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Ganymede

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Hi Guys

 

Apologies in advance if this is a bit of a rambling post.

I am 51 years old and have been lifting for 3 months. I started doing SL5x5 and recently switched to AFP (because I found squatting 3 x per week a bit too much).  I also to a short conditioning session at the end of each work out.

My main goals are to lose another 10 – 15kg (I have already lost about 15kg) and to get as strong as I can.  I would like to go to a novice power lifting meet this time next year. I realise that getting strong and losing weight are contradictory goals, which is partly why I am posting here.

My main question though is around volume and intensity.

I have been reading a lot and I see two common threads of advice that seem to contradict one another.  One is that you need to progressively add weight to the bar, and the other is that you do not (and should not) need to work at your max in order to progress.  But if you progressively add weight, eventually you’ll max out.  What then?  When do you switch and to what?

A similar contradiction I see is that you should do more sets in order to progress vs do fewer sets at a higher intensity.  For example SL has you doing 5x5 squats 3 times per week (higher volume) vs AFP has you doing 3 x 5 squats 2 times per week (lower volume).  But which is right? Or more precisely, which is better for a 51 year old guy trying to lose weight and get strong.

A third, supremely unhelpful thing I read pretty often is that for a newbie, everything works for a while.  While I am sure this is somewhat correct, it does not really help me to know what is going to be best for me, given my particular goals and age, etc.

So I guess my questions are, what is the best way forward for me? For example I am currently squatting 3 x 5 @ 95kg (body weight is 108kg).  I find this pretty heavy and am definitely grinding out the last few reps.  Should I stick with this, or am I better to reduce the weight and go to a higher rep scheme like 3 x 8 @ 75kg, which would give me a much higher volume?

Any thoughts or advice would be much appreciated.

Cheers

Dave

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5 hours ago, Ganymede said:

I have been reading a lot and I see two common threads of advice that seem to contradict one another.  One is that you need to progressively add weight to the bar, and the other is that you do not (and should not) need to work at your max in order to progress.  But if you progressively add weight, eventually you’ll max out.  What then?  When do you switch and to what?

A similar contradiction I see is that you should do more sets in order to progress vs do fewer sets at a higher intensity.  For example SL has you doing 5x5 squats 3 times per week (higher volume) vs AFP has you doing 3 x 5 squats 2 times per week (lower volume).  But which is right? Or more precisely, which is better for a 51 year old guy trying to lose weight and get strong.

A third, supremely unhelpful thing I read pretty often is that for a newbie, everything works for a while.  While I am sure this is somewhat correct, it does not really help me to know what is going to be best for me, given my particular goals and age, etc.

So I guess my questions are, what is the best way forward for me? For example I am currently squatting 3 x 5 @ 95kg (body weight is 108kg).  I find this pretty heavy and am definitely grinding out the last few reps.  Should I stick with this, or am I better to reduce the weight and go to a higher rep scheme like 3 x 8 @ 75kg, which would give me a much higher volume?

 

First, doing sets of 5 is not working at your max.  Maxing out would be trying to go for a personal best for 1 rep every session.  In addition to this point, StrongLifts, Starting Strength, and AFP are meant as novice linear programs.  Once you are reaching the upper limits of the programming and you're unable to continue adding weight to the bar each session, you would move to an intermediate style program which will lower intensity or frequency to allow recovery (usually the latter), or will cycle intensity (a heavy day, medium day, and a light day are programmed). Wendler's 5/3/1 is a good example of an intermediate program, and is a very popular next step.  Also Texas Method (Rip's favourite).

Starting Strength uses 3x5.  Stronglifts has you start at 5x5, but you will eventually lower to 3x5, then 1x5.  In reality, neither is really better or worse.  Higher reps early on in SL will add volume and allow you to practice the movement (given you are doing them correctly), but the real reason these programs are successful is because adding weight each session is a good motivator to get back into the gym, and being consistent is what drives progress.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to find something that works perfectly for everyone.  Everyone is different in work capacity, recovery ability, mobility, injuries, etc..  Trial and error is pretty big in this sport, but that takes experience.  You could try to work with a coach who will monitor progress closely and devise a program specific for you -- they will do the analysis of your work and modify programming based on your results.  That isn't accessible to everyone, so this is another reason why SL/SS/AFP were designed.  They give a good base for inexperienced people to work with.  They are simple, motivating, and effective enough across the spectrum.  You will always get stronger running them, but it may not be the optimal rate of progress for every individual.

