T Nation

Sick of "Minimal Progress, Maximal Time"

I have immersed myself within lifting for over 5 years now. For about half of that time, I have given all of my attention to the sport of powerlifting. I have read books such as “A Thoughtful Pursuit of Strength”, watched countless videos from many knowledgeable experts in the field, read books of periodizations, optimal cueing/form, tried countless setups of the lifts only to experience "paraysis by analysis frequently, thought I was onto something only to either get hurt or realize I was doing something wrong all along.

I even added a Kinesiolgy Minor while attending Penn State because I am so deeply interested in becoming better. I am currently in school for Physical Therapy to learn even more of human performance and how the body should move for optimal performance. The point is that for over 2 years I have I have seemingly not netted a whole lot of gains and my training and lifts are mediocre at best. :confused:

I’m desperate and frustrated at this point and would be forever grateful to hear practical advice as to what I should do. For financial reasons I am not able to change gyms, but the good news is that I am at a gym that has everything I need and have spoken to the manager who allows me to use chalk and train for powerlifting. If nothing else, I hope to at least be able to talk to users who may be experiencing the same frustration and listen to the advice of those more seasoned. Any help would be incredible! Thank you!

  1. Keep grinding and training your ass off
  2. what’s your training program look like? what’s your nutrition look like? how is your sleep and blood work?

There could be many things holding you back. Progress is measured by the sum of everything you do.

Let us know what type of training you’re doing and fill in some of the blanks then people can better help you.

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What’s your height and weight? I’ve learned the most important things are eat enough food and drink a lot of water, you wont make progess if you don’t push yourself. Whether its increasing reps with a certain weight or overall max. I totaled 1390 at 175 4 years ago. And about 1.5 years ago I realized I was just going through the motions in the gym without pushing myself I didn’t eat much and barely drank water. And my max on lifts was a good bit lower than my previous total. I told my self I was done and was going to actually push myself. And in about a year and a half my squat went from 435 to 550-560, my bench went from 335 to 390tng and my deadlift went from 530 to 625. This was all from eating more, drinking more and pushing harder cause I wasnt pushing myself near as hard as I thought I was before. gained about 10lbs from 178 to 188

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I am 5’ 9", 192 @ 15% body fat. I was running Candito’s 6 week for awhile with exercise selection modification. Then went to Double Progression method with the squat, bench, deadlift and overhead press but that soon resulted in way way too much fatigue build up and I switched gears to what I have now. I prioritize carbs in my diet to replenish my glycogen stores which are essential to performance with about 150 grams of protein a day. I have now written a macrocycle that goes as follows 3 hypertrophy blocks, 2 strength blocks and 1 peaking block. I like to write my programs and have put each mesocycle below so you @corstijeir and @Vincepac1500 can have the most insight to my lifting. As you can probably see, I have switched out bench press for overhead to have more overall shoulder and scapular stabilizer development. I will definitely switch back well well well in advance when I decide to compete. My maxes are Overhead lift is 165 (strict) Squat is 305 and deadlift is 345 with some obvious technique issue as @corstijeir kindly pointed out.

Hypertrophy Meso one

Hypertrophy Meso two

Hypertrophy Meso three

Strength 1

Strength 2


Honestly, most lifters would do better focusing mostly on the competition lifts and by that I mean very little to no assistance work.

There’s very little reason to add a lot of assistance work to your training if you can’t recover from it. Do yourself a favor and forget the dogma about things like: bench press then triceps then delts then lats then biceps then upper back, etc in every workout you do.

Name me an exercise that will hit any one of those muscles heavier and harder than the bench press…Is a tricep pushdown gonna build your triceps more than a bench press? Cut the fat and focus the majority of your efforts on the competition lifts and watch the changes that happen provided nutrition and rest are on point. Stop with all the percentages and move some weight. Make realistic jumps in weight using realistic reps. You need lots of average days just to add up to some good days when you get this far into your training age.

I know many won’t agree with me on this, but if you aren’t making progress and you’re doing everything in that chart you posted, I’d suggest doing much much less, eat more calories and rest more and see where that takes you. My bet is, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I agree I stick to the main lifts mostly with a few accessories added but seem to recover very fast cause normally I don’t hit very many reps on my big movements. But your percentages look way low to me. I didn’t even see anything above 90% and most is between 60 and 80 to me thats cruse weight and form work on the lower end.

