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Background:

I've just recently completed the first 12 week period of StrongLifts. My finishing stats are below:

  • Age: 24
  • Gender: male
  • Height: 170cm (67in)
  • Body weight: 68kg (150#) (I've been eating 4-6 meals/day, but only gained 2 or 3kg in those 12 weeks)
  • Squat: 77kg (170#)
  • Deadlift: 95kg (209#)
  • Press: 36kg (80#)
  • Row/Bench: 46kg (101#)

I am in a weird transitional period as I am focusing a lot of my gym time on learning the Power Clean and other technical lifts so I can begin a Starting Strength (3x5) program. However, one thing that I certainly want to maintain, both in my current workout and while I transition to Starting Strength, is an emphasis on the overhead press.

Problem:

Around week 9/10, I hit a plateau on my overhead press. Instead of lifting 5,5,5,5,5 as prescribed by the StrongLifts program, I would only be able to do something like 4,4,4,4,3. If I was very well rested or if I started with the press, then I could get the first few sets at 5, but not all the way across. Part of the issue was that the smallest plates at my gym are 2.5lb, so I recently bought fractional plates at 1.25lb for a net increment of 2.5lb, because the 5lb increment was too difficult.

In the three resets I have done, only the first was successful at increasing the work weight, and that success was immediately followed by another plateau. After two resets, I am still stuck at 36kg.

Since the resets I have done thus far have done little to improve my press, I've come to the conclusion that deloading and lowering the sets (as recommended in the SL program) will not be sufficient to get me the desired results in the overhead press, nor will the lowering of sets from 5 to 3 be enough. Rather, I am under the belief that to see the results I want (pressing body weight) I will need to enhance my routine using supplemental exercises in addition to the use of deloading / lowering sets.

Question:

My goal is to press my bodyweight. I am looking for intermediate programs/exercises with a focus on press so I can more efficiently reach this goal. What are the most effective exercises that I can add into a routine to supplement my overhead press?

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Why don't you think a reset will help? –  user3085 Aug 14 '12 at 5:29
    
What kind of rep ranges are you doing on your overhead press? –  Mike S Aug 14 '12 at 6:07
1  
When you plateaued, what were the sets you completed? E.g. 5, 5, 5, 3, 0 or 5, 5, 3, 3, 3? How much are you eating--have you gained weight? What were the starting weights on each of these? Why are you emphasizing the press? What is involved in this SL->SS transition other than just hopping from one to the other? –  Dave Liepmann Aug 14 '12 at 13:42
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Is there some detail you're not including that would explain why you don't expect the program to work for you? Also, does stronglifts suggest 2.5lb increments? –  user3085 Aug 14 '12 at 18:56
1  
You haven't exhausted your linear gains. How many calories per day do you eat? Eat 1000 more. –  user3085 Aug 14 '12 at 19:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Stick with the program

You're not strong enough to need to supplement your lifts. You need to press and squat and deadlift and chin or power clean or row. Those are plenty for now.

Switch to 3x5

StrongLifts is not 5x5 into eternity. It includes an automatic switch to 3x5 once you're past the approximately 3 to 12 month 5x5 period, which focuses on technique and easy strength gains. You should switch to 3x5 on an exercise-by-exercise basis after deloading twice on a given lift:

Use the deloads to figure out when to switch from StrongLifts 5x5 to StrongLifts 3x5. You should switch to 3x5 after you deload 2x on a lift. This cuts the training volume by almost half and thus improves recovery. Training will feel lighter for a while, and you'll be able to add weight to the bar for a few more weeks.

(Page 48 of my copy.)

Switch to a press-specific program

There's a saying, attributed to Olympic lifters back in the days when the clean and press was still an event:

If you want to press more, then press more.

