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I'm currently doing StrongLifts however I have changed the bench & squat parameters to 5x8 instead of 5x5. I've also added in some accessory stuff (flies, curls, skull crushers, pull-ups on days I am using similar muscles) & some cardio (running/bike 2-3 miles 3 times a week).

Things have been going well for the last 7 weeks, meeting all targets so far however I think sooner or later I will plateau on certain exercises (I reckon on the bench first seeing as its most difficult for me! Although it is my favourite!).

  • Is my 5x8 adaptation a good or bad idea?
  • What difference will 5x8 have on my progress compared to 5x5?
  • Will the addition of accessory work effect my strength?
  • When a plateau aries what kind of things can I do to my program?

Goals = Strong good looking physique

My first question yeah!

Original program Link: http://stronglifts.com/5x5/

  • Keep changing up things. At least this is what i do. Personally i started changing up things every week, to keep it constantly new. E.g. on 1 week i do 4x12-15 with a rest pause at last sets. On 2nd week i do 4-5*8 with drop sets. on week 3 i do whatever but super set exercises(one after another). Maybe changing up things like this can help you with your plateau. I also think doing it like this is a lot of fun, but maybe that is just me. – s3v3ns Feb 19 '15 at 6:41
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If physique is your primary goal, then your changes are not bad. However, it does require some adjustments to how you approach progression. First and foremost, volume is the #1 determiner of how much muscle you put on (citation). There are a wide variety of ways to increase volume.

One strategy is to maintain the same weight while you increase volume:

  • Start at 3x10, and work toward 3x15 with the same weight
  • Increase by 10 lbs and start over at 3x10
  • When increasing like this isn't working, drop 10% off the weight and do 5x10 to 5x15

That's a common approach used by bodybuilders and powerlifters (particularly in the off season) alike. At this point the program would no longer resemble StrongLifts.

Another strategy is to continually increase weight, but change the shape of the volume:

  • Start at 3x8, increasing 5 lbs each time
  • When you miss, repeat the next time but do 5x5
  • The next time, change it to 8x3
  • When that fails, drop 10% of the weight and do 5x8

The downside to this approach is that 8x3 takes much longer than 3x8, and you will feel wrecked by the time it's done.

Avoiding Dogmatism

Not everyone needs to train the same way (citation). In fact, during your evolution as a lifter, you won't be training the same way all the time (citation). Everyone benefits from cycles of putting on more volume and training like a bodybuilder, and everyone benefits from cycles of focusing on putting more weight on the bar. The first builds muscle mass, which in turn translates to strength. The second forces you to focus on technique and applying that strength.

The biggest problem I have with both StrongLifts and Starting Strength is the dogmatism of it's adherents. They are both very good beginner programs. Their focus is somewhere in the middle of focusing on volume and focusing on adding weight. However, they are general programs and give you general results.

What to focus on

The common exercise elements between StrongLifts and Starting Strength are excellent foundations of any strength training program. Squats, bench press, deadlifts, overhead press. However, when you have to manage fatigue sometimes you have to adjust your exercise selection.

  • Prioritize the core lifts for essential strength
  • When working with high rep sets, deadlifts take more than they give. If physique is your focus, snatch grip deadlift for volume will do you better than heavy deadlifts.
  • There will come a time where the volume will start to feel a bit much. Your ability to think becomes muddled, and you feel like you are living in a fog. This is when it's time to switch your approach.
  • Every time you change approaches, take weight off the bar and build back up.
  • Avoid injury prone movements if you can (example, chest flies can overstretch the shoulder tendons and a better alternative for chest development would be the dumbbell bench press)
  • Learn your body's cues. There's a difference between motivation problems and just being worn down. Motivation problems can be resolved by using a different variation of a lift.

One of the advantages of training for physique is that you don't have competition lifts you have to practice. You can be freer to use different variations. Bench with the feet up, or on the floor. Use an incline. Use different implements. Training for Strongman is somewhere between training for physique and powerlifting. As a result you are exposed to an even larger series of implements to use for getting stronger.

The biggest take away is that what you are doing can no longer be called "StrongLifts", just based off of it. As a result, Medhi's advice on progression really isn't going to apply to you. Take some of the ideas in this answer and work with them.

  • +1 This basically answers the question (especially the final paragraph). There are a few nuggets in there I'll use myself :). – Kneel-Before-ZOD Feb 19 '15 at 14:23
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Is my 5x8 adaptation a good or bad idea?

I don't think it is a good idea. The 5x5 format is for a purpose, to do heavy lifts for many sets, to add strength. Increasing reps per set will lead to more work yes, but you will lift less on the next sets, leading to a more endurance focused workout.

What difference will 5x8 have on my progress compared to 5x5?

Answered this above.

Will the addition of accessory work effect my strength? When a plateau aries what kind of things can I do to my program?

Hard to say, different people have different optimal levels of work for progress. Pushing yourself harder does not always lead to more progress. I also wonder how much you rest before each set, considering the fact that you can get these extra lifts into your workout. These strength focused workouts usually call for very long resting periods, up to 3-4 minutes or more. It's very easy to go for the next set too early.

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5x8 changes the program drastically. It will be harder to add weight regularly, and the stimulus will tend more towards endurance and hypertrophy than strength. I'm not sure that's a good idea but you're free to see how it goes. I would say that you're dramatically changing the character of the program by doing that while also adding so many assistance exercises. You should not expect to get the same results as orthodox StrongLifts.

Accessory work can both interfere with your primary work and help the assistance movements.

The StrongLifts PDF covers plateaus on page 47 with a good explanation of stalls and deloads. You should reread that.

You might find it useful to look into more bodybuilding-centric programs, since it sounds like that's what you want. GreySkull LP or a push/pull/legs routine are good places to start. You might also find it useful to just focus on a strength program for the time being, and switch to a bodybuilding program later. That strength program would probably look something like StrongLifts without your modifications.

  • Ice Cream Fitness is another popular bodybuilding program that takes the core of StrongLifts and modifies it for more hypertrophy focused gains. – Moses Feb 20 '15 at 3:33

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