Getting Weaker

Hey guys i want some insight from anyone if this happened to them. I have been running 5/3/1 in some way or another for about 2 years almost, it worked great for me for about 6 months than I stalled and just got weaker again to the point where I had regressed and was weaker than when I started. I tweaked some stuff took some time of and went at it again and got stronger again but was barely at where i initially started. i then ran smolov jr for bench and my bench skyrocketed but everything else suffered and then ran the get big and get strong challenges for 5/3/1 and lost all my strength and am back were i started, now i have run beyond 5/3/1 and have lost even more strength.

I am at the point were the last 2 years have done nothing for me. I am not very strong for my body weight, i have about 9 years of lifting in, i am 6 ft 2 in and 225 lbs and can only bench 250 x 1, squat 300 x 1, DL 330 x1, and press 135 x 1, I am at a very low place and am considering giving up lifting all together because I do not see the point anymore. any insight as to if this has happened to you and what you did would be greatly appreciated, and I am aware i am throwing a pity party and am smacking myself right now but cannot help this rut i have been in for years now.

We’re gonna need a lot more information to give any insight.

Vitals (you said 6’2" and 225 but how old).

Diet/Supplements logs.

Workout logs including what your doing outside your weight workouts (are you training for an ironman during your off days?)

I’m no Dr, but if your following 5/3/1 (and you started with a 90% TM), eating enough, and getting enough rest the only reason you’d be getting weaker is if you have something medically wrong. Maybe see about getting a blood work up done.

I’m curious about your approach and the details also, not that I have any advice, just that I suck at lifting heavy weight and I cannot do the bulk of the templates Jim offers. After trial and error, I found a couple of methods that work for me using 5/3/1, but it also required me to constantly be honest with myself.

Tell us about the rest of your lifestyle. How is your diet, are you eating like a horse? What kind of work do you do and how is your sleep? This all ties in together and, without knowing much about you at all really, I would guess there is a kink in your recovery somewhere.

I am 27 and I am a night shift RN, I work 7pm to 7am 3 nights a week, I eat at or just a little bit under my calories due to my schedule, I try to track but its hard when half of my eating for “my day” is on one day then the rest is on the other. I sleep about 6 hours a day if I am lucky.

I tried doing Joker sets but cannot handle the extra weight usually, so I do either first set last or boring but big, on bench day I do pull ups for around 50 to 60 reps unweighted about 10 sets of 5, on squats I do glute ham raises and situps, and on military days i do pause rep bench along with deadlifts and some hack squats. I do very little cardio but if I do it is just a stationary bike for 15 to 20 minutes at a decent pace just to get my heart rate up. I know I don’t eat enough or sleep enough but my job does not allow me to really do things like a normal human being.

Also I do not take any supplements except protein powder and the occasional preworkout when I am having trouble getting moving

First step - eat more. Eating at or below your calories is not going to help you recover in time. And you certainly won’t get stronger.

My wife is an RN (cardiac ICU), so i know what she goes through and through her can relate to the schedule.

My first recommendation would be to add a high quality post-work out like the Surge post-workout formula. This will do 2 things for you. It will increase your calorie intake and it will speed recovery.

Second i’d say evaluate your time and consider some changes to your daily schedule. Clearly you’re not interested in bulking per-se (as you are already willing to eat below your calories. Read the time-restricted diet article that T-Nation posted recently. Maybe you can use the principles from that to ensure you’re putting on lean mass and the “time restricted” might fit well with your schedule.

Like i said, through my wife I can relate to the 12+ hr shifts (13 including handover from day-shift) and J-CAHO restrictions and having trouble finding time to eat. This might lend itself better to a liquid lunch. You could try a protein shake made. You can find some recipies that arn’t just powder and water to make it more calorie dense and filling - i always liked using milk and cottage cheese blended together with chocolate Grow!. Sometimes i’d even add some plain oatmeal in too. (geez, i might as well be on T-nations payroll since i’m pushing their products. They are the best i’ve used though).

Bottom line - Eat. Find a way to increase your calories. Have a huge breakfast and Huge dinner and a protein shake for lunch (kind of a paleo thing). Night shift should be a little easier to find time to get at least a liquid lunch.

Also, your sleep is probably crap because you’re on night shift - do some day-off prep for the rest of the week so you can get more sleep. Maybe add z-12 to help get better sleep. Sleep is when you recover and grow. You could try to get on day shifts but that would make the eating thing more complicated.

