T Nation

Unhappy with Progress


Hey guys,

I'm a longtime lurker (about 4 years, I think), but it was about time that I registered. Very nice site and forum!

In the following paragraphs I'll provide you with a lot of information of my training history. Maybe even too much information, but I'm getting a bit emotional at the moment, so bear with me. I'll try to keep this as easy to read and understand as possible...

As the thread title suggests I'm rather unhappy with my training progress over the last years. I've been sick the last few days and whenever I'm sick I look back and evaluate the training I've done the past few weeks or months.
The thing is that frankly spoken I don't even look like I lift.

So, I think it would be easiest to first give you an assessment of my current shape:

26 years old
76,5 kg / 170 lbs
~79 cm / 31 inch waist
~15% bodyfat (just a guess)

Here are some pics. These are from December, but not much changed since then (well, lost a couple of pounds).

So much for the current state. Now on to my training history:

I started out in October 2007 as a 61 kg / 135 lbs (~10-12% bodyfat) weakling. I was introduced to the gym and spent about a year with some machines and after some weeks already free weight exercises. In that first year I put on about 10 kg / 22 lbs of mass, newbie gains.

Then the plateau came. I continued training for like 2-3 years. Frankly I don't even remember all the shit I did there. But those years almost don't count because I didn't care about nutrition at all and didn't train with any sense. At one point I was convinced that it was enough to go to the gym once a week and complete a full body workout with way too many exercises. And I even half-assed that...

So fast forward to like the end of 2010. I weighed about 74 kg / 165 lbs by then.
I got more serious about my training. After reading a lot I decided to do Starting Strength and do it right. I did it and sticked to it for like 1,5 years.

After that, about at the beginning of 2012, my lifts were:

Squat: 100-110 kg (225-245 lbs) x 3 x 5
Bench: 75 kg (165 lbs) x 3 x 5
Deadlift: 120 kg (265 lbs) x 1 x 5 (super crappy technique)

Those were my lifts. And my body? I GOT BIG LEGS, A FAT ASS AND A BELLY!! It didn't look very good, lol. Yes, I did EAT, like Mark Rippetoe recommends. About 3500-4000 calories a day. Boom. I was about 80 kg by then.

I reset the lifts like 2 or 3 times but never got past those numbers (despite numerous internet claims of people getting to waaayy higher numbers with Starting Strength), so I thought it was time to move on.

From the beginning of 2012 on I toyed around with a few different things like the Texas Method and something else (I don't remember what exactly), but didn't stick with it.
I also slowly dieted down until the end of the year, back down to 72 kg / 160 lbs (about 12% bodyfat or something).

From October 2012 to June 2013 I probably made the best gains since I started training! I followed 5/3/1 and sticked to it for 9 months. I made the expected strength gains and the first noticable size gains in years.

I ate like a maniac (again like 3500-4000 calories) and gained 12 kg / 26 lbs in those 9 months.

My lifts were:

Before 5/3/1:

Squat: 120 kg / 265 lbs x 1
Bench: 90 kg / 200 lbs x 1
Deadlift: 125 kg / 275 lbs x 1
Overhead Press: 55 kg / 125 lbs x 1

After 9 months of 5/3/1 (these are the working weights of week 3 of the program):

Squat: 110 kg / 245 lbs x 3
Bench: 90 kg / 200 lbs x 3
Deadlift: 132,5 kg / 295 lbs x 2
Overhead Press: 60 kg / 135 lbs x 3

Well, seeing it written down now, the squat and bench press didn't really get that much better, did they? Overhead press gains seemed pretty good and especially my deadlift improved the best; its technique got WAY better too.

Physique-wise I did put an inch on my arms and my shoulders got noticably rounder. Maybe a little more chest and lats, but not much. But to be honest I don't think that those arm and shoulder gains were due to the 5/3/1 program but because it was the first time in years that I included direct isolation training of those muscle groups, as well as higher rep ranges (as opposed to the constant 5s in Starting Strength). So it probably was just a case of "Doing the Opposite" as Christian Thibaudau would say...

So it was the middle of 2013 and I thought it was time for a change again. What I did the rest of the year was HFT, a high frequency template. The training was basically a freestyle full body workout.

Three exercises: Squat/Deadlift (or variation), a pressing movement and a pulling movement. I was trying to train smart, autoregulating the volume and intensity.
With this training I actually made nice strength improvements in the deadlift and bench press. By the end of the year I was deadlifting 150 kg / 335 lbs x 1 and bench pressing 100 kg / 225 lbs x 1 as well as benching several sets of 3 with 90 kg / 200 lbs.
Despite of those improvements I always felt that my squat and overhead press didn't really improve much with the HFT or even got weaker.

