I've been going to the gym 5 days per week rarely missing a day for the last 4 months now, with the aim to put on as much muscle mass as possible. Until about 3 weeks ago I have been able to increase the weight I have been able lift across all workouts except for squats, which I am still stuck on at a tiny 20kg. I have noticed reasonable gains mostly in my quads, chest, triceps and back.

I've noticed now that I haven't been able to increase my weights, and have on some days even had to reduce the weight I am lifting compared to a weight I could lift perfectly fine the previous session. For example, when I started I was able to do 3 sets of 10 reps of bicep curls using the cable machine at only 14kg and about 3-4 weeks ago was able to do the same volume on 24-26kg, which was exciting. The last 2-3 weeks however I have been struggling, even having to drop to 19-21kg for the last set. I have noticed the same problem across most of my muscle groups including legs, back and chest.

Understandably this is a little discouraging but I'm not sure if it's common to feel like I'm falling behind for a couple of weeks and then I'll jump back and start gaining again or if I am doing something wrong.

This is my current weekly routine below. For all workouts I do 3 sets of 10. Some workouts (marked with an asterisk) I increase my weight each set and often fail on the 8th or 9th rep of the last set. All workouts are listed in the order in which I complete them.

Sunday: Legs

- Squats
- Leg Press*
- Superset Leg Curl and Leg extension
- Moderate intensity bike for 15 mins

Monday: Triceps & Biceps

- Bicep curls with cable machine and straight bar*
- Tricep pull down with cable machine and the rope*
- "21's" (though I do "15's" i.e. 5 halves, 5 full and then 5 upper curls with the easy bar)*
- Skull crushers with the easy bar on a flat bench*
- Concentration curls*
- Tricep overhead extensions*

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: Shoulders & Biceps

- Shoulder press
- Side shoulder raises
- Forward shoulder raises
- Upright rows*
- Bicep curls with cable machine and straight bar*
- "21's" ("15's" same as Monday)*
- Concentration curls

Thursday: Chest & Triceps:

- Dumbbell bench press (flat)
- Dumbbell bench press (incline)
- Dumbbell bench press (decline)
- Tricep pull down with cable machine and the rope*
- Skull crushers with the easy bar on a flat bench*
- Tricep overhead extensions*
- Flys (flat)
- Flys (incline)
- Flys (decline)

Friday: Back & Shoulders

- Lat pulldown
- Cable rows (upper back)
- Deadlifts*
- Rows with the easy bar*
- Shoulder press
- Side shoulder raises (while lent over on a bench)
- Rotator cuffs

Saturday: Rest

As I said this was working well for me up until now - I think I heard somewhere that as you move away from being a beginner in weight training you need to reduce the amount of times per week you spend on each muscle group and increase intensity. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong (looking at the above I'm doing quite a lot for each group except legs and back). Another thing I've thought I might be doing wrong is 3x10 for every workout. I'm guessing some of the bigger workouts like bench press I could come down to 8 reps and try to go a little heavier.

I've looked at routines like 5x5 Stronglifts but they seem to be more for absolute beginners looking to gain some initial strength before serious weight lifting for muscle gain.

Maybe it's just time to change my routine entirely, but then I'm not sure what constitutes 'change' - whether I can just swap the days around and add another set or whether I need new workouts entirely. Maybe I should even just try changing up the order I do things in, I'm not sure.

If there are any noticeably poor decisions I'm making then please let me know. Admittedly I didn't delve too deeply into articles or books about weight training and kind of just structured the above based on what I noticed was producing decent enough gains and what groups I could do next to each other without conflicts (i.e. I tried back day next to arms and my biceps were getting destroyed). I have a feeling there's too much happening but again I'm not even close to being an expert so I have no idea.

Should I try 4 sets of 8? Should I stop going as heavy as I possibly can and just sit on a weight I can comfortably finish all my reps without failing on? Maybe I should try supersetting on different groups like arms? Any advice that can push me over the line of being a beginner to an intermediate weight lifter is greatly appreciated.

  • 5
    If youre only squatting 20kg, you're probably not strong enough yet to make "increase muscle mass" your primary goal. I suggest change your goal to "get strong". These may look similar, but probably result in a very different training program than what you're doing right now. Stronglifts and starting strength are probably exactly the programs that would work best for you right now. Theyre meant for "novices" not just beginners. "novices" are people that can recover from a workout with a single day of rest. You can be in that phase for a long time.
    – user4644
    Dec 8, 2012 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


The first really strange thing about your results is your squat number. It is unnatural to be able to curl more than you can squat, and that's putting it mildly. Squats are probably the most important single benchmark of general strength and if you can't get your squat to go up at 20kg, you should just focus on unlocking that piece of the puzzle.

To be honest, a 20kg squat puts you in the novice category. I don't care if you've been squatting for 37 years, if you can only squat the bar, then you are a novice, and the Starting Strength - type novice gains programs are still for you. I am still on a novice gains program, still progressing, and I squat 150kg @ 80kg bodyweight.

Because you are a novice, you should not be doing "splits". The best lifting program is one that maximizes your recovery potential, and novices can recover from a full body routine every other day.

In terms of a specific program there is really no need to over think it. Starting Strength, or Strong Lifts 5x5 (which is an inferior clone of SS, but still fine for your purposes), or any other "linear progression" program is what will be best for you. To be clear, these programs produce "serious muscle gain". They are not "pre-muscle gain" programs at all. They are simply the best way to gain strength and mass for novices - that means you.

You should drastically simplify your program. Get rid of leg presses, leg curls, and all other exercises that say "curl" in them. I won't say that they have no place in, for instance, a body builder's routine, but they are completely unnecessary for you. Get rid of anything with a cable machine and do dips and pullups instead. All you need are squats, deadlifts, shoulder & bench press, dips, and pull-ups. You can get massive, massive gains if you work on just these six exercises. Simple is best for now.

Finally, reps in the 3-5 range are best for strength gains. Reps in the 5-8 range are considered a good tradeoff between maximimizing strength and maximizing hypertrophy, aka size. Reps in the 8-10 range might be best for size. Lower, heavier rep ranges help train the central nervous system to go to fuller activation on command. I think you should do something in the 3-8 range when you are novice, because you will get massive gains no matter what, and you want to make sure to train that central nervous system too. Most linear progression programs prescribe mostly 5's and 3's.

  • 1
    Agreed :) Marty, you'll do better on a much simpler program with the single goal of getting strong. You'll definitely build muscle in the process.
    – user4644
    Dec 8, 2012 at 16:56
  • Good point Kate. If you make your single goal to get strong, then all of the good things you want will come from that. Strong is the best goal for now because it is a completely objective measurement (how many kg can you lift) that does not lie and cannot be misinterpreted.
    – masonk
    Dec 8, 2012 at 17:04
  • Thanks masonk & @Kate. I never compared the weight I was doing on everything to squats but now that I think about it, it does seem really odd that I can bicep curl more than I can squat... I'll try moving to full body workouts like you have suggested for a month and see how I go.
    – Marty
    Dec 9, 2012 at 0:16

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