I have been following the Stronglifts program since February of this year, so I've been at it about 6 months. I had tried the program before, but I had been away from it for some time, so I started back at the beginning. I started with just 42 lbs on all my lifts, and added 5 pounds every week for as long as I could, removing 10% of the weight on the next workout if I failed a few times in a row.

The Stronglifts program uses 5 main lifts - squats, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, bent over rows. I've often heard that squatting 1.5 times your bodyweight is a good milestone to aim for, and that more-or-less coincides with the strength goals that the Stronglifts creator suggests, so I adopted those goals as my own. My target lift weights are:

  • Squats: 270 lbs (5x5)
  • Deadlift: 360 lbs (1x5)
  • Bench Press: 200 lbs (5x5)
  • Barbell Row: 180 lbs (5x5)
  • Overhead Press: 120 lbs (5x5)

I started with 42 lbs on all exercises back in February. Here's where I am now:

  • Squats: 257 lbs
  • Deadlift: 242 lbs
  • Bench Press: 117 lbs
  • Barbell Row: 92 lbs
  • Overhead Press: 92 lbs

(The reason my lift weights all end in 2 or 7 is because my bar weighs 32 lbs instead of the standard 45 lbs. It's an olympic-style bar, 7' long, 2" collars that rotate. Just the weight is off. I didn't know this when I bought it).

As you can see, my squats have progressed nicely. I'll be doing 262 lbs next workout, and my initial goal of 270 lbs is very nearly in reach. My overhead press isn't too bad either, I feel it's progressed at a similar pace.

In case anyone is curious about why my deadlift weight is less than my squats, it's due to grip strength. I tried to deadlift 252 lbs and I dropped the bar. It just slipped right out of my hands. Even when using mixed grip. But that's a question for another time....

What concerns me right now is that my bench press and barbell row weights seem to be progressing much much slower than my other lifts. Even though I'm squatting 95% of my target weight, my bench press is less than 60% of the weight I'm aiming for. And it seems like I plateau constantly. I feel similar about my bent-over rows. I've definitely made some progress, but the progress seems extremely slow compared to my squats and overhead press.

I have no idea what the cause of this could be. I've tried many times to check my form against videos I've seen posted online, and I've made some adjustments (wider grip on the bar during bench press, etc), but although adjusting my form did seem to help a bit, the difference was not dramatic.

The Stronglifts program prescribes lifting 3 times per week alternating between a squats/overhead press/deadlift workout and a squats/bench press/rows workout. I admit my follow-through hasn't been 100%, but I have been working out at least twice per week most weeks.

When I first started, I rested 1 minute between sets. Currently I'm resting about 5 minutes between sets for squats, and 3 minutes for all other lifts.

So, can you tell me please, why is my progress at the bench press and barbell row lifts so much slower than my progress with squats/overhead press? Is this normal? You might need more info from me to answer this question, but I don't know what else to offer off the top of my head. I will try to be proactive about answering any questions in the comments. Thanks in advance.

Additional Info requested by StupidOne:

Warm ups: I do warm up sets before I do all exercises. Typically I start with about 50 pounds, do one 5-rep set of the exercise. Then I add between 20 and 50 pounds and repeat, until I've got the full weight and I'm doing my first "official" set. For example, the last time I did bench presses, I did 1x5 at 52 lbs, then 1x5 at 82 lbs, then 1x5 at 102 lbs, then 5x5 at 117 lbs (my work weight).

Stretching Exercises: None, really. My research has left me unconvinced that they do much good.

Diet: I aim to eat about 200 grams of protein per day, although I sometimes fall short. I often start the day with 2 greek yogurts, and I eat a lot of chicken. Based on historical data, I burn about 3100 calories per day on average. I aim to eat slightly less than that so that I'll lose body fat, but I often fail. The other day I actually had 4900 calories in one day! Well, I don't ignore my hunger.... I'd say my average caloric consumption is probably about 3200 calories. I always eat something high protein (greek yogurt, cottage cheese, grilled chicken breast, protein shake, etc) immediately after weight training.

