T Nation

Programming Advice


I touched on an issue of mine a bit in the Race to 315 Squat/Dead thread, and posting made me realize I really could use some help on the matter. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

I hit 235lbs on my deadlift in March. As of last week, my deadlift is now...235lbs. I'm concerned and more than a little confused as to why this is. Back in March my squat was 155lbs, in November it was a relatively easy 200lbs. My bench progress hasn't been the best but it's at least gone up 15lbs since March.

I started seriously lifting in May 2010, following Starting Strength until November of that year, when I moved on to 5/3/1. I did a few weeks of Conjugate in March, but went back to 5/3/1 shortly after. In May 2011 I switched to the Conjugate method. On 5/3/1, my squat made little to no progress, but my deadlift was still slowly increasing. Conjugate method my squat has skyrocketed, but now my deadlift is at a standstill.

Another poster already gave the advice of doing 5/3/1 again since I'm still a beginner and need to do the movements themselves more frequently. I did enjoy 5/3/1, but I guess my concern is my squat stalling again, and that I keep switching programs instead of just sticking to one. As well I think the dynamic days of the conjugate helped my bench and squat.

I'm sure I'm overthinking it, and I'm sure the advice of 'quit being a little bitch' is probably applicable here as well. I eat enough, I get enough sleep, I haven't been injured, I don't skip training days. If it helps any I'm female, 22, 170lbs.

Again, thank you for any advice.


Consistency with one program is probably more important than the program itself at this point. I'd just pick one and commit to it for at least one year while eating and sleeping sufficiently. If a lift stalls, reset it, but keep going.


How exactly did your 5/3/1 training for the squat look? (assistance work, did you do your deloads, did you go for max reps on the top set during waves 1-3 or just the required reps, did you base your cycles off your 1RM-10%, which percentage table did you use for your cycles...).

And how are you training your deadlift and squat now exactly?

I'd recommend Coan/Karwoski -inspired stuff over either these days for a raw lifter, but I don't know what a realistic training cycle for a woman would be... Only used it with one female so far...

Are you gaining weight in a controlled fashion during a training cycle focused on increasing your strength?

We'll figure it out... 315 squat/dl goal for a female is nothing to sneeze at though... Raw, drug free female doing that is seriously impressive, so don't be surprised that getting there is not exactly going to be a smooth ride.


I used the following template for 5/3/1: www.adamwathan.com/misc/531-template.xls

Assistance exercises I used (for squat/dl) included: Reverse Hypers, Good Mornings, deficit pulls, pause squats, RDL's, powercleans, box jumps, conventional deadlifts (I pull sumo), box squats, hip bridges and front squats. I may be missing a few, but that's what I can immediately recall. In addition, I was also playing a sport at this time so I did a lot of sprinting and running.

I skipped deloads sometimes, and this was a bad decision. Learned from my mistakes on that one.

I would often go for max reps, especially in the earlier cycles when the weight was so light. On cycles where I knew I wanted a PR of reps or 1RM on the last week, I would only do the prescribed 3 reps the week before. I based my % off of 1RM minus 10%.

On the Conjugate Method: For Max Effort Upper I'll start with one of these: Squat, Deadlift (w/ or w/o bands), zercher squat, front squat, RDL, Good morning, box squat (with or w/o bands), deficit pull, conventional dead or deep pause squats. I'd increase weight until I reached my 1-3 RM. I have gone to failure a few times, which is probably more than I should. I don't repeat an exercise for ~6-8 weeks as the max effort exercise.

For Assistance: Bulgarian split squats, 1-leg squats, GHR's, hip bridges, 1-L Dl's, goblet squats, good mornings, planks, weighted decline sit-ups, some others I'm probably forgetting. I switch up assistance stuff every 3-4 weeks.

Dyanmic effort lower body days are speed squats/deads with 50-60% of my 1RM. I'll include other power exercises this day like box jumps and powercleans. I do some conditioning at the end of most workouts. I do a lot of back assistance work on bench days.

Not familiar with their programs, I'll look into it. Only time I've ever heard someone say something should be done differently for a female is Laura Phelps mentioned one time that women should consider a couple more reps than men for ligament health...or something along those lines. Read it a long time ago.

Actually when I started lifting in May 2010, I lost about 15lbs (from ~185 down to 170ish) and have been about there ever since. I did lose weight from March 2011 -> May 2011 but I was feeling more tired at the gym and started eating more, went back to 170lbs. I'm strongly considering dropping weight after my (FIRST EVER) meet in March, but in a more controlled manner that hopefully won't be detrimental to my performance.

Thank you so much for your reply, I really appreciate it. No matter what I'll never stop, I love lifting and being strong way too much. Looking back, when I first got that 235 deadlift it's a little lofty to have wanted to put on 80 more pounds in a year, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect 50 especially for someone at my stage in lifting.

I think I may need to deadlift more just as a mental thing - so that each time I do it it's not as huge of a deal as I build it up to be. Need to work on being mentally stronger as well, which may be more of a challenge!


A lot of sprinting and running + skipping deloads as a female... Plus the bodyweight thing... I think those are likely to be the main culprits for your progression troubles, not what you did in the gym...

Are you happy with your bodyfat levels at the moment? If no, I'd suggest doing a diet down to whatever fits (no need for fully visible abs, just get rid off whatever excess you have so you won't have any hang-ups about putting on a little weight every progression-focused training cycle).

I have a pretty good idea of how much weight a male ought to gain to successfully complete various Coan or Karwoski training cycles... But a female on 5/3/1 (or the others for that matter)... Not sure. Such short cycles and the main method is much closer to bodybuilding ramping than anything else if you go for the extra reps.

