40 Y/O Intermediate, Goal: Get Strong, Stay in 36" Pants. Advice?

Love Thib’s articles. Seem very credible, logical and useful.

Sorry for the long post. Perhaps others similar to me can get some good advice too.

Just did 5 months on Madcow 5x5 intermediate, then started customizing for recovery and improving weak points for another 5 months. This follows 1 year of various BB style lifting work and jogging. Had some general gym going over last 15 years, but nothing consistent or serious. Did some Fred Hatfield programs 20 years ago, squatted 405, DL 465 with back-injuring form, weak ass bench, at 175 bw, but didn’t keep at it. Lost it all over the intervening years except perhaps some vague muscle memory I’ve tried to keep alive with random stints of working out. Never take anabolics or t-replacement, just creatine, BCCA’s, protein, fish oil, multivitamins, and magnesium.

Bottom line, I’m 10 months in to a more or less serious program. Current training PR’s:

  • Squat: 285x5 (was 310x5 a few months ago, but decided to focus on front squats and DL for a bit).
  • Deadlift: 390x1 (was strong, max prob 405).
  • Bench: 280x1

Again, my goal is to get strong and still fit in my 36’ waist pants. I recently hit 220 lbs BW (at 5’10") and had to suck it in to fit in my 36” pants, and said goodbye to my size large t-shirts (now I’m XL). 3 weeks ago, I cut carbs, increased protein/fat and now my pants and XL t-shirts fit fine and I want to keep it that way while getting stronger. Not really looking to lose weight/size, but assume improving body composition will be a side benefit.

I’m looking for advice, next steps in programming/progression, and reality checks like ‘dude what are you thinking’.

My limitations: 3 days per week training (MWF). 1 hour training sessions. Work and family obligations take priority over training (getting real here). I appreciate that others have more flexibility or different priorities and can dedicate more time to their training, but I can only follow any advice offered that fits these limitations. But hey, it makes for an interesting challenge no?

Weaknesses: My quads. My front squat is weak compared to my squat, and my squat is weak compared to my deadlift (obviously). I have very small anterior delts (at the tie in to the pec) and my mid bench to lockout is weak compared to off the chest. My chest has always been pretty strong, but not my anterior delts. I have a very hard time hitting them. Odd, I know, but true.

Here’s my most recent (complete) week and program plan, excluding warm up:


  • Bench: 5x5 at 215 (77%), pausing rep 1 all sets. Last rep of last set RPE 9.
  • Incline BB Bench, wide grip: 3x3 at 185. To work anterior delts and pecs.
  • Isometric bench limit hold (against safety bars in rack) at 8”. 3 sets for 6 seconds at max effort. Reason is that I failed the lockout of a PR bench attempt at 285 a couple weeks ago.
  • Planks, 2 @ 1 min - leaning forward to activate anterior delts. Experimenting with ways to work anterior delts because most methods don’t work for me.
  • Front Squat: 3x5 at 205. (3 set of 5 reps). Out of time - 1 hour limit reached.


  • Deadlift: 3x3 at 370. Opposing grip. 3” belt.
  • Reverse Grip BB rows: 4x5 at 200. Superset last set chest supported row 100x8
  • Preacher Curl, vertical: 4x5 at 100. Superset 35 lb dumbells x 6 reps, then 25’s hammer curls
  • Calves (various)


  • Squats: 3x5 at 285. RPE 9.
  • Military Press: 3x5 at 152.5. RPE 9.5
  • Bench partials: 4x3 at 232.5. From 3” to lockout. RPE 9. Weak area work, emphasizes anterior delts, triceps.
  • Incline Bench, wide grip: 185x3,5.
  • Close grip bench: 3x5 at 197.5. Superset 145x8
  • Dumb bell skull crushers, decline bench: 2x5 @105

Progression plan:

