by Jim Wendler T-Nation
I've been asked many times how 5/3/1 could be adapted for athletes. Most would say this is a legitimate question, as surely the needs of the performance-driven athlete would be much different from the guy who just wants to be bigger, stronger, and more awesome in general.
However, I'm here to tell you that regardless of the sport being performed on the field, not much really changes. This obviously goes against the "sport specific training specialists" who are trying to convince you that each athlete and sport is a special snowflake. Let's examine the facts.
All sports require that an athlete have strong hips, legs, shoulders, arms, and midsection. The best way to develop these areas is with a basic and effective barbell-training workout. There are no "sport specific" exercises as weight training for sports is nothing more than General Physical Preparedness (GPP).
So the goal of the coach is to use the most efficient exercises in the weight room to develop these parts of the body. This will allow for less time in the weight room, as athletes must develop things other than strength and thus don't have hours and hours to spend in the weight room. At least they shouldn't.
An athlete must train speed, strength, agility, conditioning, and most important, skill work. When one spends too much time on one thing, other areas are compromised. In the United States, especially with football, the weight room seems to take up the majority of the time.
Remember this simple statement when preparing athletes: they should be mobile enough to achieve the proper positions in the sport, and strong and explosive enough to move from those positions.
With any sport, the basic barbell lifts are the best and most efficient ways to train the entire body. These include the squat, deadlift, press, bench press, and power clean. Perform them with a full range of motion and proper loading and the athlete will become stronger. Pepper these exercises with assistance work and you'll have a complete strength-training program.
The assistance work is where the strength coach and athlete can infuse a little creativity, but don't use this time as a free-for-all in terms of exercises. Assistance work for athletes should be used for the following:
- Muscle mass
- Injury prevention (often termed "pre-hab" by some coaches. This refers to an area of an athlete or his/her position that's often injured and needs some preventive medicine).
- Balance (this means that the assistance exercises chosen are used to balance the whole of the athlete. This would include upper back training, lat training, and abdominal/lower back, otherwise known as core, training, etc.).
The right assistance work can often fulfill all these areas. This is called training economy. And when training athletes in the weight room, training economy (a.k.a. "getting the most out of the best and fewest exercises") is vital. If the exercise doesn't serve a function, leave it out.
Choosing the correct assistance work is easy. For athletes I recommend doing hamstring, single-leg, lat/upper back, abdominal, lower back, and in some cases, neck work. The lifts you choose are going to be entirely based on what you have access to as an athlete and a coach.
Remember that athletes have become explosive and strong long before fancy machines and equipment came into vogue. You don't need much equipment, just the right coach and smart programming.
If the athlete has had an injury in the past, it's smart to do a couple sets of a proper exercise to help strengthen the area. If the athlete's sport or position is predisposed to a certain area of injury, adjust the assistance work to help him avoid an injury.
As an example, for many athletes, shoulder, back, hamstring, and knee injuries are part of the culture. So hit these areas with glute ham raises, external rotation (internal rotator stretches), extra abdominal work, reverse hyperextensions, and back raises. Properly performed squats and single-leg work will help strengthen the areas around the knee to help prevent knee injuries.
For in-season athletes, I recommend two workouts per week be performed. The set up would look like this:
Squat – 5/3/1
Bench press – 5/3/1
Deadlift – 5/3/1
Press – 5/3/1
In-season assistance work can be 3-4 exercises of 8-12 reps per workout. If you choose to keep power cleans in your training, you can do them on either day.
There's no greater feeling than going into the final games of the season and feeling strong. This will give you (if you're an athlete) or your team (if you're a coach) a physical edge over your opponent. More importantly, this will give you a mental edge, which is invaluable.
If you're a strength coach, time in the weight room can also be used (and should be used) to develop other physical areas of the athlete. This includes flexibility, mobility, jumping, and medicine ball throws, amongst other things.
For example, an abbreviated version of the Parisi Warm-up (the Parisi Warm-up DVD is a great resource for every coach) should start each workout. I'd advise every coach have 3 or 4 variations of the warm-up and start each workout with one of them. Not only does this prepare the athlete's body for the upcoming workout, it can also address mobility problems. That's training economy at it's most basic.
Additional mobility and flexibility work can be done in between the sets of the main exercises. Brad Arnett, who was strength and conditioning coach at the University of Arizona but now runs a private facility, uses hip and piriformis stretches between sets of squats to help address depth issues and hip mobility problems.
Between sets of upper body pressing, don't be afraid to stretch the internal rotators or do some kind of upper back or lat work. This will allow you to get more work done in a minimum amount of time.
Jumping and other explosive work should be done after the warm-up and before the strength work. When designing your program, look beyond just the sets and reps and exercises. Use this simple training template when preparing athletes:
- Speed (this includes sprints, jumps, throws – anything explosive)
- Strength (this is any barbell work)
Done in this order, we prioritize the most important areas of athletics when the athlete is fresh. Don't turn the speed/explosive work into conditioning work – be sure your athletes are getting the proper time to rest between maximum efforts. It's always better to do things better, not do things more. Save the conditioning work for after the speed and strength work.
Young strength and conditioning coaches often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. There's a never-ending urine stream of coaches and experts who lay claim to the "latest and greatest" and there's constant pressure to always use the newest ideas.
I know this because I've felt this pressure – you often feel like you're in a turbulent Sea of Genius getting tossed around on your Idiot Raft, but before you abandon ship, let me give you a few pieces of advice.
Don't coach what you don't know or don't feel comfortable with. You may hear something at a conference or in a magazine/book that sounds great, but if you aren't sure or if the information/application is out of your pay grade, let it go.
There's nothing more dangerous than a coach applying a concept haphazardly and without knowledge. Anyone remember the DVD of Adam Archuletta and the training of Jay Schroeder? That training (along with the painfully complicated "D.B. Hammer") was all the rage a decade ago and it was used and abused by coaches that had no grasp of the process and application of the methods. Don't coach what you don't know.
Drop your Philosophical Anchor! If you don't have a core philosophy when training athletes (or training anyone), you'd better develop one. This is something I've heard Dave Tate say repeatedly at seminars. I don't care what it is, but you need to take a stand on the things you believe in.
This doesn't happen overnight. I had to sift through years of training and reading to get to my own philosophy. There's big pressure for people to always be open to new ideas and that's fine – but you can't fall for everything.
If you have a solid, well thought-out philosophy, you'll be able to learn new things and apply them to your current training without selling your soul.
Learn to coach. Coaching is more than teaching – coaching is about getting your athletes to do the things you want them to do, in a language that they understand. I've seen countless smart coaches fail miserably because they can't get their point across. Just because you know your stuff doesn't mean you know how to coach your athletes. There's no book or course to learn how to coach – you gotta' get your hands dirty.
No matter what sport you play or coach – boxing, MMA, basketball, lacrosse, football, baseball, etc. – the same principles of training apply. With the 5/3/1 program, this means the main lifts are done as the program is laid out and the assistance work is done with the athlete and sport in mind. For almost all sports this entails work for the hamstrings, upper back/lats, and core.
The only change made per sport/athlete is the exercises chosen for rehab and prehab. This is up to you, the athlete or coach, to determine. And that's pretty easy – just look at the training room and the injury roster. Now train in such a way to prevent those injuries.
In the off-season, you can train 2, 3, or 4 days/week – the days don't matter as much as the principles that are applied. Once you've embraced the principles, you'll realize that everything falls into place. The minutia is no longer important.
When in doubt, remember this: get them mobile, get them strong, and get them fast. There are no hidden exercises. The secret lies in smart and simple programming.