In any event, try to gain 1-3 pounds per 4 week block for starters if you go with 5/3/1 again... Eventually you'll figure out how much you need to gain (or how little you can get away with) to keep making progress each cycle I think, depending on how the cycle is set up etc. I don't have enough data on this when it comes to females.

5/3/1 apparently worked for all but your squat, and that was most likely due to the sprinting and such, so it ought to work well again if you go about it properly this time (do your deloads each time, account for extra activity outside of the gym... If you sprint a lot, ditch the 5x10 squats crap or reduce the volume, or choose an easier quad assistance move that won't be too much to recover from with everything else that's happening... Then gain a little weight each cycle in a controlled fashion).

If you ever want to try Coan / Karwoski -style periodization, you can e-mail me... There actually isn't a lot on Karwoski on the net from what I remember. There are some Coan calculators, but they never tell the full story and are often percentage based (he did not use percentages from what I know). They also only reflect a few of the different training cycle lay-outs originally used and are probably not suited for most women...


I recommend just sticking to a program. For a year, if not more than that. Change the accessories as you see fit, but stick to an overall program for at least a year. Sounds like you're changing it up too often.

Still, impressive lifts for a female at your training age.


Ah, if you use the boring but big template then 3 pounds per training cycle for you will probably be too much of a bw gain/ end up in too much fat gained... In that case go with less.



What I've done to increase all my lifts with 5/3/1 is to add both upper or lower lifts per session. For example, I hit my 5/3/1 squat for prescribed reps or more, then do 3x5-8/squats at around 80% trying to get one more rep each set at that weight. So 5 week would be 3x5, 3 week would be 3x6, etc. etc. until I hit three sets of eight, then I move that weight up and start over. Then I would do deadlift with the same weight but for 5x3 to get in more heavier type volume on each lift, each week. I do this for every lift, bench then press, squat then deadlift, press then bench, and deadlift then squat. After these sets I do any assistance work to address weak points other than a pull-up or row variation which I mix in between each set of pressing. I do a four day/week split.

I used this approach with a basically untrained female earlier in the year and I had her squatting 175 after four or so cycles after barely being able to squat 95 lbs. Her body weight was around 115 or so with a very slender frame. I say untrained because she was a D1 basketball player and had great athleticism but had no training in the weight room at all. I've also used this with HS football players, a club rugby guy, and a few of my PT clients who were fairly advanced. All gained pretty steady and measurable strength from a few good cycles with pretty light de-loads. It is a lot of volume and the de-load was definitely needed.


^this, as well


Just saying if you're still running conjugate training hop into the westside method thread by just doing a search. It WILL help you set up conjugate better because honestly there's a lot more to westside than most realize. I'm certainly no expert, all I know is stuff told to me by Stormthebeach, so ask him as well if you get a chance.


So you would, for example, on a squat day on week 3 do something like:

1) 1 x 135lb
2) 1 x 160
3) 1+ x 180
4) 3 x 8 x 160lbs (80% of my 1RM)

And then the week after you might do that for 170lbs? If you stall do you need to reset and start at 80% again?

And a deadlift day on week 2 would be:

1) 3 x 170lbs
2) 3 x 195lbs
3) 3+ x 215lbs
4) 3 x 6 x 185 (again 80% of my 1RM)

This sounds really interesting! Killer, but interesting.

Definitely, I learned my lesson about deload weeks last time around I was doing 5/3/1!

Yeah I actually took a look at that thread recently. Definitely learned a lot!

I understand the need to stick to a program, which is why I've been hesitant to change from Conjugate again despite dissapointment in my deadlift. However if a program hasn't done anything for my deadlift in ~8 months (especially considering I'm still a beginner and should, theoretically, probably still be making steady gains) you think it's worth still pursuing?

Thank you everyone for your input. I really truly appreciate it.


It would be:

Deadlift for the 5/3/1 progression

Deadlift for 3x5-8 (I use around 80% here but your percentage may be different since my 1RM is currently 455 without wraps, I'm thinking that percentage may still work for you or possibly closer to 75%)

Squat for 5x3 at the same weight your 3x5-8 was.

And yes it is pretty killer but I haven't found anyone who hasn't gotten stronger with it. Start out at 3x5, as long as you can do that, then just keep progressing at the same weight until you can hit 3x8. If not, I had some lower the weight or I had some do 3x4 or something similiar. It does suck, not gonna lie about that. lol You won't increase the weight on the 3x5-8 for a few weeks. You would try to get another rep or so per set until you got a fast 3x8, then you would move the weight up slightly and reset at 3x5. I hope that all makes sense.

OH! And on the third week, I kind of cut the volume of the assistance movements due to always attempting a rep PR for my 1RM set. I usually push my 5's and 1's week and just hit the 3's for prescribed reps. lol I'm starting to realize this isn't as simple of a concept as I think.


If you wouldn't mind posting it on the forum I would like to see how you would lay out a Coan/Karwoski style routine.


I don't think its the program I think its your programming if you can understand what I'm saying. If you haven't gotten your deadlift up then I doubt you've found the weak link in your deadlift and programmed to be able to work on your weakness. If it's lockout you should be hitting rack deads as a ME often and plenty of glute/low back RE work. If its off the floor you should hit deficits as a ME often and plenty of hamstring/low back RE work (low back is always good to work either way lol).

You see what I'm saying? If there's one point STB really got over to me really well is to find out what you suck at and work your ass off and gear your programming to make it awesome.