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Squat and a bit of lower back pain (Stronglifts 5x5)


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So I am week 6 into Stronglifts 5x5.  Before this I have been doing cardio and spot training (If that is what you call working out on machines??) since August. Since starting Stronglifts I have been doing just the lifts only. No cardio, no yoga, and no additional lifting.

 

Here's my problem,  the lifts 6 weeks in are getting very challenging. It's not getting slowly challenging, it's getting exponentially rougher. Yesterday I did my first squat and forgot to wear my belt, and as soon as I did it I felt the muscle (I guess) above my right butt "complain".  It immediately reminded me to put my belt on.  I finished the rest of my lift day (Squat 5x5, OH Press 5x5, and deadlift 1x5) and gave special care to the back after that first lift.  I spent the rest of the night being really stiff whenever I go from seated to standing.  I think this is muscular, not spinal. (Thank GOD!!)  It's definitely a muscle pain.  My current form of repair is stretching, Bengay, and ibuprofen.

 

My concern is that 5x5 may be progressing too fast for me?  Is 5x5 designed for someone younger (I'm 44) and that puts on muscle faster?? Could it be that I am not developing enough support muscle to handle going up this fast?  Sorry, I consider myself a complete lifting noob.  I'm considering going back to week 4 of the plan and escalating the 5x5 at half the pace from here on out.  Anyone else think the pace of 5x5 is too aggressive for them?  Maybe this is a form issue and not a weight one as well, I don't have huge hip mobility.  I can get my hips as low as my knees but not much further.

 

 

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Okay...keep in mind that I'm still a newb myself...when people ask I say I've moved up to "senior newb"...

 

A couple of things shouted out to me from your post:

 

21 minutes ago, BigBear said:

It immediately reminded me to put my belt on.

 

I know some intermediate and advanced lifters who use belts and straps and whatnot, I've even given the straps thing a try myself, but IMHO starting out with aids like that before you've developed your form seems like asking for trouble.  If you were doing machine strength work only before, you've probably given all of your stabilizer muscles (and all the coordination used for stabilizing serious weight) years of neglect.  Consider backing off the weight, ditching the belt, and having someone knowledgeable check your form to get it right before you start loading up.

 

25 minutes ago, BigBear said:

My concern is that 5x5 may be progressing too fast for me?  Is 5x5 designed for someone younger (I'm 44) and that puts on muscle faster??

 

I don't know Stronglifts that well (i.e. I haven't used it and I just looked it up online to see how they progress the loading), but at first blush it seems like a linear increase like that is going to be a bad match (whether too fast, or too slow) more often than not just because humans aren't that uniform in our progress.  When I first started squatting, I went much faster than that (the jump from crappiest-form-ever to better-than-mediocre-form itself was a huge capability increase, any actual increase in strength aside).  OTOH, I'm squatting 2-3x/week right now, and I could not add 10-15 lbs./week to my squat while keeping up the volume I'm doing.  Listen to your body, and understand that people are people not numbers/ages/whatever.  It's okay to back off a bit.  

 

It's also worth learning a bit about a concept called "periodization".  I'm still getting the hang of this myself, but it's basically the idea of ramping up my loads, then backing off a bit, then ramping up again.  It actually seems to get more progress long-term for many people (definitely for me!) than just trying to beat your head against the wall pushing for a few more pounds whenever possible.  In addition to it giving my body the occasional "easy" lifting week where I can just take a break or catch up on other fitness areas, it gives me time to really focus on my form before I return to pushing the boundary of how much weight I can move.  It also seems to make me plateau less.

 

36 minutes ago, BigBear said:

Maybe this is a form issue and not a weight one as well, I don't have huge hip mobility.  I can get my hips as low as my knees but not much further.

 

As I said earlier, form sounds like a likely culprit.  Get someone experienced to watch you in person if you can, otherwise make a video and post it here for a form check.  It's likely that since you're not doing a full squat (your butt should definitely be lower than your knees), you are leaning forward to try to get lower, or doing something else wonky we could only guess at without seeing it.

 

One of the best things I did when I started lifting was find a good trainer and let him hammer me on form.  It's helped with my progress, helped keep injuries down, and he also took the burden of figuring out programming off of me until I got the hang of all the other things I was learning about lifting.  If you can afford it, do it.

"What's the goal here?  What's the lesson here?  What's the best use of my time right now?" <-- Rory Miller's "three sacred questions"

"Lacking in humility?  Don't worry, the bar will give you some." <-- Me.

 

HedgeMage, Orc Ranger

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Thanks for the response HedgeMage,

 

Good idea on getting someone, in person, to look at my form.  I've watched the videos on YouTube to try an educate myself as much as I can, but having someone who knows how to spot form problems while I am doing the movement is probably my best bet. I'm a tall guy 6'4", but most of my height is from the waste up, my inseam is only a 32" inseam, and for a guy 6'4" that's not much leg height, which means my torso either goes up really high or protrudes out far. 

 

I'm working on a form video and will post it soon.

 

 

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BigBear,

Been lifting off and on for years. Mostly with 5x5.

