Stronglifts - Weightlifting Wall - Should I switch?
August 22, 2011 1:19 PM   Subscribe

6 months of starting strength. I am following the the program religiously. If it says squat, I squat. If it says eat more protein, I do. My gains have been ok but I have been stagnating a bit lately. I have been at 225 squat for a few weeks now. I am unhappy with the results. I feel like I am much stronger but that I don't appear to be much stronger. It might be that I am getting muscle but it's still under a layer of fat. The composition of my body is changing but not my outward appearance.

Here is one example to illustrate my point. I took before measurements. I know that arms are 1/2 inch bigger when flexed. When not flexed they aren't bigger at all. After 6 months of lifting this is frustrating.

I am 6' 2" and 220 lbs. Here are my gains with each exercise. I was a beginner so they look like bigger jumps than they really are since the program has you start with the bar only. 150 Bench, 305 Deadlift, 225 Squat, 120 Overhead Press, 165 Barbell Row (all from 45 - the bar).

I have been reading about weightlifting vs powerlifting. Stronglifts 5x5 is a powerlifting program. Aren't I focusing my training on making my body to be stronger, not bigger? I want to focus on getting bigger. Check out this video comparing the two:


Here are my more specific questions:

Should I stop whining and just be patient?

If I do the same exercises but change it to 10 reps (instead of 5) and take less rest less between sets, would that help? Or should I switch to a different program entirely?

Last week I added biceps to my deadlift day and triceps to my bench day. Is this a good idea? I am hoping to make my arms larger.

I have been doing one warm up set. Am I supposed to do more than that?

Do I really need to keep doing squats with every workout? I am doing squats 3x a week. It seems like overkill to me.
posted by rdurbin to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention your diet much.

Eating protein is great, but eating too much carbohydrates (sugar, flour, pasta, etc.) can counter any possible weight loss.

You might consider tracking your workouts and meals with something like Daily Plate.

A lower carbohydrate, balanced diet will lead to your body burning off it's fat reserves.

Also, moderate cardio exercise that gets your heart rate into the fat burning zone.

Good luck!
posted by Argyle at 1:26 PM on August 22, 2011

So there's a couple of issues here:

- If you've got a layer of fat, that won't go away unless you're changing your diet.
- Changing your diet in order to get rid of fat will almost certainly stall your strength and mass gains at this point.
- You can get really really big and also fat at the same time, if you're not careful.

- You are right that powerlifting is not aimed at size gain, it's aimed at strength gain. If you are interested in pure size, you need to look at bodybuilding protocols instead. (But again, they won't make you look more ripped if you're carrying a bunch of fat.)

So the thing to do now is nail down what your priorities are between strength, size, and shredded-ness and tailor your diet and workout accordingly. (And be aware that the gains will and must slow way down after the initial adaptation period, otherwise everyone would squat 800lbs.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:30 PM on August 22, 2011

A lot of your questions will be answered by perusing the Starting Strengh wiki.

It also may be time for you to move up to Practical Programming which is Rippetoe's book for intermediate trainees.
posted by chrchr at 1:33 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

First, for addressing "ripped"-ness, you have to address diet as well as muscle gain.

Second, SS is a good beginner program, it builds an initial strength base, gets you comfortable with the barbell, and teaches you some very basic lifting movements around which a whole other bunch can be based.

That said, after about 6-9 months on it you probably want to start looking at other options. I'd check out some more size/strength based protocols.
posted by schroedinger at 1:35 PM on August 22, 2011

Second chrchr - pick up that book.

Also - Have you done the back-offs he recommends yet? If not, time to do so. You can typically do that two-three times before you have to really alter your workouts.
posted by anti social order at 1:57 PM on August 22, 2011

Also, a common complaint about SS is the lack of upper body muscle gain. I would definitely add some BB-type movements if you want to see size gain there.
posted by schroedinger at 2:04 PM on August 22, 2011

If you want more input on this than MeFi can provide (especially on an ongoing basis), the reddit/r/fitness subreddit community is super friendly and can be a wonderful resource, especially with regard to Starting Strength and squats and what have you. They would probably be thrilled to watch a video of your form, pick apart your diet, etc.
posted by dialetheia at 2:23 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Should I stop whining and just be patient?
Always ask questions. I've had great success getting questions answered on the Over 35 forum (less trolls than the other forums there).