My diet could definitely use some improvement though, as I still eat out way too much and I know that's hampering my efforts to lose weight (and save money)!

By the way, I currently weigh about 218 lbs, which is about 10 lbs more than I did when I started Stronglifts in February. My goal is to get down to between 180-190 lbs. I've got a belly that needs to go.

Rest between sets:

As I said, I rest up to 5 minutes between sets for squats, and about 3 minutes for other exercises. This is based on advice I've read on a number of internet sites, such as this question in the Starting Strength Wiki FAQ:

At first you can probably get by with no more than 2-3 minutes between sets. However, once the weights start getting heavier, you may take upward of 5 minutes between sets. Near the end of your training cycle, especially when you are setting PRs (personal records) in the squat, deadlift, and power clean you could be resting upward of 7 minutes

Granted, Starting Strength is a 3x5 program, and I'm doing a 5x5 program. I don't know for sure if this is good advice, but I think I've read similar things other places.

Update 2 - August 20, 2011

As promised, here's a graph of my workout weights so far. The weights are expressed as a percentage of my goals. Note that my previous statement that my overhead press got to 102 lbs was apparently incorrect. According to my records, the heaviest press I've done was 92 lbs.

Weight graph - click for full size

Full size picture at https://i.sstatic.net/nvWqF.png

  • Have you done a reset or deload yet on any of the lifts? Two steps back might allow you to start moving forward again. Also, it's common to burn out on 5x5 programs. Have you considered switching to 3x5? Finally, when specifically are you failing--which reps, how does it feel, how much more is it than the previous workout? Microloading might help if you can't make 5lb increases. Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 15:45
  • @David Liepmann - Yes, I've deloaded many times. When I get home from work I could post a graph, but I don't have the data here. Typically when I fail bench press or rows, I fail on the 3rd or 4th set at some point. Failing bench press typically means the weight goes down to my chest and I can't get it back up no matter what I do. It feels like I crawled under my car and tried to lift it by pushing on the bottom. The weight is NOT going anywhere. When I fail in rows, that typically means I can't get the bar to my chest (or near it). I can always lift the weight SOME distance with rows. Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 16:27
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    @StupidOne - Added requested info above. I don't really do anything to alter my exercises other than changing the weight. I've heard a lot of mixed opinions about this, but at least I believe I'm doing what other people who have successfully followed Stronglifts have done. Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 17:25
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    @StupidOne - 5 minutes rest is totally reasonable between heavy 5-rep squats. See Wolf's post and Coach Rip's response here. Heavy squats take time to recover from. Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 18:34
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    Be sure to let us know how it went after you tried the accepted answer!
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 12:49

11 Answers 11


Given the additional information you've posted, it sounds like you are simply hitting a wall. Those are good numbers on the squats and deadlifts, so it's possible that you're not recovering (perhaps from too little sleep?), but it doesn't sound like that's the case.

I would see if switching to 3x5 instead of 5x5 allows you to progress. When I started with 5x5, the heavy squat sets would totally obliterate the rest of my workout. Removing the last two sets immediately gave me more energy for the upper-body lifts. My deadlift progress was unaffected. (Perhaps the upper body is more susceptible to fatigue caused earlier in the workout?)

Doing the additional volume in a 5x5 program is necessary when at lower weights. As the weight increases, 3x5 is plenty of volume. You sound like you hit a solid plateau consistently though a few deloads, and you're probably eating enough. Backing off to 3x5 (along with a small deload in the presses and rows) should give you more energy, both during the workout and during recovery days. Good luck.

