Starting Strength: my bench and press are progressing slowly
March 30, 2011 4:25 AM   Subscribe

I've been doing a variation of Starting Strength for about a month and a half. My bench press and overhead press are progressing extremely slowly. Is this normal?

From what I understand, I should be adding weight every single workout: 15 lbs on deadlifts, 10 on squats, and 5 on bench and press. I can only manage 10 on deadlifts, 5 on squats, and then it takes me three workouts to hit all 5 reps of bench before I add 5 more. Should I be adding 2.5? Is it fine for me to be going this slow? I'm already resetting on the press because I made too big of a jump (from 60 to 65) and stalled.

24 male
5 ' 6 ", 130 pounds
3000-3200 calories a day
180g protein a day, ~120 from dairy and eggs (I'm a vegetarian).
last 5-5-5s: squat 130, deadlift 165, bench 90, press 60

Is this fine as long as I'm making progress, or do I need to make some changes? I don't want to stall again so early and with such light weights.

I know there's a Starting Strength forum but I've read enough of it to know that the fact that I'm a vegetarian and that I don't drink a gallon of milk a day won't go over well.
posted by alligatorman to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't seem terribly slow to me. You can lift what you can lift, and there isn't much that's going to change that except time and experience. Add the 2.5 if you can, and if you can't, just keep at it until you can add the weight you need to.
posted by xingcat at 5:07 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

That doesn't seem slow.

Every person is different and their increases vary.
posted by dfriedman at 5:12 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the wiki:
For young males that weigh between 150-200 lbs., deadlifts can move up 15-20 lbs. per workout, squats 10-15 lbs., with continued steady progress for 3-4 weeks before slowing down to half that rate. Bench presses, presses, and cleans can move up 5-10 lbs. per workout, with progress on these exercises slowing down to 2.5-5 lbs. per workout after only 2-3 weeks.
(emphasis mine) If you've been doing this for 6 weeks you're probably moving too quickly, rather than too slowly. Also you are just plain old lighter than some guys, so obviously there is a cap on how much you can lift and how quickly you can progress. Keep working out and your body will tell you when you can/can't add weight.
posted by anaelith at 6:04 AM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Furthermore, 3000-3200 calories isn't enough to be able to perform Starting Strength the way they've designed it.

He's 130 lbs and 5'6". 4000 calories is way too much. From the wiki
If you want to get extremely strong (football linebacker) and you want to gain weight, multiply your bodyweight (in pounds) by 20-22. That number is how many calories you'll want to consume throughout the day.

If you are a skinny teenager, multiply it by 20-22.

If you are either a) skinny or b) a teenager, shoot for 18-20x bodyweight.

If you are an average sized adult, multiply your bodyweight by 16-18.

So 3000 is probably about right, if a little on the high side.
posted by electroboy at 6:38 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let's focus on the good stuff here first: you're exceeding a BW SQ/DL! That's great for any lifter, including novices. Those lifts are the ones that are going to have the most effect on your mass and overall strength, including, somewhat paradoxically, your upper body lifts. So, you're doing great there!

Your BP/OHP numbers are about where I expect them, given your weight and height. Progress can be slow on the OHP especially. Consider: your delts, which are (or should be) performing the majority of the lift, are about the smallest muscle group that you are working here. Things are gonna go slow, after that initial burst of "hey, I can lift more than that!" passes. At 5'9", 200#, it took me six months of training to get my OHP to 135, and another year to get to my BW, even as it dropped. Gains on the BP can also come somewhat slowly, and this lift is one that can be sabotaged by a number of form issues. Check your grip width: is it too narrow? Your triceps may be taking up the main load, rather than your pectorals. Get someone to check your vertical track, to ensure that you are lowering the bar to your nipples but pressing it up to between shoulders and eyes. Feel free to add less weight per workout, or none at all if you didn't make the rep target.

If you are dedicating yourself to the program, but you are still struggling to add weight to your lifts, strongly consider adding food to your diet. If you can cram in another 800-1000 calories of clean(ish) protein/fat, you will notice your lifts increasing faster. If eating more clean food is a pain in the butt, just add a fastfood hamburger, like a Quarter Pounder or something, to your daily regimen. If you're not currently eating something rich in fat/carbs/ protein after your training, start doing so. A glass of chocolate milk is about as good as it gets for post-training food, and it really will make a difference in your ability to lift more weight as time passes. You're gonna gain some fat as well as muscle, but that won't hurt you and will help your lifts. Trying to gain nothing but muscle with no fat gain is going to stall your lifting progression and slow your results, whatever they may be.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:05 AM on March 30, 2011

The presses will always progress slower than the other lifts because they use fewer muscles. However, I think that it's a little soon to be stalling on them. I have two suggestions:

First, you need to eat more and get more protein. When beginners stall, the reason is usually dietary. Why can't you do GOMAD? It really helped me in the first months of the program, especially when I was still trying to figure out how much food was required for me to recover and make consistent progress on the program.

You should also invest in a pair of 1.25 lb plates, which will enable 2.5 lb jumps. Microloading is the one thing that really kept me moving forward after I had stalled again and again trying to make 5 lb jumps.

