Quest for 21.0 FFMI

Current: 5’6", 135lbs, 14%bf, 27 Y.O. male @ FFMI 18.78 (19.53 Normalized FFMI)
Goal: 150lbs @ 13%bf

See post 12 for decided plan of action, post 15 for start of log.

TLDR: Back in gym after COVID; 1 year of decent progress but too much intensity/volume and lots of overreaching/deloads; now taking Powerbuilding approach with lower intensity and planned progression.

Current Stats:

  • Bench 1RM: 190-195lbs
  • Squat 1RM: ?
  • Deadlift: ?
  • OHP: ?


  • Bench 1RM: 225+lbs
  • Squat 3RM: 260+lbs
  • Deadlift 3RM: 325+lbs


  1. Did P90X at 16 yo. Put on 10 lbs while bodyfat % went down probably like from 16% down to 12%. So maybe like 12 lbs of muscle gained from P90X. Didn’t workout much after that for a couple years.
  2. Wanted to start lifting during college/uni, but I didn’t know what to do and ell prey to some online marketing targeted at teens. Didn’t make much/any gains for 1st year.
  3. 2nd year of college I found/did StrongLifts. Took my bench from 120x5 to 155x5. Kept in shape but didn’t make much gains during the rest of college. Took many periods off workout out, then would have to rebuild strength. Tried 5/3/1 and eventually used my own workout/progression plan on a 3 workout/week basis, rotating A-D:
  • Workout A: Squat 5x5 or 3x8; Bench 2-3RM, then 85% of that number for 4x4-6 reps + accessories
  • Workout B: Squat 5x5 or 3x8; OHP @ 85% of last weeks 2-3RM number for 4x4-6 reps + accessories
  • Workout C: Squat 5x5 or 3x8; Bench @ 85% of last weeks 2-3RM number for 4x4-6 reps + accessories
  • Workout D: Squat 5x5 or 3x8; 2-3RM, then 85% of that number for 4x4-6 reps + accessories

Upon graduating I was benching 185 for a triple at 126 lbs. I really liked the above workout/progression.
4. Last few years after college, I worked out less frequently because of work and then COVID. Took a lot of time off and just focused on cardio.

Last 1 Year
Spring 2022 after recovering from COVID, which wiped my cardiovascular fitness back to 0 and took me 2 months to recover toabout 80% of my CV fitness prior to infection:
Got back in the gym at 122lbs and 10%bf. I didn’t want to do squats or deadlifts for fear of injury.
Was doing 5/3/1 for beginners (minus squats/deads) 3 times a week and a 2 day/week legs program of leg press, leg extension, leg curls, lunges, calves.
However, I fell prey to some High Intensity, Train to Failure most or even all sets. After a couple months, I stalled on upper body but continued to progress on legs. I put on 14 lbs. Got to 136 then cut down to 134 @ 14-15% bf.

I had lots of over reaching and had to take many 1 week off deloads. I’ve probably taken 6 full weeks off of most/all training in the last year.

135lbs @ ~14% bodyfat.

Over the last month (Day 1 was March 30, 2023), I changed to the Muscle and Strength Pyramid/ Intermediate Bodybuilding Program which is a 5 Day UL-PPL spit PHUL program. I dropped some sets on legs as I they are much weaker BW:lift ratio compared to my upper body, so I did 3x5 instead of 4x5.

I also started focusing on 9 hours of sleep per night instead of 8.

Starting Lifts (started 2-5 lbs light per lift; probably even lighter on deadlift):
Bench: 4x5@150lbs
Squat: 3x5@150lbs
Deadlift: 3x5@115lbs
OHP: 3x7@85lbs
Leg Press: 3x8@430lbs (Plate Loaded 45% linear leg press)

I started my first mesocycle trying to bulk, eating 2300 calories on rest days and 2700-2800 calories on lifting days. I walk about 5 miles a day total with my dog/to and from the gym.

Weekly Progression:
Wave Loading Progression as outlined in Muscle and Strength

Macro Progression:
Every meso cycle, I’m adding 5lbs to Bench, Squat, and OHP. And adding 10lbs to deadlift. Squat feels pretty heavy for me at 150, so I’m taking it slow to avoid injury.

