Did SS for 1 year. Bench is stalled at a pitiful 50kgs. I have worked with PTs, track calories religiously, eat 2x bodyweight. I gained 3 kgs in the last 3 weeks and my bench went down from 60kg, to 50kgs. Lel.

I'm thinking of switching to a different program for more volume. Nothing else make sense to me: I can't move to an intermediate program because my bench is something an average 14-year-old girl could do with that amount of training; I can't continue the same program because it's proving to be absolutely useless. I have tried reloading but it hasn't worked.

Put differently, what's a good program for someone with the absolute worse possible set of genetics? Someone born to south asian parents with a combined height of 4"10, someone who "gained" 15 kgs and still cannot do a half decent bench for a beginner , someone who was malnourished for the first 18 years of their life (weighing 45 kgs 1 year back).

More volume relative to SS? Less volume? Or am I doomed to be a skinny weakling for life?

Note: If you have nothing else to say other than "eat more, work harder", please don't bother answering.

EDIT: So. I did a blood test to see if something was wrong. Lo and behold, low T levels... at 23 years of age. enter image description here

I always knew it was odd how so many people managed to go to bench 80kg+, squat 120kg+ on SS in 3-5 months, while I can barely rep half the numbers in more than a year. Now I know why. It is crappy genetics.

I really wanted to believe I could get strong. I eat like a pig, think about deadlifting during work hours (lol), and I really put my heart into training. Going from 45kg -> 62kgs has been transformative for me, but it's very much like investing $10 and making $100, when the average person starts out with a $1000. My progress has been good, but it is not - and will never be - good enough. Now I know why.

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    What is your EXACT goal? What lifts do you want to progress on? Dec 13, 2021 at 19:34
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    "I can't move to an intermediate program because my bench is something an average 14-year-old girl could do with that amount of training" Says who? Are the training status police going to come find you and cite you for being a novice on an intermediate program?
    – Thomas Markov
    Dec 13, 2021 at 20:47
  • @Thomas what do you mean? An intermediate program is for intermediates, right? Someone who benches 50 hardly qualifies
    – user33409
    Dec 13, 2021 at 21:15
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    Your priorities are skewed. Dec 14, 2021 at 13:35
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    OP, @David Scarlett brings up a good point here. Your T levels vary dramatically throughout the day/seasons. It can vary by as much as 19%. Add this to the fact that poor sleep can decrease your testosterone by another 10-15%. You mentioned that you have insomnia, this likely is dropping you significantly. Most cases of insomnia is pretty easily cured without relying on sleep specialists. I'm betting if you take your next blood test first thing in the morning after a week of good sleep that your T levels would be normal if not better than average. Dec 14, 2021 at 18:53

3 Answers 3


Yes, you do need a new program, because Starting Strength is not intended to be run for any more than 3 months, and if you've been doing it for longer then you're not actually doing the program. Anyone who does SS for a year is doing it wrong.

That said, it's clear from your posts that what you would benefit the most from is not a change of training program, but rather (or additionally) from seeing a psychologist and working out the insecurities that you have around your perceived crappy genetics, because those seem to holding you back far more than your actual genetics. And I'm not trying to insult you or be condescending here - perceptions matter, to the extent that believing you have crappy genetics has such a strong placebo/nocebo effect that it can alter your physiology independent of your actual genetics.(study, article) Dealing with this will likely have a greater effect than just changing programs while still being burdened by the same harmful beliefs.

And how accurate are your beliefs? Well, let's look at your numbers. You've previously stated that your 60-63kg, can do 12 pull-ups, a 1RM squat of 100kg, deadlift 120kg for 5 reps, and have a max bench of 65kg. So you can squat over 1.5 times bodyweight, probably deadlift in the order of 2.4 times bodyweight, and can bench just over your bodyweight. Those are not bad numbers, at all. Far better than most people will ever achieve in their entire lives.

You can't expect to have huge absolute numbers if you're got a small frame, especially in the bench press, where having a small rib cage increases the range of motion of the lift and makes it a whole lot harder. I'm betting you've also got pretty long arms, based on your good deadlift numbers. Those will also make it hard to ever bench a lot of weight.

Hell, you're barely behind me. I can only bench around 1.15 times bodyweight, and I'm doing 30 sets per week of benching and overhead pressing, plus regular heavy singles in addition to that. For someone who isn't built like a barrel with T-rex arms, it's just unlikely to ever be possible to bench huge amounts of weight, and it's a harmfully unrealistic expectation to compare yourself to people who are just built to bench.

I can't move to an intermediate program because my bench is something an average 14-year-old girl could do with that amount of training

Firstly, I've never met a 14 year old girl who could bench more than her bodyweight. I think most could only bench half their bodyweight with training.

Secondly, I've never seen an intermediate program that prescribed minimum strength levels as a prerequisite. The normal prerequisite for beginning an intermediate program is that you're no longer making progress on a beginner program despite good effort, nutrition and sleep.

bench (which is what really matters for most men, let's face it)

The only men for whom bench is all that really matters are the paraplegics competing in the bench-press only powerlifting competition at the Special Olympics. This sounds like you're just cherry-picking your weakest lift in order to allow yourself to self-sabotage.