I second HedgeMage, She nailed it with this line:

Quote

Consider backing off the weight, ditching the belt, and having someone knowledgeable check your form to get it right before you start loading up.

 

 

Stronglifts 5x5 weight add recommendations are just that, Recommendations.

Check form, Once someone tells you that your form is good:

If you are unable to "easily" lift the full 5x5 of whatever it is, back off on the weight a bit and start from there.

e.g. if 100 is super uncomfortable and you only get 3x5, Drop down to (80%) 80lbs on your next lift day. Then work back up from there.

 

 

Ranger: Level: 2 | STR: 6 | DEX: 2 |STA: 4.5 | CON: 4 | WIS: 2 | CHA: 2 

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16 hours ago, BigBear said:

Here's my problem,  the lifts 6 weeks in are getting very challenging.

That's not a problem, it's supposed to be very challenging. Struggle is not a sign of impending failure, but a sign that you are working toward success.

 

Programs like Stronglifts aren't designed for younger people per se. But they ARE deliberately designed for very rapid progress. Bill Starr wrote his 5x5 program for off-season football players, to recover old numbers that had been lost during the season while the weight room was put on the back burner. Thus, the numbers increase very quickly, and the training volume is kept low because it is understood that the trainee is already engaged in other forms of activity (in this case, football practice). This kind of program isn't really about building new strength so much as just realizing the strength that is already there, which is why you'll see some people stalling out very quickly and some going very far: differences in previously-existing physical ability.

 

Once you run out of existing strength to realize - wherever that point is - then you need to start changing things, using more training volume, etc in order to build strength and continue making progress. But it doesn't sound like you are at that point yet.

 

I will note that lots of people seem to experience the same doubts you are on this kind of program: this is becoming too hard, I'll definitely fail soon, I can't possibly keep up this rate of progress. I certainly did. These doubts generally start creeping in long before they are actually true. I was "one session away from stalling" for about eight weeks straight. If you have yet to miss any reps, and you're not experiencing dramatic technique breakdown, you should almost certainly keep going for a little longer.

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You can't push your limits without touching them.

 

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12 hours ago, Meteoric said:

 If you have yet to miss any reps, and you're not experiencing dramatic technique breakdown, you should almost certainly keep going for a little longer.

 

I was close to my first incomplete set on Sunday, I almost didn't complete the OH press.  My Squat is difficult but I did the full 5x5 without breaking form, and my deadlift 1x5 took me a really long time to complete... well, compared to my squats and OH press.  My concern is not knowing what my limit is, and as you said .. doubt.  I don't want to sell myself short, but I also don't want to push myself into injury.  I need to get someone to my house to watch me lift who knows how to spot form, I am working on that now.  I think HedgeMage and Barrettorama are spot on in that case.  I have become really good at 'listening' to my body while lifting though.

 

Today is my next 5x5 (squat, bench press, and bent rows).  So far the bench press isn't too bad but my bent rows still suffer from bad form or not breathing right during the move.  I am constantly thinking about the move as I am doing it. 

 

Thanks for all the advice guys!! I really appreciate having people to run things past.

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Something that hasn't been mentioned yet is that you could go down to 3x5 instead of 5x5, and I believe Mehdi calls for it after two deloads due to missed reps. Is your bar speed slowing down during any reps?

 

Mind if I ask what weights you're lifting? Did you start with the bar? Are you bulking or cutting?

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22 hours ago, Discon said:

Something that hasn't been mentioned yet is that you could go down to 3x5 instead of 5x5, and I believe Mehdi calls for it after two deloads due to missed reps. Is your bar speed slowing down during any reps?

 

Mind if I ask what weights you're lifting? Did you start with the bar? Are you bulking or cutting?

 

 

Good questions.

 

My speed is only slow on the deadlift, and that was just on the last deadlift.  It has gotten a bit slower the more weight I put on, but not too much (except deadlift, again). I usually head right back to the bar after the 1:30 rest time.  Right now I am at week 6 and I did start with the bar, since I was new to these lifts. My squat is at 125lbs, bench at 85, row at 105, OH Press at 80 and deadlift at 165.  I know that isn't where a guy my size should be ... but that's what I am working on.

 

I haven't failed a 5x5 set yet... once I do I may consider the 3x5.

 

I will say I FEEL so much stronger now. Way better than when I was doing machines.

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15 hours ago, BigBear said:

 

 

Good questions.

 

My speed is only slow on the deadlift, and that was just on the last deadlift.  It has gotten a bit slower the more weight I put on, but not too much (except deadlift, again). I usually head right back to the bar after the 1:30 rest time.  Right now I am at week 6 and I did start with the bar, since I was new to these lifts. My squat is at 125lbs, bench at 85, row at 105, OH Press at 80 and deadlift at 165.  I know that isn't where a guy my size should be ... but that's what I am working on.

 

I haven't failed a 5x5 set yet... once I do I may consider the 3x5.

 

I will say I FEEL so much stronger now. Way better than when I was doing machines.

Starting with the bar is smart:) I am also way too weak for my size and for having lifted for nearly 2 years, but improving is what matters:))

 

Maybe try taking longer rests? I believe it's common to wait 3-5 minutes when it gets heavy.