MesoCycle 1 Notes:

  • I did 0 sets leg curl W1 L1, added 1 set leg curl W2 L1, did 3 sets leg curls W2 L1.
  • I gained maybe 0.5 lbs during the 3 weeks of MC1 (goal was 1.5lbs; need extra 1200 calories/week)

After MesoCycle 1, I’m now doing a deload (as outlined in the program) because my sleep was suffering.

Plans for MesoCycle 2:

  1. I’m going to swap the 3 sets of leg curls from the L2 day to the L1 day, as my hamstrings were not recovering enough. So total Hamstring Work is 3x5 deadlifts, 3x6-8 leg curl, 3x6-8 RDL (9 total working sets)
  2. I’m going to drop 1 set of dips and 1 set of chest flies to reduce chest volume, as I would get a little bit sore and felt weaker on my 3x4/5 bench on week 2/3 (11 working sets chest).
  3. I didn’t want to do a cut/minicut so soon, but I’m insecure about my body and want to be around 12-13% BF before summer (132lbs?), then start a slow-bulk for 5-6 months.

MC2 will start 4/27/2023.

MC2 - Week 1 weights:
Bench: 4x5@155lbs
Squat: 3x5@155lbs
Deadlift: 3x5@125lbs
OHP: 3x7@90lbs
Leg Press: 3x8@440lbs

MC2 Macros:

  • 2000 calories on rest days; 2300 calories on lifting days (300-400 expected calorie defecit/day)
  • 160g protein, 60-70g fat, 175-250g cabs

I’m excited to crush MC2, reevaluate to see if I need another deload, which is likely considering I’ll be at a deficit.

1 Year ideal Plan:

  • May 2023: MC2/MC3
  • After MC2 I’ll be back to a lean bulk, aiming for 0.5-0.6lbs/week gain (macros start at 2500 rest days, 3000 lifting days before evaluating)
  • June-December 2023: Lean bulk up to 150lbs (+18 lbs; hopefully 9lbs muscle in 6 months, so 17.5%bf)
  • December 2023: minicut to 144lbs @ 14%bf
  • Mid January-April 2024: lean bulk to 150lbs
  • April 2024: Mini cut to 15%BF, hopefully around 147lbs (Groomsman at wedding want to be 15% BF for photos)
    FINAL = ~12lbs of muscle in 1 year while staying under 18% BF
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I’d be very hesitant to cut at 135 Lbs. You’d probably make things easier for yourself by putting on a substantial amount of weight and adding a couple hundred pounds to your squat and deadlift with a basic LP program before worrying much about that. Adding muscle will make the cut easier when it comes around, since your body will be going through more energy just by having it.

Feel free to ignore, just my thoughts. However you end up going about this, welcome to the forums : )


Agree with above. Aim for gaining around at least 20-30lbs over the next year. You’re in a position where if you do it right you can put on a lot of muscle without any serious visible fat gain. Anything you do gain will be easy to shave off for a couple of important reasons, one already mentioned by @creative_name, and the other being after bulking for so long your body will eventually be so grateful and reactive to lowering your calories for a bit. You could do a couple of diet breaks/quick 2-4 week mini-cuts over the course of next 12 months. It’ll prolong the bulk without you getting too fat for your liking and you’ll never get too far away from your goal weight.

Don’t be one of those guys that end up spinning their wheels because they’re afraid to put on a bit of temporary timber in search of a long-term goal.


Thank you both for replying. I’ve definitely been a “wheel spinner” in the past, mostly because I had a drinking problem in college and was stuck in a “gain fat–>cut” cycle.

I’m going to stick to your advice based on the below BF estimation, and aim for gaining ~0.6 lbs/week for the next year starting now, with maybe 2 minicuts.
I want my progress on squats and deadlifts to be as slow as possible, as I have hurt my back doing both of them in the past.
I plan on adding 5 lbs to my squat per month and 10 to my deadlift, leg press, and RDL’s per 3-4 week cycle. And 5 lbs to my upper body lifts per cycle.
Though I think I could maybe do 10/20 lbs every three weeks on average (squat/bench week-by-week example: 155x5, 160x4, 165x3, 165x5, 170x4, 175x3, 175x5; deadlift example: 125x5, 135x4, 145x3, 145x5, 155x4, 165x3, 165x5).

