531 Momentum

Posted by Shaun LaFleur on

531 Momentum is an intermediate and advanced powerbuilding routine that utilizes the 531 progression system to generate steady strength progress, while including additional training volume and training frequency to make sure you're getting an adequate amount of stimulus to not only gain strength, but pack on size as well. 

The routine is heavily focused on auto-regulation, allowing you to perform this routine in any situation, whether you're cutting, bulking or somewhere in between. Auto-regulation is a key factor in proper fatigue and recovery management and is an invaluable tool for success.

For a deeper understanding of the terms and concepts used in the routine, please read the guide below. Reading the guide will give you a proper understanding of the key concepts so you can execute the routine optimally and without confusion.

Example Schedule

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: Upper Body Intensity (Bench 531)
  • Tuesday: Lower Body Intensity (Deadlift 531)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Push Volume (OHP 531)
  • Friday: Pull Volume
  • Saturday: Lower Body Volume (Squat 531)


 The Routine

Upper Body Intensity (531 Bench)

  • Bench Press 531 + Jokers and/or FSL Multiple Sets
  • Overhead Press 3-5x5-8 @ 65/70/75% of TM
  • Weighted Chin Ups 3-5x5 @ RIR 4-1
  • Meadows Rows 3-5x10 @ RIR 4-1
  • Barbell Curls 3-5x8 @ RIR 4-1
  • Tricep Pushdowns 3-5x10 @ RIR 4-1
  • Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises 3-5x10 @ RIR 4-1
  • Reverse Flyes 3-5x12 @ RIR 4-1
  • Dumbbell Shrugs 4-6x15 @ RIR 3-1

    Lower Body Intensity (531 Deadlift)

    • Deadlift 531 + Jokers and/or FSL Multiple Sets
    • Squat 3-5x5-8 @ 65/70/75% of TM
    • Leg Extensions 3-5x12 @ RIR 4-1
    • Hamstring Curls 3-5x12 @ RIR 4-1
    • Cable Crunches 3-5x15 @ RIR 4-1
    • Calve Raises 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0
    • Reverse Hyperextensions / Hyperextensions 3-5x15 @ RIR 4-1 

      Push (531 Overhead Press)

      • Overhead Press 531 + Jokers and/or FSL
      • Bench Press 3-5x5-8 @ 65/70/75% of TM
      • Low to High Cable Flyes 3-4x10 @ RIR 4-1
      • Tricep Overhead Extensions 4-6x12 @ RIR 4-1
      • Cable Lateral Raises 4-6x15 @ RIR 4-1
      • Rear Delt Flyes 4-6x15 @ RIR 4-1


        • Pullups 4-6x12 @ RIR 4-1
        • Barbell Row 4-6x10 @ RIR 4-1
        • Lat Pulldowns 4-6x12 @ RIR 4-1
        • Dumbbell Curls 4-6x12 @ RIR 3-1
        • Cable Rope Hammer Curls 4-6x12 @ RIR 3-1
        • Snatch Grip Barbell Shrugs 3-5x12 @ RIR 4-1 

          Legs (531 Squat)

          • Squat 531 + Jokers and/or FSL Multiple Sets
          • Romanian Deadlifts 3-5x8 @ RIR 4-1
          • Reverse Hyperextensions / Hyperextensions 3-5x15 @ RIR 4-1
          • Leg Press 3-5x15 @ RIR 4-1
          • Weighted Crunches 3-5x15 @ RIR 3-1
          • Calve Raises 4-6x15 @ RIR 2-0


          Routine Guide

          RIR (Reps in Reserve) explained and how to utilize it

          RIR stands for "Reps in Reserve" and refers to how many reps you have left in you when you stop a set. For example, if I take a weight that I can lift 10 times, but I stop at 8 reps, that would be considered an RIR of 2. RIR is a great way to properly regulate the intensity of your set, allowing you to get in quality volume and manage your recovery. 

          In my article Should You Train To Failure?, I explain how the closer to failure you take a set, the more progress you can squeeze out of that set, but the more fatigue you will accumulate. 