  • I think I may take your advice. One thing - do you think I need to switch to 3x5 for all exercises, or maybe I should do 3x5 squats followed by 5x5 bench press & rows? Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 19:36
  • I prefer 3x5 generally, so I would recommend switching all of them anyway. However, I also think that going 3x5 for everything (except deadlift) makes sense specifically for you: 1) the decreased squat volume will give you more energy for the presses and rows, 2) your 3x5 max in the presses/rows will be greater than your 5x5 max, and 3) reducing volume across the board will help your recovery. Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 19:42
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    I actually just re-read the Stronglifts ebook that I have, and it actually says to switch to 3x5 after you've deloaded twice on an exercise. I never noticed that before! So this is definitely the right answer. Thanks. Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 11:56

Keep in mind that the bench and rows are using smaller muscles than the squats and deads. However for the rows to be that far behind the bench tells me you started the bench higher than the program would otherwise specify. In truth your rows should be another 20lbs heavier than your bench.

There are usually two reasons why you can't make a lift:

  • The last workout wasn't strong enough to induce any change
  • You have too much fatigue to get the lift up

Now, StrongLifts is a beginner program, and you are still in your beginner gains. What that means is that just about any exercise will cause you to adapt. The SL program has more than enough volume to get you to rebuild your muscles stronger.

So let's start looking at recovery and fatigue. I have my theory on what is going on, but I'm going to throw this out there just in case: you need 8 hours of sleep a night. Much of the body's muscle growing happens while you are sleeping. Natural testosterone peaks at REM sleep and remains at that level until you wake up. Natural human growth hormone peaks at deep sleep and remains at that level for about 1 hour. So let's look at the other possible culprits:

  • You don't have enough rest between sets. Your presses are usually the first ones to need extra rest.
  • Your warmups are sapping energy from your main lifts. In short they are not warmups.

StrongLifts recommends a very certain way of warming up, and Starting Strength is not too different either. I'm going to present the commonalities:

  • Start with the empty bar. 2 sets of 5
  • Increase in even increments up to 5 times to your work weight.
  • Taper off the last two sets, second to last set would be a set of 3 reps, and last set would be 2 reps.

For example, bench press at 117 is really too small to need a whole 5 sets of warmup. In this case the warmup would look like this:

  • empty bar 2x5
  • 57lbs 1x3
  • 82lbs 1x2
  • 117lbs 5x5 (or 3x5 if you are on that for this lift)

You can play with the numbers and adjust them a bit, but understand that you start with an empty bar, and taper off at the end. If you don't taper off, you are taking energy you need for your lifts and using it on your warmups.

You also may need to adjust the time between sets a bit longer on your presses.

Lastly, a good tip with bench press and rows is to do the lifts explosively.

  • Your back should be tight
  • Your butt in contact with the bench, but a bit of an arch between the shoulders and the butt.
  • Bring the bar down controlled (safely) to your chest
  • Explode it up all the way. This minimizes fatigue, and sends the right signals to your muscles that you want as many of them involved in the lift as possible.

Also considering where your squats are, it can be that the squats are robbing your energy for the bench press. Switching to 3x5 even though you didn't stall will make it a whole lot easier to make more progress on your bench press and rows.

  • Thanks for a helpful answer. +1 especially for using shorter sets during warmup. I didn't realize Stronglifts suggests using fewer reps as you increase the warm up weight. But I just went back and re-read it, and yes. It does say that. Also you're right I am not sleeping as well as I should, as per my question from a couple days ago link. Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 12:13
  • I started my bench press and rows at 52 lbs for both, according to my records. The suggested Stronglifts goals that I linked to list a target bench press weight that's 20 lbs higher than rows. I'm curious why you think rows should be the heavier lift. Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 12:42
  • They start out heavier (65lbs vs. 45lbs). Perhaps some people stall on them first. I only stalled one time on them, although now I've switched to doing power cleans instead of rows. Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 14:46

I'll bet anything you have long arms and a fairly small chest. As a result, both the bench press and the row are a lot harder for you than for someone with shorter arms. Just set lower goals for those two movements, you'll never push/pull as much as a guy with T-Rex arms and a Donkey Kong chest.


I would also highly recommend to add chin-ups as an additional exercise. This will help with the lats development needed for both bench press and barbell rows and grip strength needed for deadlifts. The original Stronglifts 5x5 had chin ups after deadlifts and dips after barbell rows.