My main struggle over the last year has been going into overreaching every 3-5 weeks since October. I was definitely doing too much intensity, doing an every other day upper/lower (4 workouts per 8 days) with all sets at RPE 9-10 from October-December. Then RPE 8-9 for January/February. Though I was also eating at maintenance the December-March.

I like the deload every 4th week strategy/as needed, based on my past 6 months experience of overreaching.

I’m going to see how I do after 3 weeks of my current plan after removing/shifting the leg curls, and removing 2 sets of chest. If I have to deload again after the upcoming 3 weeks, I’m going to switch to the Beginner version of the program I’m doing which is a 4 day PHUL program with reduced volume instead of UL-PPL. Hopefully the increased calories (3000 on lifting days, 2500 on rest days) will help me recover better.

BF Today:
Last night and when I woke up this morning, I seemed leaner than I thought I was, maybe just because I’ve added ab work back in the last few weeks (flexed photo attached).

According to the US Navy method bodyfat equation, I’m around 10% bodyfat (14 in neck, 28.5 in around waist). So I definitely need to not cut. Based on images I would have guessed 14%, but maybe its just because I am pretty low muscle mass that my BF% is actually lower than it appears.

Biceps are just over 13 inches, quads are 20 inches.

flexing 424

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None of this says “too much intensity” to me tbh.

Maybe the ‘as needed’ part. I have a hard time thinking you’re at a point where planned deloads are necessary.

I’ll agree with 14% for sure.

I think you should be focusing on progressing as fast as you can, for as long as you can. Train to failure, hammer those heavy compounds, sling some weight. You want to build muscle? Train like it.

Sorry, unsolicited opinion of a decade-long ‘powerbuilder’.


I understand being concerned about your back, but based on the physique I see in the picture, and the number you listed for your 5 rep sets on deadlift (125 lbs), I believe you are sandbagging to much to make progress.

By that I mean in a year, you will be doing sets of 5 with a 120 lbs more than 125, or 245 lbs. I believe this will be a whole year without making much progress, because I believe if you really wanted to do 245 lbs for a set of 5, you could do it now, and if not you could do it in a month or so.

If you are worried about your back focus on form. Buy a belt if you don’t have one and learn how to brace. I may be assuming too much here though. What was your previous back injury? Did it require surgery? Do you feel recovered? How long did it bother you?

I also think in general you are overthinking things. A bit of structure (programming that will get you progressive overload over time) and a solid effort over time will work for almost everyone.

IMO, you should just go back to something like 531 and base your progression off of what the program recommends (upping weight when your AMRAP sets progress). Eat a healthy diet with high protein, and try to gain weight until you are close to 150 lbs. If you look soft there, I think a mini cut will work since you are pretty lean at ~135 lbs. If not, continue to 160 lbs.


Maybe I was doing too much volume, but I don’t think so. I was barely getting 6 sets/week per body part. So it must have been too high intensity, maybe I was going past failure on some sets and misjudging. Every 3-5 weeks I would start getting insomnia, high resting heart rate, unable to bring down HR after workouts. Hopefully increasing calories will prevent this.

Thanks for the insights.

I’ll push for adding 20lbs per month on deadlift and 10lbs per month on other lifts.

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You did this by accident? Forced reps? Partials?

I train to failure and am working 4 sets per bodypart per week and I could likely do more if I didn’t have other priorities outside lifting. You going close to failure/at failure 6x a week doesn’t seem like too much honestly. How’s your sleep?

You’ll find the best benefits out of keeping protein at 1g/lb BW and bumping carbs. I wouldn’t go adding extra dietary fats unless you are eating all lean meats.

I’ll try to stick around and help where I can.

Thanks! I’m definitely sandbagging my deadlift. I lifted 185lbs for 5 reps a couple months ago with 2+ reps in the tank, but felt lots of strain on my back extensors. I think my form was not good, so I started lower/sandbagged to improve form and movement pattern.

