Decreasing Returns on Big Exercises

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TheHeb
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Decreasing Returns on Big Exercises

Post by TheHeb » Tue Dec 18, 2007 3:35 pm

First, I'll list my routine to put my question in context:

Workout A
Squat
Deadlift
Shrugs
BC Curl
Pull-ups

Workout B
Bench
Upright Row
Military Press
Decline Bench
Abs

I lift 3 sets by 5 reps on all lifts. Three times a week, so ABA BAB etc. I've been doing this routine for a few weeks, before that I did the rippertoe. I experienced really good gains for a long time, but over the past couple weeks my bench has not only leveled off, but it seems to have gotten worse. Here are my last few lifts on the bench (starting with earliest):

165 3/2/1
165 5/2/1
165 5/3/2
165 3/2/2
165 3/2/1

I'm not really sure what could cause this. I think diet is fine and I'm getting plenty of rest. My other lifts seem to be progressing fine (although some exercises, like Squat, are progressing a little slower). Bench has been a part of my routine since I started lifting in August, but so has Squat and it is still getting better. Does anyone have any idea what the problem may be?

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Post by pdellorto » Wed Dec 19, 2007 3:08 am

A few possibilities you can consider:

- you're doing too much pressing work, and it's catching up to you. I'm not saying you ARE, just that you might be.

- time between sets might be varying (i.e. maybe you were taking closer to 5 minutes between sets for 5/3/2, but recently sped up to 3 minutes or so and saw the decline).

- You might need a re-set. Drop the weight back down to what you last pushed for 3x5, or maybe a bit less (one or two increments), and start back from there.

- You might need a rest week, or a hard deload week - drop the weights a whole lot across the board, and do "active recovery."

- You might have form problems, and you're finally hitting the weight that exposes them. Get out a video camera and record your reps, and get them checked for errors. It can be painful to admit your form isn't good, but if it is, it's simple to drop the weight a little, fix the form, and then start moving the weight back up.

Those are a just a few things that occurred to me. The sticky on the starting routines links to the Starting Strength workout FAQ, and it discusses stuff like hard deloads and re-sets in depth. That might help a lot.

I hope this was useful. Again, it's just some ideas, I think you're in the best position to figure out what it is.

Peter

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Post by Matt » Wed Dec 19, 2007 7:20 am

If I understand the notation, you are bench pressing 165 lb and the first set is 5 reps, the second one 3, the third one only 1 rep. For me, this would be too much weight by far (age 48, lifting for almost 6 months, slowly progressing). I have not gotten up to 165 lb for the bench press, but have been really pleased with getting up to 115 lbs. I had never done olympic type lifts before, and didn't have any equipment or access to a gym until about 6 months ago.

I would lower the weight, as suggested above, to a level at which your sets do not decline in # reps (which seems to be indicative of excessive weight). Also do warm up sets with lighter weights. Is your equipment good? And I agree with checking your form.

There's no real hurry, and lifting excessive weights will not be productive and more likely would discourage you in the long run. Think about what exercises you will be doing in 1 yr, 2yr, and 5 yr from now.

Try to do balanced movements (push and pull), such as bench press and bent over rows (I do one arm at a time with dumbells, and support the upper body with the other arm to avoid back strain). Individualize your workout to suit your build, current strength level and your fitness goals. Good luck.

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Post by Matt Z » Wed Dec 19, 2007 9:55 am

I agree, you should warmup with lighter weights before moving on to your working sets. Also, try changing up your reps and loading from workout to workout. For example, you might try doing three sets of 8 with less weight or three sets of 1 rep with more weight.

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Post by pdellorto » Wed Dec 19, 2007 9:47 pm

Thinking this through more, I'd have to say you've got one major problem - you're pressing more than you can press. Lower the weight. If you really could managed 3x5x165, you'd get 3x5x165.

But you're not.

If I was your trainer, I'd drop your weights back down to 10-15# under where you last did 3x5, and then work slowly back up. The other things can be a factor - injuries, rest times, other pressing work, etc. but I think the real issue ultimately is that 165 is too much weight for you. If it wasn't, you'd be banging out 3x5x165.

Try dropping the weight down and starting back over there, you'll get more benefit from 3x5 than from 5/3/2 or 3/2/1 at a heavier weight.

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Thanks

Post by TheHeb » Thu Dec 20, 2007 2:24 pm

Thanks a lot for the help. I think I am going to drop the weight down 10 or 15 pounds and work my way back up, and that should hopefully do the trick. I'll let you know in a couple weeks I suppose.

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This is probably more than you wanted:

Post by TradelessJack » Sat Dec 22, 2007 12:34 pm

I don’t understand your split. You aren’t doing an upper/lower, or a push/pull split. You seem to have randomly thrown exercises together into two non full-body routines. Personally, I think three strength-training sessions is plenty, but if you are only doing it three times per week, you don’t need to split it up. The purpose of a split routine is to allow you to workout on consecutive days without overtraining any one muscle. It’s not needed if you are only going three times per week. Try three full body routines per week. Also, you are doing the same number of sets & reps, and the same amount of weight each time you do one of only two workouts. With that little variation in your routine, you can expect to stop making progress very quickly.