  • I remember reading a blog post Mehi where he suggested for those interested 3 sets(max) of dip & pull ups after the normal workout. However just came accross this Why I Eliminated Assistance Excercises. Essentially, do them too, but only as an assistance, ensuring they don't remove focus from the big 5 lifts.
    – sMaN
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 0:54

I will try to add additional information. Maybe these are not your cases, but it might help someone who has these problems and probably will allow you to think outside the box and will give an interesting direction to your thought. Do not think that everything goes down to reps, counting weight, eating right, etc. When you want to go to the max, you need to dig deeper in understanding how your body operates.

You know that muscle contraction is somehow related to electric field. The more electricity comes through the muscle, the harder it contracts.

  1. Our central nervous system is the supplier for that electricity. The signal that comes from it is pretty weak, so that our muscles do not rip themselves apart. Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) uses this fact to increase the power released by muscles. If this procedure helps you increase weights, then you should check whether there are any issues with the nervous system.

  2. Ions create electrical difference between inner world of the muscle cell and the surrounding. One of these ions is potassium. Increased stress can result in increased aldosterone production which will wash potassium away from your body (and, by the way, increase sodium). I occasionally discovered that this was my case. I tried to find what caused high blood pressure and hormonal analysis showed I have twice as much as recommended dose of this hormone floating inside my blood. This suddenly explained a lot of seemingly unrelated symptoms: headaches, arrhythmia and ... stagnation of the weight on the bar. So, check out your hormones :)


@Joshua - I read your question, your updates, the response (I completely agree with Dave and Berin) and kept coming back to your #'s. It seems your out of balance between the different lifts and being 200lbs + the bench is far below where it should be - especially based on your systematic approach, focused diet, etc. What is missing from your information is: what part of the bench press is the biggest sticking point, what accessory bench exercises are you doing (narrow grip? band/chain presses, etc.) - it sounds very much like a technical/execution issue and/or specific muscle group lacking....the interesting thing is your row is lacking also....could it be a weakness in your upper back muscle chain? Lats/Delts? Do you do dips/pull ups? any issues there? Here's a few articles that might help - Pressing Power: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/pressing_power

How to blast through your weakest link!: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/sticking_point_therapy

Don't move away from the great progression you're making, but don't get caught up in any one program. I'm a firm believer of the 5x5 Rippitoe, but also deviate to keep things interesting and see what others do and how I can incorporate different (new to me) ideas. One of the better bench accessory exercises I do is swinging the sledge hammer...why does it help? I think it helps with the explosive power and lat work...good luck


Upper lower imbalance

It's actually quite common on stronglifts/starting strength/etc

Few factors at play here.

  1. You are consistently doing a heavy lower body lift first every single workout. The first exercise you do in a workout when you're fresh will tend to be the most effective. For some that means that latter exercises progress slowly because they tire themselves on the first one. This might be happening to you.
  2. Squats are notorious for sucking your energy. Meaning you have less effort left to apply to bench and rows.
  3. Most importantly and quite obviously: you are squatting and deadlifting a lot more than you are working upper body

The result of all of this for SOME PEOPLE (not everyone) is imbalanced lower body development compared to upper body.

I had the same issue on Starting Strength and similar 5x5/3x5 programs. The result for me was huge thighs and not much else. It was only when I started prioritising upper body have I begun seeing actual chest/shoulders/back development.

So you will probably notice your legs and hips and glutes growing faster than your upper body if you keep going. If that's cool with you then keep doing what you're doing. If however you want to prioritise your upper body development then you need to change stuff up.

It's about your goals.

  • If you want to know how to change stuff up, just ask. Happy to help.
    – hamza_tm
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 16:07
  • So how did you modify your program? Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 9:37

I think I might know the problem - exercise order. The exercises that you do first will probably progress the most and the exercises that you do last will probably process the least. The ones in the middle will probably show medium improvements. The solution is to change the order.


