NOTE by Mehdi. This post was written by StrongLifts Member James Grant (42y, USA) who Deadlifts +500lbs, Squats +400lbs and Presses +225lbs.
Many guys have ADD when it comes to training programs. I read this a lot and it’s somewhat disturbing because what you’re saying is that you know more than the person who came up with the program. You don’t. I guarantee that. If they know enough to get a program published then you should respect that and leave well enough alone. This goes for whether you’re doing StrongLifts 5×5, Madcow or something that’s a bit more free form like 5/3/1.
Programs like StrongLifts 5×5 and Madcow are great because they don’t give you any choices which is perfect for the majority of us. I made great gains with Madcow but had my efforts hampered by adding stuff when I shouldn’t have. This really hampered my recovery and made me switch programs prematurely.
Before you alter a training program or even switch from your current program you should be thinking “why am I doing this?” You should have a really good reason for making changes. Now, a “good reason” is NOT that you simply don’t like the exercise or that it hurts or is hard.
I used to hate Squats because my mobility was poor and doing them hurt my hips. So I shied away from them. Then I started StrongLifts 5×5 and doing the mobility work that Mehdi outlined. That made my hips feel better which made me want to Squat again. Now I’m squatting more weight than I ever thought I would (+400lbs) and it is simply because I stuck with it.
If something hurts you either need to work on your mobility/flexibility or you need to work on your form. Quitting an exercise is not the answer. Neither is “I don’t care about a big bench/press/squat“. Just because you don’t think a certain exercise is relevant doesn’t mean that you’re right. The folks who wrote these programs knew what they were doing because it comes from both personal experience and from training others.
Maybe you change programs or accessory work simply because you’re bored. This is a huge mistake and will only set you back in your progress. These programs need time to work. Some guys need longer than others to see results and that’s OK. Don’t give up because you don’t see results as quickly as you think you should. Give the program time to do its thing.
Also be thinking about what else is going on in your life. Frankly, progress is only partially made in the gym. Most of the progress is a combination of eating and sleeping. Think about what else is going on in your life that might be getting in the way of your progress. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating enough? If the answer is “I don’t know” or “no” then don’t mess with your program. Instead change your sleep pattern or your diet. Get those things in order and see what impact they have.
Programs like 5/3/1 are trickier because they allow you to mix and match your accessory work. But the same concepts apply there. When starting out pick some exercises and stick with them. If they aren’t helping then first change your diet and sleep. If that doesn’t work then, and only then, make changes. But give them time to work first. Changing them around every month isn’t the way to make progress. Give them two or three months for the chance to work before altering anything.
Sometimes a training program just doesn’t work for you or you’re stalling too often on. In those cases it’s ok to change. But instead of altering the program and making it different why not just change programs? There’s enough out there to choose from and they are all well proven. 5/3/1 not working for you? Then try Madcow. Continually stalling on StrongLifts 5×5 now? Then give StrongLifts 3×5 a try to move onto Madcow intermediate.
But don’t change StrongLifts 5×5 to be something that it’s not. If you are going to make changes make sure and stabilize the other factors. So if you’re going to try high volume reps for size then keep your diet the same, sleep the same, etc. If it works then put that in your tool kit. If it doesn’t work then maybe you adjust another variable like diet.
Eventually you’re going to find what works for you. But you have to give it time and you have to be patient.