 

The number of reps you use in your set will have an effect on how you progress.  Longer sets will allow your muscles to grow in volume, but aren't necessarily optimal for strength.  You will get stronger if you're adding weight, however.  Alternately, shorter sets will build more strength but less size.  These are general 'rules.'  Sets of 5 have been found to be a good balance between the two (really sets ranging between 4-6 reps).  You can build size with short sets if you keep your rest times between very low -- it ends up having a similar effect on muscle development as longer sets.

3x5 at 95 kg is 1350 kg total volume, and 3x8 at 75 kg is 1800.  That's only a difference of 350 kg, which isn't super significant but could add up over time.  It may be more difficult to continually add weight on 3x8 though.  I would probably recommend staying the course and continue to push.  If you find recovery difficult or you are stalling, you can try to mix up the rep scheme for a month or two as a break, but 3x5 is likely good enough.

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Thanks very much for the reply - very helpful.

I will stick with AFP for another week or 2 then look at switching to 531 as I don't think I will be able to continue the progression much further.

Thanks again

Dave

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Just to add some more perspective regarding exercise theory, I think it's best to point out some clarifications that can show you how the advice is not necessarily contradictory:

  • Progressive overload is required to get stronger--but there is more to it than weight on the bar
  • You need to increase the amount of recoverable volume in your routine over time.
  • You can lose weight and get stronger at the same time: the key is being moderate

There's a few articles about recovery and training volume you can find over at Juggernaut Training Systems and Strengtheory.  Both of those resources put out top notch articles from people who know a thing or three about strength training, and many are backed by studies or explain what studies actually tell us and don't tell us.  I'll just explain some of the fundamentals here and hopefully it will make sense:

Progressive Overload

The general idea is that if you never require more from your body, your body won't try to build bigger/stronger muscles.  However there are several ways of measuring the work you are doing and they all work:

  • More weight on the bar: obvious one here.  If you can lift more weight than you could before, you are stronger.
  • More reps at the same weight: If you can lift for more reps at the same weight, you are stronger.
  • Less time to do the same work: If you can do the same work in less time, you are stronger.
  • More training volume per training cycle: kind of goes with reps and weight, but the focus is on overall training volume per cycle rather than per session.

There's a few more things to consider, but this alone will help with the fact that progressive overload comes in many shapes and sizes.  Novice programs emphasize weight on the bar because the rate of adaptation increases faster than the weight on the bar to a point.  That point is different for everyone, but a couple universal truths to apply: that threshold gets lower as you get older, and when you maximize one aspect you have to change something to keep progressing.

Diet vs. Strength

There's a misconception that if you diet, you have to throw out any notions of getting stronger.  There's an equal misconception that if you want to get stronger, you have to throw out any aspirations of getting smaller.  The thing is, diet affects your body's ability to recover from exercise.  As long as you don't go on extremes, you can see both a moderate growth in strength and a moderate reduction in body fat.  Disclaimer: I hired Greg Nuckols to help me do just that, and he helped me shed ~30 kg and increase my max total by over 50kg in the same period of time while I was in my early/mid 40s.  I've also been at it a bit so that's no easy feat.  Bottom line:

  • Calories are king.  Adjust so that you are losing no more than 1% BW a week.  If you are losing 0.5kg-1kg a week you should be happy.
  • Protein is queen.  Make sure you are getting enough protein.  That's 1.5g protein per kg target body weight (when losing weight).
  • Carbs help recovery.  Most important post workout and in the AM.  Higher fiber content is better as it helps you stay full.
  • Fat is also necessary.  20-30% of your calories should be from fat (less when losing weight).

There aren't any magic formulas here.  The more you choose low density foods (more volume of food per calorie you eat) the more satisfied you'll be.  With the diet that Greg put me on, I was struggling to get the necessary carbs because I was so full.  In fact I was more full than when I was eating more calories.  If necessary, add another meal.  It should go without saying, but fried foods pack a huge amount of calories in with very little food in comparison.

On the other side of the equation, just go for slow and steady improvement with your strength program.  Adding 2.5-5kg a month is still progress, and a lot easier to recover from than adding that much a week.