I have experienced difficulties with the 5X5 program also because of the squats. I am older (over 50) and decided that my legs were getting enough exercise with running and regular work. The size of my leg muscles are ok and I was getting lower back pain from squating so much so I shifted the program a bit. I do squats once a week now and I picked compound upper body exercises from the bodybuilding.com database to replace the squats. I only choose exercises that are rated above 9.0 for which I have the equipment at home. Good luck

Link to database: https://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/finder/?mechanicetypeid=1&muscleid=1,10,12,15


Your program is missing volume. As in, total weight moved. Weight x Total Reps.

I recommend either this:

POWERLIFTING; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

ATHLETICISM; Monday, Wednsday, Friday

or this:

Everyman Routine

The everyman routine is simpler and effective. It can be scaled long-term by simply doing more of each exercise.

The powerlifting/ athleticism split is more complicated but most people won't train very hard if you tell them to do 1 set of a list of exercises every day and to do them as slow as possible (1 minute push-up for instance) or will only slow down the easy parts generally, even after a year. The powerlifting movements help train people to engage their "power" hence the name -- horsepower is one way of thinking of it.

Stronglifts, Starting Strength, and most weightlifting programs are barely enough for most people to progress to the level of "Trained" and very slowly, "Trained" being about where the goal ##s for the thread creator are. The conditioning and amount of heavy weight lifted is pretty low.

All those "5 - 15+ minutes of repetitions" conditioning sets found in the Powerlifting program I linked are CRUCIAL, and must not be skipped. With the Powerlifting/ Athleticism program the last powerlifting day is before the rest day on Sunday on purpose. The grip training must not be skipped.

As you progress you will want to pay attention to how you're NOT training more and more. For instance: Arm wrestling. The movement involved with it is rather specific. It trains the bones and tendons very well due to the fact it provides torque (Spiral Resistance) and in a large range of motion -- it is best to condition yourself with endurance arm wrestling type movements first or you may fracture your arm. The same movement in reverse is also very good and important for body training. These movements can be replicated with a cable machine or on a table with a dumbbell. Lean left and right to get a full range of motion for a big stretch and big contraction for total training. They train the shoulder, torso, and arms.

Training is not complete without torque movements. The piriformis good morning in the athleticism part of the program is an example of some leg torque. The inverse would be a squat with feet set wide for the hips to open up, toes pointing way out and knees tracking somewhat forward while the upper body leans back like limbo.

Simply doing one of the above programs will do though. The above can be incorporated after one has made great progress.

Lastly, as a final note, there are other torques that should be incorporated if you take your training very seriously.

Feet planted and twisting the body starting the momentum of the twist with the points furthest (shoulders or arms) from the anchor (feet), and getting a stretch or going for power(speed) or using some form of resistance for strength; momentum may be started from the waist or legs too. Starting the twist from the feet and legs and hips is also quite good, and is definitely for strength. Either way let the points furthest from the anchor spin around and give the waist and whole body down to the feet a good stretch. Wrist weights or a weight vest can be used.

Similar can be done with a handstand and from the pull up, and from hanging upside down, by the feet.

This twisting can be done for the individual limbs too. With 1 arm a person can hang from a pull up bar and twist back and forth. With the leg, burying your leg or legs deep in sand and twisting them would do it. If you do this explosively and intensely the first time you try it and hurt yourself, don't blame me.

This comprehensively covers exercise selection and the general order in which one should incorporate exercises into their program. The powerlifting/athletic program, and the Everyman routine both specify what order to perform the exercises contained therein. The order is important.

This comprehensively covers introductory programs and how to evolve the program so that it evolves with them.


In any 5x5 training regimen, the two first sets are the warm-up sets, the repxset per se is then 3x5. you should have read mehdi's report before doing the program, which is the right thing to do.

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    The listing at the bottom on page 42 in the report tells me otherwise.
    – Baarn
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 0:24
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    My copy of StrongLifts says "You'll do 5 sets of 5 reps (5x5) with the same weight on every exercise after you've done your warm-up sets." on page 42. StrongLifts 5x5 is not the same as, say, Madcow 5x5, which is actually a 3x5 program. Pages 47 and 48 describe how StrongLifts changes to a 3x5 program only after two deloads on a lift. Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 1:39

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