You’ve taken the deloads, dropped the weight by 10% and built back up multiple times, but your lifts still aren’t improving; the linear 3×5 progression isn’t working anymore. Looks like it’s time to start thinking about what to do AFTER starting strength. We’re going to cover:
- Why Has Starting Strength Stopped Working?
- Looking For an Intermediate Strength Program?
- Solution Time: What You Need to Do to Progress as an Early Intermediate Lifter
- Possible Programme Options After Starting Strength
- What Programme Would I Suggest After Starting Strength?
- What to Do After Starting Strength: Frequently Asked Questions
- Next Steps
Being stuck sucks, so let’s get you progressing again…
Why Has Starting Strength Stopped Working?
I’m going to assume that you’re getting plenty of sleep, eating plenty of food, and staying properly hydrated. If those 3 things are good, then starting strength has stopped working due to violation of the SRA (Stress, Recovery, Adaptation) cycle.
“Put simply starting strength is either not providing you with enough stress in order to cause adaptation and/or it’s not allowing you enough recovery in between the application of those stressors.”
Possibility 1 – Not Enough Stress:
Adaptive resistance is the name given to your body becoming used to a specific stimulus so that the stimulus causes little to no further adaptation. It’s like when you first get into a hot bath and it feels super warm, but after sitting in the bath for a few minutes it now feels totally normal. 3 sets of 5 are no longer enough to be really noticed by your body.
Possibility 2 – Not Enough Recovery:
On the other side of the coin, there’s the possibility that performing 3×5 squats three times per week might be too much to recover from. Starting strength over time reduces the frequency of your deadlifts, and introduces lighter squat days, but there’s only so much that these modifications can do. Now that you’re stronger, each rep, each set and each workout causes more damage and requires more recovery time.
So Which Is It? Not Enough Stress or Not Enough Recovery?
Not enough stress: You mostly feel fresh during the week. You feel a little soreness after the workout, maybe even a tiny bit the next day, but for the most part, your legs feel okay. During workouts, you probably also feel like you could do a bit more work if you wanted. The weights you lift are stable, not going especially down or up each week.
Not enough recovery: You feel pretty beaten up during the week, and frequently find yourself coming into a workout still sore from the previous workout. The weights you’re lifting are trending downwards rapidly.
Both of the Above: You feel mildly beaten up throughout the week, no workout feels especially hard, in fact you feel like you could do a bit more. The problem is that your next session is in 2 days time, and you know that if you do any more you won’t recover on time. The weights you lift tend to be heavier on Monday (after 2 days off) but lighter on Friday (after only 1 day off)
Looking For an Intermediate Strength Program?
If you want someone to take the thinking away, why not have me design you a custom strength programme
You can send in your details, answer some questions about your training numbers, goals, training history, equipment etc, and then I craft your program custom for you.
I also throw in a check-in each month, just to make sure that everything is working well, and to make any adjustments if needed.
Solution Time: What You Need to Do to Progress as an Early Intermediate Lifter
In order to progress, you need to solve the two issues mentioned above:
- You need to provide more stimulus to force your body to adapt
- You need to allow more recovery time in between those stimuli
“TLDR: You need bigger, harder workouts done less often in order to progress”
Ideally, you also want to be able to build some extra muscle mass, as this corresponds really well with being stronger in the long run. Greg Nuckols covers this really well in this article
Possible Programme Options After Starting Strength
Okay, so you know that starting strength isn’t working anymore, and you know what you need to do to progress. But what does that practically look like. Here are 2 programme options that you can move to after starting strength
Option 1: The Texas Method
The Texas Method is one of my all-time favourite intermediate programmes. I’ve actually written a full review of it right here. It looks like this…
Monday: Volume Day – 5×5 on Squat and Bench + 5×3 power clean or deadlift assistance
Wednesday: Light Day – 2×5 at 80% of Monday’s weights
Friday: 5 rep max on Squat, Bench and Deadlift
The texas method works because it solves both of the problems we mentioned above. 3×5 becomes 5×5, which means more stimulus to challenge your body, whilst the wednesday light day allows for more recovery time in between heavier sessions.
*This is a solid choice for your next programme if you want to have a mixture of volume and intensity.
Option 2: Madcow 5×5
Madcow 5×5 is another good option that sort of combines a classic 5×5 with some of the structure of the texas method.
Monday: 5×5 Ramped (Ascending) sets
Wednesday: 2×5 @ 80% of Monday’s weights
Friday: 4×5 ramped plus a heavy triple top set
You get more volume than on starting strength, which means more stimulus to adapt to, plus the inclusion of the wednesday light day allows for better recovery.
*This is a good programme option if you enjoy and feel like you respond well to having more total volume in your training week, but still want to stick as closely as possible to the starting strength format.
What Programme Would I Suggest After Starting Strength?
If you’ll allow me to pretend that I’m your coach for two minutes, here are the more nuanced recommendations that I would give you…
First off, instead of asking what programme you should be doing after starting strength, you should be asking “What should I do after a strength cycle?”
Because that’s what starting strength is, a strength cycle. It fits within the much wider context of periodisation, which is the intelligent variation of training over time.
So you need to be thinking about how to properly plan your training not just for the next few weeks, but for the next few months and years.
Here’s What I Would Recommend:
Design and follow a properly periodised strength programme using the overall structure shown in the table below:
Each phase can be anything from 3 to 8 weeks long depending on your individual situation. I tend to start most strength athletes off with around 4 weeks per phase.
The benefits of this approach are:
- Periodised programmes outperform non-periodised programmes (Williams 2017)
- Training never gets stale – No more plateaus.
- Reduced injury risk – Variation reduces overuse injuries
So you get stronger, less bored, no longer have to keep hitting plateaus, and you get less injured. Sounds like a better approach to me.
What to Do After Starting Strength: Frequently Asked Questions
Is Starting Strength Bad?
Not at all, starting strength is one of the best programmes around for beginner lifters. However, as you get stronger your needs also change, and it’s normal to outgrow a programme.
How Long to Do Starting Strength?
How long you do starting strength varies from person to person, If you’re genetically unlucky it might only be 2 months, on the other hand, if you’re very genetically lucky you might be able to run starting strength for around 8 months.
When Should I Stop Starting Strength?
Put simply, you should stop following starting strength when you can no longer add weight to the bar every workout AND you’ve already de-loaded 2 or more times.
At this point, it’s very unlikely you’re going to get anything else out of the programme. Doing the same thing over and over again isn’t going to magically produce a different outcome. You need to move on to something else.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for some action…
1) Try out the texas method or madcow 5×5 as your next programme after starting strength.
Or consider having me create a custom programme for you.
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.
Williams, Tyler & Tolusso, Danilo & Fedewa, Michael & Esco, Michael. (2017). Comparison of Periodized and Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 47. 10.1007/s40279-017-0734-y.