Physique-wise I did a cut for the last few months of 2013 to get rid of my belly again. I lost about 8 kg / 17 lbs and ended up at 76-78 kg / ~170 lbs.

I continued the HFT training in the beginning of 2014, but not much happened then. I also kinda got bored and doubted the effectiveness of it in terms of muscle gains and thought it was time to return to 5/3/1 which at least gave me some kind of gains for a while.

So from March 2014 on I did another 4 cycles of 5/3/1. This time it somehow didn't feel as good as the first time I did it. In June my lifts were:

Squat: 125 kg / 275 lbs x 1
Bench: 95 kg / 210 lbs x 4
Deadlift: 145 kg / 325 lbs x 3
Overhead Press: 65 kg / 145 lbs x 2

In those 4 months I tried to gain mass again, but tried not to overeat as much. I ended up gaining another 2-2,5 kg / 4-6 lbs.

After that, in the last two months, I decided to cut again and once again took up the HFT routine.

About my nutrition:

In general I didn't mention nutrition much, but I always tried to follow the general advice of a calorie surplus when trying to gain mass, as well es getting enough protein (which for me was ~1 g per pound of bodyweight, give or take, most of the time).
I tried to eat as clean as possible. I ate meat, rice/pasta, nuts, milk... I am not a good eater, so I always tend to eat calorie dense foods. It's hard for me to get in all the calories, especially when I was eating 4000 calories. So I did indeed eat fast food. But it's getting less and less as the years go by. I could always eat more fruit and veggies, I'm working on that.

Well, and here I am. I think I'm so far away from my muscular potential, it's not even funny. After being sick for a few days now I'm really disheartened and don't really know how I should continue to train. I have trained for 7 years now (well 4 â??realâ?? years, but still), but don't have the muscle nor strength to show for it. I love training, but I'm done wasting my time and I want results!

I've come to you because I kinda have paralysis by analysis and don't know what to do or believe anymore. I tried to be as detailed and informative as possible, so maybe someone noticed some details or patterns and can give me valuable advice. I could go on forever and keep talking about theories and what I myself think might go/have gone wrong, but for now I'll leave it at that.

If you need any more information (there's plenty, I guess), feel free to ask.

A big THANKS to everyone who read the whole piece...

Current Bodybuilding Training Thread 2.0

I would say the problem is the frequency of your cutting and gaining phases.

Your physique isn't bad for someone just past the beginner phase.

It's time to start counting your macros and meeting a daily caloric goal and start mass gaining for an extended amount of time.


And i meant "just past the beginner phase" not in a condescending manner, but because you only found what works for you in 2012 after facing problems with prior programs as you have described.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression your training has been mainly strength oriented with low reps. Ever tried a more classic hypertrophy program..?

Myself I train mainly for esthetics and could not care less how much I lift, and that kind of training have given me my best gains in size. (The numbers will go up anyway as you grow)

I really like the push-pull programs, or push-pull-legs if I want to do a bit more for each body part. Right now I train chest/back, legs and shoulders/arms with moderate to high voulume depending on time/energy on the day.

I use supersets a lot and really go for the big pump with slow pace and lots of squeezing. Reps vary from 6 to 20 (even higher on calves). I try to keep the rest between sets to about 60s to 90s.

I do mostly straight sets on legs, but might superset hack squats with walking lunges (no rest between them), cable leg curls with hip thrusts or RDL's etc.

For chest/back I do one set of each, like a set of chins followed by a set of presses, a set of chins and so on, normally 3 exercises on each.

My shoulders/arms training is also mostly supersets. This is what I did last workout after a general warm-up:

Db side laterals / db front laterals 3 x 10-15
Pushdown / cable curl 3 x 10-15 (Pushdowns on an incl.bench facing away from the pulley - curls with Fat Gripz on a straight bar)
Tate press / db Scott curl 3 x 6-10
Seated db press 3 x 8-12
Overhead rope ext / incline hammer curls 3 x 8-12
Wide grip upright row / db shrugs 3 x 10-15

Get enough good food and supplement with protein, creatine and aminos and results will come :slight_smile:

This is just an example on what works for me, but it will not suit those who wants to impress with big weights flying all over the place.. :wink:


Pretty much what the others said. You're past the point where beginner programs will get you where you want to go. You can still pursue strength via 5/3/1 or something similar, but you will need pump work too. Oh, and also realise that those lean 10k within one year probably won't happen again unless you find some holy grail of nutrition (no, 'eating more' does not count)'.

where in Germany are you?


