Hard work with no strength gain

I have a 16 year old athlete who has not made any measurable improvements in strength since August. He currently weighs about 115 pounds. He wrestled at 112 pounds this season. Before that he played football from August until November.
We lift 3-4 days a week on a modified WS4SB template. Ideally we have a ME upper, a ME lower, a RE upper and a light or fast lower day. On Max effort lifts, we work up to a 5 rm. All other work is in the 6-12 rep range.
Technique is solid. Work ethic is good. I am going to look into diet, but I think he is pretty good here. He has been lifting for almost 2 years consistently. His current bench 1rm (predicted) is about 115 and squat max (just at parallel or a tad below) is 150. Is it possible that some kids aren’t developmentally ready for increase in strength?
Any ideas?

A few questions.
Have you used any linear or non-linear(not a conjugate or wsb template) with the kid at any point of have you had him lift that way since the beginning?

Have you attempted to unload at all since he stopped making gains?

Did he train that same way(3-4 days/wk) even in-season?
If yes, he has to be over-trained having completed two sports seasons with no let up in the frequency or volume of work.

Is his relative strength going up at all? E.g. if he could do 3 reps at 100 and now he can do 4 etc? I’ve found with females in the bench it can take a number of years but eventually it happens like this. I had one girl bench 1rm 60kg for about a year but during that time her relative 3rm went up 50kg, 52.5kg, 55kg, 57.5kg but could not shift 62.5kg. Then suddenly she was able to go 65kg just like that. Very odd.

What sort of low intensity core work do you do? Have a look at the UFC Hughes vs St. Pierre fight on YouTube. Hughes couldn’t take St. Pierre down because his core strength was unbelievable. Consider this to be an important part of your training if it isn’t already.

why would any coach use WSBB for a 16 year old wrestler?

WSBB is a powerlifting system.

at the very least go look at DeFranco’s Westside for Skinny Bastards approach.

most of the guys getting stronger on it are also gaining weight


I just realized I somehow double posted this thread. Sorry about that. Can Rupert or someone combine the two?
When his class started lifting about 18 months ago, they spent a lot of time doing lower reps and more basic lifts (front squat only for squatting), but only for 2-3 months (over summer). I have a little better plan now for freshmen for the first year, but this kid has been mostly on defranco’s template.
As far as unloading, there are times where he might have a week or two off from school (christmas break, thanksgiving, sick, whatever. Toward the end of the FB and wrestling seasons we took it a little easier, but this kid is pretty hard core - sometimes maybe that works against him? I have been concerned about being overtrained - I think all of our wrestlers are overtrained even without weights.

Should I try something like BFS’s progressive overload with percentages? That would be a type of linear periodization right? Should we really drop the weight for a while and give him a break?

He will be golfing this spring and coming in for short acceleration / max speed sessions in the morning in addition to the lifting. Do you think this is too much?

Thanks for the replies. I would really like to get to the bottom of this for this kid and others. My real job is teaching math… I have one period of weights PE and some other lift in the mornings… the rest of my players lift in another weights class taught by someone else so I don’t have much knowledge of what is going on there. I coach football and track, by the way.

Is there any chance you could have him gain weight? There is a possibility that his hormones are not doing so well if he is purposely trying to keep weight down. Lyle can probably give more on this, but having him gain a bit of weight would probably do him well.

Just some brief comments(more later)but what you have described seems very excessive in terms of intensity/frequency, etc. In season 3-4 times/wk would likely be too often. Once in season, the body’s ability to adapt to new and/or high stresses are very taxed by the sport pratices/games themselves. At the very least there should have been a shift towards a main. program.

I would think a linear program(which is not actually purely linear if done properly) would provide better results. Kids need reps in my opinion. This is not say that a version of WSB would not be effective but as a general rule, kids will probably benefit as much from doing moderate reps than they will from doing much work in the ME realm.

I would probably tend to limit a 16 yo’s max strength work(when done on occasion) to no less than 3 reps for olympic lifts(higher reps can be done for oly variations such as clean pulls) and sets of 5-6 reps for squats/bench etc.

