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I've been training on and off for the past two years, but only consistently for the past 9 months and currently I'm 185lbs (6'2"). However I wasn't following a specific program and I was only using a pair of adjustable dumbbells and a pull-up bar.

I have now been doing Stronglifts 5x5 for 4 weeks while eating 1800-2200 calories, depending if its a workout day or not. I am also doing intermittent fasting, and cycle my carbs by having low carbs on off-days and high carbs on workout days. I eat 1-1.5g protein per pound of body weight. I normally have a cheat day on the weekend where I have around 4000 calories.

This is how I looked right before I started Stronglifts: enter image description here

I know most people would recommend a bulk for me especially on Stronglifts 5x5, but my priority is to rid myself of as much fat as possible while hopefully maintaining muscle or even building a little (since I am new to many of exercises in Stronglifts). I estimate my bodyfat at 15-16% and would like to get down to 10% before I clean bulk.

My current lifts on Stronglifts are:

Squat: 175lb 5x5

Bench: 135lb 5x5

Deadlift: 190lb 1x5

Rows: 105lb 5x5

Overhead press (seated): 85lb 5x5

The only exercise that is giving me difficulty at this point are squats. I have failed to complete 5 reps in the 5th set for the last couple of workouts, but I continued to add weight since I can complete 4 sets no problem. I'm thinking that my difficulty with squats is not strength-related, but more so due to decreased stamina caused by my caloric deficit. Should I only do 3x5 for squats in this case since I am cutting?

Any other feedback or advice cutting while doing Stronglifts? Anybody have any experience with this?

Thank you!

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2 Answers

Doing something like StrongLifts 5x5, Starting Strength, or Madcow on a calorie deficit is like running into a headwind. It will be harder to make good progress with the weights. Essentially, you will run out of energy before you feel like you are really challenging your strength. There's nothing magical about any of the programs I listed, but the lot of them together will help you figure out what's reasonable.

You might plan on a weekly progression (which is still pretty quick) that incorporates all the important things. NOTE: this is not Mehdi approved, but it's still a decent approach:

Monday:

  • Bench: 3x5+ (last set as many reps as possible)
  • Squat: 3x5+ (last set as many reps as possible)
  • Rows: 3x8
  • 20 minutes of cardio

Wednesday:

  • OHP: 3x5+ (last set as many reps as possible)
  • Deadlift: 1x5+ (at least 5 reps)
  • Pullups/Chinups/Lat Pulldowns: 3xF or 3x10 (alternate pullups and chinups 3xF if you can, or just do lat pulldowns 3x10)
  • 20 minutes of cardio

Friday:

  • Bench: 2x5, 3 at +5 lbs, 8 at 75%
  • Squat: 2x5, 3 at +5 lbs, 8 at 75%
  • Bro work of your choice 3x8 (curls, shoulder work, etc.)
  • 20 minutes of cardio

Basically, use the weights you are working with now to start, on Friday you do one set at 5lbs more than you did on Monday. The next week, you use that new weight for the squat/bench, and add 5lbs to your OHP and deadlifts. The arrangement is inspired a bit by all three of the programs in the beginning. The last lift on all three days is there to keep you healthy, including the bro work.

This approach will be a sustainable pace for much longer than you can do SL5x5 as written--deficit or not. The advantage of not trying to increase weight every single time you step in the gym is that it ingrains a pattern of patience which will serve you much better over time. I've watched a number of people who get frustrated that they can't keep up the pace with 5x5 after they've exhausted the program.

Just a little anecdote to keep in mind. I trained my daughter for her first power lifting competition this past year. When we started she was able to do about half of what the federation records had for her age/weight class. She was able to keep the pace of increasing weight every week for over three months of training before we started really preparing for the competition. At competition, she either beat or tied the federation records with her openers. Every lift after that was setting a new record altogether. Even on a deficit you should be able to keep the pace for a while.

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Thanks for your in-depth response! Since I'm not really having any difficulty adding weight yet to my lifts (except for my issue with squats) do you think I should continue on Stronglifts until I stall, and then switch to the routine you outlined above? Oh I forgot to add that I added a few supplementary exercises to the Stronglifts program, with pullups, dips and barbell curls on one day and chinups, chest flys, and barbell shrugs on the other. –  user7194 Nov 27 '13 at 16:18
    
Dude...a linear progression with extra accessory work while on a cut is a recipe for running straight into a brick wall. Berin is absolutely right that adding weight weekly is a much better idea. –  Dave Liepmann Nov 27 '13 at 18:01
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I highly recommend following the StrongLifts protocol for not completing all prescribed reps for an exercise: if "you didn't accomplish 5x5 on your Squat...you do NOT increase the weight the next workout for that exercise." Page 47. If you fail to get all the reps for that weight 3 times in a row, deload by 10%. Once deloading stops working, then switch to 3x5.

If you're not going to follow the program, the direction to stray is towards adding weight less frequently because you're on a cut, not more frequently. Repeatedly going to failure by grinding out heavy squats risks poor form and injury.

For that matter, if you're on a cut, you might want to stop increasing the weights at all and instead add cardio, either on off days or with a finisher at the end of your workout.

Also, why are you doing seated instead of standing overhead press?

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Thanks for your comments. I guess I just felt like I wasn't really pushing myself too hard, I was just running out of energy towards the end of my sets. My legs have yet to ever get sore from the squats so I figured I could keep increasing the weight. I'll try keeping the weight the same next workout. As for why I'm doing seated overhead press, I workout in my basement which unfortunately has a low ceiling. –  user7194 Nov 27 '13 at 11:52
    
@user7194 Your legs aren't sore, but what about your back? Squats are not a leg exercise. Plus, soreness is not a good indicator of whether or not an exercise is working--whether you can complete the set is the best indicator. –  Dave Liepmann Nov 27 '13 at 12:01
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