Edit did see some over 90, I’m looking on my phone.
I also would recommend not squatting the same day you deadlift

I haven’t looked back since starting 531 four months ago. I’m performing better all around. Keep it simple, so obviously anything basic focusing on the big lifts will be good. I just think 531 is a great option. Something like FSL 5x5-8 with joker sets and very targeted assistance while doing pull aparts between work sets on pressing days, some kind of chin up or inverted row between sets for DL and push-ups between squats. That’s basically what I’ve been doing and it’s been great even though I’ve had much less time to train than I’m used to.

I really appreciate the feedback! I’ve always valued experience over “what the books say” and it’s awesome to hear very practical first hand experience! So despite the dogma of “a bigger muscle tends to be a stronger muscle” you guys agree to skip the higher rep ranges and lower percentages for hypertrophy and make my training more specific and work with about 80% and above and do something more like 5/3/1?

This is true. It is not dogma. It is common sense.

THIS is false.

Edit. I’m not saying high reps do not induce hypertrophy. I am saying lower reps will induce hypertrophy just as well as long as overall volume is sufficent.

So still phase my training like I have just use higher percentages for hypertrophy?

I am not a competitive powerlifter so I do not know what your competition schedules are like. However, if you are not competing or have an extended off-season, I doubt you need different phases at your level.

Chad Wesley Smith knows his stuff. He’s successful himself and coached some current world record holders which should tell you his success wasn’t in spite of his training. I’d listen to him - you do have to give up a bit of upfront progress for long term results though.

Its more about testing how the weight moves each workout rather than limiting yourself to strict percentages, sets, reps etc. Don’t go on how you feel, go on how the weight is moving.

My own personal training generally starts with any empty bar for a couple of sets just to loosen up. Then 135 is always the first weight on the bar for a couple of sets and add weight according to how the second set feels. Generally it always feels better than the first set when you make jumps in weight. If it feels as good or better than the first set, add weight. If it doesn’t, stay there for a couple more sets and call it good.

For example my last bench workout went like this: 45x20 135x2x10 185x2x5 225x2x5 275x2x3 315x2x3 then added a sling 365x3 and stopped there. Did 4 or 5 sets (can’t remember) of hammer curls after and called it a day. It’s all based on how the weight was moving.

Stop worrying about fat gain and eat eat eat eat.

Your protien seems low to me for your body weight

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So you work up to doubles or triples depending on how you feel? You don’t have percentages or planned loadings? @osu122975

@Dazzo7991 just to touch on what everyone has said, you’re under eating protein, i have no idea how many carbs you’re eating or fats so I can’t tell how many calories a day you’re actually eating but 150 is too low.

I’m not a programming expert but your programming is a bit off.

Here’s what I’d recommend and this is just my take:

5/3/1 boring but big, do that for 12 months.

Eat 250 grams of protein a day, shoot for around 250 grams of carbs on training days and somewhere around 100 on non-training days. Go for 10-15g of fat per meal. Split all this over 5 meals a day. On training days have some type of pre/intra/post to get those carbs closer to 250.

Your lifts will go up, you will get stronger and bigger.

I’m seeing too much volume in some areas and not enough in others. I think taking a long term guided approach via 5/3/1 or 5th set or even west side fo skinny bastards would do you some good.

I personally pay someone to do my training and nutrition but I realize that’s not an option for everyone. If it ever came to where I needed something to do on my own i’d grab 5/3/1 or 5th set in a heart beat. They are already written out so you just follow the program and make progress.

Good luck!


I definitely empathize with you, as I was in a similar situation a couple years ago. Hopefully I can offer some advice, or at least perspective.

Two things stick out to me about your posts. The first is that you started this thread by talking about all of the studying and reading you’ve done rather than the time and effort you have actually put into training. Unfortunately, studying more and knowing more does not actually make you stronger, no matter how much you do it. In general, your perspective should be shifted to DOING more to make you better, rather than reading more about how to make yourself better.