Your squat didn't move for 9 months on 5/3/1? it's very simple, you did it wrong and/or didn't follow the program.

You also did SS for 1.5 years? Again, you did it wrong. At 10lbs a session and your squat finishing at 245lbs, the math doesn't add up. No Texas method or Madcow?

For me, your solution is easy. Make a goal, follow it. Get on a program and follow it. If you are not adding 10 and 5 lbs a months to your TM's on 5/3/1, you are not following the program. Dial in your diet also, I really doubt you actually know what you are getting.

Consistency is key.



Well, I think the thing is that I always reach a point of unhappyness because I'm too flubby. And because I don't have that much lean mass yet, I tend to look skinny fat. So that's when I do a short cut again. To be honest I've never really reached appreciable leanness either.
So wouldn't you say that before I embark on a long-term bulk like you say, it would be best to lose most of the flubber so that I have more leeway? That was what I was trying to do now anyway (before I got sick)...

Ah, it's alright, no problem!

Well, you are right. I trained in a more classic hypertrophy manner at the beginning of my training, but only in the first 1-2 years. After I plateau'd and decided to take everything more seriously I wanted to do everything â??rightâ??.
And well, there's so many experienced people in the internet that say that the most important thing is to get stronger as a natural guy. Get strong in the big basic movements and eat enough. That's when you would see the most growth. Some even say pump work doesn't really do shit before you are strong.
So that's kinda the reason I started all the strength stuff. I didn't really care how much I lift either, but I learned to love it because strength increases come quicker and are easier to monitor than muscle gains.

So yeah, I thought about maybe doing a more classic bodybuilding routine, too. 5/3/1 does have some volume, more than Starting Strength at least, but maybe it isn't enough. I think it IS less than the volume of something you outlined... hmm.

I do realize that I won't get anything like my newbie gains again, but I'm certain that I'm far enough from my genetic potential that I could still get quite some visible changes in 1-2 years with the proper training and nutrition...
About the pump work... 5/3/1 does have pump work... but like I said, maybe it's not enough?

I'm in Raesfeld in North-Rhine Westphalia. Near the border to the Netherlands.

Yeah, it's always easy to say someone did it wrong. But just because I didn't get the results many other people got, doesn't automatically mean I did it wrong...

Of course the math didn't add up with Starting Strength. Because it's not all math. But whatever, I looked into my old training notes and to your defense, I didn't tell the whole story:

When I did the SS plan, I could already squat about 175 lbs and got to ~245 lbs rather quickly with the planned progession. The thing is that I tried to get past that and just couldn't. So I resetted the lift a couple of times and tried and tried again, but it just didn't work. The problem is that during that time of pushing really hard I started getting some really sharp back pain and foolishly just continued the squats for a few workouts. I ended up not being able to squat for 1-2 months.
It turned out to be something minor which could be easily fixed by an orthopedist, but needless to say I ended up spinning my wheels more than needed. And after that I started again slow, but I was still so convinced that I should continue that exact routine (I was really a Rippetoe fanbay) that I clung to it way longer than useful...

About 5/3/1... I didn't do that "wrong" either... I followed the percentages as written and picked a basic template for the assistance work. Yeah, I did choose the exercises myself, but kept the general number and rep scheme of the exercises. Oh yeah, I added curls at the end of two days. If that's your definition of doing it wrong than yeah, I did it wrong.

But hey, I checked my logs and I think it wasn't the whole story here either. I did start the program with a max 20 kg lower than the max squat I did before. The thing is that I felt very weak in squats because I hadn't really squatted that much in the weeks/months prior. So that is why my squat didn't increase that much in my first 9 months of 5/3/1.

But well, I wanted to start low as Wendler always recommends. So I did focus on technique a lot while doing this and indeed my squat is much better now in terms of technique. So I guess that's also a way of being stronger, if you know what I mean...

Strength-wise the program DID work. I mean I could complete all the reps, the planned progression worked and I did set rep records.

So yeah, I hope I didn't appear too butthurt, but I guess I was because you just assumed I did everything wrong... I hope this cleared some things up for you.

Oh and about my diet: I actually do have a VERY clear picture of what I'm getting. I have been consistently counting my calories and macros for almost 4 years now. You can doubt it, if you want, but I guess you just have to take my word for it.


Well, you just confirmed what I said.

