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Failure to recomp; advice requested

friedpetfriedpet Member Posts: 16 Member Member Posts: 16 Member
I attempted a recomp last year from June through November (the five months my gym was open). Despite maintaining a steady weight of 155lbs +/- 2lbs, following a slightly-modified PHUL routine, and averaging 130g of protein per day, I achieved no real results.

June:
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November:
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Am I just expecting results too early? I understand the process is slow, but I thought five months would have been enough to see some improvement. I made very modest gains in my lift weights, but that's about it.

Now that my gym is open again, I'm wondering if I should keep going with this approach and just wait longer or change something up. Any advice is appreciated.
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Replies

  • sijomialsijomial Member, Premium Posts: 17,580 Member Member, Premium Posts: 17,580 Member
    You should have seen or measured some progress in that time.

    That you describe your gains as "modest" I would look at your training as a first step in identifying the issue rather than diet or that you are maintaining weight. You haven't given your training history or age so hard to tell the context. In numbers how much more weight are you lifting on your big compound lifts would help for context too.
    Are you a beginner to weight/strength training?

    (At age 60 I could see visible change and my weights lifted shot up in a far shorter timescale during the period my gym reopened. A big part of me being able to gain strength quickly is that I'm returning to a previous training level, regaining rather than gaining for the first time. )

    If your training isn't effective, or you don't respond well to that training eating more isn't going to fix that. To use Eric Helms phrase "diet is permissive". It allows you to get the best results from your training but doesn't drive the process of gaining muscle.
  • richardgavelrichardgavel Member Posts: 914 Member Member Posts: 914 Member
    It seems like the only progress you are measuring is visual. Let's think about more objective ones. The scale stayed the same, so you did maintain. Did you take any tape or BF measurements? What about increases in rep counts and/or amount lifted?
  • friedpetfriedpet Member Posts: 16 Member Member Posts: 16 Member
    Yeah, I realized after posting that some more context would probably be useful. I'm 36 years old and not a complete newbie to weight training. Prior to the first closure in March, I'd been training for about a year using a different program. My starting weight was 175, and I dropped to ~150. Fluffed up to 155 during the first lockdown, and started again in June using the PHUL program.

    As far as my big compounds go:
    • Bench press
      • March 16: 19 reps @ 60lbs (5,5,5,4)
      • June 14: 17 reps @ 50lbs (5,5,4,3)
      • November 10: 18 reps @ 70lbs (5,5,4,4)
    • Arnold press (my sub for OHP)
      • March 16: 15 reps @ 30lbs (7,4,4)
      • June 14: 22 reps @ 20lbs (8,8,6)
      • November 12: 24 reps @ 25lbs (8,8,8)
      Back squat:
      • March 9: 13 reps @ 50lbs (5,5,4)
      • June 15: 15 reps @ 25lbs (5,5,4,3)
      • November 9: 16 reps @ 70lbs (5,5,4,2)
    As you can see, I lost some progress during the first closure but didn't gain much overall progress before November. Other objective measurements are scarce: I didn't take any tape measurements and only started using my gym's BF scale in September. From September to November, my BF stayed at around 16%.

    Frustratingly, I used the scale again last night, and even though I only gained 0.3lbs during the closure, my BF went from 16.5% to 19%. I am clearly able to recomp in reverse.
  • sijomialsijomial Member, Premium Posts: 17,580 Member Member, Premium Posts: 17,580 Member
    Not being rude but those weights are extraordinarily low for a 36 YO male training regularly.The relationship between strength and muscle growth is complex but you really should be getting a lot stronger than that very quickly.

    What prompts you to increase the weights?
    Are the last couple of reps of your sets actually starting to feel like you are working hard?
    Are you actually failing to complete sets when you increase weight on the bar/use a heavier dumbbell?

    Something is badly off with your training (or less likely, your response to training e.g. a health issue).
    As your gym is open again could you get a PT to give you some pointers?
  • friedpetfriedpet Member Posts: 16 Member Member Posts: 16 Member
    sijomial wrote: »
    What prompts you to increase the weights?
    Are the last couple of reps of your sets actually starting to feel like you are working hard?
    Are you actually failing to complete sets when you increase weight on the bar/use a heavier dumbbell?
    I increase weight on a lift when I hit the recommended rep/set cap for the weight. For example, I'll increase my bench press weight when I can do four sets of five reps as prescribed in the PHUL program. I don't always go to failure, but I have no more than 2 RIR when I don't reach the target number of reps in a set. I do at least three sets of every lift and reliably fail to hit cap on the third if not the second. If I hit cap on the last set, I'll increase the weight the following week.