Rotate through low (0-7), medium (7-12), and high (12-16) rep ranges. Don’t do the same workout over and over. When I suggest doing a full-body workout, I don’t mean that you will do the same workout each time you go to the gym. Here is an example of what I would do for full body workouts:

1. 5-minute cardio warm-up (jog, bike or punching bag, whatever)
Core warm-up (planks and supermans and side bridges ext)

2. Glute/quad compound movement (Squats or Dead lifts or Lunges or variations of them (sumo deads, single-leg squats)), pick one.

3. Push movement (bench press or overhead press or dips, or variations of them) DON'T do bench press every time

4. Pull movement (chins, rows, cleans, or variations)

5. Calves/hams (rotate between calve raisers and ham movements (leg curls, Romanian dead lifts ext))

6. Stretch

This makes for a nice, quick and simple routine you can finish in less than 45 minutes. If you really want to minimize your number of exercises, you can combine push and pull movements by doing hang-cleans & overhead press, dumbbell snatches, clean & jerk, power straights ext.

I can’t stress variety enough. To avoid early plateaus, work with a variety of weights, use a variety of rep ranges, vary the number of sets you do, change the amount of time your rest between sets, change the amount of time you rest between exercises, change the tempo at which you lift, never do the same workout twice, and don’t get hung up on how much you can bench press. A watched pot never boils.

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Re: Decreasing Returns on Big Exercises

Post by Stephen Johnson » Sat Dec 22, 2007 1:54 pm

TheHeb wrote:over the past couple weeks my bench has not only leveled off, but it seems to have gotten worse. Does anyone have any idea what the problem may be?
How does the workload that you're doing for the upper back compare to what you're doing for chest? How does the development of your upper back compare to your chest? A weak upper back will limit your progress in pressing movements like bench.

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Sorry

Post by TheHeb » Wed Jan 09, 2008 11:28 pm

@Stephen Johnson
Upper back has been progressing more rapidly than Bench, so I don't think that has been an issue.

Thanks for some of the tips, Tradeless Jack. How often should I vary reps/weights? I think this I reason I don't really understand periodization. Should I do something like 5x3 (reps X sets) with heavy weight for like a week, and then 8x3 for another week or what? In order to change the weights from moderate to heavy should I decrease the reps or sets or both?

Likewise, how often should I change an exercise for a particular body part?

I have tons and tons of questions and I've had a lot of trouble finding answers, so if anyone can help me out that would be great.

How many body parts should I do for each workout, or how many sets overall? I've heard so many conflicting opinions on this matter.

What are the advantages to doing more sets/exercises per body part and fewer body parts per exercise versus doing fewer sets/exercises per body part and more body parts per workout?

I'm sorry about all the questions, but it's pretty confusing sometimes to try and develop a quality workout when you don't have the experience/knowledge. If anyone can answer one more more the previous questions, I would really really appreciate it.

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Oh yeah and..

Post by TheHeb » Wed Jan 09, 2008 11:54 pm

Another quick note for context:

I started with the Rippertoe Starting Strength, did that for about three months, changed it a little to my current routine, and that's when I started having problems with stagnation.

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Post by r.shimmin » Thu Jan 10, 2008 9:26 am

I've only been lifting for seven months, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt, but if my goal was 3x5, and I was getting fewer reps than 5/5/3, I would lower the weight. (For me, my goal is 3x10, and I back off on weight if I get less than 10/10/6.)

Also, what helped me when I stagnated on the bar bench was to switch over to DB bench for a month, then approach the bar again.

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Re: Sorry

Post by stuward » Thu Jan 10, 2008 10:36 am

TheHeb wrote: How often should I vary reps/weights? I think this I reason I don't really understand periodization. Should I do something like 5x3 (reps X sets) with heavy weight for like a week, and then 8x3 for another week or what? In order to change the weights from moderate to heavy should I decrease the reps or sets or both?
There are several ways to do this. Normal periodization would have you change rep ranges about every 4 weeks. There is som eveidence that changing every 2 weeks works better. Some recommend changing throughout the week.

An example would be to do 5x5 on Monday 3x8 on Weds and 2x15 on Friday. (note that outside of Russia, sets are listed first) You could also reverse the order and go high reps early in the week and get heavier later in the week. You could also do Heavy, light, medium.

As the reps go down, the weight goes up and the sets usually go up.
TheHeb wrote: Likewise, how often should I change an exercise for a particular body part?
You don't have to change the exercises as often as the rep ranges as your body gets used to the rep ranges faster than the exercises. However, changing the exercises frequently allows you to address imbalances.

You can use different exercises in each of your workouts if you wish or set up a rotation so you can vary them randomly. Just try to hit the big exercises heavy at least once a week.

There are many ways to set this up. Don't overthink it too much, just get the variety in.

Stu

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Post by TheHeb » Thu Jan 10, 2008 12:55 pm

Thanks a lot for the advice stuward.

One more question: would it be best to perform a full-body workout three times a week (with some variation in the actual lifts), or do kind of an upper/lower or push/pull split either in an ABA BAB format or ABxABxx format?

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Post by stuward » Thu Jan 10, 2008 1:04 pm

I prefer full body, I know Matt prefers push/pull split. There is no right or wrong.

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