5/3/1 For Rugby

5/3/1 is a strength training programme designed by Jim Wendler to give people a simple and effective way to get stronger. We often get asked if it’s a good training plan to use for rugby. While 5/3/1 is written for general strength enthusiasts with some tweaks and adjustments it could be a worthwhile approach. In this article we take a good look at the 5/3/1 programme and suggest how best rugby players can use it to improve their performance on the field as well as the gym.

What is 5/3/1?

5/3/1 was designed by Jim Wendler to systematically increase strength in the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Military Press. It is uses a 3 week wave loading pattern followed by a one week deload. Lets have a look at the set rep scheme:

 Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
Set 1x5 Reps @ 65% 1RMx3 reps @ 70% 1RMx5 reps @ 75% 1RMx5 reps @ 40% 1RM
Set 2x5 reps @ 75% 1RMx3 reps @ 80% 1RMx3 reps @ 85% 1RMx5 reps @ 50% 1RM
Set 3x5+ reps @ 85% 1RMx3+ reps @ 90% 1RMx1+ reps @ 95% 1RMx5 reps @ 60% 1RM

Can you guess why its called 5/3/1 now?!! Anyway, you begin the programme with a training max that is 90% of your 1RM to calculate your loads and then each cycle you increase the training max slightly. On the last set of each exercise where it says x3+ in week 2 for example, you have the option to do a max reps set to get a new rep record. Rep records are great to test you progress and to challenge and motivate you.

The idea of the 5/3/1 programme is to perform quality reps over time, occasionally test your limits and to incrementally increase the load on the bar. It’s a slow and steady approach to getting strong but is extremely effective. To learn more about the 5/3/1 programme get Jim Wendlers books here:

5/3/1 is set around 4 weekly sessions, one each for Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Military Press. The programme isn’t just the core lifts of course. Wendler gives several different options for assistance exercises depending on your goals and includes some conditioning options including Prowler workouts which he loves.

What are 5/3/1’s Limitations for Rugby Players?

4 Sessions a Week?!

That’s right 4 sessions a week is a lot to fit in for a rugby player when you take into account their other training demands. 5/3/1 is a great option for an off season training plan but needs some serious tweaking to be used inseason.

Where’s The Power?!

5/3/1 is a strength programme first and foremost. In Wendler’s defence he does recommend using jumps and medball work but more as a neural activation for the strength work. He is an advocate of the power clean and does suggest that athletes use them.

5/3/1 For Rugby Example Programme

With those points in mind here’s an example 5/3/1 programme you can use for rugby to improve strength power and performance…

Session 1 (Monday/Tuesday)

A1: Back Squat x5/3/1 Protocol

A2: Box Jumps x3

B1: Bench Press x5/3/1 Protocol

B2: Pendlay Row x 5

C1: BB Hip Thruster 3×8

C2: One Arm DB Shoulder Press 3×8 (each arm)

Session 2 (Thursday)

A: Power Clean x5/3/1 Protocol

B1: Military Press x5/3/1 Protocol

B2: Pull Ups x Max

C1: DB Reverse Lunge 3×6 (each side)

C2: DB Curl & Press 3×8


5/3/1 is a great way to improve your strength and explosiveness for rugby. It allows steady progression that if adapted can fit in nicely around your technical/tactical and conditioning training. Give it a go for a few cycles and let us know how you get on.

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