Why the AMRAP sets in 531 are important

I’ve heard it claimed that the AMRAP sets in the 5/3/1 training program are not required. This is wrong for the original 5/3/1 program, and anyone avoiding the AMRAP sets will make no real progress and eventually stall.

Its true that AMRAPs are not necessary for many of the variants of “531” as proposed by Jim Wendler, but these are not Classic 531 - they are a handful of programs that follow the Training Max principle and an 85/90/95% intensity scheme. The 5/3/1 rep scheme is not essential to Wendler’s current programs.

Following Classic 531, we set our Training Max (TM) at 85% (or 90%, whatever) of our True 1 Rep Max. For each of the main lifts, we follow this pattern:

  • Week 1: 65%/75%/85%TM 5/5/5+
  • Week 2: 70%/80%/90%TM 3/3/3+
  • Week 3: 75%/85%/95%TM 5/3/1+
  • Week 4: Deload (optional)

In practice you will always do more than the prescribed number, otherwise your Training Max is way too high. If you stop at 5, 3 or 1 reps, when you could easily do 10, 8 or 5 you are not doing enough work to make progress.

I’ll restate this without the AMRAP sets, and with the percents shown as a percent of our True Max, using a TM of 85%:

  • Week 1: 55%/63%/72% 5/5/5
  • Week 2: 60%/68%/77% 3/3/3
  • Week 3: 63%/72%/81% 5/3/1
  • Week 4: Deload (optional)

You will not make progress by doing a single 1 rep set at 81% of your true max, or by doing 3x3 of a medium weight, once every 3-4 weeks. There is simply not enough volume at the intensities we’re using. You will slowly detrain from this.

If you don’t want to do AMRAPs, you should follow one of Wendler’s later programs (from 5/3/1 Beyond or 5/3/1 Forever) which use 5’s Pro (5/5/5 every week) and throw in a lot of extra work to make up for the lack of AMRAPs.

If you’re short on time, I suggest you stick with classic 5/3/1+ (or 5’s PRO with AMRAP on the last set). If you have a little more time and energy, add another AMRAP set using the first set’s weight.