One of the most talk about techniques of Beyond 5/3/1 is also one of the simplest: Joker sets.
Joker sets are a way of adding volume to your workouts without overdoing things. They also encourage you to test your strength on a regular basis.
As with much of Wendler’s lifting philosophy, Joker sets put the onus on you, the lifter, to train intelligently.
What do I mean?
If you feel good and you have the time, Joker sets allow you to ramp up the weight and volume safely. On the days you don’t feel as good, you back off a little.
This is ‘big boy rules’ for the weights room. You’re only competing against yourself. Want to hit a PR on the deadlift? Go for it. Keep going until you run out of weight, or time.
Joker Sets: The Best Addition to the 5/3/1 Programme?
Want to know how valuable Joker sets are to your lifting programme? See what Wendler himself has to say on the subject:
I believe that Joker sets should always be in your training program…I believe in Joker sets so much that I believe it should be a standard part of the 5/3/1 program.
Do you get the idea that he believes in Joker sets? Since reading Beyond 5/3/1 I’ve been using Joker sets on all my workouts. The premise is simple. The effects are startling.
Joker Sets – Harness the Power of Good Workouts
Joker sets harness power. But what kind? Think back to your last great workout. You felt amazing didn’t you? You didn’t want to stop. You would have happily stayed another hour.
Joker sets harness that energy – those days when you feel good – to just keep going. But how?
After your final set in which you (hopefully) set a rep record, you increase the weight by 5-10% and complete another set of the prescribed reps for that workout. So, on week 2 you would do a further set of 3 reps.
You continue doing this until you can’t perform any more sets of three before dropping to 2 and then finally to singles if you feel up to it.
You would do the same on your 3×5 days and 5 3 1 workouts where you would keep hitting singles until you can’t make the lifts.
As Wendler says, the key is autoregulation. If you feel good, hit those high notes. If you feel drained and like crap, don’t.
Let’s face it – none of us is getting any younger. Add to that work responsibilities, kids and home life and your energy levels are going to be sapped.
I’ve had to cut workouts short in the last week because of low energy. It happens. But it also balances out if you kill it on the days you feel good. Joker sets allow you to do that.
My Take on Joker Sets
While I’d love to have an awesome home gym like Wendler or 2 hours per day to work out, I don’t. Instead I maximise the time I use in the weights room. This focus on efficiency is what drew me to 5/3/1 in the first place.
To this end, I’ve developed my own take on Joker sets while still staying true to Wendler’s program.
For every workout, I’ve factored in three Joker sets of increasing weight with increments going up by 10%. If I do all three, great. I’ll go do my assistance and leave (time permitting).
If time doesn’t allow, I’ll skip the assistance and focus on the main lift. I can still get my workouts done in 30 to 40 minutes.
Since incorporating Joker sets into my existing 5/3/1 training I’ve noticed a modest increase in strength across all my lifts. It’s also a great way to harness the mental and physical peaks you get when training consistently.
Some days you’ll fail doing your Joker sets. That’s fine. Weight training is an endurance event – those who put in years of effort see the real results.
I love Joker sets so much that I’ve created an updated 5/3/1 training template that incorporates the best of the Beyond 5/3/1 techniques. Keep reading for an explanation and free download…
Joker Sets – Free Training Template for 5/3/1
This is the third template I’ve produced (see the links above for my basic 5/3/1 and 100 Rep Challenge) and it’s easily my favourite. You could copy and paste the cells for a 6 week programme but the formulas work for a three week cycle too.
As with my original templates, just enter your training maxes in the first column and the template will automatically calculate the rest including three Joker sets per workout.
Then just print (or save to Google Drive) and you’re all set to hit those rep records.
There’s also a bonus box marked ‘FSL’ which is First Set Last, another advanced 5/3/1 technique that I’ll cover in an upcoming post.