(Source, also, and also)

If you want to get stronger overall, then buckle down on your eating, sleeping, and lifting (whether with StrongLifts 3x5 or Starting Strength, or a Rippetoe-derived variant). You are still weak and small enough to be able to get tremendous benefit from novice programming. You are free to do what you like, but there's no specific need for an intermediate program.

But if you want to press your bodyweight more than develop strength generally, forget both those programs. They're much more focused on whole-body strength, particularly in the posterior chain. If you want to press big weights, then develop or find a program based around that goal. I can't press anything substantial, and am a total beginner, but I'd do one of two things: something like Pavel's Power to the People program, which is:

  • The Deadlift
  • The side press.

The set and rep format for this training routine is simple. 2 sets of 5 reps.

First set is 80% 1 REP max then back off set (2nd set) with less weight (approx. 10% less). The idea is that this routine can be done almost daily to build strength gradually and get into the groove.

...or something like this:

  • 3x5 press, progressing linearly, primary lift
  • A lower-body exercise, such as squats, pistols, or deadlifts--not super important for your goals
  • Pull-ups/chin-ups 3x10, to balance out the pressing
  • 2 exercises of assistance pressing work, rotating through: 1-arm dumbbell press because unilateral exercises are awesome / push presses for overhead overload / dips and bench press for pushing in different planes / Turkish get-up to waiter's walk, for stability and trunk strength

I might also play with greasing the groove and training every day, in the Bulgarian or gymnastics style. Handstands and handstand push-ups might be called for.

Recover harder

I don't know you or your situation, but it's entirely possible with these numbers that you're simply not eating and sleeping enough. If you are OK with growing, keeping your lifts the same while doubling your food intake might be a good method of getting stronger.

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I also suspect there are issues with recovery, or maybe you're not following the program correctly. At your bodyweight, I'd expect you to be able to get higher numbers than this before stalling. Overhead press shouldn't need supplemental exercises at this weight. –  user3085 Aug 14 '12 at 17:15

Stronglifts is a beginner program, and the heavier the lifts go, the more likely you will need to change something. There is nothing magical about 5x5. Starting Strength is by design 3x5 from the beginning. That said, please do review the material for what you are supposed to do on a stall in StrongLifts:

  • If you stall 3 times, deload and work back up.
  • If you've deloaded twice already, and are stalling the third time, drop two sets on that lift.

This is from the Stronglifts paper. Essentially, if you were doing 5x5, and your deload/stall progression is done, switch to 3x5. Then 1x5. Finally, to a new program.

Now, there are some things you can do to keep the press moving forward:

  • Put the press before squats. You are fresher, so squat fatigue won't affect your press.
  • Just do 3x5 and forget the stall/deload progression.
  • Use ramping sets (increase weight about 10-15% until you get to your one top set)
  • Use a progression from a different program.

Rather than keep hitting a brick wall, sometimes you just need to try something different. The progression that really helped my press see some consistent gains was the Wendler 5/3/1 progression.

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I would upvote this three times if I could. –  Dave Liepmann Aug 14 '12 at 18:04
    
I have reviewed the StrongLifts material, and I am aware that in my next stall I will need to go down to 3x5 in press. However, given my goals, I do not feel that following the SL program will be the most efficient path for me. The Wendler 5/3/1 progression seems interesting, so I will give that a try and see how my body responds. –  Moses Aug 14 '12 at 19:23

Continuing to switch plans constantly will not allow for optimal gains. Pick a program and stick with it.
Eat more. If you have only gained a small amount in that time you are not eating enough to support optimal strength gain. You should, as a beginner, put on at least a pound or more per week and consuming proper amount of macro nutrients. This level of nutrition should be optimal for furthered strength and muscular gains.

Both StrongLifts and the Rippetoe program are good starting programs that take a novices ability to quickly gain strength in a linear fashion and capitalize on it. Though 5/3/1 is also a food program it utilizes longer term periodization which is very slow for a beginner because in effect it is an advanced lifters program.

Stay consistent, eat consistent, sleep well and lift heavy.

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