Regarding weight drop, not knowing that much about what’s going on I’d still say yes. Unload for a week or possibly two(vol. and int.). Insist upon it.

It’s great that he wants to be a multi sport athlete but just realize that it does and should limit somewhat the strength program parameters. 4x/wk is generally recommended for those not in-season. Granted, golf should give you a little more wiggle room to train a bit harder and more often than sports such as football and wrestling would allow. Not that he should just flat out stop but you must, in my opinion, adjust to the reality of the phys. stress that the sports itself brings. If not, you limit both his chances of benefiting from the program as well as limiting his potential success in the current sport.

Lyle - Thanks for commenting. Our template is based as close as possible to Defranco’s WS4SB. I am trying to train the masses - everyone in my PE class is a multiple sport athlete.

Davan - I agree about the weight. We are going to work on consuming as many calories as possible. This kid is super lean - I would guess he stays under 8% year round.
We are a very small school. Almost all of my athletes play 3, if not 4, sports.

Pioneer - Thanks for the feedback. We only do ME on squat/deadlift/front squat for lower and bench/incline/2 board press for upper (we also include some weighted chinups from time to time). We work up to a 5 rep max… never less. ME exercises are rotated every 2 weeks.
The kids are in weights PE 5 days a week. Each period is 47 minutes. By the time they dress out, warm up, then quit early to shower, they are probably only really working for 30 minutes… then again they get quite a bit of work done in that time. I don’t think we need much more in an ideal world. I will make him go really light the rest of this week and next week as well.
It sounds like you would cut out a lot of the high intensity lifting in season? One ME day with 3 other low to medium intensity days? What would you suggest if you were still having them in the room 4 days a week? I like using the WS4SB template for various reasons. It seems to work well for the majority of the kids that I have been around and that have a solid base in strength, technique, etc. There is a mix of kids that I have to program for. I will research some linear programs and consider trying it with this kid.

On a side note, and not to change the topic - please keep the comments coming, I have another 16 year old that is very athletic and a very hard worker, but also has a hard time gaining. His 5 rep squat max (below parallel - pretty good technique) is 235. He only weighs ~145. I don’t have his bench data, but it improves very slowly. This kid has probably only gained 25 lbs in the past 6 months on his squat, despite all of his time in the weight room. He claims to be taking whey protein, and eating as much as possible, but is very thin. Genetics are definitely not in his favor when it comes to putting on mass, but he is very talented.
Is it possible that this is all we can ask for as far as gains? I think his strength to BW ratio is pretty good - he can probably squat 2x his body weight at parallel.

Coach F,

Based on my experience with newer lifters, I would recommend you consider a basic linear approach. This type of approach is both simple and has been proven effective. Further, a simple linear program should be easy to implement in the short period of time you have available in your PE classes.

As far as research materials go, there are no better resources available than Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore’s books, “Starting Strength” and “Practical Programming for Strength Training.” Both of these texts lay out in great detail how to properly implement a linear program for lifters of varying experience and ability. Various other texts including Bill Starr’s “The Strongest Shall Survive” also cover linear programming in great detail, but none are as thorough as the texts by Rippetoe and Kilgore.

I have used the programs from these texts on both myself and those I have trained with great success. Further, I believe other members of this forum can attest to expertise of Rippetoe and Kilgore.

Regarding the issue of weight gain, I have one suggestion - Milk. Seriously. People who have a hard time eating enough calories to gain weight can often add calories to their diet with high calorie beverages. There is no beverage superior to whole milk for this purpose. Depending upon their starting weight, I would recommend you have your students drink an extra quart to half gallon of whole milk every day. If this doesn’t work, have them drink a gallon. This is another tip advocated by Mark Rippetoe that I have found to be very effective at adding weight to even the most genetically disadvantage “hard gainer,” if such a being even exists.


this is interesting cause i have a hard time losing weight, but in the squats department in 6 months i managed to gained 100lbs in the squat from 185-300lbs this was achieved at 18 years of age. Maybe the testosterone is not hitting it hard on these kids just yet, or maybe sooner or later the CNS might adapt and kick it up a notch.