Good luck and stick with it! I started SS about a year ago, and it has been one of the best things I've ever done for myself.
posted by el chupa nibre at 7:10 AM on March 30, 2011

Stop looking at the wiki and read the book, where this is addressed on pp. 297-298. This has also been addressed many times on the SS forum and in the articles published on the site, like this one.

The bench and especially the press will be the slowest to progress. You're stalled right now because you're underweight and you're not eating enough. You should eat more and you should also get some small plates so you can make 2.5# jumps on the presses. Two of these washers on each side of the bar will do the trick.

You may also have form issues, in which case you should take a video and upload it to the SS forum for some feedback.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 7:11 AM on March 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies everyone.

dflemingecon: By stalling I mean I've failed to hit 5-5-5 three workouts in a row. My sets for the press have been 5-3-3 three workouts in a row.

Anatoly Pisarenko: I do have the book.
posted by alligatorman at 7:15 AM on March 30, 2011

[on preview, what everyone else said, and...]

Are you getting enough rest in between workouts? What about in between sets? While getting enough calories is one aspect of this program, don't underestimate how much rest you'll need to adequately recover.

You may have started your bench and press too high. I stalled out my bench and press after a few months, but I probably started too low. Adding 2.5 lbs per workout is still progress, even if it does feel silly to put what seems like washers onto your barbell.

Also, make sure your form is good! Video yourself doing presses and bench press. Sometimes a form fix is all you need.
posted by photovox at 7:18 AM on March 30, 2011

OK, two things come to mind. First, because you mention being vegetarian, try reading the book "Thrive" (it is also sold as "the Thrive Diet", which is all about eating vegan and being a competitive triathlete. I don't know that I believe everything that he writes in the book, but it has some interesting ways of getting the nutrition you need without meat or dairy, and some interesting ideas on nutrition and rest. His main point in the book is that what separates the good athletes from the great ones is not how they train, but how they nourish their bodies in between.

Secondly, when I have hit plateaus in the past, or felt that I wasn't improving as fast as I could, I spent a few sessions increasing the weight I was lifting significantly, and not worrying about hitting all of my reps. Now, if you find that with your current routine you can't hit a 6th rep on your first set of each exercise, than you are probably at your limit there, but if you are finding that in your first set you could easily hit 7-8 reps, try increasing the weight even higher (like 10-15 pounds), and see if you can hit 4-5 reps. You won't be able to do it for three sets, but if you do this for 1-2 weeks, you will find that when you go back to your previous weight, it will be a whole lot easier to lift, and you can then increase accordingly. It may not work as well as you might like, but it's worth a try if you think you are stalling out.
posted by markblasco at 9:35 AM on March 30, 2011

Will people stop telling this guy to eat more? I know Rippetoe is of the "Vacuum Face Make Muscles Big" theory of lifting, but muscle gain simply does not occur like that--there is a point where your body is incapable of processing more calories as muscle and all you start doing is adding more fat. Unless you're aiming to be a superheavy this is not ideal.

Beginners stall for any number of reasons that's not always related to diet, especially when the guy is eating over 20x his bodyweight. It could be form-related. It could be sleep-related. They could be stacking their training days too close together. Or they could just plain be bad on the lift for various genetic reasons.

Alligatorman, for your weight and height your progress is perfectly normal, especially on your overhead stuff. That work progresses really slowly. Start using "microweights" if you want to maintain adding weight every workout--increase by 2.5lbs per workout, and once that runs out you can buy big washers at a home improvement store and start adding those to the ends of the bar. Also, consider adding some extra upper body work--tricep pushdowns, dumbbell rows, etc. If you're not doing the pull-up, dip, and row portion of those workouts, DO THOSE. SS works great for lower body lifts but is not so great at upper-body development as often times those smaller upper-body groups respond better to a little more volume, especially with beginners.

The one dietary suggestion I would make is consider at least adding some meat to your diet, even if just in the form of fish. Meat is a tremendously bioavailable source of protein and vegetarian sources (beans, peanut butter, especially soy) don't match up. And Lord, I hope you aren't supplementing with soy protein or eating tofu or edamame, that stuff will definitely mess with your progress.
posted by Anonymous at 1:20 PM on March 30, 2011

As someone who has done the program and coached others through it, I'd advise you to stick with it as written for longer than 6 weeks.

You have plenty of room to grow, and plenty of progress left before you need to start changing things around.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2011

Should I be adding 2.5? Is it fine for me to be going this slow?

Yes, and yes.

Everybody stalls, strength and muscle doesn't scale linearly. I know that's anathema to what some people want you to think, but working through it slowly is better than injuring yourself.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:03 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been doing the same version (PNPP) for about the same amount of time and am slowing down around those numbers as well. I think that this is the point where you really need to pay attention to form, and possibly back down a little on the weight if you realize that you have been cheating on form at the lighter weights.

Schroedinger's advice to incorporate additional upper body exercises sounds like a good idea to me.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2011

Hey OP. GREAT JOB so far. Keep it up, change nothing. Consistency and dedication. Please give us an update in another half a year!

This is all.
posted by telsa at 5:12 AM on April 2, 2011

« Older Summer Hatin'.   |   Looking for an an English-speaking genealogist in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.