          Long story short, training to failure will cause only a slight increase in hypertrophy, but much more fatigue, so the majority of your sets should be performed at an RIR of 3-2, with RIR 1 being the limit. Some lifts aren't as taxing for the body as others, which is why some lifts have a slightly lower RIR range.

          When you see "RIR 4-1", this means that you can perform your sets within this range. Hitting an RIR of 1 should only be reserved for the final set of an exercise and should be used sparingly, preferably on the later weeks of a 531 cycle, right before a deload. A good method of progression is to slowly let RIR increase over the weeks through adding weight, sets and/or reps, peaking at an RIR of 1 right before a deload.


          Understanding 531 Basic Protocol

          531 is a progression system invented by Jim Wendler that utilizes steady progression using sub maximal loads. It is a tried and true system and will get you strong and muscular. Within 531 there are multiple options that can be tweaked to a lifters preferences, which also allows lifters to auto-regulate. Because of this, it is a very effective and flexible system that can be used in a variety of training scenarios.

          531 works on a ramping 3 week cycle, where your intensity levels increase over a three week period. Each week you will follow a set and rep scheme based on percentages of what is called your "Training Max" or "TM". Your training max is 90% of your true one rep max. It's a good idea to find your Training Max on each lift before beginning 531.

          The basic 531 protocol is as followed (Remember, percentages are based on your Training Max, not your actual 1 rep max):

          • Week 1Set 1: 65% x5, Set 2: 75% x5, Set 3: 85% x5+
          • Week 2: Set 1: 70% x3, Set 2: 80% x3, Set 3: 90% x3+
          • Week 3: Set 1: 75% x5, Set 2: 85% x3, Set 3: 95% x1+

          The "+" means to perform as many reps as you can. Each percentage is a percentage of your TM, so "65%" would mean you should use 65% of your TM for that set.

          After a three week cycle, you'd add 5-10 lbs pounds to your Training Maxes and then repeat the process once more. After the second run (6 weeks total), you'd take a deload.


          Joker Sets Explained

          Joker Sets are performed after the 3 sets prescribed in the basic 531 protocol. To perform Joker Sets, you first want to make sure you do not perform an AMRAP on the 3rd set of the basic 531 protocol, but instead stop at the prescribed reps (so for "5+" you'd stop at the 5th rep for example). Then, you'd add 5% to the bar and attempt to get the same amount of reps again. If you hit the required reps, you'd add another 5% and attempt to get the same amount of reps again. You would continue doing this until you fail to hit the prescribed reps. 

          Here is an example for a week one 531 setup using Joker Sets.

          • Set 1: 65% x5
          • Set 2: 75% x5
          • Set 3: 85% x5 (Stop at 5 reps instead of doing 5+)
          • Set 4: 90% x5 (Joker Set)
          • Set 5: 95% x4 (Joker Set - Stop here, you didn't get 5 reps)

          Since week three of 531 has you performing a percentage close to your TM for a single rep, Joker Sets on week three can quickly turn into maxing out. It's important to note that this can be very taxing on the body, and I'd advise some self regulating in this area. I'd personally suggest considering not doing Joker Sets on the third week and performing FSL Multiple Sets (explained below) instead. However, on the sixth week, which is the week right before a deload, I'd say go for the Joker Sets and maybe even the FSL Multiple Sets as well.


          FSL Multiple Sets Explained

          FSL stands for "First Set Last" and "FSL Multiple Sets" refers to using the same weight that you used for the first set of a given 531 workout for multiple sets of 3-5x5-8 after the basic 531 sets. For example, week one you'd use 65% of your TM for 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps, because your first 531 set on week one is 65% of TM. As long as your set and rep scheme falls within these ranges, you're good to go; you can perform any variation of sets and reps, as long as you get in 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps. 

          This broad range of sets and reps allows you to auto-regulate the RIR of your sets so that you can get in additional quality volume without taxing your body too much. 