Recovery

Your body has a finite amount of ability to recover from exercise.  The folks at Juggernaut like to use the analogy of a cup with a hole in the bottom.  The work you do fills the cup with water.  The hole in the bottom represents your body's ability to recover from the work.  The cup itself represents your work capacity.  If the cup overflows, you've gone into overtraining and you have no choice but to take time off to get back to normal.

Recovery is any activity you do to help your body repair itself, and includes the following:

  • Sleep: this is #1 critical.  You burn more calories and build more muscle while you sleep than at any other time of the day.  Not to mention the other health benefits.
  • Rest: not training is rest, and this is one of the reasons that many programs have you training only 3-4 times a week.
  • Eating: eating more food does help recovery to a point, and anything more than that will just pack on fat.  Carbs post workout will help with the protein uptake.  When dieting, you have to just have to be careful to keep your diet reasonable.
  • Epsom salt baths: it can help sooth sore muscles and improve recovery time.

Again, there's more, but this should at least get you started.

Cardio

There's been some studies that show that low and slow cardio can in fact help you recover from strength training more quickly and improve your overall work capacity.  The key is the mode of training.  High impact activities like running can make things worse, but cycling and swimming can be a great way to burn those extra calories and help with recovery.  20 minutes a day is really all that's necessary.  There's more info at Strengtheory.

Edited by FerrousMaverick
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Oh, and one more thing to avoid frustration later: weight loss is not linear.  Some good advice from Dr. Israetel:

 

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On 20/09/2016 at 0:44 AM, FerrousMaverick said:

Just to add some more perspective regarding exercise theory, I think it's best to point out some clarifications that can show you how the advice is not necessarily contradictory:

  • Progressive overload is required to get stronger--but there is more to it than weight on the bar
  • You need to increase the amount of recoverable volume in your routine over time.
  • You can lose weight and get stronger at the same time: the key is being moderate

There's a few articles about recovery and training volume you can find over at Juggernaut Training Systems and Strengtheory.  Both of those resources put out top notch articles from people who know a thing or three about strength training, and many are backed by studies or explain what studies actually tell us and don't tell us.  I'll just explain some of the fundamentals here and hopefully it will make sense:

Progressive Overload

The general idea is that if you never require more from your body, your body won't try to build bigger/stronger muscles.  However there are several ways of measuring the work you are doing and they all work:

  • More weight on the bar: obvious one here.  If you can lift more weight than you could before, you are stronger.
  • More reps at the same weight: If you can lift for more reps at the same weight, you are stronger.
  • Less time to do the same work: If you can do the same work in less time, you are stronger.
  • More training volume per training cycle: kind of goes with reps and weight, but the focus is on overall training volume per cycle rather than per session.

There's a few more things to consider, but this alone will help with the fact that progressive overload comes in many shapes and sizes.  Novice programs emphasize weight on the bar because the rate of adaptation increases faster than the weight on the bar to a point.  That point is different for everyone, but a couple universal truths to apply: that threshold gets lower as you get older, and when you maximize one aspect you have to change something to keep progressing.

Diet vs. Strength

There's a misconception that if you diet, you have to throw out any notions of getting stronger.  There's an equal misconception that if you want to get stronger, you have to throw out any aspirations of getting smaller.  The thing is, diet affects your body's ability to recover from exercise.  As long as you don't go on extremes, you can see both a moderate growth in strength and a moderate reduction in body fat.  Disclaimer: I hired Greg Nuckols to help me do just that, and he helped me shed ~30 kg and increase my max total by over 50kg in the same period of time while I was in my early/mid 40s.  I've also been at it a bit so that's no easy feat.  Bottom line:

  • Calories are king.  Adjust so that you are losing no more than 1% BW a week.  If you are losing 0.5kg-1kg a week you should be happy.
  • Protein is queen.  Make sure you are getting enough protein.  That's 1.5g protein per kg target body weight (when losing weight).
  • Carbs help recovery.  Most important post workout and in the AM.  Higher fiber content is better as it helps you stay full.
  • Fat is also necessary.  20-30% of your calories should be from fat (less when losing weight).

There aren't any magic formulas here.  The more you choose low density foods (more volume of food per calorie you eat) the more satisfied you'll be.  With the diet that Greg put me on, I was struggling to get the necessary carbs because I was so full.  In fact I was more full than when I was eating more calories.  If necessary, add another meal.  It should go without saying, but fried foods pack a huge amount of calories in with very little food in comparison.

