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I have 2.5 years experience, have been cutting since January 1th, and I think I'm done cutting after April. This will be my longest and by far the best cut so far, I've counted calories with MFP, been active and trained with an ABA full body routine instead of the usual UL/UL routine.

I just changed my ABA full body to Stronglifts 5x5, mostly because I want to test out this official app from the authors team: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.stronglifts.app&hl=en

When I'm done cutting, I'll be at around 10-12% bf. This is where I'll start maintaining for at least a month before going over to a lean bulk during the summer and a bulk in the fall/winter. This has proven to work for me before.

My question is: Is it a wise tactic to start Stronglifts 5x5 at very low numbers (around 70% of my 5RM) in a caloric deficit, then when I reach my 5RM OR I reach 10% BF, I'll transit over to a maintenance or ~200-300 kcal over?

Focus while cutting will as always be form and explosiveness, with some body weight accessory lifts.

Some stats:

  • Lifting since November 2013, almost w/o skipping
  • Height: 1.95 cm, Weight: 88 kg, Age: 21 y.o
  • 1RM in KG (Squat/Bench/DL)
  • Before bulking August - Desember: 125/85/145 @91.5kg
  • After bulk in Desember: 135/100/160 @95.8kg
  • Today, after cut since Desember: 120/90/150 @88kg
  • You've been lifting for almost 3 years: don't do a novice program, you'd be much better off doing something like 5/3/1, Texas, Madcow. – Antrim Apr 14 '16 at 15:15
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    1.95 cm, huh? That's rough. – pushkin Apr 14 '16 at 18:21
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Bulking on SL for you is problematic

Before I answer your question, your problem is you are trying to bulk/cut on a massively sub-par program while being past your beginner phase. For bulking and cutting, up your volume and focus on hypertrophy. I'd advise you to read The Scientific Principles of Strength Training by Israetel, Hoffman and Chad Wesley Smith for more information. To be clear, Stronglifts is not a good program for most people after their initial exposure to lifting intelligently.

Judging from your weight/height and cut/bulk results on strength, you likely need to up your volume and stop focusing on minimalist strength programs, whether your goal is strength or size.

"But can I cut until I hit my 5RM?"

To answer your question: if you start on a deficit and keep going until you hit your 5RM, you are wasting all of that time in between not making much progress (you'll get some small technique benefits, some nervous system work for strength maybe a bit of muscle but not much else). StrongLifts isn't a magical program. As mentioned if you don't up your volume you'll find it challenging to make gains at your weight and height.

Frankly once you hit your 5RM on SL you'll already have cumulative fatigue from the program built up. You won't be able to just start off a small bulk and make progress again. I assume you would stall repeatedly, and even after multiple resets you would not get very far on SL after hitting your 5RM.

A note on your goals

From your cut and bulk cycle it seems like your body image is quite important to you. If your major goal is strength, at your height you just need to bulk right up (adding just 5kg of BW is probably not a sufficient bulk). I'd also recommend switching to a higher volume program.

If your major goal is aesthetics, then your cut/bulk cycling is fine, but again you'll need to get on a program that reflects your goals. That program is not StrongLifts.

  • Very interesting! Got any online sources for the StrongLifts criticism? Or would it be best to just read the book and draw the conclusions regarding the program from it? Is the info from Practical Programming for Strength Training compatible with it? And is SL 5x5 a good choice for a complete novice or would you recommend a different program? (sorry for the many questions; if you want we can take it to chat, although I'll have to leave soon for a couple hours) – G_H Apr 15 '16 at 13:53
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    @G_H SL isn't a bad program, it just wouldn't fit for this lifter. The principles in Practical Programming apply to all programs, so you could definitely use that information to review how well SL will work for you. SL is a great program for a complete novice but with some caveats. Happy to discuss more on chat! As for online evidence, I've been studying novices training for a long time (been a mod on powerliftingtowin.com and there's about 400 novice logs on there) so I've personally compiled info on what works for who. E.g. taller skinnier dudes who've hit a wall don't do well on SS or SL. – hamza_tm Apr 15 '16 at 13:55
  • Outstanding! Powerliftingtowin.com is a very interesting site and seeing someone use a large pool of logs like that to figure out trends is inspiring. If Rippetoe or Mehdi are to be believed their programs are flawless and will work for everyone. It's good to see some skepticism. I'm looking into intermediate programs, but a friend of mine wants to start training sometime soon and I've been wondering if I'd be right to suggest SS or SL. – G_H Apr 15 '16 at 14:07
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    @G_H Made a room here somewhere chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/38437/… if you want to chat about stuff. For a friend, I recently got my brother onto this and it's fantastic: strengtheory.com/complete-strength-training-guide There's programs and guides with it too if you scroll down the page somewhere. We can discuss how this compares to SS and SL if you like. – hamza_tm Apr 15 '16 at 14:10
  • I might check the room later. I'll be away for a good number of hours now, though, and will probably have a busy weekend. At any rate, thanks for the link! I'll definitely read it and forward it to my friend. – G_H Apr 15 '16 at 14:20
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I don't think starting SL5x5 should be a problem, because the first thing you do is test your 1RM, and have the numbers for your program set to percentages of that. So at the end of a cut, if you're weaker than normal, then it's perfectly reasonable to work with lower weights than you normally would.

