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I'm 5"4, 70kgs, with a full flab. I can't even bench 75kgs. I've been training for 2.5 years, starting from a body weight of 48kgs.

Squat 90kgs: 5 reps

Bench: 65 kgs 3 reps

Deadlift: 120kgs 3 reps

Shoulder press: 45gs 5 reps

Bicep curls: 15kg barbell 10 reps :/

I train 3 times a week on a ppl split. I train with a PT the last 4 months, who is also a bodybuilder with incredible stats.

My diet consists largely of chicken thighs/breasts, rice, broccoli, and some huel meal placement drink. Also BCCAs and multivitaim. 3000kcals per day.

I will admit that my sleep hasn't been great. I sleep for 6 hours a day, wake up, and then sleep again for 1-2 hours.

I have super having trouble consuming large quantities food without sh^tting (although I have gained a lot of weight), and I have super low T levels.


So I'm looking at a few datapoints to understand if my progress is average or below average:

https://www.reddit.com/r/gainit/comments/u95njw/24m_5455_100_to_120_pounds_in_3_months/

The person in this this thread^ benched 80+kgs at 58kgs, taller than me, in 3 months of training

https://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=152304773&page=1

The person in this thread benches 35kgs each hand after 4 months of training. I can't even do 25kgs per hand for 5 reps after 2.5 years).


There are more datapoints. It is blindingly obvious, that after 2.5 years of training heavy, eating like a pig, I have achieved nothing even close to what most people have achieved in less than half the time.

Question: Assuming my training is on-point, what I can do to improve my situation? Take t-boosters? Increase training frequency? Decrease frequency?

(Please: spare me your dismissive "you don't have bad genetics, just eat more/train harder crap. You have ZERO idea of what it's like to be in my place. Respect the question and answer directly if you have anything to say)

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  • Bench press seems to be the focus here. If you had to choose, would that be what you'd like to improve the most? Running a 3-day PPL with what kind of volume? Assuming your bodybuilding PT has you doing 8-12s? How's technique?
    – C. Lange
    Apr 27, 2022 at 15:57
  • Everything. Rows are pretty bad as well, squats aren't great, bicep curls are horrible, tricep kickbacks are embarrassingly bad. The only thing below-average (not crazy bad) is pullups (12 reps) and shoulder press (40kgs for reps)
    – user33409
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:02
  • When you say 3/ week PPL, you mean you only do each movement once a week?
    – Thomas Markov
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:05
  • @ThomasMarkov yes, but in a pyramid fashion with heavy weight/low reps first , and then low weight/high reps
    – user33409
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:06
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    What kind of rep ranges do you train these lifts? Increasing training from 3x so 6x a week can do wonders because right now there is way to much rest in between sessions for a certain muscle group to develop. You can train every muscle group twice a week.
    – MJB
    Apr 28, 2022 at 7:17

2 Answers 2

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Your diet should be good. 3000 calories per day, assuming 0.8-1.2g of protein per pound of lean body weight, should be more than enough. Too much even. So I don't think that will be your issue. Six hours of sleep per night is less than ideal. Seven to eight total is not as bad, so there's room for improvement there. Since you're working with a PT I'd like to assume you've got good form, but that is something that can be reviewed.

I can't assume your diet, rest, and training are on-point because then we wouldn't be here. So, assuming diet and rest are on-point, but your training could use some improvement, I would check the following:

  • Control. For any exercise, you need to be in control. Whether it is explosive/hold/slow-release or a slow-up/hold/slow-down tempo, it should be controlled. When a trainer will prescribe a tempo for a lift it looks like "2/0/2" and it reads as two seconds on the way up/down, no hold, two seconds on the way up/down. So a 3/2/0 squat would be three seconds on the way down, hold for two seconds, explode back up. My suggestion is for any accessory work you do to apply a 2/2/2 tempo and see how that feels. The idea here is to fight against using momentum to move more weight.

  • Technique. Bench press, squat, and deadlift are all highly technique-driven movements. If you're willing and able I would suggest a form review for bench press if you'd like some pointers. I do know you're working with a PT but not everyone know everything. Regardless of the movement, checking your technique is extremely helpful. I would also suggest recording your lifts and reviewing them.

  • Frequency. For me, the bench press was my weakest relative lift, and what has worked so far is increasing the frequency. A 3 day PPL split means you're only hitting your chest once a week, actually anything once per week. This isn't enough. I would suggest both moving toward a four-day plan and looking at hitting more muscle groups per day. You can look at this with your trainer but I would consider PPL a very novice program to be used when your chest is still sore on pull-day. For reference, my frequency right now is: D1 Squat/bench, D2 Bench/Deadlift, D3 Squat/Bench, D4 Bench/Deadlift. So Squat and deadlift are done twice per week and bench press is four times per week.

  • Variations. What kind of variations on movements do you do? For the bench press, I would strongly consider doing a paused bench press. The weakest point of bench press is off the chest and pausing pushes that.

