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I'd like to keep this question general, but it's rather situational so excuse the extra fluff.

At the end of February I finished 6 months of doing Johnny Candito's linear program, control variant. Since then I've started a caloric deficit to lose some excess fat and my focus shifted on maintaining strength and muscle mass, making a little progress where feasible. So I changed to the hypertrophy variant of the program, with some personal modifications. I do 3 sets of 5 to 7 reps on the compound movements like squat and bench press on the heavy day (once per week for upper/lower body), with one extra set at a higher weight for 3 to 5 reps. The hypertrophy day (also once per week for upper/lower) uses lighter weight or other exercises for more reps and sets and is a sort of volume day for me.

My progress is basically: do the 3 sets of 5 with a certain weight, next week try 3x6, the week after 3x7. After that I increase the weight by 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) and do 5 reps again, then 6 etc. This scheme has worked very well and I'm making progress despite the caloric deficit. Now, since my squat is seriously lagging (especially compared to the deadlift) I'm also doing 3 heavy sets on the lower hypertrophy day for squats, with two lighter sets at higher reps. So squat progress could look like this for the following weeks:

Date       Weight (kg) x sets x reps
Thu 12/05  75x3x5,   65x2x10
Mo  16/05  75x3x6,   82.5x1x3
Thu 19/05  75x3x7,   65x2x11
Mo  23/05  77.5x3x5, 82.5x1x4
Thu 26/05  77.5x3x6, 65x2x12
Mo  30/05  77.5x3x7, 82.5x1x5
Thu 02/06  80x3x5,   67.5x2x10

Now, I've gotten some 0.5 kg micro-plates, letting me increment weights by 1 kg. So another option has become: increase the weight each week, but stick with 5 reps. Progress could then look like this (only showing heavy sets):

Date       Weight (kg) x sets x reps
Thu 12/05  75x3x5
Mo  16/05  76x3x5
Thu 19/05  77.5x3x5
Mo  23/05  78.5x3x5
Thu 26/05  79.5x3x5
Mo  30/05  80x3x5

Because the micro-plates are 0.5 kg each and the next lowest eight per plate in the gym is 1.25 kg, sometimes there'll be a 1 kg jump, other times 1.5 kg and yet other times 0.5 kg. I figure the above would be decent since the bigger jump is earlier on.

As you can see, by the time Monday 30 May rolls around, the weight, sets and reps would be the same, just a different progression. Which of these approaches would be best right now for me? The 5,6,7 scheme has worked well until now, and by the time the weight increases and the reps drop back to 5 it doesn't feel too taxing because the 7 reps at 2.5 kg less were actually harder. I'm inclined to go with what works. But at the same time, I'm expecting every time to suddenly hit a wall on the weight increase, even if the reps drop, and stalling out again. So maybe small weight increments could be better in keeping momentum and staying at 5 reps which appears to work well for me as a strength builder.

I'm only concerned with this progression up to the start of June. After that I'm switching back to a small caloric surplus and reviewing what would be the best course of action. I just want to hit that 80x3x5 as a short-term goal, because small goals like that keep me going.

I've found this answer, by the way: What are you views on progress between rep range vs. fixed reps?. I understand from it that both approaches could work well, I'm just wondering if someone has any insight in which would be better right now for the following month. So, very situation-specific question.

  • Can you give some body composition information, weight/height/age/known injuries? – Gunge May 12 '16 at 15:03
  • Downvoter, it's more useful if you provide a comment with a reason. I could adjust the question or agree to have it closed if folks think it's a duplicate. – G_H May 12 '16 at 15:03
  • @JJosaur Weight: 66 kg (145 lbs), height: 1.67 cm (~5'6"), age: 31 years. Injuries: I've got some persistent front left knee pain, shifting location, that tends to flare up with jogging or other things with repetitive impact. I think it has also held me back on squats (at least mentally), but it has in fact improved with weight training. Doctor's visits didn't yield any immediately obvious serious issues. Knee might be victim of compensating for left hip (hip tends to hurt if I widen my squat stance, knee if it's too narrow). – G_H May 12 '16 at 15:07
  • Whelp, I just managed a 2.5 kg increase while dropping back to 5 reps. It felt hard, but it still worked. I'll try to keep this going for as long as it lasts and maybe jump to smaller increments if it begins failing. – G_H May 12 '16 at 20:47
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In your specific situation, I would suggest to go with the latter, 3x5 routine or even consider 5x5 depending on your ability. There is a lot to be said for doing splits but in your case, because of the weight being lifted and the goal of wanting to lift more that you focus on doing the lift in a consistent way with progressive overload.

I would also suggest you change from twice a week to every session (where possible). If you really want to amp your squat numbers up to those triple figure ranges then you need to be squatting nearly every day, if not every other day (definitely at least 3 times a week).

Again, squatting is a major activity and needs supplementation, make sure your body is getting enough food. Cutting and trying to increase your squat max weight won't effectively work.

Stick with your high bar squat and focus on powerlifting principles of big weight, low reps, longer rest.

In summary: Deload 5-10 kg, go up to 5x5, increase volume to at least 3 times a week, squat at the start of your session.

After 5x5 maxes out, deload 5kg and go to 3x5 and carry on from there. You will have heavy gravity days when its harder to lift the same weight, that is normal.

  • Small note: I'm doing low-bar instead of high-bar. Since I do two upper and two lower days each week right now, squatting more would fit poorly into my schedule without changing the whole program. I'll definitely take up your suggestions after this month, but until June or slightly later I'd just like to stick with my caloric deficit. After that I can eat again more to drive progress, but it hasn't halted yet. – G_H May 12 '16 at 15:14
  • Honestly, I think diet may be the main factor, it is so hard to raise heavy lifts on a deficit, your body just doesn't have the fuel to completely recover. Maintaining your lifts while on a cut is definitely admirable. – Gunge May 12 '16 at 15:18
  • Oh yes, my goal right now is definitely not max strength increase. Just lowering body fat a bit and avoiding losing strength as much as possible. The fact that my squat is actually still increasing is probably just because it's lagging behind that much. I'm just interested in, as long as it's still increasing on this cut, would small weight jumps or varying reps be best? Varying reps have worked pretty well for me. – G_H May 12 '16 at 15:20

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