One last thought - you could try throttling back on the workouts. This would reduce calorie requirements and recovery time. Once you start getting stronger again, gradually increase workouts to match your your eating/recovery.

Keep us posted.

I’ve worked in a hospital setting for 5 years with most being on shift work. Pack lots of whole food with shakes in case of hectic shifts. If you don’t eat the whole foods today eat them the next.
Sleep is a bitch, do your best to make it a priority, period. Your work will improve along with your training.
Use one of the full body templates, focus on the big lifts, screw any assistance, progress your squat, bench, deadlift and press. Add rows and power cleans for some extra pulling.

Test your lifts to see where you’re at NOW and forget where you’ve been or want to be. Use 85% and start setting PR’S every week.
Lastly un-mindfuck yourself and just focus on getting better everyday. Better eating habits, better sleep and better attitude toward your lifting. Sounds like you’ve got nowhere to go but up, good luck.

I should add I did all of the above things I just mentioned and lifted 2 days per week instead of 3 and still made progress, so 2 days may be a solid option as well.

I first came to Biotest because my progress stalled. I started with Surge Recovery PWO. Progress restarted. At the time I was a college student with absolutely awful eating and sleeping habits.

I saw a study suggesting that similar Carb/Protein ratios could be achieved with chocolate milk, and if I remember correctly, Finibars have a similar ratio. There is nothing about the “better” of Plazma/MAG-10 that makes the “good” of Surge Recovery invalid.

Eventually started using I3G/Plazma/MAG-10, progress is even better. Telling a RN that they need to get more, and better quality sleep is probably not helpful. A good PWO will mean that at least your nutrition in the vicinity of the workout is “right” and you’ll probably get something from it.

I agree on several points in the posts above.

  1. Eat more.
  2. Prep a week’s worth of meals on an off day so you don’t have to worry about it during the week.
  3. Get to bed earlier on your off days.
  4. For a while, just ‘get shit done’… hit your main lift and call it. I can get through my warmup and work sets in 15 minutes. Once your recovery is back up to par, start adding assistance exercises back in.

Willfull and Beara33 thank you for your replies, Willfull I am going to try that time restricted eating it sounds interesting and exactly what my goals are, I am going to reset my lifts to weights that I hit as my top Joker sets 2 weeks ago and progress from there.

So this puts me at:
bench - 250
squat - 290
press - 140
deadlift - 315

my goals are:
bench - 300
squat - 350
press - 180
deadlift - 400

and to basically keep my body weight at or around the 225 - 235 range I think this is attainable. I am also going to try and start logging my workouts here on T-Nation to help show my progress and keep myself accountable

You were given great answers to your question. And I’m sure you haven’t taken them to heart, judging by your response. Please respect those that gave time and some very good answers.

I think my mention of time restricted diet might have taken you off track. I mentioned it more to show that you can get enough calories and nutrition to get stronger even with with long periods of fasting, like what your job as an RN requires.

Remember, your first goal should be figuring out why you are getting weaker. You’re not stagnating and you’re not getting stronger. You said you’re getting weaker.

Once you have figured that out and corrected it, so you are once again making progress, then make the necessary diet tweaks to ensure you’re staying at your desired level of leanness.

I think backing off on your weights to what you used 2 weeks ago is a good first step, but don’t let ego and pride keep you in this rut any longer if things don’t reverse.


This I don’t understand. You ran a super advanced routine that you need to have everything dialed in to make progress on; diet, sleep, mind, etc, and experienced awesome gains, but you switch to a basic 5-3-1 template and everything goes to hell? Doesn’t add up.

Not to be a d*^k but I’ve worked shift work (Dupont Schedule if you want to look up that monster of a schedule) for over nine years, rotating 12 hour shifts between days and nights and I’ve always progressed. Ya it sucks sleeping only 4 to 5 hours a day sometimes, but that’s what we chose to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the gym feeling like total crap after hardly any sleep but I still got the work in. Hell after night shifts when my kids were younger I would go home get them dressed and take them to school when it was all I could do to keep my eyes open.

On my days off I get all my food prep done for my night and day shifts. If you are serious about putting on muscle and gaining strength you better get your serious about your diet and supplement regimen or you will go nowhere fast. People who have work shift work know that you’re not going to get much sleep, your just not, so why not control everything else.

