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Female Lifting Progression Pace?

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Hey everyone,

My fiance began stronglifts on Saturday. She is 25, 5'6" 140 lbs. She's in good physical condition from areobics/plyometrics type videos (p90x, Turbo Fire, etc.) but she hasn't done the barbell lifts before. I started her on the bar on each of the lifts, except I'm goign to have her start deadlifts with 95 lbs. She's got no problem with eating adequate calories and protein.

I'm wondering if she should add five pounds every workout just as I did, or if she needs to go a little slower since she's female. So far I was planning to have her add 5 lbs every time and sort of see what happens.

I'd appreciate the thoughts on this from any women who have done stronglifts or a similar barbell program. Thanks!!![/indent]

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It's a case by case basis. There's a big difference from the heavy conditioning she's been doing and aiming for more strength session by session. In general, upper body strength progresses much slower than lower body strength even with guys. Women don't have the same hormone profile as men, which generally means that it takes them longer to reach the same levels. However, just as there seem to be some guys that are gifted with weights there will be women who are also gifted with weights.

When I started my wife on the program, we had to start with weights that were below the 20kg (45lb) bar. That's because her upper body wasn't used to lifting heavier things while she did have pretty good conditioning. Here's a rough guideline for how to modify SL 5x5 for women:

  • Test what she can do. If she can do 45lb for her presses, start there. If not, try 35lb (15kg)--the official weight of the bar for the Woman's Olympic competitions.
  • Start with 5lb increases, but when she starts struggling, break out the fractional plates. 1.25lb plates come in handy, so buy a pair and keep it in your gym bag.
  • Be prepared to support her when she stalls, and possibly move to 3x5 a lot quicker for her.
  • Set reasonable expectations. Look at Weightlifting Performance Standards and work toward the first set of numbers for her weight class.
  • Pay attention to how often she stalls. If she is stalling all over the place there can be a few explanations ranging from not eating enough and sleep deprivation to just being ready for an intermediate routine quicker than you.

There are another major challenge that my wife faces with a beginner's program like SL 5x5 or Starting Strength, particularly since she likes heavy conditioning classes like Zumba:

  • Boredom with the same thing every session

In some ways, Crossfit would be a better way to keep my wife engaged than SL or SS because of the Attention Deficit Disorder that it suffers from. However, I found that introducing one or two (max) assistance exercises that (1) work on weak points, and (2) change periodically, is enough to help her remain focused.

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Maverick's pretty spot on. I just have a couple things to add:

If she appears to start stalling, it might be more mental than physical, especially if it's early on. I personally found it difficult to learn to really push through reps. So don't be too quick to deload or start using fractional plates.

Have her start a log online somewhere (here, perhaps?). Your support is essential, but for some reason it really helps to get support from other women... even if it's not in real life.

Some women are affected by that time of the month more than others. If your fiance wants to take it a little easier (not skip the gym altogether) that week, let her, because it's probably because she feels crappy, not because she's slacking off.

Re: boredom, I think that's highly dependent on the individual. I personally never found SL boring... it did get frustrating when the stalls started popping up everywhere, but that's different.

Edit: Regarding progression, I was adding 5 lbs per session until I hit ~75 lbs on OHP, 135 lbs on bench, 185-200 on squats, and 265 or so on deadlifts, while on a calorie deficit. However, I had been lifting (albeit not intelligently) for a few years at that point, and I may carry a bit more lean mass than your fiance. Progression is highly dependent on the individual.

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Hi. I have been doing SL 5x5 now for about a year. Everyone are different and there are no set rules for what works for different people, but I can share MY experience...:

My experience is that me as a girl progress slower than my boyfriend and his mate who also did SL 5x5. I started with the babell on all exercises apart from deadlift (around 50 kg on DL if I remember correctly)In the beginning I added 2,5 kg (5lbs) on squats more or less every workout. However, on OHP and benchpress 2,5 kg was way too much. For the first 6 months or so I didn't have any smaller weights, so sometimes I was on the same weight for around 2 months or so, and I could never do it. I found out I had to get some smaller weights to be able to progress, so I bought some small plates, (0.25 kg each) so that I could increase with just 0,5 kg at a time. This was extremely helpful. I was able to add weight much more often, maybe every week instead of every 2 months. After a while, as squats and deadlifts have become harder, I have started using the small plates on these exercises as well, as I am able to add weight more often. My boyfriend also started using them and found it very helpful.

So my recommendation is: Buy some smaller weights :-)

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It's great that your fiance is lifting! The others have already given you good input. I'd just add that like most people, she'll probably stall on the upper body lifts before the lower body ones. I think it's good to start microloading those early to prolong the progression before she starts failing. Failure can be demoralizing, and there's value in putting it off until she has a chance to get hooked on lifting. Also, at some point, she may need to microload in smaller increments than 2.5 lbs., so you want to have an option besides the 1.25 fractional plates. I use adjustable ankle weights, but lots of people swear by washers. And finally, compliments are always good. After she's been squatting for a while, you can mention how much you like her ass.:)

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When I started, I was following New Rules of Lifting for Women. But I found the variety of lifts and the high number of reps frustrating. It was so new to me and I just felt like the workouts took a long time and made me do things I was having a hard time mastering. After several weeks, I found Stronglifts and that really addressed all my issues. It was simpler, the workouts were shorter (when you are using light weights, there's not a lot of warm ups to do), I could look up instructional help on you tube because the lifts were all there. I went back to NROLFW about 7 months ago and I could appreciate the variety after having some experience and feeling comfortable with the atmosphere of the weight room.

Your fiance sounds exactly the opposite, like she would prefer a more varied program that changes every 6 weeks or so. There's also a New Rules of Lifting, which I guess could be described as the unisex version. The downside is that the books aren't free on the internet, but they're not expensive, if she's interested. Plus she has you to help her learn the right form, so with any program, the process for her is going to be a shorter learning curve.

On stronglifts I added 5 lbs a session to squats, 10 lbs to deadlifts, and had some trouble adding 5 lbs to bench presses and especially overhead presses. I agree with the previous opinions about getting some fractional plates/giant washers to allow for progress and to avoid frustration. I am going to order my giant washers soon. I will be the envy of my local gym.

Glad to hear that another woman will be invading the weight room.

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Thanks everyone for the ideas so far. I have obtained two 1.25 lb. plates to help maintain progress as long as possible. I plan to use them on OHP myself and I think she'll want them for bench and OHP pretty soon. So far she's been putting on 5 lbs each time no problem. She's diesel.

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Great stuff. It's always motivating when you are making good progress.

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