          FSL Multiple Sets can also be performed after Joker Sets on your normal 531 days, but I'd only recommend doing this if you are currently eating in a caloric surplus or have your recovery really dialed in, as this can end up being a lot of total volume. An example of how this would look if you performed 531 + Joker Sets + FSL Multiple Sets with a 3x8 setup:

          • Set 1: 65% x5
          • Set 2: 75% x5
          • Set 3: 85% x5
          • Set 4: 90% x5 (Joker Set)
          • Set 5: 95% x4 (Joker Set - Stop here, you didn't get 5 reps)
          • Set 6: 65% x8 (FSL)
          • Set 7: 65% x8 (FSL)
          • Set 8: 65% x8 (FSL)

          FSL Multiple Sets Using RIR

          One change that you can make, and I'm perosnally a fan of this myself, is using RIR instead of the prescribed rep range for the FSL Multiple Sets. Instead of performing "5-8" reps, you would stick to an RIR range of 3-2 for every set. Basically, you'd still perform the 65%/70%/75% wave and perform 3-5 sets, but you'd make sure that every set is an RIR of 3-2, rather than being forced to adhere to the 5-8 rep range. You'd perform however many reps it takes at that percentage in order to reach an RIR of 3-2 (no heavier, no lighter).

          Doing this has two major benefits. One, it makes sure that all of your FSL sets are getting close enough to failure to elicit a better training response (and thus more hypertrophy and strength) and two, it makes sure that your RIR does not fall too low on the latter weeks of a cycle, causing you to train too close to failure.

          This method allows you to get in extra quality volume without the risk of either going too light on your sets at the beginning of a cycle producing an inadequate training stimulus, or going too heavy and digging yourself into a recovery rut in the latter weeks of a cycle.


          Explaining the "65/70/75% of TM" protocol

          As you probably have noticed, on some of the training days I prescribe that you perform 3-5x5-8 with 65%, 70% and 75% (increasing weekly) of your training max, which is essentially just taking the "FSL Multiple Sets" approach and performing it on a second training day for each lift. The first sets of each 531 workout work out as 65% on week one, 70% on week two and 75% on week three. This is where the "65/70/75% of TM" comes from in the routine. I took the FSL Multiple Sets concept and applied it to a second day for each movement in order to increase overall training volume and frequency. On one day you would perform the 531 protocol with the bench press, and then on the second pressing day you'd perform the FSL Multiple Sets on the bench press to get in more total weekly volume, for example.

          So one day for each lift you would perform 531 + Joker Sets (FSL Optional), and the second day for that same lift you'd perform FSL Multiple Sets only, without the 531 sets - which works out to 65/70/75% of TM depending on the week. Recent studies suggest that a frequency of at least 2x per week is superior to only once per week for both hypertrophy and strength. 

          To follow this protocol, you'd simply perform 3-5x5-8 of 65% on week one, 70% on week two and 75% on week three, on a day that you're not performing the 531 + Joker Sets protocol. Just like mentioned above in my explanation of FSL Multiple Sets, this is completely auto-regulated and you can perform any set and rep scheme you feel up to on a given day, as long as it fits the 3-5x5-8 guidelines.


          Assistant & Accessory Progression Systems

          For lifts that do not have a specific progression system in place, you have a few different options in order to achieve progressive overload. The goal should be to increase the overall difficulty of the exercise from week to week by adding sets, reps and/or weight to the bar. 

          Below, I will list a few options that you can use to periodize these lifts.

          Increasing Sets

          This is my recommended methodThis method is best for a hypertrophy focused approach and for those who need more total volume to make progress, such as late intermediates and advanced trainees. 

          Start out at the lower end of the prescribed set range (so if an exercise says to do 3-5 sets of 10, start out at 3 sets of 10). Each week you would keep the weight the same but add one set. Once you hit the top end of the set range, you would add 5-10 lbs (or microload for dumbbell movements if possible - checkout our Magnetic Microplates) and reduce the sets back down to the low end. You would then continue this process by adding sets again. This works out quite well with a 6 week 531 cycle, as it has you completing two rounds of this process before taking a deload. If you are doing this on the majority of your movements, it's a great periodization technique to utilize over the weeks, because it will result in building volume and intensity over the weeks before taking a much needed deload.

