T Nation

5/3/1 and Coaching the Highschool Athlete


I'm a football coach at a small highschool where all of the kids come from very small (20 kids) church grade schools. For almost all the guys, they have never done any sort of lifting or football. Think...more smallness.

It was the first year I started lifting there at the weight room, and also the first year of my own 531. I love what it offers-I type my first TM in the box on my spreadsheet, show up, and lift what it tells me to. No more wondering. If I don't make reps and back off. First time in 10 years I've made mature and sustainable progress.

I was excited and showed that to the guys who show up in the weight room. Normally wanting to do their own program full of wrist curls and etc, they wanted to do what I was so psyched about. The spreadsheet. We've got about a dozen now. More guys started showing up, and we've had to start waiting for bars to open up. Two guys benching, two guys dead lifting, two guys squatting and one guy power cleaning. Removing any type of decision making in the form of the 531 spreadsheet has been a real game changer for these new guys. Making the progression of 10 and 5's for everyone makes it easy to coach. I've been encouraging one real shy kid in particular, geeky and skinny-fat but tons of determination and committment. He told me the other day that he was amazed the weight he was squatting was his warm up set (135). It's not about the squat, it's about the 'fuck yeah'. I was really glad I could be a part of that. I thought about how his life will be if he carries that attitude to everything.

I've been having them do BBB, with pushups/dips/lat pull downs/rows and back raises, split onto their appropriate days. I recently got the Beyond book, and it says the 5's progression is a good method for beginning lifters. Should I switch them to that or stay the course?

I've also read (on here) that the assistance template should be switched every 6 weeks. I havn't done that with them. Because of their varied sports/school schedules I've found it difficult to keep track of who is on what and what they should go to next. I choose BBB mainly because they get more reps with the main lifts. If it is indeed necessary to switch the assistance template, any ideas of how I could do that efficiently for a bunch of students?

Thanks, Jim.

Offseason-Football Strength Program

Isn’t it great to see kids get excited about lifting?
That said, I’ve always considered 5/3/1 to be more of an intermediate program. Do you think that you might get even better results with your youngest kids with something like Starting Strength or a classic 5x5 program?


I always have a soft spot in my heart for the HS athlete - it’s a great opportunity for coaches to leave a mark and I remember all too well the ridiculous drive and desire I had in high school. First, congratulations on your own training. And I can guarantee that your own training and experience has helped the kids to see what can be possible. If you coach in the weight room, you had better compete in the weight room.

Personally, I’d stick with what is working. The only thing I would change, if you want to change is this:

Do FSL on the squat and deadlift.
Cap the PR sets. You choose the number based on your own observations.
No need to change the assistance. Chins, dips, abs, rows, curls, back raises. (Or something similar).

Always remember to think “total program”. Too many people/coaches forget about running, jumping, stretching - all these things are important and WAY more important than assistance work. Much of what you read in this field is heavily based on bodybuilding (for example when someone talks about “chest” or “legs” or doesn’t assign specific work load for the main lift). Don’t fall into this trap.

Get the kids in the weight room, focus on doing productive work (NOT busy work) and get them out and on the track/field or on boxes/over hurdles. Being strong is very important but never, ever sacrifice what is important: the TOTAL athlete.


I also work with HS athletes, and Jim is serving pure gold talking about the total program. Sprints, drags and carries help translate gym strength into field strength. For less than $80, we added a whole other level to our stuff.

Old tire + nylon tow strap = Sled
Old tire + 2 tow straps w/ grip-taped wood handles works a lot like a prowler.

For sled weight, we saved our plates by getting a bunch of tube sand from the local home supply center. We wrapped ours in ducktape so they’d leak less sand, and discovered they worked well on their own also for carries, throws, and stuff.

Tape two of those tubes together, and it will challenge even your stronger guys. Big, heavy, awkward, but no sharp edges, and you’re out only 6-7 bucks if it breaks. I line up two teams of 4-6 guys, and have them carry the sand-bag or double-bag in a relay. By making it a team competition, it keeps that one D-bag senior from shoving the bag into a younger kid. If he doesn’t hand it cleanly, his team loses.


[quote]Wyfaggro wrote:
Isn’t it great to see kids get excited about lifting?
That said, I’ve always considered 5/3/1 to be more of an intermediate program. Do you think that you might get even better results with your youngest kids with something like Starting Strength or a classic 5x5 program?[/quote]

Nope. Not for an athlete.

Please read the post below.


Yeah it’s been really great to see them work and see the commitment in some of them. My brother has much more experience coaching than I do and he said, “Give your effort to the ones who want to be there, don’t chase the ones who don’t.” It’s recruitment by Awesome. The ones with drive get the encouragement, the ones who don’t want to be there get left in the corner and eventually want to be part of the Awesome.

That’s a good idea to cap the PR set. I’ve had more than few talks in the last two weeks with guys who think the spotter is there to help them grind out the last set on every exercise, not just to save them in case something bumps into the bar or something really dumb happens. It’s usually the guys not doing the 5/3/1, but obviously getting a teenager to think long term is difficult with anything. The guys doing the 5/3/1 walk in with a sense of urgency, scuffle over who gets a squat rack first and walk out with the same sense of urgency. I dig that. That’s been a big encouragement for them too, I think many of them think they have to live in there everyday. Making it so they come in for 40 minutes three times a week has really kept them coming back. I think that’s a big part of perspective change for me with 5/3/1, “just keep showing up”, knowing it’s a process, trust the plan, because big strong guys validate the method. I see a lot of articles, here on T-Nation as well, that is 'Do this exercise and some have reported size gains in two workouts!" like it’s a matter of finding the right assistance exercise or rep scheme.

I just started jumping and throwing before lifting, I saw that on the T-Nation 5/3/1 programming and Chad Smith is a big advocate of that too. I’m going to put it in the summer workouts so I can do it for a bit to see ‘what I would screw up if I was teenager’.

Last summer the workouts were set up like this: Two groups, one inside lifting, one outside doing field work-Farmer’s carries, sled pulls, and gasp-burpees. That was me just wanting them to do something with some impact, combined with my inexperience. They were also done as a circuit, which led to them burning out and fiddling with the sled straps instead of doing quality work. Busy work.

I think it was a well intended start (the first summer with a program), but needed work. The BIG picture, like you said. This summer: Sprint first, after warm up- ‘Train fast to Be Fast’, much shorter distances, complete rest. Lower volume. Then field work-push something, carry something, throw/jump-low volume, then 5/3/1 with pushups or dips and chin ups. Rest breaks between, solid and sustainable work.

We always ran them ( as we were run) like no one did anything all year so we were going to make up for it. It just made the weak kids jog and the strong kids tired. We trained more like 1600m track athletes than football players.