What is your take on BFS vs Crossfit Football for high school athletes?

Val Zemke Jr.


The success and limitations of any program depend on the implementation of the program.

You can take the best minds in the world when it comes to program design, the best equipment and the location and the still not the see the results of a single coach in a home garage gym with a barbell.

Every program whether it be BFS, CrossFit Football’s Power Athlete, Westside, Wendler’s 5-3-1 or Starting Strength is only as good as the implementation by the coach or athlete and how well as the athlete’s dedication to the program.

These questions should be asked.

Is the athlete consistent in his training?

Does he follow the program as it was written or does he modify and secret squirrel the program?

Is he following a rest/recover/nutrition protocol that allows him/her to make progress on said program?

How many times have you heard of someone saying this program sucked and it didn’t work? Only to find out they had followed it for one week and had skipped most of required work. I firmly believe to understand the effects of any program you have to do the program. How long? Personally, I believe a minimum of 9 weeks and many times much longer depending on the level of adaptation of the athlete.

With this in mind if you have a basic understanding of physiology and more miles walking a weight out of the squat rack then most have walking to the gym you can evaluate a program based on the principles.

For example, if someone sent me a program asking for my feedback, the first question I would ask: what are you training for?

Second question, what is the goal of the program or what are you expecting to accomplish?

And I don’t like general bullshit responses; a response like, I want to get better or get in shape make me wanted to bang my head on the desk. I need specifics, things like I want to increase all my 1 RMs by 50 lbs. If that was the goal and the entire program consists of 3 sets to 20 reps with 50% of a projected 1 RM and running a 10k three days a week, I would say based on my experience the program does not lend claim to this goal. This is just a nice way of saying it won’t illicit the response you are wanting. And I don’t need to do this program for 9 weeks to know I am not going to get stronger.

Now let me preface the following with this, I normally don’t comment on other programs unless I have an extensive knowledge with them. Fortunately, in high school football weight training class we used many of the BFS principles. In high school, I trained three times a day with three different methods. We did a modified BFS for my high school weight training program, a strength program by George Zangas and Dorain Yates’ Mr. Olympic prep program from FLEX magazine.

It is amazing the trouble a 16-year-old kid can get himself into without guidance.

I did some Internet research on BFS and couldn’t find their program without paying some money so I am taking the following program second-hand. However, this looks to be accurate to what I recall, minus the plyo and dot drill program.

BFS 4 Week Cycle

Week 1 – 3x3
Week 2 – 5x5
Week 3 – 5, 3, 1 or 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Week 4 – 10, 8, 6 (Power Clean 4x4)

*Accessory movements are 2 sets of 10 reps

Squat & Bench (primary)
Lunges 2x10
Push Press 2x5
Stiff Leg Deadlift 2x10

Power Clean & Deadlift (Primary)
Dips 2x10
Pull Ups 3x10
(Add weight for dips/pull ups if necessary)

Box Squat or Front Squats & Bench Variation (primary)
Jamer 2x5
Leg Curl 2x10
Incline Bench 2x10
Tricep Movement 2x10

The goal is to set a rep or weight PR each week. There is no deloading between cycles and you simply keep pushing things and try to beat the number set in the previous months workout. The last set of each day you can take the movement to failure and try to grind out an extra rep or two. 

There were no percentages prescribed or where they expect an athlete to start but it doesn’t mater since percentages are worthless for beginners.

We know to efficiently lift a true one-rep max you need a fairly adapted and trained central nervous system. Since most beginners have limited exposure to lifting weights they naturally do not have any adaptation to the movements or the coordination needed. This is a good thing as this allows for a basic linear progression to be successful.

If you look at the program it contains many principals seen in a quality S&C program. They use reps of five, three and singles as the base for their strength and then add a higher rep range for accessory work for hypertrophy.

There are a few ways to increase strength, one of them is to increase the cross-sectional size of the muscle. Sets of ten put you right into the realm of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

The program attacks the body as a whole using a 3-day push/pull training split while performing movements in multiple planes of motion. They are asking their athletes to squat, lunge and jump and pushing the bar in a vertical and horizontal plane. The program has the athlete hitting the smaller support muscles with accessory work and pulling the barbell both heavy and dynamic with deadlifts and power cleans. It follows a progression and changes reps to avoid stagnation.

Will you make gains on this program? Yes.

Will the end result be limited by the athlete’s application? Yes.

Here is another program that follows many of the same protocols that takes much of the guesswork out of the program.

