Weight Loss and Benchpress Plateaus: Help me burst through my stagnation! Details inside...
December 26, 2012 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Weight Loss and Benchpress Plateaus: Help me burst through my stagnation! Details inside...

Here's the scenario:

Last year, my New Years' resolution was what millions of people have said since the beginning of... well, New Years' resolutions. I wanted to lose weight. I had ballooned to 250 lbs. in my 5'11 frame, and although I really didn't look fat. This isn't some form of denial. I was a bit hefty, but other than that -- I didn't look enormous by any stretch of the imagination.

But it did bother me since I was 28 and had a gut. I was fairly athletic in my younger days, even going to so far as to play semi-pro hockey and soccer. So, I began working out with a workout routine I'd found in a magazine to get myself into a better position to begin doing more advanced routines.

Fast forward to a year later, I'm now 40 lbs. lighter with some definition. I did it mostly by way of some HIIT workouts, StrongLifts 5x5 workouts, and intense abdominal supersets. So, what's my problem?

I've plateau'd at this 210 mark. I haven't really dipped below it despite doing these workouts with even more intensity, and my diet has remained the same -- mostly lentil/beans/slow-carb style meals with healthy dinners. I do take Optimum 100% Gold Standard Whey Protein before workouts and in the mornings when I wake up. I also take Fish Oil and Optimum Opti-Men vitamins twice a day.

Typical workouts are workout A and B from StrongLifts 5x5, although I have varied it slightly due to my schedule:

Workout A
Squat 5x5
Overhead Press 5x5
Deadlift 3x5, now doing higher weight at 1x5
Abs workout consisting of V-Ups, Weighted Situps, Leg Lifts, Stability ball rollouts

Workout B
Benchpress 5x5
Barbell Rows/Pulls 5x5
Triceps/Biceps 5x5
Abs workout consisting of V-Ups, Weighted Situps, Leg Lifts, Stability ball rollouts
HIIT cardio: 30 secs at high intensity boxing, 15 sec rest, 30 secs high intensity jump rope, 15 secs rest, repeat for 10 times.

The obvious answer is that I'm gaining muscle while losing weight and cancelling out weight loss. Could that be the case? I'm not rocking any major definition. I've definitely changed, but I'm not rocking the hardcore six pack. I don't even have much definition in my belly even though I can do ab workouts that many people with these epic six packs can do.

Do I need to add more to my supplementation? Any suggestions or ways to figure out how to get to an optimal routine would be appreciated.

As a secondary note, I've maxed out at a measley 185 lbs. on the benchpress. I've been going hard at it for about a month, and I haven't been able to burst through this plateau. What could be the issue? I consume about 70-80 g of protein a day, I get ample rest. Is this something where the surrounding muscles are still weaker and are not improving? I recently purchased Olympic rings to begin workouts to improve my upper body (I've always been weak in that area, even in HS). Is that something that could help me breakthrough?
posted by MMALR to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The thing that really improved my bench max (fifteen years ago, now) was 1) using dumbells 2) pec workout once a week 3) one set of eight to warm up, then sets of 5,4,3 with increasing weight - heavy!
posted by notsnot at 12:18 PM on December 26, 2012

It is hard to break through a conditioning plateau (especially lifting) when you are losing weight. Serious bodybuilders alternate between high calorie phases to add muscle mass and performance and low calorie phases to cut fat and create definition, while maintaining muscle mass.

Six packs etc. are far more about low body fat than abdominal muscle mass. Most 5'11" guys with six-pack-level definition are going to weigh 40 pounds or less than you weigh. As a goal for a non-ectomorph it's a cruel one: constant workouts and hunger, a model/ballerina lifestyle mpre than an athlete's.
posted by MattD at 12:34 PM on December 26, 2012

The obvious answer is that I'm gaining muscle while losing weight and cancelling out weight loss. Could that be the case?

Most likely not. It is more difficult to gain muscle than lose fat, and it is rather unlikely that you are doing both at the same time at the same rate. You need to pick a goal: improve your bench or lose fat.

You mention "harcore" and "epic" six packs more than once, so you probably want to focus on fat loss. If the visible six-pack is your goal, you are going to need to get to the low teens of body fat percentage. At 210 lb, 5' 11", you are not close to that. You need to do a serious fat loss diet. Lyle McDonald's site is a great resource for this sort of thing. He has zero tolerance for bro science. In short, what you need to do is base your diet around lean animal protein, not beans. At 250 lbs, you had enough weight to lose that any non-idiotic diet would have brought on fat loss. Now that you've come down a fair bit, you need to tighten your diet.

When you decide to start working on your bench again, you are going to want to eat a good deal more protein than you are now. The 5x5 program is good, though. It's basically Rippetoe's Starting Strength. You can ditch the bodybuilder magazine workouts.

The fish oil is beneficial for a number of reasons, but you really don't need the protein powder or vitamins. If you're having two shakes a day and only getting 70-80g of protein per day, that tells me the shakes are your primary source of protein. Switch that to lean animal protein.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:47 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

When you're carrying around 40+ lbs of extra energy, it's not too hard (not to say it doesn't take a lot of work) to gain muscle and lose fat-- you have a deficit in the area you want to gain and an excess in the area you want to lose, and they have a nice inverse relationship (one is used to make the other), so you can make good progress on both ends. Once you reach a certain point, they start to work against each other-- it becomes harder and harder to lose fat without losing muscle, or to make gains without adding fat.