SS: You reset, which is fine (I've done the same), but then you did it again and again (you said a couple of times). You should have went to Texas method, as per the program. You found your max on that program and your present conditioning. That's what happens to everyone that milks the program.

5/3/1: If you switch from back squat to front squat, nothing wrong with that. Just keep the 5/3/1 philosophy and you are golden. If you did leg extensions instead of squats, then yes, it was wrong. Even starting your max 20kg lower would have you reaching your old max in 4 months. And that would have been your TM. Your PR would have been higher. And again, you did wrong by not following the program.

If you feel confident with your diet, then that is great. I was basing my answer on what you had written so far.

Your title says you are unhappy with your progress. I stand by my original answer that you need to follow a program. Because, so far, what you are doing is not working for you. Don't blame the program and do a program that suits you.


You caught my attention when you wrote this:

"Well, I think the thing is that I always reach a point of unhappyness because I'm too flubby. And because I don't have that much lean mass yet, I tend to look skinny fat. So that's when I do a short cut again. To be honest I've never really reached appreciable leanness either.
So wouldn't you say that before I embark on a long-term bulk like you say, it would be best to lose most of the flubber so that I have more leeway? That was what I was trying to do now anyway (before I got sick)..."

"Skinny fat" folks, or those of us who have that tendency, don't do well on programs like Starting Strength, StrongLifts, or even 5/3/1. There are alot of theories from genetics to the way we partition macros, etc., but the reality is some of us can train hard but never have the physique of some of the other folks on here.

There's always a tendency for folks to say "you did the program wrong" or "you weren't eating enough"...in other words, it's always YOU, it couldn't possibly be the program now could it? Chances are those programs just aren't the right ones for you. Read stuff from different coaches, or hire a qualified trainer who won't prescribe some cookie cutter program. Experiment a bit and find out what works for you.

Personally, I follow coaches who go against the mainstream, whether it's Waterbury or some obscure guy who alot of people never heard of like Anthony Mychal. Look him up. He published an article or two on here and he really seems to know his stuff about the skinny fat "sydnrome".

I'm 53 years old, and unfortunately I followed cookie cutter programs for way too long. I've made more progress in the last two years in terms of strength and size by reading different authors and staying committed to one program. And that's after recovering from a two-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Consistency for me is the key, and probably most folks on here will say the same. Find the right program for you and stick with it.


Skinny fat isn't a bodytype. It is the way you look when you don't have much muscle mass and your bodyfat is not low enough for you to look ripped.

Either diet to the bodyfat you desire and go on a long term gaining phase or start gaining now (Whatever suits you psychologically). It is the constant bulking and cutting that's getting you nowhere.


From what you've outlined, I think there is a problem about expectations and patience and exposing yourself to more information than you need - which is just a symptom of the first two issues.

If I'm not progressing I look at the following, in the following order:

1) am I being an impatient dipshit (ie. Things haven't gone my way for a week or two)
2) Am I sleeping okay?
3) Am I stressed out?
4) Am I eating like a fool?
5) Have I been consistent with my training (note, eating falls under the above)?
6) Have I done some stupid shit with my training (skipping sets, progressing too fast, skipping reps, not progressing when I should, skipping exercises, etc)?
5) Maybe I've exhausted the benefits of this program

Forget the past. Your lifts put you ahead of a bunch of the population. Decide on whether you want to be stronger/bigger then attack it if you do or let it go and fine a new path if you don't. Let past failures drive you to greater heights, don't let them strangle your desires.


This is a really good article by CT that I recommend for most lifters:



Haven't read most of the stuff, but you sound like the typical victim of the 531/starting strength bullshit.

The answer to your problem or almost anyone wanting to be bigger and stronger (but not competing in PLing/WLing/Strongman/etc) is do eat a lot of "clean" food and use a HIGH-VOLUME BODY SPLIT program. If you wanna look good then you need way more quality volume per muscle group.

How often do I (and some others) have say that on here?

ps: I like your username. Has a nice ring to it in German.


SS: Yeah, I might have reset the lifts 1 or 2 times too often. But I did indeed swtich to the Texas Method afterwards (as I mentioned I toyed around with a few things). Judging from my old logs I did it about two months. From what I remember I had a hard time completing the 5x5 on Mondays, as well as the 1x5 on Fridays. It felt very (too) draining and I stagnated quickly.