Previous back injuries were from (I think straining) my back caused by rounding in squat or deadlifts. I did this 3 separate times, each about 6-12 months apart. Would take about 1 month for pain to go away. Each time I injured myself, it was because I had not properly stretched for a few days or a week.

I used to not know how to properly load my hamstrings on deadlifts, and have always had poor ankle mobility. So I’m focusing on those right now.

I’m going to stick with the UL-PPL routine right now, after traumatizing myself with AMRAPs over the last year and to avoid injury on AMRAPs, cause I always push myself too hard and sometimes don’t realize I’ve gone past technical failure and break form, so I want to avoid injuring myself like in the past. Also 5/3/1 has so many variations I go into analysis paralysis.

I think I can keep adding 10 lbs to my deadlift per week based on how I felt the last 3 weeks. Last week was 3x3 with 135 on deadlift, and I think I could have easily done many more, so this week I’m going to do 135 for 3x5 and try 10lbs added weekly linear progression. So I should be at 245x5 in a couple months.

Maybe I wasn’t going past failure then.

Sleep was good, 8+ hours, except when I’d go into overreaching, my sleep would suffer as I had trouble falling asleep and my sleep tracker would say my sleep quality was worse and that I woke up a lot more.

The last month I’ve been focusing on 9+ hours of sleep. Still went into overreaching symptoms after 3 weeks (decreased HRV, decreased deep sleep), so that’s why I’m deloading this week.

I’ll lower my protein to 1g/lb and increase carbs. I try to keep 0.5g/kg of fats for hormonal purposes. Mostly from olive oil, a couple brazil nuts, and 1/3 lb of grass fed ground beef/day.

Gonna stick with my current program for another cycle or two (minus the 3 sets leg curls and 2 sets chest) with a larger surplus, and see how my recovery is.

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Thinking back on my original programming over the last year, the main reason I did what I did was to avoid squatting and deadlifting, and increase my leg strength so that I could maybe start squatting and deadlifting again.

The best/only progress (from an upper body mass standpoint) I’ve ever seen was doing a 3 day full body workout, StrongLifts style, squatting 3 times a week and alternating Bench/OHP, plus assistance work for arms.

Now I am doing squats and deadlifts again.

Currently my hang-up is that I keep going into overreaching every 3-4 weeks. The only thing that explains this is one or a combination of the four:

  1. Too much volume x high intensity (9-10 RPE) (October-end of January, )
  2. Too much volume in general?
  3. Eating at caloric maintenance (December-March)
  4. Too many workouts/week 4-5 (February-April)

Reevaluating based on others’ comments and reflecting on the above, maybe I should switch back to 5/3/1.

I want a solid mix of strength and size. I ran BBB a few years ago for a period of 2 months, and took my

  • Bench 140x11 to 155x8
  • OHP from 90x9 to 100x10
  • Box Squat to 115x10 to 155x11
  • Rack Pull to 195x12 to 220x12 (Did box squats and rack pulls instead of free squats and deadlifts to avoid injury)

I don’t think I ever did an AMRAP set lower than 6 reps.

I was doing this assistance:

  • I was doing 5/3/1 forever style assistance: 3-4x10 reps chins/pullups, 4x10 dips, 3x10 curls, and 3x10 face pulls for assistance for Upper days and 3x10 leg extensions or 3x10 back extensions and hanging leg raises for Lower days.
  • I did my 5x10 bench on OHP day and vice versa, same with pulls/squats

I don’t think I was in a surplus at the time, I think I was just watching the mirror and eating to satisfaction, I think I was at maintenance or maybe a deficit. Didn’t think I was gaining any size at the time (probably because not surplus), but obviously I gained some strength.

Maybe I should do that again, in a controlled surplus? @mnben87 Would I progress my TM by 5-10lbs each cycle, or based on AMRAPs? I know Jim says not to update TMs based on AMRAPs except on specific variations

Classic me, overanalyzing, overthinking things. Not able to fall asleep because I’m stuck thinking about these things. Worried about my insecurities, I’ve had abs for 5 years but haven’t made any strength gains for 5 years.