          Example of a cycle using a 3-5 set range:

          • Week 1: 3x10 100 lbs
          • Week 2: 4x10 100 lbs
          • Week 3: 5x10 100 lbs
          • Week 4: 3x10 110 lbs (add 10 lbs and go back down to 3 sets)
          • Week 5: 4x10 110 lbs
          • Week 6: 5x10 110 lbs

            Last Set AMRAP

            This method is better used by beginners and early intermediates and/or on movements that you don't require/want to perform a lot of total volume on. This is a more intensity focused approach than a volume focused approach.

            Perform 3-5 sets of X reps. On your last set, perform an AMRAP. If you get X+3 reps, add 5-10 lbs to the exercise and repeat the process again.

              • Example
              • Week 1: 2x10, 1x13 100 lbs (You hit 3 reps over your 10 rep goal on the last set, add weight next session)
              • Week 2: 2x10, 1x12 110 lbs (You didn't hit 13 reps on your last set, keep weight the same)
              • Week 3: 2x10, 1x13 110 lbs (You hit 3 reps over your 10 rep goal on the last set, add weight next session)

            Reverse Loading

            Perform 3-5 sets of any rep range. When you can perform all 3-5 sets at that rep range with an RIR of 2 or better, add 5-10 lbs to the last set only. When you can perform that last set (with the additional weight) and maintain an RIR 2 or better, add weight to the second to last set as well. Continue this process until all sets are done at the new weight and then repeat the process starting from the last set again.

            Example using a 3 set approach:

              • Week 1: 3x10 100 lbs @ RIR 3
              • Week 2: 2x10 100 lbs, 1x10 110 lbs @ RIR 2
              • Week 3: 1x10 100 lbs, 2x10 110 lbs @ RIR 2
              • Week 4: 3x10 110 lbs @ RIR 2
              • Etc

            Each of these methods allow you to progressively overload, and I would argue that worrying about which one is "optimal" or "best" is a waste of time. Try them all and use whichever you personally enjoy the most, or use a mixture of each one. I suggest using these methods for 3-6 weeks before rotating either the movement itself (for a similar movement pattern) or changing the rep range.


            Exercise Selection Guidelines

            Each person is different and which exercises stimulate the targeted muscle group optimally will differ from person to person. Because of this, and because you want to perform a routine that is actually enjoyable, the majority of the movements can be replaced with movements that you prefer.

            However, you should replace them with similar movement patterns and avoid rotating movements too often. I typically suggest that if you're going to progress on a movement, that you do so for 3-6 weeks before rotating it with another movement or changing it's rep range. For 531 movements, give the movement a full 6 week cycle before cycling it out for a different movement.

            For 531 movements, if you replace the 4 main movements (Bench, OHP, Squat and Deadlift) I'd suggest sticking to those same four lifts, but only change it's variation. Below I will list movements and categorize them so that you know which other movements they can be replaced/rotated with.

            I suggest that you use "heavier" or harder movements on one day and "lighter" or easier movements on the second day. One example is doing pendlay rows as your horizontal row on one day and dumbbell rows on the second.

            Bench Press (531 Viable)
            • Conventional Bench Press
            • Close Grip Bench Press
            • Floor Press
            • Pin Press (1" or less off chest)
            • Etc
            Deadlift (531 Viable)
            • Conventional Deadlift
            • Sumo Deadlift
            • Trap Bar Deadlift
            • Jefferson Deadlift
            • Etc
              Squat (531 Viable)
              • High Bar Squat
              • Low Bar Squat
              • Box Squat
              • Front Squat
              • Etc
              Overhead Press (531 Viable)
              • Standing Barbell Overhead Press
              • Seated Barbell Overhead Press
              • Etc