  • Bench, Press, Assistance: Change intensity over 4 week cycle. 5x5 at 75% w/ pauses, 5x5 at 80%, 5 sets x 3 reps at 85%, 5x2 at 90%. Alternate volume and intensity between exercises. Goal is progress an average of 1 lb/week - hey, that’s 52 lbs a year!
  • Deadlift: See The Simple Deadlift Program. Wednesday above is week 14. No goal, just seeing what I can do at the end of the cycle.
  • Squat: Just trying to maintain, while emphasizing front squat a bit. Reserving nervous system and recovery capacity to finish deadlift progression. Then I’ll switch to emphasizing squat. Goal will be to increase by 5 lbs/week - I have more potential for increases here than on bench/press.

Idea is to progress on either deadlift or squat in a given cycle, while always bringing up bench/press and weak areas.

So, whaddya think?

Could try this spread out over 2 weeks ie first three workout done in week one, next three in week 2…

Could also just move on to Texas method and take short rest period/superset the assistance lifts

thanks for reading my long post and your reply. I should have been more clear, that I’m really looking to improve the main 3 lifts plus the press. A background thought is that if I ever get strong enough, maybe I’ll compete in a masters natty PL contest someday. For that, maybe Texas for PL would be good (yes, I read Practical Programming by Rip), but I think I need more focused work on my quads (via front squats) and somehow improvement my anterior delts (which I think hold back my bench).
Again, I appreciate your reply.

You might double check your weakness of front squats. It’s common for the upper back to fail you rather than your quads. I guess if you’re able to stay completely upright when you fail then you can blame your quads. Check out this article for common problems.

I’m able to keep upright while front squatting. However, I use a belt for my work sets, otherwise I have a harder time and my abs are sore as hell the next few days. My rationale is that I don’t want my core failing before my quads, since I’m trying to work my quads.

Hoping CT will weigh in on my original post . . .

I always like to see what CT has to say but in the meantime I’ll respond. It concerns me that you want your legs to be stronger than what your core can support. Sounds like a recipe for a back injury. I like using a belt for max effort sets but I don’t use it on the moderate sets so my core can develop.

I threw in some isometric holds at my sticking point in front squats today. I think it’ll help me push through that point.

It’s a point well taken. I should probably work up to some decent unbelted working weights on my FS. I can do the same weights unbelted vs belted, just with bad ab soreness which will of course go away with some work.

What do you think about my overall program?

It’s not a bad program. Are you alternating weeks so you do two pulling workouts after the week you posted? If not, then you’re pushing way more than pulling; I like to do more pulling than pushing. Gravity naturally pulls us out of balance towards the front side. I hear you need strong lats for bench and deads. I wouldn’t know about bench b/c I suck at it and don’t do it much.

It looks like you’re working hard on multiple things. I suggest picking one goal and focusing on that. If it’s front squats then do those first in the workout. Prioritize accessory lifts to help achieve that goal as well. Lift for maintenance on the rest of your stuff.

Sometimes your optimistic approach to improve multiple things spreads you too thin and you end up spinning your wheels.

Also, if you’re on a time crunch and do the most important stuff first then you guarantee it always gets done.

Thanks for the feedback. I don’t alternate pulling and pushing because my back has always been pretty strong vs my bench and press (see DL numbers). But, I probably need to add in some face pulls because I’m a desk jockey with questionable posture. :grin:

Thus far, I’ve gone from Madcow 5x5, which advances the big 3 lifts, to this modified version which focuses on 2 of the 3 lifts. I’m think that I’ll see if I keep advancing on them, and if not, then back off to focus on 1.

I’ve managed to improve multiple PRs at the same time while doing The Complete Power Look Program but it took it’s toll on me. With limited time and energy it’s tough to add in partials and other accessories to compliment the main movement.

This weight lifting thing is all about trial and error anyway. Good luck!

Bump. CT - any input on my original post, or am I out of bounds here somehow (probably my long ass post or obscure Fletch reference)?

Just PR’d DL at 415 lbs!
Now to focus on my squatting. . .