5/3/1: By 'choosing freely' I was just talking about the assistance exercises, not the main lift (of course...). The main lift was the squat. And you are right, I reached my old max after 4 months. But to make sure I reviewed every training cycle for you and there was one exception: After one cycle I got a severe flu which put me out for two weeks. For the next cycle I decided to take one step back, so that I wouldn't miss any lifts and completed the cycle before that again. But after that I continued the normal progression and ended up with a max of 130. 110 is the working weight of the 1+ set of week 3, as I said.
Now, I don't know if that fits your idea of "going it wrong". But I know that Wendler's philosophy is "taking 2-3 steps back and then 5 forward" or something like that. That and in the name of common sense (restarting training after an illness) it couldn't have been THAT wrong, could it? What do you think?

Your experience seems to be similar to mine then. Interesting.
And I have indeed heard of Anthony Michal. Doesn't he have some nutrition articles here on T-Nation? I need to look him up then.

I hear ya. And I know that my current condition (not that much muscle, but not really lean either) is a direct result of my constant bulking/cutting. The thing is that I think I kinda went through something Christian Thibaudea described in his old article "The Truth about Bulking":
People bulk up to 20% or something and then feel fat. They decide to go on a cut, they lose a few pounds, but then start to look smaller and not as big in a shirt. That's when they say "fuck it" and return to bulking because they can't stand being/feeling smaller at first. So they never really reach the levels of leanness where you actually start to look bigger/better.

I think that's exactly what happened to me. And my plan is indeed to diet down to 10% or something before starting a longer-term gaining phase. I already lost about 4-6 lbs. But honestly I don't think I'm even in a good position to lose more fat right now. Having had the flu for a couple of days now and having eaten only 2000 kcal for three weeks before that. Oh well...

Those are some good points. I do ask myself those questions most of the time anyway and I think I have a relatively good understanding of how I'm doing, discipline-wise. I really do think I've reached point no. 7 (which you named 5 again haha)...

Yeah, I will forget the past. I'm not really bitter that I didn't gain as much as I could. But I'm trying to learn from the past (before I forget it haha)...

Yeah, I know that article (I read all of CTs stuff). It raises some good points. I have always been about full range of motion. But I would be open for a change. I just don't know how to apply it intelligently yet...

I'm not against using higher reps. The assistance work of 531 does indeed utilize some. I think I might nee more overall volume (and maybe an intelligent way to cycle it).

Mind muscle connection. I've always had that in the back of my mind, lol. I think I have quite a good connection to most of my muscles. Some maybe better than others. Except my MMC to my chest, which just sucks. I can't feel it while benching very much... But that might be a problem with the flat barbell bench press too. It's getting better though and I noticed that I can target my chest (as well as triceps) with dips really well.

Yeah, I guess I do, haha...

So a classic bodybuilding split it is. I'm not really sure in which direction I want to/should go... I'm interested in John Meadows stuff, but from what I saw he uses some goddamn insane volume, haha...

Haha, alright. Maybe it doesn't have such a nice ring to it anymore, if I translate it for you?

Thanks for the help so far, everyone!


Just mix up the routines. If you stick with the same stuff over and over your body gets used to it.

Mix it up. Start heavy sets then go max reps while lowering the weight as you go. Reverse that later.

In other words try tricking your body into something new. Shock it. You should find yourself wrecked after the new style of sets.

I've found that changing up over time gets you past those stagnant periods.


what's wrong with 5/3/1?


I would be interested in your opinion on this, too. You seemed to hint at the fact that it isn't very much volume...

Speaking about volume. I looked into the PHAT system of Layne Norton. I'm interested in trying that, but just looking at the plan gives me the creeps. It seems like an INSANE amount of volume. At first sight I'd say it's "too much", but what do I know... the body probably adapts to it after some time.

"Changing it up" is another of those typical bodybuilding principles, eh? How often would you recommend to switch something up? All those last years I thought it was just broscience and I tried to stick to a plan (SS + 531). Then again, maybe there's more to it than meets the eye.

What do you think about CTs article "the biggest training lie"? It brings up arguments against changing it up too often...


How often? When you seem to flatten out and not get the soreness as much. If that's 2 months or 8 months it's up to your body to tell you. We are all different that way. Me? Every 6 months or so.


As for the article? Whatever. I don't need an article for my body to tell me when I need to change. Fact is that articles keep people busy and if we listen to all of them we would all be confused as fuck.


you can do tons of volume on 5/3/1. You can literally do anything you want as long as you are doing the percentage based progression first. 3 low volume sets at the start of the routine is hardly going to stop you getting bigger.

Layne Norton's PHAT is a great way to train. Don't be intimidated by the volume. You will adapt, overcome, and eventually conquer