The second thing I noticed is that with the only pre-written powerlifting programs you’ve run, you’ve modified it. I totally understand this urge, but understand that you’ll probably learn a lot more from actually doing a program, seeing how you respond to it, and THEN making the slight changes you feel you need to make to keep progressing. Don’t let your own knowledge and enthusiasm for “the why” get in the way of you actually doing “the what” that has been laid out for you by THE EXPERT who’s programming you’re choosing to follow.

All that said, this is my advice: pick a program or write your own based on the templates provided in the Thoughtful Approach book. If you go that route, stick as close to the template as possible (i.e. do exactly as it says). If you decide to pick a different program, 5/3/1 is great. Either way, stick to the program as written and bust your ass on it. In the mean time, continue with your studying, but don’t allow yourself to give into the temptation to change what you’re actually doing in the weight room. Every time you come across something new that piques your interest, make a note of it. Then, when things eventually stall out with what you’re doing in the weight room, you can return to these notes and pick one thing to change about your programming that you think will keep you progressing. Don’t overall everything and say “okay, my squat stopped progressing on 5/3/1 so I’m going to start squatting 12 times a week, benching 15 times a week, and switch my deadlift stance,” just change one thing and see how you respond to it. That’s how you can actually use the things you’re reading about in a productive way and assess which ones actually benefit you. Plus, after a few years of that your program may look totally different from what your started with, but it will be full of things that you KNOW work for you, because you methodically introduced them and checked their efficacy.

Hope that helps.

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You’ve all been very helpful! @corstijeir @TrevorLPT I will up my protein to at least 200 grams. My carbs as I forgot to mention are at about 300-400 a day. I’ll stop with the urge of wanting to write my own programs and customize until I actually know what works for me later in my training career. I’ll run and trust 5/3/1 like you suggested and stick to it because we all know it works.


OK, you’re on the right track man.

You understand that training should go in some kind of logical progression. You understand that assistance lifts build up your main lifts. You see the need to increase the weights you are lifting. You see how the micro cycles make up the blocks, which fit together to make up “Periodization.” So all of that is awesome and great.

The problem is that you’re not great at selecting which lifts should go on which days. Your sets/reps/percentages are also not set up in an “optimal” way.

You just need to follow a simple and effective training program for awhile. Follow the rules and make the gains. Then, use your book knowledge to understand WHY the program is working.

For Your Accumulation Phase use some kind of REP PR system. “Regular” 5/3/1 with rep PR’s is great for this. Thge percentages and waves and rep ranges are all planned and proven,

“Greyskull” uses a similar “plus set” approach.

You could also use the EMOM approach C.T. is talking about in his forum right now.

Or you could try to increase the number of sets you do in the same amount of time, like dude outlines in “The Westside Method Thread.”

Then, for your intensification phase, use some kind of plan where the sets and reps stay similar, but the weights go up. Include back off sets, to move lighter weights for “power.” Wendler’s 5’s Pro is great for this.

C.T.'s 5/4/3/2/1 ramp could also work.

A Westside Intensification wave with 50-55-60% could work.

You could even just do like 6 weeks of “starting strength” or some kind of similar plan if you wanted.

These “blocks” should be made up of Two, 3 week waves each. Westside and Wendler run their programs this way, so its convenient to follow them.

Personally, I like assistance work, but its important to keep it from taking away from your progress. Push Press, Front Squat, Paused Squats and deficit deads are good lifts, but they are serious! They crush your whole body. Important “secondary lifts” like that need to be treated carefully. Westside, or Wendlers “Simplest Strength Template” will get you up to speed on how to include these lifts.

Follow the experts for 12 weeks. Check out how they implement the concepts and sciences that you’ve been studying.

The rep ranges can vary depending on where you are in your training. Personally, I like to stay in the 1-5 rep range but will vary it depending on where I am in my training.

I don’t use percentages. Planned loadings? I’m not really sure what that is. I have two heavy days and two light days if that’s what you mean.

There’s really no secret sets/reps programming, etc. It takes consistency, discipline and hard work and lots and lots of average days to get stronger. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t abandon what works. Vary the intensity and volume from time to time and you’ll get stronger, but it all just takes time and patience.Strength for you is not going to be linear anymore.

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