              Vertical Pulls

              • Chin Ups
              • Pull Ups
              • Lat Pull Downs
              • One Arm Lat Pull Downs
              • Etc

              Horizontal Row

              • Pendlay Rows
              • Meadows Rows
              • Barbell Rows
              • Dumbbell Rows
              • Cable Rows
              • Etc


              Customization Options & Suggestions

              Rep ranges

              Rep ranges for non-531 lifts and lifts that are not prescribed a certain loading scheme can be customized to your liking, provided you follow a few basic guidelines. First, you should stay in the lower rep ranges on the intensity days, but go no lower than 6 reps. This is to help assist in building more overall strength on your lifts to speed up progression. For volume days, I'd say to go a little on the lighter side - anywhere between 10-25 reps. Remember, it's a good idea to work in a given rep range for 3-6 weeks before switching to a different rep range or changing the exercise slightly.

              Replacing the 65/70/75% wave

              For beginners and intermediates, the three work wave is a great way to get in more quality volume and still get practice with your lifts due to the higher frequency. However, more seasoned lifters or those who need to address a specific weak point in their conventional lift may want to start using variations of the conventional lifts in order to target their weaknesses. 

              Because of this, it is perfectly acceptable to replace the three week wave with volume work using variations of the conventional lifts. I'd suggest 3-5 sets of 8 repetitions at an RIR range of 4-1 for these lifts. An example would be to use the close grip bench press for 3-5x10 @ RIR 4-1 instead of performing the conventional bench press using the three week wave.

              The routine already prescribes this for the deadlift. As you can see on the second lower body day, instead of using a 65/70/75% for the deadlift like I do with other lifts, I prescribe 3-5x10 with romanian deadlifts. This is because I find that there's no better way to target the hamstrings and glutes than romanian deadlifts, and performing both the 3 week wave with deadlifts AND volume work for romanian deadlifts would simply be too much work.

              Focus on Weak Points

              The routine consists of a good deal of volume that could potentially become too much for some lifters, especially in the latter weeks of training when you are attempting to perform 5+ sets of each exercise. Because of this, I suggest that you focus on increasing sets  on only the exercises that target muscle groups that are your weaknesses. For muscles that are your strong points or are just not lagging behind that you don't wish to prioritize, it's not as important to utilize the higher end of the set ranges for movements targeting these areas. I suggest keeping the sets around 2-4 for movements that you don't want to prioritize while using 4-6 sets for movements that you do want to prioritize. 

              The basic idea is that it becomes difficult to recover when you are training every single muscle group near it's MRV (see my article Understanding Volume & Fatigue for an explanation of MRV or Maximum Recoverable Volume). Because of this, you should rotate the muscle groups that you want to focus on the most, while training other muscle groups with enough stimulus to progress, but not near their MRVs.

              Allowing Intensity To Increase

               Regardless of which periodization/progression method you decide to use on your assistance and accessory movements, I suggest allowing the intensity of your sets to creep up throughout the weeks leading up to a deload. I typically recommend that for the majority of your sets during a cycle to never allow your RIR fall to a 1 or below on anything except your last set of an exercise. However, it's okay if you allow your last couple of sets or so to creep up to an RIR of 1 or occasionally even an RIR of 0 during the final weeks leading up to a deload.

              This can sometimes allow you to overreach (essentially train in a way that you would be unable to recover from had you not planned a deload) and can be a beneficial tactic to utilize when you know you have deload coming up.

              I suggest only allowing this to happen on the last two weeks of training. Any sooner and your performance may begin to suffer on those final two weeks before a deload.

              Adjustments For Cutting or Strength Focused

              If you're not worried about building maximum amounts of muscle and your main focus is on strength or if you're currently at a reduced capacity to recover due to dieting/cutting, I'd recommend cutting down on the amount of sets and/or exercises performed after your 531 and secondary movements. You may also want to change the routine from Upper, Lower, Rest, Push, Pull, Legs to a typical Upper, Lower, Rest, Upper, Lower routine. Reducing overall volume should make it easier to combine into a 4 day upper/lower split.


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