Today, I want to take a closer look at a training program known as nSuns 5/3/1. What is it? How well does it work for building muscle size and strength? And should you be using it?
What is nSuns 531?
nSuns is a powerlifting program developed by a Reddit user called nSuns.
You might also see it called nSuns 531 LP, which refers to the fact that it’s inspired by Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, and uses a method of progressive overload known as linear progression.
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press (OHP)
nSuns 4 Day Program
Although there are 5-day and 6-day variants of the nSuns 531 program, as well as nSuns CAP3 (short for cyclical AMRAP progression) the one I want to focus on is the 4-day version.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Monday: Upper Body
- Tuesday: Lower Body
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Upper Body
- Friday: Lower Body
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Off
Pressing exercises (bench press and overhead press) are done on upper body days, while on lower body days, it’s the deadlift and squat.
The program also leaves room for you to add some assistance work for the chest, back, legs, arms and abs.
nSuns 5/3/1 Workout Routine
The basic template for each workout involves a main lift (bench press, squat and deadlift), a secondary lift (overhead press, sumo deadlift and front squat), followed by some assistance work.
- Main Lift 9 sets
- Secondary Lift 8 sets
- Assistance Work 3-4 sets
Bench Press 8 sets x 4-8, 1 set x AMRAP
Overhead Press 8 sets x 3-8
+ Assistance work for chest, arms, back
Squat 8 sets x 1-5, 1 set x AMRAP
Sumo Deadlift 8 sets x 3-8
+ Assistance work for quads, hamstrings, abs
Bench Press 8 sets x 1-5, 1 set x AMRAP
Close-Grip Bench Press 8 sets x 3-8
+ Assistance work for arms
Deadlift 8 sets x 1-5, 1 set x AMRAP
Front Squat 8 sets x 3-8
+ Assistance work for back, abs
AMRAP = As Many Reps As Possible
There’s no set prescription for nSuns accessories. The general suggestion is 1-6 accessories per day, with 3-6 accessories per day being ideal for most people.
That is, you choose 3-6 additional exercises that will improve weak points in your physique, typically doing 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps for each exercise.
Here are some common nSuns accessories:
- Dumbbell Flyes
- Cable Crossover
- Incline Dumbbell Press
- Pec Deck
- Lat Pulldown
- Barbell Row
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Lateral Raise
- Bent Over Lateral Raise
- Face Pulls
- Barbell Bent Shrugs
- Wendler Rows
- Leg Press
- Leg Extension
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Hack Squat
- Lying Leg Curl
- Seated Leg Curl
- Romanian Deadlift
- Standing Calf Raise
- Seated Calf Raise
FREE: The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet. This is a quick guide to building muscle, which you can read online or keep as a PDF, that shows you exactly how to put on muscle. To get a FREE copy of the cheat sheet emailed to you, please click or tap here.
- Standing Dumbbell Curl
- Incline Dumbbell Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Preacher Curl
- Triceps Pressdown
- Lying EZ Bar Triceps Extension
- Overhead Triceps Extension
nSuns 5 Day Routine
The nSuns 5 day routine features an extra upper body day, where the main lift is the overhead press and the secondary lift is the incline bench press. There’s also some accessory work for the chest and shoulders.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Monday: Bench Press & Overhead Press
- Tuesday: Squat & Sumo Deadlift
- Wednesday: Overhead Press & Incline Bench Press
- Thursday: Deadlift & Front Squat
- Friday: Bench Press & Close Grip Bench Press
nSuns 5/3/1 Explained
The 5/3/1 in nSuns 5/3/1 comes from the number of reps you do in each of the first three sets of the squat, deadlift and bench press.
That is, in the first set you do 5 reps. In the second set, you increase the weight and do 3 reps. In the third set, you increase the weight again, with the goal of doing as many reps as you can.
It’s your performance in that third set that dictates how much weight you lift the following week.
nSuns Training Max and Percentages
The nSuns spreadsheet, which you can download here, calculates the weights to use in both the primary and secondary lifts.
All you need to do is enter your 1-rep max (the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition) for the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press (OHP).
The spreadsheet calculates what’s called your training max (TM), which is 90% of your actual 1-rep max. Your TM is then used to calculate the amount of weight you lift in each set.
For example, let’s say that your bench press 1-RM is 200 pounds. Your training max is 90% of 200, which is 180. You then use a certain percentage of that training max in each set.
Although the spreadsheet does all the number crunching for you, here’s an example of the nSuns percentages for the squat.
- Set 1 75% x 5
- Set 2 85% x 3
- Set 3 95% x AMRAP
- Set 4 90% x 3
- Set 5 85% x 3
- Set 6 80% x 3
- Set 7 75% x 5
- Set 8 70% x 5
- Set 9 65% x AMRAP
Using an 1-RM of 200 pounds and a training max of 180 pounds, here’s how those percentages translate into weight on the bar.
