T Nation

Training for Strength as a Beginner

Hey everyone!

I began going to the gym for building muscle and looking more aesthetic, but recently, I’ve been wanting to increase my strength for the 3 big lifts: the deadlift, squat and bench press. I’m trying to incorporate powerlifting elements into my bodybuilding routine, but I’m not quite sure how I should go about it.

As far as increasing strength goes, how would an ideal program look in terms of frequency, repetitions, sets, intensity and rest times? So far, I’ve been using the 5x5 style training for increasing my strength. My goal is to increase my 1 RM as much as possible.

How has 5x5 been working for ya?

It’s been great for squats and deadlifts, but my bench is really bad! Might be due to the fact that I’m 17, very tall and I have long arms, though (could also just be an excuse :wink: !).

Understandable, a lot of people share the same problem with benching using 5x5. One thing I recommend is increase frequency of benching or do lots of singles.

The way I see it the longer it is the more muscle you can build on it

You could experiment with a closer grip maybe?

I also am tall, was very skinny, had a horrid bench, etc when I started. I also used the 5x5.

For what it’s worth, suggestions…
There are tons of 5x5 routines out there. Stronglifts seemed to provide the best “promise” so i started with that (I didn’t have anyone to teach me a proper power clean or I would’ve tried starting strength), I’m going to assume SL is what you’re using.

  • Until you can use 135lb, scrap the pendlay rows or do them from pins. If you’re good with chins/pull-ups, work on those, if not find another row that works for you (I stuck with the pendlay, but i have very good hip flexibility. my fiance does not, so she switched to underhand bent rows. Her biceps and lats grew very well)
  • On that note, for the most part, the stronger your back, the stronger your bench. Make sure your form is on point and Dave Tate’s “so you think you can bench” video is your new bible.
  • Once a week add in some heavy (but not max) singles with deadlifts after your set of 5 until your DL stagnates. So if you have a BAB week and B is your DL day, singles would be done on the second B day. If you really are a beginner, 95lb-135lbx5 once or twice a week is going to leave your pulls weaker than your squats in the long run. This will also help get you more comfortable testing your 1RM.
  • Don’t be afraid to add 10lb or 15lb to the bar if you’re feeling confident on the squat. Rows and Presses will move slower, so always stick with 5lb on those.
  • Milk this program for all it’s worth, as most people gain more strength with 5x5 “newb gains” than at any other point in their training, but don’t be afraid to modify it. 5x5 could be too much or not enough. Starting strength, a similar program, advocates 3x5, and a popular program at IronAddicts.com uses 2x5 for the bench press. As for 5x5 not being enough…

As Doh said, a lot of people get stuck with their bench on the 5x5. I remember being stuck at 155 for 3 workouts, deloaded, worked back up to 155 and still couldn’t hit 155x5x5. You have infinite options, obviously, but FWIW, here’s my experience: My approach at this time was to test my current max, then not worry about the bench and bring up my triceps. I hit 170x1, then deloaded both Bench and Press, pressed Monday and Friday until I could hit my goal at the time of 95x5x5 (which I had stalled on twice), and Wednesday devoted my time to bench form. During this time i discovered that the low-bar squat advocated for SL didn’t work for my body, so, since my Deadlift was progressing, I switched to Surovetsky’s 9 week Deadlift program for M and F, with W being my day to work on high-bar full-depth squat form. After I hit my goal with the press, i tested my bench max, which ended up at 190.

Since I was noticeably stronger from the first three weeks of the DL program, I tried out Surovetsky’s bench program, which was 3x/week with no other tricep or anterior deltoid exercises. I wasn’t keen to ditch the Press, but wanted a bigger bench, and since his first program was 4 weeks my max test day would be the same for Bench and DL. I ended up benching 210 and pulling somewhere around 350 (my max before the program was 290).

Keep in mind I’m not necessarily advocating these programs, they just worked for me at the time. You should be able to know if you’re not making progress, or just not making progress as fast as you’d like. I only switched my program after a full deload as the SL program specified, and again, milk 5x5 until you can’t anymore.

[quote]MightyMouse17 wrote:
You could experiment with a closer grip maybe? [/quote]


There was a thread here a while back where many tall guys (6’3 and above) all pretty much agreed that closer grip was better for them, despite being counter-intuitive. I am in that camp, and got the idea from watching KK who also has monkey arms.