You seem to be making it unnecesarily complicated. If squat, bench and pull downs 3 times per week were sufficient stimulus for the fastest man who ever lived…! My advice would be to stick to 3 compound exercises per session, a basic sets and reps format (e.g. 4x5r or 3x8r) and wave intensity over a period of 3 to 4 weeks.

Thanks for the input. Right now my weights class gives me $5 periodically and I buy gallons of chocolate milk. It is an easy way to get some quality nutrients and calories in. I will try to sell them on the whole milk.
I will look into the linear methods as well.
Does everyone think WS4SB is less effective than linear periodization?

I am not sure we are working in the same parameters as the fastest man who ever lived, but I think I get your point you are trying to make.
Working with percentages of 1rms seems like more of a pain to me and is one of the main reasons I have stayed away from linear periodization stuff, but maybe keeping the lifts simpler would save me some as well.
Being in the weight room 4 days a week every day for an entire school year can get pretty monotonous for some kids if you are wondering why we switch up the lifts so much. I think it can make kids more athletic to do different movements as well. I admit I am far from being an expert.
Could you give me a sampe of what kind of intensities you might cycle daily and weekly for a period of three to four weeks using 4 X 5 or 3 X 8? I assume you are saying you would use the same rep and set scheme for the entire cycle, but alter the intensities from week to week?
Thanks for the input. I admit I don’t know nearly enough about weight training and the program can be improved. A year or so ago, I read up as much as possible about the WS4SB program and it seemed like a solid program so I have tried to follow it as closely as possible and not mess it up.
Freshmen go through a period of body weight type workouts and more dumbbell movements before they start the higher intensity stuff.
Thanks to everyone.

Coach F,

The Rippetoe/Kilgore programs outlined in “Starting Strength” and “Practical Programming” do not rely on percentages of 1RM. Instead they typically use 3 sets of 5 using as much weight as the trainee can successfully handle with good form. Here is the beginner program outlined in PP:

Day 1

Squat 3 x 5
Bench Press or Standing Overhead Press 3 x 5
Chins 3 x fail

Day 2

Squat 3 x 5
Bench Press or Standing Overhead Press 3 x 5
Deadlift 1 x 5

Day 3

Squat 3 x 5
Bench Press or Standing Overhead Press 3 x 5
Pull-ups 3 x fail

As you can see, the trainee begins every workout by squatting. Squats are followed by the bench press or standing overhead press. The type of press you use (either bench press or overhead press) should be alternated every workout. (i.e. half the time you bench press, half the time you overhead press) The final core lift of the day is either chins, pull-ups or the deadlift. Chins and pull-up are done using bodyweight for three sets to failure. Once the trainee can complete three sets of 12, you should add weight so that they are doing 3 x 5-8. It is easy to overtrain the deadlift, so on deadlift days, we do one set of 5.

Once the trainee has completed the core exercises, any remaining time should be used to complete 1 or 2 auxiliary lifts to strength the postural muscles (abs and lower back) and the posterior chain. Auxiliary lifts are typically done for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

This is the beginner program. It is simple, but effective and will work for most trainees. Newer trainees should be able to increase the load on all of their lifts almost every workout. Eventually, progress will stall and more complicated loading schemes will be necessary, but for beginners simple progressive loading will suffice.

Note that this workout is very similar to what most Charlie’s athletes did. If you are not a strength athlete (Olympic lifter, thrower, power lifter or bodybuilder) then your work in the weight room is only a general means to improvement and is secondary to training for the actual sport. As such, it should be kept as simple as possible.


Regardless of which method you choose, whether adjusting your version of WSB or going with a more linear progression, I think you need to be very careful with the in-season kids. You probably need to cut down the days to either 3 or 2. I don’t know if just going easy on them the last few weeks of their season is going to be enough to 1)allow them to be fresh enough to be close to their best for their sports or their strength work and 2)allow them to continue to make gains in-season, it can be done but will take careful management on your part to see that the strength program is not actually wearing them out. Feedback from their coaches and from those kids you can trust. By that I mean there are only some kids who you can take at their word. Some will tell you anything that they believe will lead you to easing up on them. Most, in my experience, will keep you informed about how they are feeling in both your sessions as well as in their sports.

