on the CNS and on the body overall. By doing this, your body is much fresher when it comes to event day. Anyone who trains strongman knows just how taxing event training can be—it's both mentally and physically draining. That, combined with a ton of max effort and extremely heavy lifting on typical gym lifts, can really take a toll on the body. This could eventually lead to injury and/or overtraining. I also like the simplicity of the program. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to figure up your training weights and the progressions are just as easy.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with using 5/3/1 and strongman for both myself and my clients, and I've found that it works exceptionally well. I’ve done it a variety of ways with modifications, additions, etc. and have found some great ways to incorporate it. But what I’m going to lay out in this article is a program combining strongman and 5/3/1 in a very basic fashion. It is a basic program, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.


Specifics of the program:

You will be using the 5/3/1 protocol on the overhead press, incline bench press, deadlift, front squat, log clean & press, yoke walk, and farmers walk for the program above.

As you can see, each cycle lasts four weeks, and I have two cycles laid out for a total of eight weeks.

Week 1: 3x5

Week 2: 3x3

Week 3: 3x5, 3, 1

Week 4: Deload

And for the moving events it’ll be:

Week 1: 3x Distance

Week 2: 3x Distance

Week 3: 3x Distance

Week 4: Deload

To determine the weights used for all of the lifts above (excluding the moving events), you’ll take your 1RM and figure 90% of this number. All of your calculations are now based off of this number.

Week 1: 3x5 @ 65%, 75%, 85%

Week 2: 3x3 @ 70%, 80%, 90%

Week 3: 1x5 @ 75%, 1x3 @ 85%, 1x1 @95%

Week 4: Deload 3x5 @ 60%

So if your 1RM on the log press is 330 pounds, you use 300 pounds (90%)

Here is how it works for the log press in this example:

Week 1: 195x5, 225x5, 255x5+

Week 2: 210x3, 240x3, 270x3+

Week 3: 225x5, 255x3, 285x1+

Week 4: 3x5 @ 180

Increase training max by five pounds and recalculate.

Week 5: 200x5, 230x5, 260x5+

Week 6: 215x3, 245x3, 275x3+

Week 7: 230x5, 260x3, 290x1+

Week 8: 3x5 @ 185

Increase training max by five pounds and recalculate.

When you see the 5+, 3+, or 1+ that simply means that you’ll perform as many reps as possible with that weight (preferably leaving one to two reps in the tank). You’ll focus on setting rep PRs and then beating those rep PRs in upcoming weeks.

You’ll increase your training max by five pounds on overhead press, incline bench press, and log press. You’ll also increase your training max by 10 pounds on the deadlift and front squat.

On to the Moving Events

Most of you are probably wondering what I mean by “3x Distance.” This is what you do: Let’s say your best yoke run with no drops is 750 pounds for 80 feet.

  1. Take 90% of 750 pounds.
  2. This would be 675 pounds.
  3. Figure 65%, 75%, 85%.
  4. That would be 440 pounds, 505 pounds, and 575 pounds.
  5. Now figure 70%, 80%, 90% of that original 675 pounds.
  6. That would be 475 pounds, 540 pounds, and 610 pounds.
  7. Now figure 75%, 85%, 95% of that original 675 pounds.
  8. That would be 505 pounds, 575 pounds, and 640 pounds.

We now have our weights.

Week 1: 440x80 ft., 505x80ft., 575x80 ft.

Week 2: 475x80ft., 540x80ft., 610x80ft.

Week 3: 505x80ft., 575x80ft., 640x80ft.

Week 4: *Omit for the yoke walk.

*For farmers walk, you’ll run around 60% and focus on speed.

You’ll increase your training max for the yoke walk by 10 to 15 pounds and your farmers walk by 10 pounds at the end of each cycle.

These can also be done for frame carries. These would be done for the heaviest weight you’ve done for a certain distance with no drops. For the yoke walk, farmers walk, and frame carry, I’d recommend sticking with a distance no shorter than 50 feet and no longer than 100 feet. If you want to perform a turn on the farmers, that’s fine. Just make sure you figure your percentages based on your best farmers walk with a turn and no drops. Also, I’ve found that weights don’t have to be as exact when dealing with the yoke walk. You will simply round to the nearest number that loads onto the yoke the easiest. For example, our yoke implement weighs 390 pounds empty. If I have a set that calls for 560 pounds, I’ll typically just load 570 pounds to simplify the load. This way I can add four 45-pound plates to make up the weight instead of loading two 45-pound plates, two 35-pound plates, and two 10-pound plates. You are more than welcome to load this exactly, but I found that rounding up or down 10 pounds didn’t have much of an effect on the overall success of the program. However, DO NOT do this for any other lifts or moving events.

