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Best Damn Strength, Under Recovery, and Lack of Progress

Hey CT,

I’m just finishing Week 8 of BDS and am seeing my progress stagnate or even regress on the main lifts. The way I’ve been feeling outside the gym tells me that I’m under-recovered, but I thought the program was set up to minimize that. Yesterday, I even even missed reps on the strength-skill deadlifts.

For the first 6 “weeks”, I ran the program 5 days a week, but I’ve run it 4 days a week since then as under-recovery crept up on me. I was conservative in calculating my 1RMs, even starting my AMRAP sets at 80% instead of 85%.

Under-recovery has always been a problem for me. I’m 40 years old and have been following Wendler-style programs for about 4 years now. I’ve always plateaued quickly, felt like garbage from under-recovery, and haven’t been able to build either strength or mass on these programs – after 4 years of lifting at 6’4" and 200lbs, I’ve still never benched my body-weight – even with my sleep and diet in order and following the programs to a tee. I feel like I should build up a better strength base before age rules that out, but strength-focused programs seem to be counter-productive for me.

So, how should I move ahead with my training?

  • take a week off and continue with BDS from where I left off?
  • try a different strength-building approach?
  • change my focus to hypertrophy?

What did you eat yesterday? List everything.

Yeah, I’ve thought was lack of calories in the past. I’ve been eating 17 cals x BW while on BDS, but I’ve had it as high as 21xBW doing Wendler routines and I just put on fat, not muscle or strength.

For argument’s sake, here’s yesterday’s menu, which is a pretty typical day:

3400 calories (17xBW) – 375g carb, 120g fat, 230 protein

330g chicken breast
180g (dry weight) black-eyed peas
2 oz dry-roasted peanuts
3 oz dry-roasted pumpkin seeds
400g brown rice pasta with 500g meat sauce
1 banana
1 apple
50g granola
60g mozzarella cheese
2 large carrots
large green salad (lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cukes totalling 500g)

How much do you sleep?

How stressful is your life?

What 5/3/1 programs did you do?

What are your current stats in deadlift, bench press, squat, oh press, chin-ups/rows?

How long do your workouts take you?

Do you condition?

7 hours sleep, give or take.

Average stress (3 kids, office job, good marriage, very little drama)

BBB, BTM, BBS, RP Challenge, SS, 2x2x2

DL 315x3, BP 155x5, SQ 240x7, OP 105x7, Chin +20lbx5, Pendlay Row 140x5

BDS takes 45-50 minutes, including 10 minutes of streching and warm-up

30-60 minutes of brisk walking every day

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Sounds like you’re not cut out for strength training.
Have you figured out your neurotype?

Thanks, believer. I haven’t taken the test, but from all the descriptions CT’s given, I’m a solid 2B with probably a secondary of 3.

I should add that, despite my difficulties on the main lifts and the under-recovery with BDS, the program has helped me put on a bit of mass. Which makes me think I should go with straight hypertrophy training for a while. “Get big to get strong”, isn’t that the 2B slogan? I just want to make sure I’m not missing something else.

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How was your recovery on 5/3/1? How was it when eating bwx21?

It was almost identical, lucasmon. I’d increase the weights gradually and then, when getting to pretty much the same weights as I’ve reached now with BDS, I’d really hit the wall hard and start regressing. But with added fat.

Interesting I just finished pulling on week two and I was not able to do my deadlifts as well. My left hand wouldnt hold the grip. I put straps on and did 1 full set of 4 reps. But then failed on 3rd. Reduced the weight with 20 kg and barely did the 3rd full set.
I believe I wont be able to do DLs twice per week.

Today I am squatting and I wonder how my lower back will do. Will try to do the week 3 as written, but if I have problems with the DL thinking on swapping the 2nd day of DLs with barbel row as a main lift, while the cable rows will become RDL with the 10-8-6 + restpauses hypertrophy work.

Try something different like Layers 4 day.
For bringing up the the bench, do as much tricep accesory work as possible without pissing off elbows

Also might want to try cut back on this see what happens. just 20 mins some days/days off etc

Thanks RB. That’s a good call on the added tricep work. In my limited years of lifting, I’d always read “no direct arm work until you can do X number of pull ups”. The extra attention to arms on this program has been great for my OHP. It’s the main lift that’s responded the best.