I'm sure you know that, but it's hard to understand it in a meaningful way when your experience is making continuous/noticeable progress against both goals.

What to do? Start bulk/cut cycles. Add cardio (non-HIIT). Add a non-weight training sport/activity (climbing, running, soccer...). Reset your goals and enjoy being healthy even if the gains are slow... lots of options.

If you decide you want to continue to focus on traditional weightlifting you need to start a bulk/cut cycle or decide that you just want to bulk-- trying to do both at the same time is going to remain frustrating, and there are much more efficient ways to cut than lifting weights alone. The only supplement you really need is more calories (or much less when you're cutting), and I wouldn't look to over-complicate your workout-- compound lifts are good, and you probably don't need a ton of additional complexity at your level. You may try playing with your reps, a bit. It could help you work through some plateaus that you have a hard time crossing at 5x5, and if hypertrophy is a goal, doing some work in the 8-12 rep range couldn't hurt...
posted by cosmonaught at 1:08 PM on December 26, 2012

You're not eating nearly enough protein. You should be getting at least double what you're having now, and most of it should come from animal meat (it sounds like you might be a vegetarian but you didn't say it explicitly, so maybe you're willing to be flexible about it). At the very least, it should mostly come from whole food sources, not protein shakes.
posted by telegraph at 1:14 PM on December 26, 2012

I am not a vegetarian, and 70-80g is probably low. But I am rather low on the protein side. If I factor in my breakfast (usually one egg and one egg white plus 1/2 c of cottage cheese) and snacks (one serving of almonds), that gets me over 110 for the day after a workout. I have a hard time imagining dinner gets me over 200 though.
posted by MMALR at 1:18 PM on December 26, 2012

You're not losing fat because you're not creating a calorie deficit. Log your intake with a site like myfitnesspal, reduce by a few hundred calories per day, and see what happens.

70-80g of protein per day is too little by half for a 210 lb. male strength trainee.

With regard to your bench press, you have probably exhausted your ability to make 5 lb. increases every workout and need to make smaller jumps, which usually means bringing your own plates to the gym. 2 of these washers on each side of a barbell adds up to roughly 2.5 lbs.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:37 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

A good trick to ensure that you don't miss your protein goal is to only count protein from animal sources. You technically get small amounts from things like almonds and legumes and even bread but... it doesn't count. Just don't count it.

You should try to have a 6 oz. serving of relatively lean meat with every feeding (assuming 5-6 meals per day). I'm literally 100 lb smaller than you and I eat two eggs with breakfast. Your 1.5 eggs are kind of making me sad.

I'll echo ludwig_van that MyFitnessPal is a pretty painless way to shed significant light on your situation.
posted by telegraph at 2:27 PM on December 26, 2012

Use myfitness pal to record everything you eat. After a few weeks you will know exactly how many calories you are consuming, and how those are broken down. Since you are strength training, try to get at least 150 grams of protein per day.

If you aren't losing weight and you want to, than reduce your daily calories by 500 per day and you will lose a pound per week. If you are tracking all of your food, this will be easy to monitor.

Losing weight is 80% diet, and you've already lost the easy pounds. Now you'll need to be stricter with your diet in order to continue losing.

As for your abs showing, that doesn't really happen until you get to a really low bodyfat, the low teens or single digits. To get to that shape you have to have a good amount of muscle and then you have to be perfect with your diet to get your bodyfat really low. This is extremely hard to do, which is why you rarely ever see people who have 6 pack abs in real life.

If you want to improve your bench press, than try changing up your workout for a month. Try doing as many reps as you can at 150 for 4 sets, and immediately after the last set, go to the floor and do as many pushups as you can. Doing this twice a week for a few weeks could help to train your chest a little differently, strengthening some of the weaker parts, and helping you to push through the plateau.

At this point, since you've moved past the early stages where your body makes large changes quickly, you're probably going to have to choose one path, either losing weight or getting stronger, and put all of your effort into one or the other. If you want to lose weight, than really focus on your diet, eating healthy, and working out enough to burn some calories and keep your muscles going. If you want to get stronger, start eating more to make sure your body has enough energy and is building muscle as fast as possible, and really work yourself hard every time you are in the gym, allowing plenty of time for recovery inbetween. You say you get ample rest, but what does that mean? If you are really pushing yourself, your body needs a lot of time to rebuild muscle tissue, maybe as much as 5-7 days inbetween workouts for each muscle group.
posted by markblasco at 2:30 PM on December 26, 2012

Wendler 5,3,1. Learn to love wave loading, and be patient about setting new PRs.
posted by bfranklin at 7:21 PM on December 26, 2012

Run. Outside. A little at first. Never fast, always at speeds where you can talk.
Keep track of your weekly mileage.
Super super slowly increase it, through frequency rather than length.

That'll destroy weight. A ton of fat and a little muscle - so keep on hitting the gym.

At some point (may take years depending on where you are now) you'll get to running consistently 20, 25 miles per week and not getting injured. Your body fat will probably have plummeted to low double digits by then!
posted by Riton at 8:40 PM on December 26, 2012

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