My opinion on the Wendler Strength Program

Posted: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 by InvictusCoach in

Workout of the Day

Hang squat clean 5-5-5-5-5

5 rounds for time:

12- Deadlifts
9- Hang power cleans
6- Push jerks

RX'd @ 155... scale appropriately.

Sometime in April I started the well known Wendler Strength Program, or the 5-3-1 system. I found out about it from several friends who were doing it over at Albany CrossFit. They had been on their 2nd or 3rd wave and claimed that it worked and they liked it. Let me explain what this system basically is. It is a basic linear progression based around the squat, deadlift, benchpress, and strict press. The first week you start off at 5 sets of 5, second week 5 sets of 3, and so on and so forth. Without too much ranting, I'll go straight to my conclusion.
After testing this sucker out on myself and my athletes (who were beginners at that time), I believe there are far better ways of improving strength. On the conditioned and non-conditioned athlete, the results weren't as impressive as I had anticipated. Sure, there was an increase in all three movements measured, but not as big of a gain as I was hoping for. It is a very BASIC linear progression, nothing crazy, no new stimulus (for the conditioned athlete). My athletes and I completed two cycles of the program. As non-conditioned athletes, they gained a pretty fair amount of strength. Myself, already being a conditioned athlete, experienced very minimal gains in strength. The non-conditioned athletes experienced a greater gain simply because of exposure. Exposure to something new, such as heavy lifts, caused a neurological adaption to take place. In other words, they were getting stronger, not because of actual muscle gain, but because their bodies were just making an adaption to the new stimulus. Since I have been exposed to heavy lifting, I did not elicit any new responses. Rather, my gains were true strength and muscle gains, which were minimal.
Since stopping the Wendler program I have gained a considerable amount of strength and muscle. My athletes, following a very similar strength plan, have continued to make HUGE gains in size and strength. Using the CrossFit Football method has shown to be far more effective for size, strength, and overall power output. Because we keep lifts and workouts constantly varied, we get exposure to every major lift: Olympic, power, and basic barbell movements.
Overall, the Wendler program is too slow at giving significant results. In my opinion, stick to the CrossFit method. Hit all of your major lifts hard and heavy, vary your rep range (1-5) and throw some into a met-con.

Stay classy,

Coach A.