  • sijomialsijomial Member, Premium Posts: 17,580 Member Member, Premium Posts: 17,580 Member
    friedpet wrote: »
    sijomial wrote: »
    What prompts you to increase the weights?
    Are the last couple of reps of your sets actually starting to feel like you are working hard?
    Are you actually failing to complete sets when you increase weight on the bar/use a heavier dumbbell?
    I increase weight on a lift when I hit the recommended rep/set cap for the weight. For example, I'll increase my bench press weight when I can do four sets of five reps as prescribed in the PHUL program. I don't always go to failure, but I have no more than 2 RIR when I don't reach the target number of reps in a set. I do at least three sets of every lift and reliably fail to hit cap on the third if not the second. If I hit cap on the last set, I'll increase the weight the following week.

    You don't need to go to failure but you do need to put enough stress on your muscles to force adaptation.
    Sounds like you have chosen a reputable program and are following it.

    Why you aren't increasing strength far more rapidly is a mystery to me. Can only suggest getting hands on help from a PT and maybe investigating health issues via blood tests etc.
    Your calorie goal does seem low to me but unless you are tired/hungry/listless I wouldn't expect that to be the main issue - although it's the most simple one to experiment with.
  • SnifterPugSnifterPug Member Posts: 505 Member Member Posts: 505 Member
    Something's not right. The weights do seem on the light side and the progression slow. I'm on a recomp and am a pretty newbie lifter. I doubled pretty much all my weights in 16 weeks. Now up to the likes of 50kg deadlifts (and soon to go higher), 40kg squats and 20kg OHP. My bodyweight is 75kg and I'm a female in her 50s. So I agree with the others who say your stats are odd.

    However, do not pay any mind to the gym's BF scales. Unless you use those things regularly at the same time of day under the same conditions over a long period of time to see a very rough trend you are not going to gain any valuable information from them. Mine can change their mind on BF percentages every time I step on and off them in the space of 10 minutes sometimes. You're far better off with a tape measure and photos ongoing.
  • RedordeadheadRedordeadhead Member Posts: 846 Member Member Posts: 846 Member
    Agree, I'm a woman and I very quickly (less time than June - November) got to 60kgs squats on the strong lifts programme without any previous background in weight training. Are you sure you are measuring the weight correctly (e.g. also counting the weight of the bar)?

    It sounds like you might benefit from focussing on increasing the weight, even if you don't do as many reps, to stress your muscles.
  • matthewblandmatthewbland Member Posts: 96 Member Member Posts: 96 Member
    Like most have said you need to up the weight you are lifting. I’m not strong at all but I lift much heavier than you. Maybe look at doing 5-8 reps and once can get 8 reps up the weight slightly and work back up from 5 to 8 reps
  • rheddmobilerheddmobile Member Posts: 5,925 Member Member Posts: 5,925 Member
    Maybe get your testosterone levels checked? Other bloodwork? If you really are pushing hard and not lifting more than that, it sounds like something is up. As a 50 year old woman beginner of a similar weight to yours I could bench press 70 lbs on my first attempt, and hit 125 in about the same time frame you’re describing.
  • friedpetfriedpet Member Posts: 16 Member Member Posts: 16 Member
    I wasn't including barbell weight in my figures, so I guess that would change both my bench press and squat to 115lbs (52kgs) before the gym closed. Still underwhelming, it would seem, and not progressing as they should. Arnold press weights are per dumbbell.

    I've been told before that my calorie targets are low, but my body seems to maintain at this intake level.
    Like most have said you need to up the weight you are lifting. I’m not strong at all but I lift much heavier than you. Maybe look at doing 5-8 reps and once can get 8 reps up the weight slightly and work back up from 5 to 8 reps
    On power days, my bench press and squat sets are 3-5 reps, and my Arnold presses are 5-8 reps.

    edited January 6
  • heybalesheybales Member, Premium Posts: 18,379 Member Member, Premium Posts: 18,379 Member
    friedpet wrote: »
    I've been told before that my calorie targets are low, but my body seems to maintain at this intake level.

    First, this piece is about a problem women get, so that's not the point here.
    Second, men have less hormone involvement obviously, but need some of the right kind.
    Third, the point I want to share is the body, even for a guy, can get into the state where it can subsist on lower than expected calories, not lose weight, but it sure isn't going to expend energy on whatever it considers lower priority items. If building muscle turns into higher priority, it'll sacrifice something else (we want it to be fat of course). But in your case perhaps that is not the case, the other systems in body are safe - but it ain't going to build muscle on what you are doing now.

    http://skepchick.org/2014/02/the-female-athlete-triad-not-as-fun-as-it-sounds/

    How long in a diet prior, how extreme or fast of loss to current weight?
    From calculators, does eating level seem to be correct when accounting for honest daily activity and exercise levels?


  • friedpetfriedpet Member Posts: 16 Member Member Posts: 16 Member
    heybales wrote: »
    How long in a diet prior, how extreme or fast of loss to current weight?
    From calculators, does eating level seem to be correct when accounting for honest daily activity and exercise levels?
    Started my diet in April 2019 at 175lbs. Lowest weight was 148lbs in March 2020. I am 6'0".