Re. Layers, that crossed my mind as well. Do you mean something like this? Would there be any accessory movements in that program? Like the added back and bicep work in CTs Hepburn Layer program? Or do you suggest the Hepburn Layers?

Thanks, ins. Are you running the program 6 days each week? As the squats and DLs have hit me harder, I’ve benefitted from taking a day off after Days 1 and 4 and fron using straps on the RDL mTor. It took me until things started hitting me hard to give myself permission to run the program 4 days a week. I’m hoping that’ll carry me through until my family vacation in a few weeks.

For the RDLs, you could try Paul Carter’s 10-6-10 method to see if that makes any difference. And just cut back on the weight for the strength skill – I did that for the weighted chins for a 3 week cycle and that’s paid off so far and I might do the same with my DLs.

I’ll add that if you’re missing weights in the second week, you should reconsider your starting weights. I didn’t start missing sets on DL until Week 8, after bumping up the weight twice. The DLs during the first two cycles of the strength-skill went smooth as silk. Another thought is that you might be worn out from whatever program you were running before starting BDS.

pretty much. All laid out here…

Why don’t you just drop strenght work for some mind muscle connection and pump exercises ? what’s funny to crash like that doing strenght work ? try something else to be able to always be at 100% everyday and everyweek

Thanks, bigmax. I’m really enjoying the rest-pause, myo reps, and mTor sets in BDS, so I’ll probably give Best Damn Workout Pt. 2 a try soon since the clusters sets look like fun.

Thanks, RB. That does look like fun. The Hepburn Layers article says people crash pretty hard after 3-4 weeks, which is exactly my issue. But keeping things to my 5RM like CT recommended for 2Bs would help with that. And I’ve never been able to move enough weight to screw up my elbows, so I could do a focus on triceps a fair bit – guess there are some positives to lacking strength!

I’m pretty young, and have about 6 years of lifting experience, but had made little progress in the first 4 or so due to bad diet, hydration, and excess of hobbies that kept me overtrained and underfed. So, my lifts are similar to yours. All that to say I’m no expert.

So, speaking strictly about your bench press, excluding factors like genetics, diet, etc…

From my experience, percentage based programs were not always the most effective on my weakest lifts (by weakest, I mean sub 200lbs Squat, Bench, or Deadlift at the time). When I could only bench press 185 or so, I started exploring percentage based programs instead of doing my usual (Joe Defrancos WS4SB3). I never saw much progress due to several factors, like the ones I mentioned above…

However, I think a large part of that has to do with the relationship between weight used, RPE, and percentages. If I can only Bench 185lbs, then 75% of that weight is 140lb (45lb difference). If I can bench 300lbs, then 75% of that weight is 225lbs (75lb difference). If a program prescribes 5x5@75% of 1RM, then its true that both lifters are working with 75% of their 1RM, but if you consider the distance from their work weight to their 1RM in actual poundage, then one lifter will be working with a much higher RPE. The weaker lifter is working harder because at that level of strength, his work weights are so close to his maximum weights that his percentages don’t apply to him accurately. That’s why a lot of weaker lifters and beginners are prescribed programs like SL5x5 until they have lifts that are all over or near 300lbs.

So again, speaking strictly about your Bench Press, I would try something that doesn’t involve percentages, but instead just calls for increasing weight when your strength allows for it. That might prevent you from burning out from working with weight near your 1RM all the time. What I’m saying applies to any lift where you might be disproportionately weak, but the BP stood out for sure.

I could be wrong of course, and this is just in my experience/opinion. I hope you can find something that works for you and helps you reach your goals.

Really appreciate that, jb. I’ve had similar thoughts lately.

I started with 531 because that’s what the internet said was a good way to build strength. It was a couple of years into it before I realized it was an intermediate program and that I should have started with something like what you recommended, using a double progression method. I didn’t move away fron 531 until late last year, but kept using strength programs that, in hindsight, kept me under recovered.

The first weeks of BDS were great, and I’ve actually started feeling better since cutting back to four days a week (set a PR on squats yesterday). Guess I just had to complain here to start improving! I’m going to finish the last few weeks of BDS and then change things up after a break. Might do layers for a few weeks since it’s based more on RPE than percentages (at least the 2B version is), but then I’ll go for a double progression program like you suggest to see how that works for me.

What sort of program are you running now? And are you seeing progress?