Back in November, I looked at starting Strong Lifts again. I did one workout before stopping because my ego got in the way. Thought I knew better, went back to HIT training I was not growing and kept having to deload.

I’m going to do SL instead. After doing some excel, realizing that in 3 months using the Wave Loading progression or 5/3/1 (+5lbs every 3-4 weeks) would put me benching/squatting 170x5 in end of July, deadlifting 195x5.

If I do stronglifts style, and am able to stick to the progression for 3 months, I’ll be squating 260 for 5x5 and still benching 170 for 5x5, deadlifting 215x5, and rowing with 170 (or pull ups with +35 lbs added)

So worst comes to worst:

  • I can do more cardio/conditioning so I’ll be have better general fitness
  • My lifts will be in a better or the same spot as they would be
  • I can focus on my form for squat/deadlifts
  • I’ll be recovering better and be able to stretch more

I still need to learn to throw my ego out the door in many areas of life, may as well start here.

My workout plan will be what I did when I first started lifting (swapping rows with pull-ups); Basically SL with accessories or similar to ICF 5x5

Workout A:

  • Squat 5x5
  • Bench 5x5
  • Pull-Up 5x5 (will do BW until plan hits 135/140lbs)
  • Curls 3x8-15
  • Tricep Extension 3x8-12
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3x10+

Workout B:

  • Squat 5x5
  • OHP 5x5
  • Deadlift 1x5
  • Weighted Dips (Full ROM) 3x8-10
  • Chin-ups 3x8-10
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3x10+

Starting 5RMs

  • Squat: 170lbs
  • Bench: 170lbs
  • OHP: 105lbs
  • Deadlift: 170lbs
  • Weighted Pull Up: 175lbs (BW+40lbs)

Starting 5x5 Weights per the program:

  • Squat: 85lbs
  • Bench: 85lbs
  • OHP: 50lbs
  • Deadlift: 95lbs
  • Weighted Pull Up: 175lbs (BW+40lbs)

Progress will be standard +5 lbs/workout to each lift (+10 for deadlift).

Goal 5x5 Final lifts at 12 weeks:

  • Squat: 260lbs
  • Bench: 170lbs
  • OHP: 135lbs
  • Deadlift: 225lbs
  • Weighted Pull Up: 175lbs (BW+35lbs)

I’m going to eat in a defecit the first month, then go transition to maintenanc for week 5, then a surplus after that.

Main lifts are going to feel super light, as programmed. Assistance exercises will be to maintain/grow muscle mass. I’ll be doing 6-8 RPE.

This first month will essentially be an extended deload, which I probably need tbh. I feel burnt out from the last year, trying to do too much volume for my fitness, trying to do the same/more volume than I was doing after years of lifting previously.

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that looks like a great plan. get to work.


what did you do today?

Today was day 1 after my deload.

Just got done with Workout A Day 1. Starting at “zero”.

90 seconds rest max between all sets.

  • Squat 85lb 5x5 - glad I’m doing a reset, and starting from “zero”. My form definitely needs practice, some reps where I was breaking at the knees/hips mismatched, same with ankles. Building up from here will give me lots of practice reps.
  • Bench 85lbs 5x5 - my bench form has always been solid, again I focused on form. Was obviously super easy vs doing 150 for 4x5 two weeks ago. Was surprised I got a tiny pump.
  • Pull up BW 5x5 - had to use the shitty angled grip, which are slanted like a V. We’re harder than expected to grip because of this, but super easy to actually do the pull up.
  • Tricep rope push down - 60lbs for 12,12,8
  • Dumbell curls - 20lbs for 11,10,10. I really focus on the squeeze and a slow eccentric on curls since they’re for hypertrophy only.
  • Hanging Leg raise - 3x10. Last set was a little challenging but probably a good 3-4 reps in reserve

Definitely felt good to go in and humble the ego. Sitting on rest between sets with 20lbs on each side of the barbell is really embarrassing, and just sat there focusing on myself, knowing I know that I can bench 170x5 if I wanted to. But I need to start back at “zero” to get that squat form and build my work capacity and cardio up, and give myself time to recover. Build my fitness base before I start adding to it and digging myself into a hole I can’t get out of.