Getting feedback from their coaches on how they are performing could be of use to you. It goes to show those coaches that you are looking out for the kids best interests.

For the in-season kids to sub for a reduced/deleted wt.session you could have them do some type of ab circuits, muscle activation exercises/calisthenics, dynamic flexibility, an entire warm-up, static flex, sprint drills, etc. Some kind of plan that just helps to promote general fitness but nothing too extreme in-season. Do what you can to help make them the best they can be for their respective sports and you will likely, over time, get better production from them in terms of wts., bodyweights, etc.

It’s important to monitor athletes closely in terms of being aware when they have run into a wall and need to back off in terms of vol, intensity, frequency or all of those. Be sure to plan in unloads in the training and not just rely on holiday breaks to provide such though those times can be used as well.

For those kids in-season, in my opinion, you must back off and they are likely to do better in both the sport and with you. Watch out for the super/over motivated kids because they will be sure that they are not doing enough(there is that risk but better that way than the alternative.) and try to “throw in” a little or lot extra(exercises, increased weights, more often). Explain to them why you are doing a reduced program and they are likely to be more compliant if they understand. Keep us informed and good luck.

Pioneer - Thanks for taking the time to respond and for the insight. I think you are right. I am going to keep educating myself to find out the best program/s, but right now I think maybe I need to just try to lighten the load for the in season athletes. I will be able to do this better now that I have most of the athletes either in track or morning speed sessions.
If nothing else, the kids can still do the prescribed lifts, but with very light loads. I think I will try to have 2 heavy days and 2 light days for these people rather than 3 heavy (2 upper, one lower), 1 light day. If that doesn’t work, I’ll keep modifying until I find what works best. It’s too bad that there isn’t a magic workout plan that works for everyone.

Week 1: 4x5r @ 5RM - 10%
Week 2: 4x5r @ 5RM - 7.5%
Week 3: 4x5r @ 5RM - 5%
Week 3; Session 3: Test 5RM

Squat, bench and pull downs Or Deadlift, dips and pull ups (both weighted)

David - Thanks for sharing that. I might experiment with that with a few guys. It does seem simple if we can get the right weights for them.

I commend you for trying to adjust your program to do what is best for your guys. Unfortunately, since 1)they are individuals and as a result will have individual and unique(at times) responses to the same set of stimuli, it can be beneficial to vary things for them. 2)for those in- season, they are clearly being exposed to physical demands that those who are not playing sports are not, and from sport to sport, those demands differ and as a result of physical requirements of those sports so you have even more variables to consider.

With regards to using the WSFSB program you might want to, if you haven’t in the past, visit DeFranco’s site for he constantly has people asking him questions about implementing his program. He often points out to people, when they describe how they are using his program, that they are not really doing “his program” anymore based upon their descriptions. Some of these people have adjusted/tweaked it so much that it, for some, has resulted in overtraining and straying quite a bit from his original intentions. I believe he has written a number of responses on how to alter WSFSB for an in-season athlete. I believe in season he will not have athletes use the rep. method for lower body since it would likely fry them along with their own practices. Also, it’s been pointed out on this site previously, if your training includes some of the high intensity elements used in sprint training such as sprints themselves, mb throws, plyos etc. use of the DE might be redundant and as a result unnecessary in-season. For those whose sports or particular practices might not include such elements the use of DE might prove to be useful for those athletes, again, in-season to prime or stimulate power production with fairly low volume work.

The fact that there is no single perfect plan though demanding on you will keep things interesting as well as make you a better coach. Being able to adjust as needed, when needed, will help you help your kids. Again, the feedback from those kids you know will tell you like it is, as well as their coaches can provide you with much of the information you need to adjust your program. One caution though is to a point you can over adjust your program and never really find what works by not staying with “it” long enough. You might even use something as simple as a SLJ or VJ test once a week or once a month to let you know how well your program is developing one single aspect of athletic development like jumping power-not absolutely necessary but it can be used. Let us know how everything works out. It would be interesting to hear, after you have made some changes, what the changes were and how they might have helped-then we learn from you.