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Girlfriend Hitting Plateau and General Lifting Advice?

So my girlfriend has become pretty dedicated to getting stronger and has made some great progress. Started doing some lifting about a year ago, got progressively more interested and dedicated over the past year. In the last 2-3 months starting transitioning to barbell lifts, went from squatting 55 lbs for 12 reps to 85 for 10 and 90 lbs for 8, doing 2 push ups to 4 sets of 10-12, and got to the point she can do a few sets of 5 BW chins which is pretty awesome progress. Just started barbell benching last week and hit 50 for 12 reps. Shes 24, just under 120 lbs and roughly 5 ft 7.

Problem is, the past 10 days she’s tried squatting 3 times (doing Greyskull LP basically with some calf and ab work added in) and her reps are just dropping on the squat at the same weight. Went from 90x8 to 90x7 to 90x6. Pretty hard 6 too. She was really upset, and I don’t have much of an answer. Can anyone explain why this is happening? Usually if she had a bad day in the gym she’ll repeat the weight next time and her reps jump back up to her original no problem. We could reset the weight like the book says to do when you can’t get 5 reps anymore, but since she got 8 a week and a half ago it seemed like she was still a couple workouts from needing that.

Other relevant info:

  1. Has recently (month of February basically) been doing yoga 4-5 times a week. Really wants to increase hamstring flexibility.
  2. Hasn’t gained any weight really in the last year or so (she eats normal, actually pretty good now that we share most meals but she just gets full quick). Plan is to try to have her continue eating as she has but just add a 300 or so calorie protein shake every day. Maybe shoot for 1 lb or less a month? Unsure about this.

A. First off, is there anything I should be aware of that’s much different for women training than men? Focus more on lower reps, higher reps? Rippetoe just had an article out recently stating women should use lower reps (like 5x3 instead of 3x5) and gave a bunch of reasoning for it. First I’ve heard of that but interesting.

B. Can someone explain why reps are just dropping at the same weight?

C. Anyone know where I can find more info about women’s strength levels? Or general rule for weight gain rate? Like realistic expectations to shoot for. Right now the goal is to squat her bodyweight for a few reps by summer (early June).

D. Any general tips for helping a woman train? Or about increasing hamstring flexibility?

My reps generally drops like this when i dont eat enough and because that she is a woman i assume she is trying to preserve this lean look so her diet should be caloric deficit. I think that is the problem. There is no difference between men and woman when it comes to “how they should train”. If she is concerned about her weight she atleast should go for carb cycling.

She has probably over reached and fatigue is catching up with her.

Take a light week, think about lowering the intensity upon returning from the light week (may also want to increasing volume at the lowered weight, then lower volume as you increase intensity).

Or do 5/3/1 and let the program manage fatigue instead of having to kludge it on the fly when it’s too late. More food will probably help (I assume she isn’t doing something overly restrictive)

Move on to 5/3/1 or something like a Waterbury program. Hitting a plateau is pretty standard with linear programs

Dropping from 90x8 to 90x6 within a few workouts falls within the range of relatively normal variation, IMO. Think about your own workouts. If you’re a 300-pound bencher, there are probably days where you walk in feeling like a million bucks and crank out 225 for a set of 12; other times it might be a grind to squeeze out 8 reps. You may have slept differently, eaten differently, been more stressed by work or school, who knows.

Of course, newer trainees tend to underestimate this. Strength is not a fixed quantity from day to day. It will vary depending on your rest, food, and general well-being that day. It sounds like she is doing a great job, in general, so just encourage her to Trust The Process and keep working. You can certainly look into some different rep schemes or finisher sets to try to bust the plateau, but I’m not even convinced this is really a “plateau” yet. A little backslide for 10 days is hardly conclusive evidence that she’s permanently stuck.

I appreciate the responses everybody. Thanks!

A) Women shouldn’t always use lower reps, they have superior fatigue resistance when compared to males and therefore can perform a greater number of reps at a given %1RM. However, if you’re looking at developing maximal strength, you can use lower reps but a greater number of sets (i.e. total volume).

B) Sounds like overtraining as @tsantos mentioned. However, when you’re trying to recover, focus more on reducing the volume as well as the intensity. Volume has a greater influence over fatigue (during submaximal training) so unless you are hitting heavy singles every time you train, it’s normally the volume that is causing the poor recovery. The key is to focus on recovery, feel fresh again and whatever happens, don’t let it affect her too much mentally, the last thing you want is to overcome a mental barrier as well as a physical one.

C) You can look around, I’m pretty sure Greg Nuckols has spoken about strength levels on one of his articles previously. Regarding rate of weight gain, 1-2lbs per week is a good goal if you’re serious about trying to remain as lean as possible. If not, there’s no real strict guidelines that I’m aware of so, the world is your oyster! (Pun intended).

D) Increasing hamstring flexibility in women is largely to do with pelvic positioning rather than actually having issues with the hamstring tissue. When a joint/bone segment isn’t in the correct position, the nervous system will actively tighten a muscle to protect the area it’s attached to. Women tend to be hyperlordotic (stick their bums out backwards) and have hyper-mobile spines/pelvic structures as it is. With the hamstring attaching to the knee AND the pelvis, it’s a case of correcting posture/positioning during movement. Unfortunately, no amount of stretching is going to do anything if she remains hyperlordotic. Look into Kelly Starretts and Chris Duffin’s work on pelvic position and that should help clear up a lot of the issues with hamstring flexibility.

Hope this helps.