Alright just let me get this off my chest, Jim I am overjoyed you read about my problem and felt compelled to answer but am deeply hurt that you find my response as disrespectful and ignoring of everyone’s ideas and that is all you had to say, I was trying to convey that I was going to implement there suggestions. I know I might take flak for this and I am not trying to be disrespectful but neither am I going to sit here and let someone call me basically an asshole when that was not my intention.

But to get back to the issue thank you everyone for your suggestions, I am going to go back to the normal 5/3/1 program with one of the suggested assistance programs and reset all my lifts way back to weights I have hit recently while in my rut. I am going to eat more. But this raises another question, I already have more than enough fat on me and this calorie surplus is guaranteed to add some fat and while I would love to bench 300 but I do no want o have to weight 280 to get there. How would you all suggest I keep the fat off or what has worked for you? I do not have access to a prowler to push, and a weighted vest is expensive, and I live in northwest Ohio where we basically have no hills. you see this is why I was eating a restricted calorie diet hoping to take some of this fat off.

Jais I am not totally sure how I was able to gain so much strength on Smolov for bench all I know is when I started it m bench was 235 for a 1 rep max, and when I was done I was able to hit 265 for a 1 rep max without losing anything in m other lifts

I go thru periods every year where it seems like should be subtracting from my training max instead of adding.
I have found that doing less almost always solves the problem - I am not sure what you are doing but I know this: running BBB along with fsl and Jokers will take its toll.

What I do is this:

  1. reset way light so I CAN START HITTING PRs again. I believe they are the essence of this program. By that I mean reset light enough that you can focus on you form etc. and not freak out, but do enough reps to beat your CURRENT record. Next workout, beat the last using rep formula in the book, and so on and so on.
    Ex: after my last competition I was fried and took time off. I came back and set my dl and squat at around 50% of my meet numbers and calculated my training max. I started with just beating my actual max that I had reset with. Could I have done more - of course. But I needed to get some traction first. Once you start breaking records - even if you know it isn’t really a record - the fun seems to comes back.

Once the fun returns, the strength aint far behind.
You are too stressed out and serious right now.
I have done this several times and it works every time.
2. Nix all the bells and whistles - jokers/fsl/ etc…for the time being.
3. Use the triumvirate template and choose your assistance wisely. This should also give you break on time.

Recovery is probably a lot of it if you are not sleeping.
If you work 36 hours in three nights, do you then have 4 days off? Jim has some awesome two-day per week templates -
Sorry for being so long winded

Don’t use weights from “when you were in a rut” just test your 4 main lifts to find out WHERE YOU ARE NOW, like right now and start light using those numbers.
You’re an RN, you probably know what good whole foods are. If you train hard and eat right you will gain strength without gaining fat, you’ll probably lose fat. You don’t need to count calories if you eat properly, you probably already know this, use common sense.

Smolov increased my bench from 240 to 275 in 6 weeks. 4 weeks later I was benching…245. It’s a peaking program, short term results at best. I’ve been consistently following 531 and my bench is consistently now higher than the max I achieved using smolov, my peeked max is a training max now. Long term results.
Be patient, work in 6 week blocks, set a REALISTIC goal for each training block. Pick a template that aligns with your goals and don’t fuck with it, just go in and do it.
Just be honest with yourself and don’t make any excuses, don’t allow your circumstances to dictate the level of success you achieve. Own your goals and embrace the challenge.

Do not worry about putting on fat when you’re getting weaker.

I’m 5’7" and 175. I went through a few years counting and logging every calorie and even setting a midnight alarm to get up and have another shake. I did not put on a lot of fat. Some of the meals i was struggling to finish eating because it was so much.

If you are eating good quality food (no fast food, no snickers bars, no soda) you’ll be fine.

Dont worry about the fat. You wont wake up suddenly weighing 280lbs. You’ll know if you’re putting on too much fat with plenty of time to adjust your diet. Get strong, then you can tweak your diet to lean up. It is not an immediate thing. You’re going to have to learn what works for you. Spend a few weeks, better yet a couple cycles, getting stronger. Then start playing with your diet while. If you feel weaker again, tweak your diet. If you start to put on too much fat, tweak your diet. If charged, strength gains and leanness are not a simple straight line graph. As you learn, it will have highs and lows. The trick is to minimize the lows while maximizing the highs.

I realize “tweak your diet” is vague. But you have to learn what works for you. It wont be the same as any of us.