Building the Monolith Template With Knee Problems

First time poster and hoping to get some advice regarding training 531 with “ageing” knees.

As a bit of background, I have been training seriously (to stay in shape / build strength) for around 10 years or so now which includes lots of reading and learning within the gym and progressed from programs such as Starting Strength onwards.

I have Trained mainly using 531 (with odd venture to other programs) for a number of years now attempting the various assistance templates (mainly BBB) and would like to thank Jim for the work as this is the only program I find I can consistently use without the risk of getting bored / un-motivated from time to time.

However I have suffered with bad knees throughout this period and since a young age generally caused through Soccer (Football to us from UK!) and a lot of road running when I was younger (big regret). Following an MRI Scan and subsequent visits to Doctor / Surgeon it was determined that due to patella mal-tracking I have worn away the majority of the cartilage at the back of my knee cap through arthritis caused by this and was informed that MRI images resembled a 65 Year old! (Im 30 BTW). I was advised to stop anything that aggravated the condition which meant an end to soccer and to quote the doctor “Heavy Lifting” or risk a “knee replacement by the time I’m 40”.

Despite this I have always found that squatting and deadlifting to strengthen around the knees has always helped me, so I continued to lift heavy for a couple of years. However recently I have had to dial back the amount of heavy lifting due to pain developing slightly in knees.

I have combated this with the usual supplements and now use wraps on my knees to try and improve the patella tracking by wrapping knee cap into correct position. This has all helped but Im beginning to struggle to Lift as regular due to niggling pain.

To combat this I was trying to come up with a more knee friendly option that would still allow me to work the muscles and maintain the 531 philosophy, which I did (looked a lot like the building the monolith template with less volume). Then Jim has released the Building the Monolith Template which I really like the look of and would like to give a go generally as written as I can see it achieving results and will re-motivate me following holiday season.

Finally to my question…

With regard to the Building the Monolith template, would it work were I to substitute the Squats for Box Squats (generally to Bench Height as I work out in garage with only basic Power Rack, Barbell, Kettle bells etc.) with the exception of the 20 Rep squats which I would be able to do as full squats do to the reduced loads and because knees are warm by that stage. I always find 20 Rep squats seem to work wonders for me so eager to keep them in.

And also substitute the Deadlifts with Stiff-Leg-Deadlifts?

(Deadlifts never used to cause me any problems, but recently have done so could potentially do a cycle with deads followed by a cycle with SLDL?)

Or does anyone recommend any other main lift substitutions that may be more knee friendly but still work within the template? Bearing in mind limited equipment.

Apologies for length of post!

Thanks in advance



My guess is that you “can” substitute with the movements that you suggested, however, the effectiveness of the program becomes suspect since it was designed with the 4 basic lifts in mind. I can’t see weeks of heavy, intense SLDLs as being anything more than a chance to add a back back to your list of ailments. The box squat is fine, though not quite as effective as regular squats.

My overall opinion is to find a 5/3/1 template that lets you work around the injuries the best. Use the box squat if it helps your knees, that’s fine. As for the deadlift, maybe you just have to not do them for a while.

There would be nothing wrong with training 3 days a week, one day for squat, bench, and press, and no deadlifts for a while. You can always do SLDL as assistance on your squat day.

Long story short, don’t try to force your injuries into a program as specific as Building The Monolith. Figure out what you can train and base your program on that. Like Jim says, “train what is trainable”. If your box squat was 600, your bench was 405, and your press was 275, no one would give you a hard time for not deadlifting. Just food for thought!

Good luck.

Thanks for the response.

As I expected really, and I agree with what you have said. Guess Im clinging onto the hope I can continue heavy lifting somehow!

I’ve also considered shifting my focus to a more bodybuilding type approach to give lower body extra recovery, but I do struggle for motivation when I have used methods like that previously as I seem to progress better when I can focus on the big lifts.

Im sure I can come up with something that will save knees yet prevent “chicken legs!” :wink:

The box squat substitution is fine - however the SLDL doesn’t lend itself to heavier weights like the standard DL. That doesn’t mean it can’t be trained heavy but there is always a bit more risk. I personally wouldn’t recommend it.

With that in mind, what you can and can’t do is something no one can answer. What variations can work is going to be up to you to find out. I wouldn’t give up on it yet; you can always find a way if you have the will and the mind.