Instead of going for rep PRs as you did with the lifts, you’ll go for time PRs on the moving events. You can set these one of two ways. Obviously, if you’re faster with a weight than you were the previous time you touched that weight, then that’s a PR. I also aim to beat my previous time of a slightly lighter weight with a heavier weight. If you run a 660-pound yoke 50 feet in eight seconds, and a few weeks later you run a 670-pound yoke 50 feet in 7.8 seconds, then that’s a PR.

A few notes on the program above:

  • Chin Ups/Pulls ups: If you can’t hit those rep ranges, use bands for assistance. If you don’t have access to bands, I’d recommend picking some up. As a last resort you can use a lat pull down machine.
  • On your 5/3/1+ week, you can incorporate some heavy singles. I recommend taking your weight prescribed for 1+ and hitting it for a single or double (at most). Then rest and hit a single at 90-92% of your TRUE 1RM. If that feels easier than expected, rest and then hit another single at 94-95% of your TRUE 1RM. If the first single felt about right, I recommend hitting another at the same weight. If the single felt heavier than it should and/or was a struggle, then stop at that single. Don’t miss weights.
  • For your yoke walk and farmers walk, stick with the weights prescribed and focus on acceleration and moving fast. It’s all about speed.
  • Total rep sets can be broken down however you’d like. Just work hard and get the work in. Stay away from hitting failure on these as well. Stop a rep or two shy with the exception of your final set.
  • If any accessory movements are too easy with bodyweight, add resistance in the form of a dip belt (dips) or weight vest (GHR, sit ups, rollouts), or by holding a plate behind your head (GHR, sit ups).
  • You’ll alternate between atlas stones and a carry/drag medley (or any type of conditioning medley of your choice). For example: Week 1—stones, Week 2—medley, Week 3—stones, Week 4—medley, etc.
  • You will not carry the yoke on the deload week. This will reduce spinal loading once every four weeks, and will do so after your heaviest yoke walk week.
  • You can use an axle instead of the log for clean & press if you’d like. Pick your weakest event.
  • In regards to atlas stones: “Hvy.” is heavy and “Lt.” is light. “Series” refers to a stone series progressing in weight, and over bar refers to over a yoke bar (or similar bar).
  • CG push-ups = close grip push-ups
  • On the medley, 2x’s refers to two runs of the medley

No Back Squats or Bench Press? What?

You are more than welcome to substitute the back squat for the front squat and the bench press for the incline bench press, but I do recommend the front squat and incline bench press over the others for good reason. I find that the front squat has tremendous carryover to atlas stones, log/axle/db clean & press, and all other carry events where the implement is in front of you (husafell stone, sandbag, keg, etc.). I also find that front squats are less taxing than back squats and you can recover faster. This, combined with the fact that you’re going to have a heavy yoke across your back that same week, makes me prefer to take the barbell off the back and put it across the shoulders. I’m not anti-back squat, and I’m not saying I never do them or program them. I just didn’t include them in this particular program for those reasons.

What do you bench press, bro? Everyone seems to be obsessed with the bench press. Again, I’m not against the bench press, but I feel the incline bench is superior for strongman. It’s less technical (leg drive, big arch, etc.) and more about moving weight with the chest, shoulders, and triceps. I find that it carries over to the log/axle press more so than the bench press. It’s also less stressful on the shoulders. Again, feel free to substitute if you’d like, but I’d prefer you do incline bench press over regular.

Wrapping It Up

Like I said above, I’ve experimented with 5/3/1 and strongman numerous ways and have found all to produce great results. To give every option, example, and template is definitely outside the scope of this article. It’s enough information to fill a book. But what I’ve done is simplify it down into a basic program that combines 5/3/1 and strongman that works without much thought. And after all…isn’t that what makes 5/3/1 so popular to begin with? It’s simple and it works.

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