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 on the big compound movements, 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. If your strength is not yet at intermediate levels, I suggest running my Novice Momentum routine for at least three months before running this routine.

This routine has a healthy focus 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 long term success.

This is not a cookie cutter routine like those found all over social media which provide zero justification for why things are designed the way they are while providing you with sub-optimal results. This routine requires that you read the guide below in order to give you a proper understanding of the key concepts included, allowing you to properly apply them and execute the routine optimally and be rewarded with great, steady progress.

Example Schedule

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


 The Routine

Upper Body (Bench 531)

  • Bench Press 531 + Jokers and/or FSL Multiple Sets
  • Overhead Press Variation 3-5x8 @ RIR 3-1
  • Weighted Chin Ups 3-5x5 @ RIR 3-1
  • Barbell Rows 3-5x8 @ RIR 3-1
  • Barbell Curls 3-5x8 @ RIR 2-0
  • Tricep Pushdowns 3-5x8 @ RIR 2-0
  • Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises 3-5x12 @ RIR 2-0
  • Reverse Flyes 3-5x12 @ RIR 2-0
  • Dumbbell Shrugs 3-5x12 @ RIR 2-0

    Lower Body (Deadlift 531)

    • Deadlift 531 + Jokers and/or FSL Multiple Sets
    • Squat Variation 3-5x6 @ RIR 3-1
    • Leg Extensions 3-5x12 @ RIR 2-0
    • Hamstring Curls 3-5x12 @ RIR 2-0
    • Cable Crunches 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0
    • Calve Raises 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0
    • Reverse Hyperextensions / Hyperextensions 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0 

      Push (Overhead Press 531)

      • Overhead Press 531 + Jokers and/or FSL
      • Bench Press Variation 3-5x8 @ RIR 3-1
      • Low to High Cable Flyes 3-4x10 @ RIR 3-1
      • Tricep Overhead Extensions 3-5x12 @ RIR 2-0
      • Cable Lateral Raises 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0
      • Rear Delt Flyes 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0


        • Pullups 3-5x12 @ RIR 4-1
        • Dumbbell Row 3-5x10 @ RIR 4-1
        • One Arm Lat Pulldowns 3-5x12 @ RIR 4-1
        • Dumbbell Curls 3-5x12 @ RIR 3-1
        • Cable Rope Hammer Curls 3-5x12 @ 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 3-1
          • Barbell Hip Thrusts 3-5x10 @ RIR 3-1
          • Leg Press 3-5x15 @ RIR 3-1
          • Weighted Crunches 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0
          • Calve Raises 3-5x15 @ RIR 2-0


          Routine Guide

          What is "RIR"?

          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"

          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)


          Explaining "3-5" & Progression

          When you see something like "3-5x10" next to an exercise, this refers to my 3 week progression system that I call "momentum" and means 3 to 5 sets of 10 repetitions, starting at 3x10 and increasing by one set every week. On week one you'd perform 3x10, week two you'd perform 4x10 and on week three you would perform 5x10. After doing this for three weeks, you would add weight to the bar and start back at the amount of sets you started with initially and work your way back up for another three weeks, followed by a deload. This method is great for a hypertrophy focused approach and for those who need more total volume to make progress, such as late intermediates and advanced trainees. 

          531 is known for including scheduled deloads, so this routine takes advantage of this and allows you to flirt with higher volumes and potential overreaching so you can take full advantage of the scheduled deloads and squeeze out more progress.

          Here is an example of a momentum cycle using a 3-5x10 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 


          Regulating Volume
          It should be noted that 3-5 sets is only a place holder set range and can be changed based on individual needs. I typically recommend 3-5 sets as the "standard" or the "safe" method that will allow you to make steady progress without under or over training. For muscle groups that are lacking, you can use a higher set range to get in more volume. For muscle groups that you feel grow easily or that you don't need to focus on too much, you could use a lower set range.

          I typically suggest 4-6 sets for muscle groups you feel are a weak point and need to bring up and going as low as 2-4 sets for muscles that may be your strong points and don't require a lot of attention.

          Another important note is that you do not have to increase the sets every single week. For example, for a muscle group that you don't want to perform a high amount of volume on, you could perform a "2-2-3" wave, which would mean on the first and second week you'd only perform 2 sets of an exercise and only add a set on the last week. This is often a good idea, since performing less volume on a muscle group you're not worried about can allow you to do more volume on more important muscle groups and allow better recovery.


          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 8-25 reps. 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.


            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. 

            Don't sweat reducing volume when cutting, studies suggest that maintaining muscle mass requires MUCH less volume than it takes to grow a muscle.


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