- Set 1 135 x 5
- Set 2 155 x 3
- Set 3 170 x AMRAP
- Set 4 160 x 3
- Set 5 155 x 3
- Set 6 145 x 3
- Set 7 135 x 5
- Set 8 125 x 5
- Set 9 115 x AMRAP
nSuns Rest Time
How long should you rest between sets on nSuns?
Ideally, you’ll want to rest for at least two minutes between each work set. If in doubt, err on the side of resting for longer.
Why do longer rest intervals work better?
As the amount of rest between sets goes down, the accumulation of fatigue goes up. This limits the amount of work you’re able to do in subsequent sets, which has the knock on effect of reducing the stimulus for growth [4, 5].
The nSuns progression method is based on how many reps you’re able to do in your third work set.
- If you get 0-1 reps, do not increase your training max
- If you get 2-3 reps, increase your training max by 5 lbs
- If you get 4-5 reps, increase your training max by 5-10 lbs
- If you get more than 5 reps, increase your training max by 10-15 lbs
Google around to see what type of results people have had on nSuns, and you’ll come across plenty of different opinions.
For some folks, it’s the greatest thing since soft scoop ice cream. For example, here’s what a guy on Reddit had to say after running the nSuns 4 day strength program for a year:
“nSuns 4 day was a challenging but rewarding program that gave me the results I wanted both in strength and aesthetics, sometimes even surpassing my expectations. For someone coming off beginner programs, the volume was intense, but the payoff was directly correlated to the effort I had to put in. Towards the end, the strength gains I was making started to take a toll on my joints, but that was due more to the length of time I ran the program and failure to deload/rest properly. I would absolutely recommend this program to someone looking to make the jump from beginner to intermediate and start taking lifting seriously.”
For others, the program worked well in terms of strength gains, but wasn’t as effective for building muscle. It also led to various overuse injuries and joint problems. Here are a couple of reviews, also on Reddit, that weren’t so positive:
“So undeniably my strength has gone up, however I look very much the same while my gymbros doing PPL or some other aesthetic routine have blown me the fuck out of the water. Not asking to look like a pro BBer after six months but shit I want to look like I hit the gym sometimes.”
“I personally find nSuns is too much. The spinal tap stuff is fine, but the Sheiko program stuff afterwards, especially on Squat and Deadlift day, is incredible difficult. I don’t think it’s a good program for beginners and I dont think it’s a good programme for long term use for intermediates onwards. I guess it’s a good overall strength peaking programme. It made me stronger in the 1 to 5 rep range, but the injuries I got were too much.”
nSuns Review: Pros & Cons
The nSuns strength program is essentially a 4-day upper/lower split routine, which is one of my favorite ways to set up a strength training program, particularly for intermediate lifters who have moved past the beginner stages of training.
Each week, you’ve got two upper days, and two lower days. This means each muscle group is hit twice every seven days, which tends to work well for hypertrophy.
Compared to full-body workouts, some lifters find that an upper/lower split is just a more enjoyable way to train, which is a major benefit. If you enjoy a particular training program, you’re far more likely to stick with it than one you don’t.
With the nSuns spreadsheet (or app) (you can download the spreadsheet here) much of the thinking is done for you.
All you do is plug in a few numbers and it does all the calculations for you, letting you know exactly how much weight to use in each of your work sets.
That simplicity is a major selling point. It instantly removes a lot of the guesswork and confusion about what to do in each training session.
Another thing I like about nSuns 5/3/1 is that it incorporates a method of progressive overload known as autoregulation.
Rather than attempt to add a fixed amount of weight to the bar each week, the amount of weight you use in the next training session is based on your performance in the current one.
Specifically, your training max is adjusted based on the number of reps you’re able to do in the first AMRAP set of the bench press, squat and deadlift, which is then used to calculate your training loads the following week.
More reps in that AMRAP set equals a larger increase in load. Fewer reps means a smaller increase, or even no increase at all.
If you’re progressing quickly, you add more weight to your lifts. A slower rate of progress, on the other hand, means that load is added more slowly.
The major downside with nSuns is that the overall training volume is too high.
And by training volume, I’m talking about the total number of sets you do for a particular muscle group.
On nSuns, you’re doing 17 sets of squats, 17 sets of deadlifts and 26 sets of bench presses (if you include the close-grip variation) each week. That’s a lot of sets.
If you get carried away with the accessory lifts, the overall training volume could end up being even higher.
Although there is a link between training volume and hypertrophy, more does not necessarily equal better, and there is an upper limit on the amount of stimulation your muscles can respond to in any given workout.
Consider the results of a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, where researchers took three groups of trained men, and got them to do 6, 9 or 12 sets of squats twice a week .
After eight weeks of training, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups in terms of growth in the quadriceps.
In fact, the group who saw their quads grow the fastest were the ones who did six sets of squats, twice a week.