In summary, start going to therapy first (maybe even a sports psychologist), and then get a decent intermediate program second. (Hint: "Decent" means not Texas Method. It also means something with a higher per-exercise training frequency than the 3 day PPL split that your other current question says that you're doing.)

  • Thanks for the well-thought response, I appreciate it. As much as I'd like to believe that it's largely my mindset holding my back, the reality is it's not: I found out today T levels are far below optimum, despite being young, exercising with compounds with 3-4 times a week, and eating like a pig. I'm tired. Strength training/bodybuilding is not for me.
    – user33409
    Dec 14, 2021 at 9:21
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    @nz_21 I'd honestly put low T in the same basket as "bad" genetics. People freak out about it, but T levels usually don't matter. Basically, there's no difference in sports performance between having T at the low end of the normal range vs the high end. It only makes a difference if you're legitimately hypogonadal (in which case you'd normally be prescribed TRT), or have supraphysiological levels of T (i.e. if you're taking steroids). There's no "optimal" level, but there are a lot of dodgy testing companies that will wrongly claim that you are suboptimal. Dec 14, 2021 at 13:37
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    As an example, just taking the T measurement in the afternoon instead of the morning will make most men appear to have low T, but in reality it's just because the natural cycle of T levels throughout the day has them highest in the morning and then dropping throughout the day. Dec 14, 2021 at 13:38

I've got a couple points to add and I didn't want to tack them onto David's answer as comments. For the record, I believe David has hit quite a few great points. I do believe the mental game in lifting has a massive impact; so much so that I've seen coaches not tell athletes the weight on the bar just so they don't psyche themselves out.

To my additional points, my bench is my weakest lift, and when I say that I mean below what I believe it should be, proportionally. I'm currently at 1.9x / 1.2x / 2.3x for squat / bench / and deadlift. If we compare, you deadlift more than me proportionally even if my numbers are "higher". There's a reason powerlifting is split by gender, age, and weight class. You can't compare apples to watermelons to oranges. I mean, they try, and that's what WILKS, DOT, and GLP try to do.

When I was working with my coach, we identified that bench press has always been my weakest lift and it is something that I wanted to improve. My program now looks something like this:

  • Mo: Squat + Bench (Competition)
  • Tu: Bench (Close-grip Paused) + Deadlift
  • Th: Squat + Bench (3-0-0 Tempo)
  • Fr: Bench (Slingshot) + Deadlift

Where before I used to do squat monday, bench press wednesday, and deadlift friday, I am now hitting bench press four times a week and squat and deadlift each twice a week. It has been 23 weeks of this, and I am now starting to see some major improvements. At first, it took me a while to adapt to the lift. I actually realized that my technique was wrong, this required a deload and restart. Then I realized that I was really never even using my chest, rather being heavily tricep dependent. So made some change, and that's another restart. I'm happy with the journey though and I believe it will pay off. If you're still doing SS you're likely hitting bench press 1.5 times per week, and squat/deadlift three times per week. It makes sense that you're not seeing as much progress in your bench press.

These past four weeks have been a shift. Work is stressful, sleep is down to 4-5h a night, eating is off. I've been struggling to hit even 80% of my 1RMs. External factors can play a major role. When work and life are getting tough, I move away from heavy singles and triples and starting work back to hypertrophy. Sets of 8s are good. Sometimes even drop the weight. Just got to keep at it.


I would not look at your hormone levels and immediately write yourself off as being doomed to be weak right off the bat. I know a lot of people, myself included, with levels right around yours who have been able to add weight to the bar in all three lifts despite being "below optimal."

I came from an endurance sport background, and switching to powerlifting three years ago took a lot of time. You need to train your central nervous system to be able to handle the weights as much as you need to build muscle tissue. This takes time.

I would asses your sleep quality and duration each night. I would look at your diet to make sure you have adequate micro nutrients in addition to hitting macros. I would look at your mental approach to training - do you get scared of the weight, are you just going through the motions?

There are a lot of programs out there and at the end of the day 95% of them will work. You need to find what works for you and find something you will stick with long term.

For me, I run straight conjugate for my lower body but found that style of training does nothing for my bench. For bench, I keep the dynamic speed bench in once a week for explosiveness then add 2 more days with more volume and loading up to around 80%.

I would recommend reading the works of Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, Mark Rippetoe, Josh Bryant, Matt Wenning, etc. to get an idea of different programs. Find something you like, stick with it for 12 weeks, measure improvement, and reassess.

I wouldn't get lost in the whole "beginner, intermediate, advanced" programming lingo. That really just defines the complexity of the program with the idea being that you want to do the least amount of complexity/work to get improvement so there is something to add later when you inevitably hit a plateau. If your goal is just to get a respectable bench press, whatever that means to you, most of that likely will not make a difference.

Lastly, don't care what anyone thinks. You are in the gym working to make yourself better. Do it for yourself and not to appease some external observer.

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