Week 1

Squat 3x5
Press 3x5
Push Ups 3 x max reps

Deadlift 1x5
Pull Ups 3 x max reps
Plyometric work

Squat 3x5 (add 5 lbs to last workout)
Bench 3x5
Dips 3 x max reps

Power Clean 5x3
Chin Ups 3 x max reps
Plyometric work

Week 2+

Squat 3x5 (add 5 lbs to last workout)
Press 3x5 (add 2.5 lbs to last workout)
Push Ups 3 x max reps

Deadlift 1x5 (add 10 lbs to last workout)
Pull Ups 3 x max reps
Plyometric work

Squat 3x5 (add 5 lbs to last workout)
Bench 3x5 (add 2.5 lbs to last workout)
Dips 3 x max reps

Power Clean 5x3 (add 2.5 lbs to last workout)
Chin Ups 3 x max reps
Plyometric work

When evaluating any program ask just one question…

What are you training for? TM

Here is one more question I ask of the readers. Just because something works to get you stronger does it mean that it is the best program to follow?

*On a side note, recently I did a speaking engagement with Dan Coyle, author of Talent Code. At dinner, I peppered him with questions. He had just finished a book on the Tour de France and has gotten to interview and be around the most talented athletes in the world.

I asked him with the margin between first and second place with the world’s best athletes being so small, was there something he had observed that separated the good for the great. He explained the best in the world had the talent to rest. Those rare athletes could relax enough to reboot the system and stay calm during intense competition.

I related the story of Will Shield’s pregame ritual as evidence. For those of you unfamiliar with Will, he was a 14-year starter at right guard for Kansas City, making the Pro Bowl 12 of those years. In those 14 years he never missed a start and played at level seldom seen at his position. I was fortunate to play with Will in KC towards the end of his career. When I was traded in my sixth year, I had my pre-game routine well established. I would get to the stadium, stretch, get dressed and sit in my locker mentally preparing by listening to my pre-game song of repeat. I would visualize my steps, hand placement, plays and technique over and over. By the time I was done, I was ready to chew glass. Our season opener against Denver while deep in my preparation, I look over to see Will sleeping. Not just lying there with his eyes closed, but snoring, dead to the world. This was unnerving and totally threw me off my game. How could this guy be this calm he could take a nap 20 minutes before the season opener against our division rival? And about 5 minutes before we went out for pre-game someone woke him. He shook his head, got up and went on to put on a clinic that day. He had the talent to rest.

Coyle then asked me if I thought sleeping was a dangerous? I was a bit perplexed as most anyone’s natural inclination would be no. How could sleeping be dangerous? He then used an analogy most reserved for purveyors of an ancestral diet. 10,000 years ago we were the most poorly equipped mammals on the planet for survival. With everything on the planet being bigger and faster and looking at us for its next meal why would we have developed the need to fall into a defenseless, helpless state? It must have been pretty important and have a significant reason. Giraffes by contrast sleep between 10 to 110 minutes a day.


Posted in Power Athlete, Talk to Me Johnnie, Training | Tagged | 22 Comments

22 Responses to Application

  1. Any program followed consistently with equally consistent recovery practices and sufficient rest will produce results. It’s not like the mind & body automatically responds to specific set/rep/percentage schemes–doing 5x5s but not eating well and sleeping enough is just as worthless as following the “Bulgarian” system without eating and sleeping. Also, how many athletes are even at a level where highly specialized training is going to do anything that drastic? MOST people are closer to the beginner/intermediate level than they want to admit. I’m amazed at the number of athletes who seek out the “magic plan” for their sport as if such a thing existed. Well, there’s not. If there was, everyone would do it. High-level programs often bear a lot in common, but winning is a result of more than your S&C training.

    I’m most interested these days in the British Track Cycling team’s attitude: they’re obsessed with marginal gains. This article outlines it pretty well:

    If you pay THAT much attention to that many things, each of which is relevant but also minor on its own, you’re likely to do really well. There’s nothing sexy about marginal gains, but I think there’s a good case to made for them.

  2. Russ Greene

    Our advantage, IMO, is our brains, and they require sleep to retain new knowledge and skills.

  3. Steven Platek

    This is awesome stuff, Thanks John!

    Great comparison between the two programs, but what I liked most was the part at the end about sleep – so so so true. I love the evolutionary point of view on that. At the college I teach at, the kids are always telling me there is not time to sleep, they’ve got so much to do; I always reply with “there’s no time NOT to sleep!”

  4. Tom

    Coyle’s analogy is a red herring. 10,000 years ago were the BEST equipped mammals on the planet for survival. By then man had long established himself as the ultimate killing machine. Read Chritopher MacDougall’s BORN TO RUN for a great encapsulation of the Running Man Theory as it applies to evolution. No animal on earth can outrun a human – over the long haul. They don’t have our abilities to diffuse heat or process oxygen for fuel.