I am surprised that my pecs are a bit sore today, just from doing 5x5 with 50% of my 5RM with good form and focus. They’re just as sore today as they were a few weeks ago after benching 4x5 @ 150lbs, Weighted Dip 3x10, and Pec Fly 3x15 (all 1-3 RIR but 120 seconds rest). Even though 5x5 with 50% of my 5RM was 10+ RIR for all sets if not higher RIR. Interesting.

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Went rock climbing/bouldering for the first time in 5 years last night. Crushed some V2s and a couple V2+'s.

Firearms were absolutely shot this morning. Very sore and weak. Still went to lift.

Just finished Workout 2 today:

  • Squat 90lbs 5x5: Felt really good, form was on point. Movement pattern felt natural and focused.
  • OHP 50lbs 5x5: Focused on tight form and exploding the lift. Felt very powerful. Excited to get this number back up, I used to OHP over 135lb 1RM when I weighed 126 years ago. Always had strong shoulders.
  • Deadlift 95lb 1x5: Lowe back felt kinda strained on this, don’t know if it’s cause my grip is weak today. Will take a form video next time to check
  • Weighted Dip +20lbs 3x10: Started doing full ROM on these a few months ago. Elbows back, shoulders below elbows. Always feel great and a good stretch on my chest in the bottom.
  • Chin Ups BW 10,9,7: Had to use grip straps on these. Failed on last 2 sets because of grip even with the straps.
  • Hanging leg raise 3x10: Felt very easy except for grip.

Gonna be on a Tuesday/Thursday/Sunday routine from here on, so going to have a 2 day break before next lifting session. Will be doing cardio and stretching both days though.


2 rest days to get on schedule for lifting tuesday/thursday/one of saturday or sunday depending on schedule.

Zone 2 Cardio on Stationary Bike (Spin bike)

  • 5 minutes warmup
  • 20 minutes Zone 2 (68-78% max HR)
  • 5 Minutes cool down
  • Stretching

HIIT Cardio on Stationary Bike (Spin bike)

  • 10 minutes warmup
  • 5x30 second sprints w/ 2 minute light pedal between (HR hit 166)
  • 10 Minutes cool down
  • Stretching

Workout 3

  • Squat: 95lbs 5x5 w/ small pause at bottom
  • Bench: 90lbs 5x5
  • Pull Up: BW 5x5 - forearms/grip was still a bit sore and weak from climbing on Friday but nothing impactful
  • Superset Tricep push down/Face pull: 60lbs 3x12/85lbs 3x12
  • Dumbbell curl: 25lbs 3x8
  • Hanging leg raise 11,10,10

Added facepulls in to the bench day for shoulder health, forgot to add these originally.

Watched some squat university ankle/squat mobility videos today. Ordered some heavy resistance loop bands to work on my ankle flexibility, and some 2 inch boards to do elevated goblet squat holds every day to improve stability and movement pattern. My ankle flexibility is complete garbage, big toe just over an inch from the wall for the kneeling knee to wall test.


Workout 4

  • Squat: 100lbs 5x5
  • OHP: 70lbs 5x5
  • Deadlift: 105lbs 1x5 - Used my belt and braced properly, no back strain
  • Dips: 20lb 12,11,11
  • Chin-up: BW 10,10,8 - disappointed with these, I was doing 5x12 a year ago but at least I know progress is inevitable. Of course I was about 10lbs lighter then.
  • Hanging leg raise: 3x11

Made a 20lb jump on OHP instead of 5lbs because I feel completely recovered from before my deload and feel like I’m just wasting time doing such light loads, not stimulating the muscle. I’ll be making a 25lb jump to 115lbs on bench on Saturday. This will put me in line for OHP/Bench with squats and deadlifts to get back to the numbers where I was in about 6 weeks instead of 8-10.

My resistance loops came in today. I worked on ankle mobility for a few minutes before the gym and saw some immediate improvement. Excited to continue working on my mobility and squat form.