The 12-set group did twice the amount of work of the 6-set group, but didn’t make any additional gains.
Doing heavy compound lifts, week in and week out, can also take a big toll on your joints, especially if you’re in your 30, 40s, or beyond.
One of the things you’ll notice as you get older is that your joints start playing up, which can be made worse by heavy lifting. Your joints are often the limiting factor when it comes to the type of training your body can handle.
Any benefits of lifting heavy have to be weighed against the potential negative effect it can have on connective tissue.
The last thing you want is to be hobbling around for days after a workout, constantly bothered by your knees, elbows, shoulders or back, which can exhaust your motivation to train.
Does nSuns Work?
None of this means that nSuns doesn’t work. Google around for nSuns results, and you’ll come across plenty of reports from people who have seen solid gains in size and strength after several months on nSuns. However, most lifters would likely have made similar progress with a lower overall volume of training.
What equipment do you need for nSuns 5/3/1?
As a bare minimum, you need a barbell, bench, and squat rack. A couple of adjustable dumbbells and pull-up bar, along with a suspension trainer (or gymnastic rings), would give you a lot more options in terms of accessory exercises.
How long does a workout last?
If you factor in warm-up sets and accessory exercises, and assuming you’re getting a sufficient period of rest between sets, each workout will last around two hours.
Is nSuns a beginner program?
There are reports of beginners making impressive gains in both size and strength on nSuns. But in most cases, nSuns isn’t the type of thing I’d normally recommend for beginners. Such a high volume approach is better suited to intermediate and advanced lifters. Most beginners would be better off with something like the Starting Strength Novice Program.
How long is the nSuns program?
There’s no set length of time that the nSuns program should last. As long as you’re seeing results, your training maxes are going up, and you’re feeling fresh and motivated to train, then keep doing what you’re doing.
However, if your lifts have stalled, your joints are playing up, and you’re dreading going to the gym, then it’s time to try something different.
Can you do nSuns without accessories?
You could certainly leave out the accessory work for your arms, chest and legs, as those areas are being worked by the compound lifts included in the default version of the program.
The problem with doing nSuns without accessories is that you’re doing very little work for your back. While the deadlift does work your back, it’s mainly working erector spinae, a group of cable-like muscles that run up either side of your spine
Although the lats are involved in the deadlift (they help to stop the bar drifting forward as you lift and lower the weight), deadlifting doesn’t take the place of exercises like rows, pulldowns and pull-ups.
For one, the lats are only being worked isometrically, which means they’re generating force without changing length.
While isometric training can stimulate some growth, it doesn’t work as well as training that involves both concentric and eccentric contractions (lifting and lowering a weight).
Second, the deadlift doesn’t work the lats through a full range of motion. As a result, they’re not being loaded while in a stretched position.
Why is that important?
One of the things that stimulates growth in a muscle is subjecting it to high levels of tension at long lengths, a phenomenon known as stretch-mediated hypertrophy. You get that with exercises like pulldowns and pull-ups, but not so much with deadlifts.
Can you do nSuns while cutting?
You can do nSuns while cutting, but it’s not something I’d recommend.
For one, your progress on the compound lifts will (depending on how aggressive your calorie deficit is and how long you’ve been training) likely slow down, if not grind to a halt completely .
If you’re expecting to keep on adding weight to the bar at the same rate as you were before going on a cut, chances are you’re going to be disappointed.
Were you satisfied with your rate of muscle growth when you were in a caloric surplus?
You’ll be even less satisfied when you’re in a caloric deficit, because the gains will come a lot more slowly.
Such a high volume approach isn’t ideal on a cut, and you’ll probably need to reduce your overall training volume, or deload sooner than you otherwise would have done. Ideally, you’ll pair nSuns with a diet that puts you in a calorie surplus, rather than the calorie deficit required for fat loss.
Is nSuns good for hypertrophy?
Powerlifting programs like nSuns and 5/3/1 typically involve training with a fixed percentage of your 1-rep max. This is all well and good if your main goal is to get stronger in the various compound lifts.
But a lot of people just want to gain some muscle. Strength gains are an added perk of having bigger muscles, rather than the end goal.
A lot of bodybuilders couldn’t even tell you what their 1-RM is, because it isn’t all that important for hypertrophy.
I trained for many years without ever attempting a 1-rep max in the deadlift, bench press or squat. I simply let the reps dictate the weight in the sense that I choose a particular rep range, such as 8-12, 12-15 or whatever, and then added a little weight to the bar whenever I hit the top of that rep range.
Most resistance training programs are going to produce some level of hypertrophy, nSuns included. But if building muscle is your main goal, there are better options out there.
If you're overwhelmed and confused by all the conflicting advice out there, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a quick guide to building muscle, which you can read online or keep as a PDF, that shows you exactly how to put on muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please enter your email address in the box below, and hit the “send it now” button.