Two extremely popular programs for beginners who are looking to get into strength and powerlifting training are Stronglifts 5×5 and Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. There’s one avoidable mistake that I see lifters who use SS/SL make that often leads to wasted time in the gym or even chronic injuries.
Both programs focus on starting very light (often with an empty barbell) and using linear periodization to progress the workouts. This means adding 5-10 lbs per session until you stall out.
This approach has and will continue to work for many lifters who want to develop a strong base in the squat, bench press and deadlift but far too often I will see lifters stay on these programs much longer than they should.
Now, there are deload and progression protocols outlined in both programs that explain what you should do when you add weight but are unable to complete all of your working sets for 5 reps. In short, your goal here is to get all of your working sets at 5 reps before increasing the weight and if you stall out multiple workouts in a row without being able to reach the target reps, you would lower the weight and work back up until you hit the next “stall out” point.
While this strategy works to a degree, I’ve seen lifters cyclically use this stall out and deload strategy for MONTHS on end only to make a fraction of the progress they once made.
Is there a better way?
In my experience, yes.
What I’ve found in coaching is that after the first 1-2 deload cycles (depending on how much progress the lifter has made after the backcycle strategy the first time, it’s time to progress to a more intermediate routine that employs progression on a larger timespan. In other words, a program that aims to increase the load on the bar every week or so instead of 2-3 times per week.
If you’re able to see some good gains before stalling out again, doing another deload/reload can be useful. If you only get another 5-10 lbs on your maxes or working weights before stalling, it’s probably time to move on to a new, more advanced program that will cater to your current needs.
Of course, you don’t want to drop your frequency down to once a week for each lift, so adding in 1-2 supplementary sessions per week with light and/or medium (submaximal) work on your squat, bench press and deadlift will help you keep the momentum in your training while still recovering well for your next week’s overload session where you would add weight and go for a new PR on your working weights.
Using this strategy I’ve helped a lot of beginner lifters who are entering the intermediate phase of training make better gains than they would otherwise make by grinding out another few months of SS or SL and often times they see LESS injuries and tweaks this way too.
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