T Nation

The End of Progress

Where’s the right place to post a transformation story and a question about progress?

I have one - it’s about a 30yo guy starting something for the first time in his life, with zero previous experience, and realising an undiscovered passion - lifting heavy stuff. I owe a huge amount to T-Nation/TMuscle for the success I’ve had so far. I’m going to assume this is the place and start writing something, and I’m prepared to shift it elsewhere if required…

I am undoubtedly transformed, and clearly addicted to progress. But, for the first time in exactly 598 days (I keep details), I experienced what I would simply call failure to progress.

My passion is strength, and I had lived for 29 years without realising it. I have a thing with numbers and I am driven by the small but steady incremental advances of kilos to the bar (kilos, pounds, whatever… I’m aussie). And after almost 2 years, my desire to progress is as strong as ever. The recognition of walking away from lifting the heaviest thing that’s ever been on your shoulders in your life is indescribable (not something I’m sure I have to explain to you people). I’m absolutely hooked. And for 598 days I felt nothing but the pain of hard work and the occasional mind-blowing high of hitting a record… until last week. For the first time since I started all this I failed to hit a PR. And I was gutted.

My focus from the beginning has been the back squat, with deadlift and bench being very much secondary goals. I’m a short-arse 5’5, 71kg guy with chicken legs and have gone from the very beginning squatting body weight (teenage knee injury problems and hip flexibility to name two issues) to my personal best of squatting 125kg (275lb) for 2 reps. This was achieved in about 18 months, all completely naturally, with nothing but a squat rack, Bill Starr’s Intermediate 5x5 routine, and a big diet of whole foods (not to mention a religious adherence to Rippetoe and Kilgore’s documented instruction on form). I hit that PB in April 17 this year, day 458. My long term goal is to hit two times my body weight by the end of 2009.

Four months on, I tried to hit a new PB - 130kg - and didn’t make it. Not even close. I was gutted.

I’ve spent the last week wondering why, and also what the next step might be. (I live and train around the avoidance of the infamous plateau, and I hope all this won’t be written off as such.) I have a feeling my core strength is letting me down, and I know I’ve got a lot more work to do on both my hip and shoulder flexibility… but at the same time I can’t help but feel that the newbie gains are a distant memory, and reality is hitting me like a barbell in the head, and this is as good as it gets.

I had never touched the iron before in my life and I can’t shake the feeling that, at almost 31 years old, I left it too late.

I’ll briefly note two things worth mentioning:

  1. I have a 12 month old son who, despite 12 months of sleep deprivation (he wakes 3 times a night, every night, still to this day) I’ve still managed progress, with adherence to the workout schedule, good diet, and a fantastically understanding wife.

  2. I’ve had strange lower back “feelings” for the last 3-4 months that I would classify as weakness. There’s no real “pain”, although the doc misinterpreted “weakness” as “pain” and ordered CT scans. The results are on their way next week, but I’m 99% certain the scans wont reveal anything.

I’ll post a pic of my outward transformation over the last 18 months (upper body only, if it means anything… not too keen on showing balls in undies shots) and a video of a form check at 110kg (243lb) for comment.

And at this point I’d just like to know people’s thoughts on what’s going on. Is it an age thing? Have I gone as far as I can with my natural abilities (which is what I’m really starting believe)? I’ve done all this completely on my own so far - countless hours in the home-made gym - and I get the feeling some outside help would benefit me, especially with my particular situation (age and lack of previous lifting experience).

Has anyone else gone through something like this? I’d love to hear about it.

So you’ve been doing starting strength for basically two years? I’m more noob than you, but I can think of two options.

A ‘reset’ where you back off a bit, and then go for the PRs again.

Or, you’re squatting 1.5x bodyweight, which is commonly used as a threshold to be a real-life Intermediate Lifter. You could switch to a more sophisticated program. Maybe 5x5 or 5/3/2.

Oh, and there’s also the chance that bringing up your other lifts might help your squat. For instance, if you’re deadlifting less than the squat, that could be a sign of problem.

You can do better. Your beginner gains are probably over, and that’s okay. You’ve been at this plateau (lets call it a plateau) for a while (about five months, apparently). List the things you’ve done to try and get past it. You’re probably familiar with most of these, and I’ll try to list them in the easiest-hardest to accomplish order. Have you:

  1. Had someone look at your form (Okay, you’ve done that already, and it checks out. nevermind).
  2. been taking creatine?
  3. Taken a de-load week?
  4. done more assistance work for your weak-link (most likely posterior chain, but maybe not)?
  5. Incorporated DE elements into your training?
  6. Incorporated isometric elements into your training?
  7. eaten more?
  8. Changed workout regimens?
  9. Worked at increasing your higher RM’s?
  10. sought professional help (actually talked to a personal trainer. Yeah, I know… but some of them may be worth it)?