So long as you rely on a fresh 1RM test, and don't use a previous one that is possibly higher than your current, you won't stagnate as fast, so you'd also be able to cut a bit longer before phasing into a surplus regimen.

  • Would you see this as effective? I've already completed a week. I set the first week at 70% weight of updated 5RM. It felt great, form was better than ever. Everything easy. I also added 3-4 accessories (A=dips, Calves, Triceps. B=pull ups, curls, abs). I am going to change to another program as I have done full body routines for 3 months, but I'm waiting until after this cut. – jeyloh Apr 15 '16 at 1:40
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If I'm getting this right, your approach would be to start the program at an artificial deficit and apply linear progression until you are at your actual 5 RM. After that, you'd try to introduce a moderate caloric surplus to maintain linear progression. Correct?

The problem I might foresee with this is that maintaining linear progression on a strength-based program like this is something that would be typical for a novice. At 2.5 years of training, assuming your programming prior to this was okay, you should no longer be a novice. Let's find out if you do still qualify as one regarding relative strength.

I've entered the data you've provided in the symmetricstrength.com website, which I consider a good resource for estimating your level because it is based on generally accepted strength standards and research. Here's the results:

  • Before bulk in August: 56.6 score, novice level.
  • After bulk in December: 62 score, intermediate level.
  • After cut, now: 58.7 score, novice level.

The bulk managed to put you into intermediate level. After the cut you've dropped back a bit into novice but you're still stronger overall. Now, this isn't the whole story of course. The real question is: had linear progression on your bulk stalled to the point that adding weight to the bar on at least a two-weekly basis didn't work anymore? No longer being capable of linear progression, and no longer being able to fully recuperate between successive workouts without some sort of periodization are signs you'd no longer be a novice.

Because your strength dropped a bit on the cut, you can probably maintain linear progression again for a while. But I think your approach could have some problems:

  • By first introducing an artificial deload, you'll also artificially stretch out the linear progression. However, since you're working at submaximal loads for a while you aren't really making any substantial progress. It might be best to start at your actual 5 RM, or very close to it, and try to increase each lift by 2.5 kg every week, or possibly every 2 weeks.
  • Because you're close to intermediate level, doing full-body workouts three times per week with increasing loads might not let you fully recover from workout to workout. A true novice, due to lifting weights far from their physical potential, can recover in about 48 hours, max 72. You possible can't, so you'd need periodization.
  • If you attempt to maintain linear progression after having reached your actual 5 RM, you will probably need a bigger caloric surplus than the suggested 200-400 kcal. Which would end up undoing your cut, and at the very least take you over 12% body fat.

When I look at it, what is actually happening is that you're attempting to introduce some periodization into your workout. But rather than working up to an actual max effort and then cycling back, you'd try to keep linear progression going. StrongLifts 5x5 is a beginner program, you are starting to move past that stage.

I'd advise you instead to look into intermediate programming. A good intermediate program would have some periodization, so your increases in weight lifted are now on a monthly or even 6-week basis. You could do a short run-up using StrongLifts 5x5 with linear progression until you start missing lifts, but once you hit intermediate stage, it will have mostly exhausted its usefulness for your situation. If you wish to design your own program with the concepts necessary for an intermediate, you might want to check out the book "Practical Programming for Strength Training" by Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker.

  • Thanks for the In depth answer. I realize that I'm not a novice and shouldn't use a novice routine. I have read 'Practical Programming' and understand the importance of balancing push/pull, quad/ham, compound vs isolation and also rep ranges. That's why Ive added proper volume to SL5, with more pull exercises. I basically just want to try out the application as I'm designing my own fitness app as a project for my IT grade. – jeyloh Apr 14 '16 at 18:30
  • @jørgenhansen Probably best not to compromise your workouts for the sake of testing an app, although real usage would of course be best. Maybe also check out Gymwolf, which is a more general-purpose tracker that I use. The Android version has some bugs, but it has some strong points. – G_H Apr 15 '16 at 5:25

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