What is 'Reasonable Progress' Over 12 Months?


In terms of strength gains, what do you consider a ‘good’ weight progression over a 12-month period? Also considering that body weight remained roughly the same (167 lbs at 5’11) and that I’ve been weightlifting for about 3 years now (now aged 33).

I just finished my last ‘peak’ week of your Strength and Size program, and when I compare my PRs to those of a year ago, I managed the following increases (except for Bench Press):

High-Bar Back Squat – 260 lb to 280 lb
Conventional Deadlift – 345 lb to 360 lb
Strict Military Press – 135 lb to 150 lb
Bench Press – 200 lb to 200 lb (maintained)

The problem is that my strength gains went through waves over the past year, as I completed different types of cycles throughout the year, i.e. from your 915 program to an Olympic weightlifting program, back to a 915 cycle, then did a ‘body comp./hypertrophy’ program (John Rusin’s FHT) and then finally your Strength and Size program for the last 16 weeks.

In other words, some of the strength gains I had made early in the year I had ‘lost’ in favor of other attributes. For example, my Deadlift 1RM went from 345 in January of 2017, down to 335 in early September, and up to 360 in January 2018. My bench press 1RM (my weakest point) went from 200, to 180 in the summer back to 200 now.

Therefore, I am not sure how I should assess my progress. If I looked back at my last 12 months of training, I definitely improved my form (creating and maintaining tension throughout the body), and throughout the heavy low reps, I managed to keep solid form. Also body composition is better than a year ago. But otherwise, I feel like in terms of strength my gainz have been marginal, especially when it comes to upper body movements.


Strength can increase via technique improvements, CNS efficacy and muscle growth. There is a limit to how much strength you can gain via neural improvements. So to keep getting stronger you need to get bigger. Your bodyweight didn’t change (so likely a diet issue) so strength gains will be much slower.

I am doing heavy session of squat,bench,DL ( powerlifting compound and training ). I press 3 Really heavy sets per compound ( i give everything i got in those 3 sets ) then im doing some assitances or isolation work. I can’t train 2 days in a row with heavy compound because i will become really tired.

Why after a hard training session ( i dont overdo volume ) i feel like a zombie ??

years ago i was training the day after when i felt ‘‘zombie’’ i progress maybe a year or two but after that i just crash …

That can be two things:

  1. Dopamine crash. This will happen mostly to type 1A and sometimes to 1B. These guys have a very high sensitivity to dopamine which means that their baseline level of dopamine production is LOW (they don’t need much since they are sensitive)… during training you produce more dopamine, especially when it is a performance-based/heavy or explosive session. Type 1A and 1B can exceed their capacity to produce dopamine and as a result after the session they get get a drop in energy, motivation, well-being. The feeling like a zombie is pretty much like withdrawal from drugs. During training a 1A or 1B gets a huge dopamine rush… if the rush was super high they can feel withdrawn after the session, giving them that zombie feeling.

NOTE that adrenaline is produced from dopamine… which means that the more a session produces adrenaline, the more you risk crashing down your dopamine. This is why Type 1A and 1B can do the least amount of work: they easily crash their dopamine.

  1. It can be due to a combination of high blood pressure from the session (especially if you had lots of valsalva maneuvers) and nervous system inflammation (doing too much heavy/CNS intensive work for your own tolerance).
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Thanks. I had already gotten familiar with those concepts thanks to some of your insights on the forum and in articles in this regard, and I understand that adding muscle would help; however, I’m not really interested in gaining much weight, and I’d like to increase my relative strength as much as possible. Personally, I find it impressive when I see smaller/leaner guys lift big weights, but’s maybe that’s just me.

So can I conclude that my ‘slow’ progress over the last 12 months is ‘normal’ from a relative strength standpoint? I.e. that I managed those increases while maintaining steady body weight.

Well it’s not just you; but the majority values absolute strength over relative strength.

Not really.

My theory is that you used programs that are designed to increase strength mostly by increasing muscle mass BUT you didn’t give the nutritional support to gain that mass. Since those programs are less based on neural improvements AND have a higher volume (requiring a higher energetic intake) AND you didn’t provide enough fuel to grow muscle and tolerate the volumel you picked the wrong approach for your objective.

If you want to gain strength without adding size you need a program that is based almost exclusively on optimizing the nervous system; has a lower volume of work (requiring less energy and are easier to recover from).

My Bulgarian simplified, High Performance Mass program, The Norwegian powerlifting plan and Pave Tsatsouline work would be better options. The Russian strength-skill program would also work.

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Thanks. Your theory makes sense, and I probably lacked the sufficient energetic intake to support increasing muscle mass, towards which the programs were geared. Then again, I didn’t consider your programs (915 and Strength and Size) to be high volume at all, especially compared to John Rusin’s FHT. Therefore, I didn’t go crazy on calories either.

On a related note, I am increasingly interested in structuring my training year according to the ‘Four Seasons of Lifting’ articles you wrote, and now that I’ve just completed a more Strength-oriented program, I would like to get ready for taking up crossfit this summer and need to work on my olympic weightlifting skills. I know that in your article you suggest doing either Olympic weightlifting or conditioning, but I have recently joined an olympic weightlifting gym where I will go twice a week (Tues and Sat), so I was wondering if a weekly approach like this one seems reasonable to you:

Monday - Bench Press (Strength) + Chest/Triceps (accessory work)
Tuesday - Olympic Weightlifting (lower body mainly)
Wednesday - Light cardio (bike ride to work - about 90 minutes low intensity)
Thursday - Military press (Strength) + Deltoids (accessory)/Triceps
Friday - Bodybuilding work for Biceps/Back + Farmer’s walk and/or ergometer sprints (conditioning)
Saturday - Olympic weightlifting (lower body)
Sunday - ‘Off’ - i.e. long walks or light swim (light intensity cardio)

Conditioning is less of a priority for me, but I would still like to include it if possible, as I want to be ‘WOD-ready’ for crossfit this summer. I would also at least like to keep my strength at least at ‘maintenance’ levels if possible. I understand that it might not be possible to pursue all those goals for this cycle though.

nice information ! but i thought i was a type 2 A…