T Nation

Weak Guy Plateaued on 5/3/1


Hey guys: I need some advice. Im a 47 year old guy (6'4", 213 lbs) who was in extremely bad shape (33% body fat in March) and went on 5/3/1 to improve his strength. I find that 5/3/1 has been a great program for me because it appears I can only add about 5 lbs every monthly cycle (I really don't see myself on Rippitoe's novice program, for example, which pushes you 5 lbs every 2 days!)

Anyway, my Dead Lift and Squat seem to be fine on 5/3/1..after a year, my 1RM still keep going up. For example, I have gone up 70 lbs for a 1RM in my dead lift the year I have been on 5/3/1 (1RM from 130 to 200..yea, I know, Im incredibly weak).

The problem is with my Bench Press and the Press. I have plateaued at about 195 and 105 lbs, respectively. I did what Jim suggested and lowered my 1RM by 90% in the calculation and restarted the cycle. I went about 3-4 cycles and plateaued at these 1RM's again. And I did this again! I still cannot seem to get above 175 and 105 lbs. This is not a surprise to me since Ive never built muscle easily and I am middle aged, which does not help.

What do you think I should do to break the plateau's? Any programs that you can suggest?

Thanks for any consideration.


Find your weeknesses and change your assistance work to adress it.


you HAVE to be vastly under eating if you have been working out for a year and cannot bench more than 175lbs.

EDIT: 6'4" 213 lbs with 33% BF? That leaves you with roughly 140lbs of LBM... I dont believe that. Something is off here.


I was eating a lot last spring but it did not seem to help, so I scaled back. I can try increasing again. The 33% BF was measured by a DEXA exam, so it should be pretty accurate. It seems right to me...Im a big guy but had little strength in my legs and glutes, so that is why these started out low and I have made good gains here.


6'4" and 213 is not a big guy. I'm 5'11 and 213 and am still not a big guy.

You're a very skinny guy (if you have 33% bf you virtually have no muscle and you are skinny fat. Not being a jerk, just being real with you)

You need to build some muscle. After a year of lifting as a full grown adult male you should be able to bench more than 175lbs. You're numbers are extremely low.


No offense taken! Definitely I am VERY skinny fat, and I think a lot of that is bad genetics. I have a hard time building muscle. When I was younger I was not very strong. Im taking up weight lifting mainly to try to put a stop or reverse, the addition of body fat, to prevent possible health problems that may occur.

Im going to try changing some of my assistance exercises, but also I thought I might try Rippetoe's "Texas Method", which is a periodization of Bench along with the Press. From what I can tell, this method has you cycling every 2 weeks instead of four with a lot more volume of weight. To try to adapt to these changes Ill try to eat some more. Not sure what else to try, but Ive heard some change is needed when you plateau.


What's your diet like?


Just a thought :
Come on over to the over 35s and keep a training/diet log. Some very experienced guys and very friendly too.


You sound like you have a good attitude. Thats a great start.

What assistance template are/were you using?

Can you give tell us exactly what you ate yesterday?


Here's what I ate yesterday

9 egg whites, about a cup of oatmeal, bluberries
green salad with a ton of beans

Gatorade (about 15 oz) before workout, 2 cups of whey after workout, along with 2 pieces of fruit.

Good chunck of trurkey lasagna with roasted vegetables.

I avoid soft drinks, and am trying to reign in the sweet tooth for cookies, cake, Dairy Queen, etc.

Assistance exercises: I was doing more of those 6 months ago but I have recently slacked off. Before, I was doing chins, pull-ups, and dips (on an assist--too weak to do those without one) but I slacked off because I plateaued on those. Other than that, on the press day, I do Bicep curls and sitting dumbell military press, On Bench Press day I do Incline Bench Press which I recently put on the 5/3/1 program and its going up for the moment. I am trying to learn how to do Power Cleans but that's been a little tricky (I have Rippitoe's "Starting Strength")

Any advice for assistance to improve bench press and the press would be greatly appreciated.


That's a good idea. I had kept a training log earlier but I may restart one on the over 35 section.


again, you need to find where you are failing on the movements so you can pick assistance exercises to adress that weakness. Are you failing off the chest? At lockout? Starting the pressing movement?


Thanks for your interest. With the Bench Press, when I use a weight that approaches my 1 RM, I have trouble pushing the bar off my chest due to weakness from the preceding lifts. I think once I get the bar off the chest, and, say, above 8 inches from the chest, I have no trouble with the lock out.

With the Press: Again, hard to get it off the chest as the weight approaches the 1RM. In this case. next to impossible when its on the chest and Im fatigued from previous lifts. Once the bar is up about a foot, no problem with lock out.

Hope this helps.


Here is your problem. Your diet isn't very good (you ate very little, not that your food voices were particularly horrible or anything) and you admitted to slacking Off in the gym. What did you expect to happen when you aren't putting in the effort day in and day out. A good physique doesn't come easy to 99.9999% of the population.

Did you buy the 531 book? You need to pick one of the assistance templates from the book and stick to it. You're slacking on your assistance stuff and wondering why your stalling out... Seems pretty logical to me.


Yup, I have the book. Ill try going back to the dips, chins, and pull-ups. Thanks for the advice.


No problem. I used 531 in the past and really liked the Periodization Bible template. Made the routine feel a bit more "Body Buildery" than the other templates. You just need to stick with it and be consistent. This whole thing just takes time.


Gotcha. For bench I would try throwing in some dumbell presses, pausing the dumbells in the bottom position. I do the same thing for overhead press, pausing the dumbells in the bottom position before pressing overhead. Also, do these standing, just like a normal press.

I switch the days I do the dumbell pressing so I can be fresher for it. Meaning on bench day I do overhead dumbell press, and on overhead press day I do dumbell bench.


Agreed. The periodization bible template kicks ass, definetely my favorite.


Great advice, thanks. No problem with the Dumbell Military Press--one of my favorite lifts. I have tried Dumbell Bench Press and that is for me a difficult lift---Its hard for me to get more than 30 lbs in each hand off the floor and into position. I know its a great lift so Ill keep trying. Also your idea of doing Dumbell Military Press and Bench Press day, etc., I really like.

Ill give DT's periodization template a try.

Thanks again.


Getting the dumbells into position is always a pain in the ass, you just gotta experiment and find the best way for you. Personally, I set the dbs on my kness, with my arms fully extended, and then roll back on the bench, bringing my knees up to put the dbs in position. You could also try cleaning them up and then laying on the bench.