At the same time, you'll need patience. It sounds like you've made decent gains in 6 months, but a real, meaningful change in how you look will probably take 18 months to 2 years. (I think it was about a year after I started working out that people really started to notice how much bigger I was, but only when I wore tighter or more revealing clothing.)

If I do the same exercises but change it to 10 reps (instead of 5) and take less rest less between sets, would that help? Or should I switch to a different program entirely?
Both. I'm a fan of changing up your program every 6 months or so. It never hurts, as long as you're doing the work. Every workout should be hard.

Last week I added biceps to my deadlift day and triceps to my bench day. Is this a good idea? I am hoping to make my arms larger.
Depends on what you're doing for these muscle groups. Don't bother doing curls. The best things you can do for your biceps are pull-ups and rows. The best thing for triceps are dips. Isolation exercises are for more advanced people and bodybuilders.

I have been doing one warm up set. Am I supposed to do more than that?

I don't do any. One should be enough.

Do I really need to keep doing squats with every workout?
No. Particularly considering your goals, 1 or 2 leg workouts per week should be plenty.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:59 PM on August 22, 2011

I just want to point out that based on your questions, you have not been following Starting Strength to the letter, so you should recognize that and accept that that could have something to do with your disappointment.

A few points:
- Yes, you most definitely SHOULD be doing warm up sets. For each of the main lifts, you should do 2 sets of 5 reps with just the bar (or just 135 for deadlifts), followed by three more sets spaced out evenly until you reach your working weight. For example, if you are warming up to a set of 3x5x225 squats, you should do the following:

- You should never be stuck at a weight (such as 225 on your squat) for a few weeks. The basic protocol is as follows: you have three attempts (three separate workouts) to complete all 15 reps (or 5 if we're talking about deadlift) of an exercise. If you succeed within three workouts, you go up in weight; if you don't, you reset. What does resetting look like?

Let's say you're supposed to squat 3x5x225, but you fail a couple of reps. You try again on Wednesday and fail to get 15 reps again. Same deal on Friday. On Monday, you will NOT try to squat 3x5x225 again -- you will drop 10% from your working weight and begin there. In this example, you would try for 3x5x205 on Monday.

It is part of Starting Strength to stall out on each of your lifts and reset at least once before giving up on the program. It's time to move on to a different program when you reset and get stuck at the same weight as last time.

The gains that you've made are decent, but for a guy your size you should be able to get a LOT stronger on Starting Strength before needing to switch to an intermediate or specialized program. If you have no interest in strength and just want to look bigger you might look into bodybuilding style training, but I honestly don't know anything about that. All of my advice is given under the assumption that you care about both your appearance and your strength.
posted by telegraph at 4:10 PM on August 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

One more thing -- like I said, for a man your size, you are not particularly strong yet, and the weights that you're using are not particularly challenging. I suspect that you are just starting to reach the point of moving weight that is truly taxing your musculature rather than being difficult due to form issues or lack of experience.

The above is simply a less nice way of saying that I think you could burst through this plateau if you follow my advice above (and it isn't really my advice, it's just the details of Starting Strength which can be found in the book or Wiki).
posted by telegraph at 4:13 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You aren't building muscle unless by the end of your reps you physically cannot move that weight. That halfway through the last rep of the last set dead stop you get is where you build muscle.

If you can physically do all of your reps without some burning, and you CAN do even a few reps of the next higher weight, that's when it is time to move to the next higher weight. Maybe you can only do a few reps before pooping out. That's when you keep doing reps until you plateau again. Or do two sets of the plateau weight and finish with one set of the new target.

Also, five reps per set seems low to me. I'm not up on my physiology so much, but I think you need more than that to build up the glycogen storage capacity of the muscles.
posted by gjc at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2011

« Older What are the best ages to learn various things?   |   Internet radio killed the satellite radio star Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.