On the other side of the equation, just go for slow and steady improvement with your strength program.  Adding 2.5-5kg a month is still progress, and a lot easier to recover from than adding that much a week.

Recovery

Your body has a finite amount of ability to recover from exercise.  The folks at Juggernaut like to use the analogy of a cup with a hole in the bottom.  The work you do fills the cup with water.  The hole in the bottom represents your body's ability to recover from the work.  The cup itself represents your work capacity.  If the cup overflows, you've gone into overtraining and you have no choice but to take time off to get back to normal.

Recovery is any activity you do to help your body repair itself, and includes the following:

  • Sleep: this is #1 critical.  You burn more calories and build more muscle while you sleep than at any other time of the day.  Not to mention the other health benefits.
  • Rest: not training is rest, and this is one of the reasons that many programs have you training only 3-4 times a week.
  • Eating: eating more food does help recovery to a point, and anything more than that will just pack on fat.  Carbs post workout will help with the protein uptake.  When dieting, you have to just have to be careful to keep your diet reasonable.
  • Epsom salt baths: it can help sooth sore muscles and improve recovery time.

Again, there's more, but this should at least get you started.

Cardio

There's been some studies that show that low and slow cardio can in fact help you recover from strength training more quickly and improve your overall work capacity.  The key is the mode of training.  High impact activities like running can make things worse, but cycling and swimming can be a great way to burn those extra calories and help with recovery.  20 minutes a day is really all that's necessary.  There's more info at Strengtheory.

Thank you very much for taking the time to reply so thoroughly - I really appreciate it.  You have really filled in a few blanks for me and helped me connect a few dots and the links are very useful.

I am really determined to stick to my training routine and diet and its way easier to do that if you feel that you are making best use of your time and getting the best return for your efforts.  I bought the 5/3/1 eBook yesterday and like the look of that program - I think the slow but steady progression will work well for me.

My goals are to hit a body weight squat (almost there), a .75% BW Bench and to do at least one pull up by Christmas.  I also want to get my weight down to below 100kg (7.5KG to go) by then.  I think these are pretty achievable goals.  I am having an operation on my neck in late December which will keep me out of the gym for a couple of months, but once I get back into it I'll be shooting for a 1.5 BW squat, a 2 x BW Dead and a 1 x BW Bench and will try to get my BW to below 95KG at 20% body fat or less..  Is that too optimistic?

Thanks again

Dave

Edited by Ganymede
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...I'll be shooting for a 1.5 BW squat, a 2 x BW Dead and a 1 x BW Bench and will try to get my BW to below 95KG at 20% body fat or less..  Is that too optimistic?

You're kidding, right?

 

I can almost do that, and I'm a fat woman.  Seriously, dude.  Aim higher. :)

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4 hours ago, Frotabaga said:

You're kidding, right?

 

I can almost do that, and I'm a fat woman.  Seriously, dude.  Aim higher. :)

Boom!  Thank you!  That's the kind of thing I need to hear.  What do you think would be a reasonable target to shoot for given my advancing decrepitude (I'm 51) and training history (3 months or so)?

Genuinely appreciate the comment.

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1.5xBW squat, 1xBW bench, and 2xBW deadlift are good first goals.  That should put you pretty close to the 1000 lb club, if my math is right.

 

Longer term, 2xBW squat, 1.5-1.75xBW bench, and 2.5xBW deadlift would be good to shoot for.  It might take you a bit longer to get there than someone younger, but you can totally do it.  Key is to stay injury free and be patient.  5/3/1 will serve you well on both fronts.  Just have to be consistent, you know?

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On 9/21/2016 at 5:45 PM, Frotabaga said:

1.5xBW squat, 1xBW bench, and 2xBW deadlift are good first goals.  That should put you pretty close to the 1000 lb club, if my math is right.

 

Longer term, 2xBW squat, 1.5-1.75xBW bench, and 2.5xBW deadlift would be good to shoot for.  It might take you a bit longer to get there than someone younger, but you can totally do it.  Key is to stay injury free and be patient.  5/3/1 will serve you well on both fronts.  Just have to be consistent, you know?

Yup...aim higher like Frota said.  Good luck!

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