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Stronglifts can't finish set [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Oct 31, 2018 9:30:00 AM

Stronglifts can't finish set

Stronglifts can't finish set


Not being able to finish a set is part of Stronglifts. When it happens, take a close look whether it is a repeat fail at the same weight or the first one for a long time. If you repeatedly fail at the same loads, consider a deload or switching programs. Use the free Stronglifts 5x5 app to get better insight.

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Why you can not finish your set


There a few reasons why you can not finish your set on Stronglifts. The program is designed in a way to make you fail eventually. It is not the end of the world if you do not finish a particular set. Use the free Stronglifts 5x5 app to keep track and get instructions what to do next when you fail. That you are short of a rep or two usually goes back to one of these things:


  • You are having a bad day 
  • You are hitting a plateau
  • You have outgrown Stronglifts 5x5


Having a bad day can have many reasons. A lack of sleep, lack of food or focus can lead to a suboptimal performance on any given day. This is the most likely reason the first time you do not complete a set. If I have stress from home or work I usually do not perform as well in the gym, This can be something as silly as forgetting your earphones. This can already upset your entire session. If anything goes wrong or distracts you, stay focused. This way bad days can be turned into good days. Because if you finish your load on a bad day, you have already won. 


The next in line is a real plateau. The programming of Stronglifts already accounts for that. If you fail to complete your sets three times in a row with a certain weight, you have to reduce the weight. You usually strip off 10% for the [articular lift and start over. If you want to learn about deloads read my extensive review of the Stronglifts 5x5 program. While on Stronglifts you should usually push through 1 - 3 plateaus on each lift during a year of use. This can highly vary per lifter based on age, fitness, and body shape.


The last point is that you have probably outgrown Stronglifts 5x5. At some stage, you will become that strong, that it is simply not possible to increase weight each workout. For me, that happened after a good year of Stronglifts. Once you start lifting multiples of your bodyweight for repetitions, it might be time to look at another program. Use Stronglifts as long as you can. In the case that you have to take two deloads on the same lift in the row, move on.


All in all not finishing a set here and there on Stronglifts is not a big deal. Once you start failing all over the place and get stuck on all three lifts, start thinking about switching to Madcow or the Texas method.


When I started to struggle on Stronglifts 


At the beginning, I had some challenges due to lack of focus and poor execution. That was due to poor mobility and movement patterns. You can remedy this quite easily. Where I really got stuck was on the 120kg squat. I just could not get past that mark. While I am writing this I have the same experience with the 140kg squat for repetitions. 


I am able to move the weight, but it stays a struggle for repetitions. When you meet this point with Stronglifts it is time to change. Stronglifts does not calculate your training weights from actual performance. Wendler 531 and The Juggernaut method do better with that. 


In the end, I quit Stronglifts based on a tennis elbow. I stopped lifting for about two months. After the break, I restarted with Wendler 531 and di that program for about a year.


What you can do to finish your sets


Some things you can do to finish your sets:


  • Work on your breathing
  • Take longer rest
  • Finish the volume for the day
  • Take smaller increases

Working on your breathing can help to finish your sets. With this technique, you might not have to take a deload. Many beginners do not pay enough attention to getting tight. Getting tight means to create maximum tension in your body during the exercises. Work on your breathing by exhaling fully and breathing into your stomach. Try to expand your stomach on a circular way by filling it with air. Push against the belt, if you use one. Also, decide before you start the set were you want to breathe. I personally like a 3/2 split for lighter and 2/1/1/1 split for heavier sets of fives. I make a conscious choice when to breathe before I start the set. These techniques combined usually get you an extra 2 - 3 reps if you do not do them already. 


Another way of making it more likely to finish your sets is to take longer rest. If you do not use the Stronglifts app yet, download it. It does a good job of providing proper rest times for you. If you do not have access to the app, rest 1 to 5 minutes between sets. Be aware that resting for five minutes between each set means that you have to spend more time in the gym to get the same results. Avoid rushing strength work. Your body is ready when it is ready.


Another technique I really like is to finish the volume of the day. Volume is the most important factor in making you stronger. Let's say you set out to do 5x5 by 100kg on the squat for the day. You fail the last set by two reps. This means you still have to squat 200kg to get your day's worth. One way of finishing would be to do two singles with 100kg. If for whatever reason you can not squat that heavy anymore, finish up with a set of 4x50kg. You still retry 5x5x100kg for the squat in the next session, as you failed this time. However, by finishing the volume for the day, you will feel better when going home and less defeated.


The last technique would be a way to go if you want to use Stronglifts 5x5 as an advanced lifter. Rather than switching to an intermediate program you can first try to work with smaller increments. For this, you need fractional plates. Instead of increasing the load by 5kg or 2.5kg each workout you can go as low as 250g with fractional plates. 




Every fail when you lift should be reflected on. It is always a sign that something is not going to plan. Ask yourself whether the routine outside the gym is lacking. If that is fine, take a look at your progression. Did it slow down considerably? Are you getting mentally fatigued with the program? When I was on Stronglifts I put too much ego and too little reflection into it. This lead to restructuring my lifts in year 2 and injury. Be critical and analytical when you fail and take necessary action by focusing more, deloading or switching program.

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