A little background I have been lifting for a couple years now as a newb but have been able to get my muscles a bit toned and defined they were a bit flabby but not to the extent they are now. This is after having started the 5x5 stronglifts program which I have made some progress in strength but stagnated in some areas (squats, bench press). Is this normal? My arms are really soft and flabby, you touch them and can easily wiggle them, and have lost what little definition they used to have.

I'm 5'8" @ 137lbs trying to gain weight but trying to stay toned.

  • You need to eat, son. Calorie surplus and keep on lifting. If you don't have a surplus you won't build on muscle, and you're very skinny as-is. – cbll Jul 27 '16 at 11:38

I think you're trying to thread the needle a little too much, and I'm basing that off of a couple of things you've said:

I'm 5'8" @ 137lbs trying to gain weight but trying to stay toned.

I have made some progress in strength but stagnated in some areas (squats, bench press). Is this normal?

As a comparison, I'm two inches taller than you and weight 185, roughly fifty pounds more than you. I tend to bounce around between 10%-15% body fat. Regardless, I'm barely taller than you and weight a lot more than you, and I fit a size medium shirt. I'm not in anyway implying that we have the same body types or that I'm "normal", but just to give an anchor point to the conversation because I think you need to add on a lot of muscle weight.

It is very hard to do "lean gains", to the point that it's just not worth trying. Honestly the only people I've seen reliably accomplish this were using anabolic steroid supplementation.

There's a common statement tossed around to new lifters:

Chain yourself to the squat rack, drink a gallon of whole milk every day, and call me in a year.

There's not a lot of magic to this; I'm betting you know this already but you're hoping / believing that you can escape the reality. It sucks, but you can't.

  1. Building muscles, long term, is better for fat loss than aerobic exercise. Diet trumps all, but on to point #2.
  2. You need to lift heavy and eat in caloric excess to get stronger/bigger. It sucks, you'll get a little fat, but you need to accept that. This doesn't mean you need to be 500 calories a day over budget. The exact amount isn't dead on, but what is known is that you can't be in caloric deficit. Nailing the number dead on every day is impossible, so you need to go a little over.
  3. Once you've gained a significant amount of strength/size over a period of months, maintain the weights you're lifting, incorporate interval training and pull your diet in. You'll scrub 1-2 pounds a week. 8 pounds in two months is a huge difference: for your body, that's roughly a 6% body fat swing.

If you try to stay in your "lean gains" mode where you want to get big but don't want to put on weight, you'll basically stagnate forever like you are now. You don't need to eat cheeseburgers every day, but if you're lifting heavy you need to sleep and eat a lot to get bigger. Lift like a crazy man for 3-4 months, scrub the goo for 1-2 months, rinse/repeat.

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    Can you give some evidence to back your claims of lean gains being more difficult? – Gunge Jul 22 '16 at 21:39
  • So In order for me to get stronger I have to gain more weight? – Jack Jul 23 '16 at 1:53
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    @JJosaur Lyle McDonald is a fairly respected trainer, nutritionist, and athlete. He has a rather detailed write up here: bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/… – Eric Jul 25 '16 at 0:31
  • @Jack to some extent, yes. I'd read that link above to get the whole story. "Stronger" can come from enhanced neuro-muscular drive, muscle fiber recruitment, and pain tolerance. But all of those being equal, someone with ten pounds more muscle will be stronger. So it's totally wrong to say "size=strong", but 5'8" 137lb is really on the lighter end of things, so there's just a lot of muscle tissue to build up. – Eric Jul 25 '16 at 0:34
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    Thank you! I read the article from the link and have decided to track my macros and go over my calorie intake by a couple hundred. 26lbs a year isn't that much but that's better than what I am gaining right now. – Jack Jul 27 '16 at 1:14

It sounds like your diet hasn't been on point. I have to make some linguistic assumptions, but "flabby arms" and "you can easily wiggle them" sounds to me like you've gained a bit of fat.

I suggest you read up on how to lose fat, but keep in mind, it's going to revolve around your diet.

See answers for What exercises should I perform to reduce fat on a specific area of my body?.

  • my diet consists mostly of rice, meat (red and white), eggs, milk, fruits, and seafood(mostly tilapia & shrimp). I actually started running and have been losing belly fat. But I'm at a lose as to why my arms are this way. How's my diet? I have been trying to ween myself from junkfood so I have one day (usually saturday) that I buy fastfood. – Jack Jul 23 '16 at 1:53

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