Firstly, thanks for reading my goddam essay up there - it was a long post. And I’ll have to apologise upfront as there is another one coming…

The lead up to the 130kg failure, following my successful 125kg lift in April, was as follows.

After the 125kg lift, I backed off a bit. I took a week off, then I restarted Bill Starr’s ramped 5x5 routine (Intermediate) with weights around 75% of what I was lifting in April and did that for about 4 weeks.

I then spent about 8 weeks basically trying different things, mucking around with reps, sets, frequency and intensity. Some of the things I tried included a straight 5x5 for about 3 weeks, but found it too taxing. I also took an idea from *Chad’s article about throwing away sets and just aiming for 25 reps of a particular weight. I did that for a few weeks and found it wrecked me completely. Too much recovery required (and my 12 month old son wasn’t playing along, ie. sleep). There were some other routines and things I tried as well. No real focus on anything, basically taking a break from goal setting.

Then in early August I decided it was goal time and work towards a 130kg lift. I filled in the spreadsheet on Bill Starr’s Intermediate 5x5 routine so that by week 4 I would be squatting 100kg for 5 reps. My plan was that, at any point after week 4, if things felt right, I’d just go for the single rep 130kg lift. It was the same approach I took with the 125kg lift (I was squatting 90kg for 5 reps when I hit 125kg).

After week 5 I felt the Friday workout was easier than expected and I might have it in me to go for the 130kg the following week - week 6. I did the Monday routine as normal, the Wednesday routine as normal, then on Friday I felt good and I made my attempt. I spent about 45 minutes warming up to it - 5x20kg, 5x40kg, 4x60kg, 3x80kg, 2x100kg, 1x115kg. All was going well… then I just couldn’t lift 130kg. I tried 4 times, with small and big breaks in between. No good.

So that was the lead up, work-wise.

Diet-wise, I have been focusing on whole foods, lots of grilled red meat, chicken, eggs, tuna, green vegies (pasta and rice on occasion). I have about 2 whey protein shakes a day (one for breakfast which is loaded up with carbs - oats, banana, blueberries). I drink plenty of milk. I use creatine in my PWO shake. I know I’m getting enough calories because my BF has gone up roughly 2-3% since April and the scales say I’m carrying around about 2 kilos more now than I was back then.

One thing worth mentioning about my diet is my wife and I like to drink wine with dinner. We usually have about two glasses each on most nights. However, after the failed lift I’ve decided to cut out the alcohol now - whether or not that makes any difference. It didn’t make a difference for the 125kg lift. Who knows.

Anyway, now I’m at the stage where I want to hit that 130kg and will try anything.

EasyRhino, your 5/3/1 suggestion has caught my eye, and I’m going to spend my time today looking into it. Thanks for the tip.

Otep, in regards to finding a trainer - how do I go about finding one who would actually be useful? How do you find the good guys amongst the goofballs, something that has kept me from looking. I also feel I’m not yet qualified with my strength achievements to be talking to a strength coach. Hey, if anyone out there can recommend a decent strength coach in Sydney (Australia), willing to work with an “enthusiast” who can’t yet squat 2 times his body weight, it would be much appreciated.

Apologies again for the long post, and thanks to anyone that managed to get this far.

Ultimately, I believe I did the right things but just wasn’t successful this time. I posted this because I guess I’m hoping to hear it’s not an age thing, my biggest concern. And, fk, it just feels good to talk about it. :slight_smile:

I don’t think it’s an age thing… it could be more of a mental thing. There was a guy in college who was just dying to bench 225 (the magic four plates). He’d get right there and then inexplicably fail. Long story short, we decided one day to load up 225 on him with 45/25/10/10, which he believed was 195 (45/25/5/5 a side). He went on to hit 5 reps and then had to check himself after we told him. He wound up setting a PR at 250 that day. If you’ve got someone else that can load the bar for you or do something to take away the mental aspect of it, it might help.

Also, in the past I’ve tried adding weight after a miss, gone ahead and missed again(but with effort), and then gone back to the target weight and been successful- this is basically CNS priming to a degree. Be sure to take enough time between sets though.

Watch Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech.

You’ll know what to do by then.

[quote]B.L.U. Ninja wrote:
Watch Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech.

You’ll know what to do by then.[/quote]


I bought 5/3/1 (thanks again EasyRhino) and read it in a day. I tested my actual maxes using his 0.0333 whatever formula, and set a template for the next 4 weeks.

I got that feeling you get when you are about to start a new program.

Thanks for your replies. SRT08, your idea is great and I will keep it in mind next time I get “wild hair up my ass” (to quote Jim) and go for a max.

I might come back here one day and post how things went.