    The real advantage, of course, is our mental capacity, and this is where sleep is key. This ‘helpless state’ is where our brains are refreshed and our subconscious solves problems. It’s been theorized that nightmares are a crude, ancient mechanism for teaching ourselves about potential dangers.

    Like the hunters who get up in the morning ready to think about how to approach some dangerous animal, your teammate in Kansas City must have intuited that relaxation was the best way to settle, if not organize, his thoughts.

    Giraffes had better not sleep much and had better stay out in the open, where with their great height they can spot any predators making an approach.

    How does Johnnie’s whole post tie together? Don’t be a giraffe: skittish, too ready to give in to your fears. Stick to your program. Relax. Let it work for you.

    • Pookie – i think you are smoking from the proverbial paleo crack pipe and need to come back from New Jack City. Yes, we had the advantage of the bigger brains to help us survive, but that is about it. We probably hide 23 hours a day, only to come out to hunt and quickly returning back to our caves once we had our prey captured. Do me favor and head over to the Zoo, or better yet to Africa, and go hang out for a few days. I think your vision from Born to Run is going to get quashed when you come across a 2000 lbs predator with a top speed of 45 miles an hour comes barreling down on you. How will you survive? Using your big brain and great long distance ability? Wrong. You will die a quick death.

      I appreciate the majestic paleo man image as much as anyone, I am have not bought into it like you.

      Over the years, archeologists have found countless Neanderthal skulls. Every single one of then had been killed due to some form of blunt trama to the skull. The Neanderthals tried to battle animals by beating them with their arms. Needless to say, the fate of the Neanderthals came two fold: assimilated into the homo-sapiens population and death from blunt trama.

  5. Petr R.

    As for sleep – and yet we are sittting in front of shining screens, playing games, reading, watching movies and thinking that 5-6 hours of sleep is enough. And after some time we are wondering why we are so tired, our imune system is wreck and why are we so ill…
    Sleep is so important

  6. Chris

    Have to agree with Tom. Sleep is an energy saving luxury that we were allowed to keep due to our well-earned apex predator status. On the Savannah, we were much more like lions than giraffes. Longer sleep time isn’t the only advantage enjoyed by predators either, prolonged and recreational sex and others just seem to be perks of the job.

    Keep in mind that the primate body design is actually very well suited to physical power. Orangutans, gorillas? But just as the stronger, brutish, and still quite intelligent Neanderthal was outbred and outcompeted in Europe, so it seems that our most dangerous weapon has always been our brains. Perhaps the most lethal variant of homo sapien has since Paleolithic times been the geek in the corner figuring out how to ambush wooly mammoths and develop nuclear weapons. And I guess that would put sleep, sex, and our ability to become strong all in the category of vestigial luxuries that were our evolutionary spoils of war.

  7. Simple works best for high school athletes. The less room you give them for interpretation and fuck-aroundness, the better. With CFFB’s Amateur, a beginner can know basically what he will doing every training day for the next 8-12months. It’s tightly structured which kids crave, it’s instantly gratifying(weights go up consistently) which they love. Give them an opportunity to grind out shitty reps on a weekly basis and bar speed starts dropping, movement quality suffers and they start having dick measuring contests on every rep.(which is good and bad, I suppose). 3×5 works until it doesn’t and it’s pretty damn clear(and unpleasant) when it stops working.

  8. Chris


    I think you’re operating with a sledgehammer and seeing only nails. Since the rest of us are so obviously scrawny and slow, we couldn’t possibly have gotten by on anything else but our brains. The basic contradiction that Coyle’s question demonstrates should show how wrong that theory must be. Neanderthals didn’t just die out fighting the wildlife, the weaker us showed up and competed them out of existence. So what if a couple of us get crushed by a 1000 pound animal, the evolutionary question is what keeps the whole species alive.

    So to me, the only evolutionary pressure that drives the creation of power athletes at all is competition with other humans. And if you go to the zoo, those predators aren’t worried about getting food nearly as much as they compete to be alpha. You will never see the “super bowl” of Lion hunting, because with a gun and a tracker it’s too damn easy. The only animal I’m ever going to use my bench press again is another man.

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  10. Derek

    I’m thinking of following the second program in this article. Only question I have is about the plyos, where do I start?

  11. prince

    I always had the urge to sleep before games, but never would let myself. Maybe I should have, I might have had a nice little stint in the NFL! Great post, keep up the good work.

  12. GG

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