  • Junk volume. This is just a thought really. I think a lot of programs have too many exercises in them. For example, if you're running bench press at an RPE 9, why do you need to do, say, tricep pushdowns? If you find you're doing an exercise and just going through the motions and you weren't challenged by it, either drop it or make it harder.

  • RPE. Lastly, are you training hard enough? Having your 1RM's is fantastic. I would suggest tracking another data point which is the rating of perceived exertion (RPE). Basically, once you finish a set ask yourself "how many more reps do I think I could have done?" If you think you could have done 3 or more reps, that weight is too light for the rep range.

Ultimately, if you're feeling well-rested, I would say that it's time to ditch the 3-day PPL program. Try filming some sets, get some lifting feedback, and focus on heavy controlled lifting. If getting a high squat, bench press, and deadlift 1RM are important to you I would suggest a peaking program. Search the tag [form-check] to get an idea of what a form-check on Fitness.SE could look like.

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  • Add'l note: if you really like the PPL program, you can also double it into a 6-day PPL. This will hit muscle groups twice per week. I find 6-day workouts to get confusing though since an added rest day moves D1 around week-to-week.
    – C. Lange
    Apr 29, 2022 at 1:57
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You really are not that far off of average.

Back in 2011 an article was published on Leangains that made its way around fitness circles called Fuckarounditis. It gives a good perspective on strength training, going somewhat against the grain of popular takes on fitness. Inside, the author suggests some milestones that in my experience correlate pretty well to general population expectations:

Within two years of consistent training on a decent routine, the average male should be able to progress to the following levels of strength (1RM):

Strength Goals: Intermediate

  • Bench press: body weight x 1.2
  • Chin-ups or pull-ups: body weight x 1.2 or 8 reps with body weight.
  • Squat: body weight x 1.6
  • Deadlift: body weight x 2 These numbers are for a raw (no straps, belt or knee wraps) single repetition.

The progress towards the intermediate strength goals should be fairly linear, meaning that there should be no plateaus that cannot be solved in an uncomplicated manner. By “consistent” training I do not mean never missing a training day, nor do I consider taking 2-3 months off from training consistent.

By “decent training routine”, I mean “not doing blatantly stupid shit” (training 5-6 days/week, 20-25 sets for chest and arms, etc.). I do not mean optimal and flawless.

Looking at your numbers, you are a bit, but not much, below these suggestions for your training age on Bench, Squat, and Deadlift, and a bit ahead of the curve on pull-ups.

Now, you mentioned you were doing a 3-day PPL split. While I certainly wouldn't call that "blatantly stupid" as mentioned in the article, I also wouldn't call it "generally a good idea" either. The trouble with a three day PPL split is that it shakes out to working each muscle group only once per week. While this was the big fad perpetuated by the anabolically gifted gym bros and popular muscle magazines in the 80s and 90s, we know enough now that once per week is not a great general recommendation to make. Basically, if you manage your loads, sets, and reps intelligently, you can hit most muscle groups reasonably hard three or more times per week, which allows for a much larger hypertrophic stimulus through increased weekly volume.

Your T-levels are fine. They are on the low end of the so called "reference rage" (300-1000 ng/dL), and testosterone levels within the reference range don't really matter for strength and hypertrophy outcomes.

I think your progress is far better than you think it is. It's maybe a little slower than average, and I feel pretty confident blaming suboptimal programming for that. I recommend hopping on a barbell-based linear progression program such as Starting Strength or Stronglifts for your base, then adding some extra days of accessory work or adding additional volume to the base program, and seeing how you fare for 6 months or so.

Alternatively, maybe you've reached the limit of what you stand to gain from a linear progression type program. If this is the case, maybe try moving on to intermediate programming, such as 5/3/1, Texas Method, or (my personal recommendation), Barbell Medicine's The Bridge. You often see recommendations for these types of programs given in terms of weight lifted, i.e. "you're an intermediate when you can squat 315". This is kind of dumb. You're an "intermediate" when a novice linear progression no longer works and you need more periodized training, which may be where you are.

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  • > It's maybe a little slower than average Are you kidding me? Did you read the reference points I linked? Most people achieve those lifts in half a year. It's been more 2 years for me. Thanks for the positivity mate, and I'll be sure to try the barbell program. I hope you're right
    – user33409
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:51
  • >testosterone levels within the reference range don't really matter for strength and hypertrophy outcomes. LOL. Why do bodybuilders even take steroids if t-levels don't matter?
    – user33409
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:53
  • @nz_21 Because taking steroids elevates blood testosterone to a superphysiological level well beyond the reference range. I said t-levels within the natural reference range don't matter so much. You have to go below or above that range to move the needle on strength and hypertrophy outcomes.
    – Thomas Markov
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:56
  • do you have any sources? I find it extremely hard to believe that someone with superior t-levels will do roughly as good as someone with below-average t-levels. After all, people progress differently. It's pretty difficult to believe that T-levels don't play much of a role to explain the difference in progression
    – user33409
    Apr 27, 2022 at 17:00
  • @nz_21 Yeah, this article summarizes a lot of the relevant research, and you can follow it back to the original publications if you like.
    – Thomas Markov
    Apr 27, 2022 at 17:08

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