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1 hour ago, Discon said:

Maybe try taking longer rests? I believe it's common to wait 3-5 minutes when it gets heavy.

 

I think that, especially being 44, rest is probably the key.  I have noticed the last few sessions that I do wait more than the 1:30 that the app suggests and that a few times I wait until 2 min or maybe even 3.  I also, because of my back issue on Sunday, skipped lifting on Tuesday and lifted last night instead so that I had one extra day of recovery.  Not planning on making a habit of that but I felt I needed that to be able to lift properly.  Since my week starts on Sunday for my lifts that is fine because I still get Friday as my final 3rd day of the week and Saturday as a rest. 

 

Last night's session went well. Was able to 5x5 every weight that came up and I was extra cautious to listen during my lifts for any complaints my body had.

 

I was talking with a coworker yesterday who had been lifting for years and he brought up a good point to.  He said he hurt his back once and I asked him was it because of his form... he said it was the weight.  I just have it in my mind that as long as you have good form your will not get injured but he said that when the weight is too heavy then your form WILL suffer.... it's food for though.  I'm trying to make sure that my form is impeccable. My biggest concern is injury.  I know that injury has the ability to ruin my momentum in my transformation so I am trying hard to avoid it. I am also impatient and I want to see results for the work I put in, even if it's small changes, so I push.  I just need to balance those two needs wisely. For me form will always be more important than progress.

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10 minutes ago, BigBear said:

I was talking with a coworker yesterday who had been lifting for years and he brought up a good point to.  He said he hurt his back once and I asked him was it because of his form... he said it was the weight.  I just have it in my mind that as long as you have good form your will not get injured but he said that when the weight is too heavy then your form WILL suffer.... it's food for though.  I'm trying to make sure that my form is impeccable. My biggest concern is injury.  I know that injury has the ability to ruin my momentum in my transformation so I am trying hard to avoid it. I am also impatient and I want to see results for the work I put in, even if it's small changes, so I push.  I just need to balance those two needs wisely. For me form will always be more important than progress.

 

That's still form breakdown, though. Yes, the weight caused the problem but the problem was that the weight was too heavy to maintain good form.

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Form is the foundation you build weight on.

If the amount of weight you're using is causing your form to catastrophically collapse, your issue isn't with lifting too much weight, it is that your foundation is too weak. 

I mean, of course you're not going to see perfect form on a max effort (and if you do, it's not a true max effort) but you should have grooved the movement pattern to the point that any form discrepancy is going to highlight your weak points, not make the whole lift fall apart in a brilliant explosion of slipped disks and torn muscles. 

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I was in your boat about 2 years ago. Im the same age as you and was doing 5x5. My form sucked donkey balls and I didn't know it so I always wondered when I was going to hurt myself. Then I hurt myself. A co-worker who knew their stuff came to the gym with me a few times and gave me some cues on form and it made a world of difference. I busted through all my PRs quick. All of a sudden I felt my body do what I expected of it, I felt my muscles engage vs. the old full body struggling trying to stand up. The weight wasn't to heavy at all, I just wasn't putting myself in the right position to move it efficiently. I finally felt confident.  I also moved over to a 5/3/1 program for a slower, more controlled program that I feel suits my age and lack of rest. Plus, I really like those weeks on 5/3/1 were yo focus on that one really fucking heavy rep. I love completing that rep. Im still not lifting heavy compared to a lot of people on this board, but Im significantly stronger than I was, more defined, and down 25LBS (50LBS total, but the first 25LBS were just from changing up the diet.)

Don't give up. You will get it, and when it all clicks you will have the skills and confidence to make all the gains you are willing to go get. 

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Toot toot!

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A few items that stand out for me. You mention your back hurting without your belt. That is a red flag right there of bad form. The belt isn't meant to protect your back, it's meant to give you something stronger to brace your abs against to push more weight. You may be at a light enough weight that the belt is acting as a brace and masking a form breakdown point. As far as training with a belt goes, I personally only use the belt for my working sets. I go belt-less during all my warm-up sets.

 

If you think age is a factor at any point, it can be past 40, then you'd want to switch to a more traditional 4 day a week upper/lower split once workout to workout recovery becomes an issue. That split allows for less stress and better recovery for older men even if they haven't hit the Intermediate-Advanced level yet. If workout to workout recovery isn't an issue, then you can ride a linear program for a couple years up into your Intermediate level before considering switching to a split program.

 

You only need to switch from 5x5 to 3x5 on the StrongLifts program if you meet the failure recommendations or if your rest time between sets is causing your gym time to become excessive. When you are learning form on lighter weights, your rest time between sets can be as low as 90 seconds. Once you start pushing heavier weights though, you're looking at that 3-5 minute rest time between sets. Also something else to remember is that you should not go to failure on your early sets in this program. You want to try to finish your sets with the potential to complete one more rep if you NEEDED to. So say if you just did your 4th and you feel you might fail your 5th, rack and wait 5 minutes for your next set. If you're on your final set, you can either go to failure (but not past 5 reps) or not but if you are going to go to failure, make sure you don't break down your form when you fail because that can cause injury very easily.

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