    According to calculators, my TDEE for sedentary is 2034.9 calories, so yes, I'm eating below that. However, I do have one day per week I don't track (though I don't go crazy), so I expect that day is making up for the deficit in the others. Per the article, I don't have much exposure to injury, but I have never seriously hurt myself in 18 months of lifting. I know I'm not going to bulk eating like this, but my weight is staying steady. I understood that recomping is eating at maintenance and progressive lifting on a program, so I don't know why it doesn't seem to be working.
  • AnnPT77AnnPT77 Member, Premium Posts: 18,106 Member Member, Premium Posts: 18,106 Member
    friedpet wrote: »
    heybales wrote: »
    How long in a diet prior, how extreme or fast of loss to current weight?
    From calculators, does eating level seem to be correct when accounting for honest daily activity and exercise levels?
    Started my diet in April 2019 at 175lbs. Lowest weight was 148lbs in March 2020. I am 6'0".

    According to calculators, my TDEE for sedentary is 2034.9 calories, so yes, I'm eating below that. However, I do have one day per week I don't track (though I don't go crazy), so I expect that day is making up for the deficit in the others. Per the article, I don't have much exposure to injury, but I have never seriously hurt myself in 18 months of lifting. I know I'm not going to bulk eating like this, but my weight is staying steady. I understood that recomping is eating at maintenance and progressive lifting on a program, so I don't know why it doesn't seem to be working.

    That's still very low calorie intake. It's possible to train your body to limp along on low calories, IMO, but that's not a path of thriving. Recomping successfully would be more viable if thriving, I think?

    There are a lot of older, smaller women here eating as much or more than you are, and maintaining, maybe even losing. I'm one (5'5", 125.8 pounds this morning, age 65, sedentary outside of intentional exercise, fairly active . . . losing ultra slowly on 1850 net calories for months now, eating between 2100-2200 calories most days (with the added calories from my exercise . . . and I've tossed some very high calorie indulgent meals/days in there along the way, too).

    I admit, I'm a mysteriously good li'l ol' calorie burner, but I'm not the only one here who's much smaller, older, female-er than you, but eating as much or more.

    The consequences of undereating can be diverse. If you haven't seen injuries, that's wonderful. But really, consider bumping up your calorie intake. Do it gradually, if it's stressful for you to increase. See what happens. Don't over-react to quick scale jumps, wait on multi-week trends. It'll be OK.

    ETA: Great article at the link, @heybales .
    edited January 6
  • friedpetfriedpet Member Posts: 16 Member Member Posts: 16 Member
    My ultimate goal is to lose my belly fat. I'm not looking for a six-pack; just a flat stomach. Eating more to achieve that goal seems counterintuitive and will present a challenge psychologically. What I'm doing clearly isn't working, though, so I might as well give it a shot. Given my lack of activity outside of the gym (approximately 4 hours per week) and my cheat day, what do you recommend should be my target for a six-foot, 155-pound man?
  • heybalesheybales Member, Premium Posts: 18,379 Member Member, Premium Posts: 18,379 Member
    Do you log the cheat day to know how much it really adds to the weekly and changes your average?

    The idea too, once you know what an increase really would be, is like 100 extra daily for a week. Then another increase of 100, ect.

    But it could be that when you say cheat, you really mean binge, big calorie, eat all you see.
  • matthewblandmatthewbland Member Posts: 96 Member Member Posts: 96 Member
    friedpet wrote: »
    My ultimate goal is to lose my belly fat. I'm not looking for a six-pack; just a flat stomach. Eating more to achieve that goal seems counterintuitive and will present a challenge psychologically. What I'm doing clearly isn't working, though, so I might as well give it a shot. Given my lack of activity outside of the gym (approximately 4 hours per week) and my cheat day, what do you recommend should be my target for a six-foot, 155-pound man?

    Try eating about 2500 calories per day and see how your body reacts. For a man you seem to be eating way too low calories
  • steveko89steveko89 Member Posts: 1,811 Member Member Posts: 1,811 Member
    friedpet wrote: »
    My ultimate goal is to lose my belly fat. I'm not looking for a six-pack; just a flat stomach. Eating more to achieve that goal seems counterintuitive and will present a challenge psychologically. What I'm doing clearly isn't working, though, so I might as well give it a shot. Given my lack of activity outside of the gym (approximately 4 hours per week) and my cheat day, what do you recommend should be my target for a six-foot, 155-pound man?

    Try eating about 2500 calories per day and see how your body reacts. For a man you seem to be eating way too low calories

    2500 is high for his size; I weigh 20 lbs more and that's right around my TDEE. I do agree OP needs to eat more, I'd suggest 2250 as a ballpark for a recomp target. Given the results to this point I don't think the training stimulus is intense enough to suggest a calorie surplus and have it result in anything beyond unwanted fat gain.
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