Strength down 10% in 5 weeks

Hey guys, basically, I’ve lost 10% of my bench pressing strength in 5 weeks and I don’t really know what to do.

I’ve got around 5 years of consistent gym experience, and started out super weak (4kg DB Bench for 12 reps was my best on day 1) but have made decent progress since.

Recently I did an 8 week strength block mainly focussed on lower reps, followed by a 7 week cut, a 5 week volume block, and am now 2 weeks into another intensity block. I somehow lost my strength through the volume block. I’ll attach my programs

During my first intensity block I upped my bench by 1kg per week from 90kg to 96kg for 5 sets of 3.

My best bench performance was either the 5×3 @ 96kg, or two weeks later (in the first week of the cut) with 2 sets at 97kg for 3, and 3 sets for 2 reps.

Over the 7 weeks of the cut I lost motivation, and started dropping sets so I wouldn’t drop days in the gym. I finished the cut benching 3 sets of 2 @ 97kg.

I then did a 5 week volume block where I aimed to do sets of 8 for Bench press. I couldn’t bring myself to drop the weight below 80kg so my first workout was for 3 sets of 8,6,5 reps. Over those five weeks, the best I got was 8,7,5 reps. My bodyweight went from 76.4kg to 77.7kg (168.4 - 171.3lbs) over those 5 weeks.

(For the first 3 weeks I was doing a total of 24 pressing sets per week. In week 4 I thought this was too much and dropped the overhead pressing from Monday and Friday, which made it 18 sets)

Now I’m two weeks into the intensity block and first week in I barely got 3×3 @ 90kg, and it hasn’t improved in week 2. At this point I’m sick of it and thinking of putting bench on the backburner and just focussing on my lagging OHP instead.

I really don’t know what to do tbh. Have you guys ever experienced this? How would you go about progressing from here?

There is about a 1000 different directions this conversation can go bud. Maybe you just need a couple rest days. Maybe you are not hydrated properly. Maybe your mind just isn’t focused and you got a number in your head that you tell yourself is “heavy” rather than saying “screw it I wonder how many times I can lift this weight” and not really care about what the outcome is and just keep banging out as many reps as you can every session.

Maybe you need more volume or maybe it’s more intensity or maybe you need to back way off for a while and do 50% of what you are doing now. Only way to know is to try a little bit of everything and see what works for you.

That’s a frustrating and truthful answer and I think many of us have dealt with this same frustration you are in now. I guess my first question would be what is so important about a big bench press and how have your other lifts been progressing? They don’t always all go up at the same time. Sometimes your bench will suffer but your deadlift will progress. Sometimes they all suck for no good reason.

If you want to push the bench up I would focus on bench pressing (from all angles) a lot and then add in dips, dumbbell presses and Tricep work, and perhaps most importantly adequate sleep and lots of good food. Do that long enough and that bench press will go up no matter what. The trick is to not get fat while doing so.


I’ve had such a focus on bench for a while because I’ve had a long term goal (honestly, a bit of an end goal) of 3×5 @ 100kg, and I’ve felt like I have been so close to it for so long. Maybe I ended up being a bit hyper-focused.

Thanks for the advice, I’ll give it a good think over, and see what I can apply

Maybe I’ll cut my current block short and deload, see if that helps me out at all

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I would add to this as something else to consider after years of lifting on my part.

Results are important but the work (journey/trip/some intelligent metaphor) is really what it’s about if you want to go farther in this. If you don’t “enjoy” the process then it all just seems like shit you have to do. Figuring out how your body works has always been the best part for me. Some people get results from almost no effort while others gotta work themselves into the ground for every inch. I always admire the latter more even though the results get all the envy.

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There can be several things at play.

First, there is a difference between having strong muscles, being strong on a lift and being strong on a lift with low reps/maximal weights.

See, strength is not just a matter of having the muscles to lift the weight. It’s a skill.

In theory, a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. BUT how much of that strength you can display is a matter of 1) nervous system efficacy 2) movement efficiency.

Simply put, lifting heavy weights for ow reps (maximal or near maximal effort) requires more neurological resources than lifting a lighter weight for more reps.

To be good at lifting heavy weights you must practice lifting heavy weights. When you stop practicing lifting heavy weights, you become worse at that type of work even if you have the same amount of muscle (or more).

Furthermore, you can have the capacity to lift heavy weight on an exercise, without transferring it well to another somewhat similar exercise. The more you do a movement, the better you become at it. Conversely, if you practice it less (or stop doing it), you’ll love efficiency on that lift and performance will go down.

You did a strength cycle, which likely improved your capacity/skill to lift heavy weights. You probably focused on important lifts for you during that phase, so you also became better at those lifts.

Then you did a fat loss phase. It is possible that you lost some muscle during that phase. But even if you only lost fat, it can still lead to strength loss. And the bench press (and other pressing exercises) is especially sensitive to that. Why? Because when you lose fat and water, it can lead to less joint stability. When the body feels less stable, it will prevent you from using your strength potential.

Then you got into a volume phase, which likely mean that you did not practice heavy lifting.

So it is perfectly normal that your capacity to display strength has gone down.

But let me ask you these questions:

  1. Did strength go down across he board (on all, or almost all exercises). For example, if your bench press is down BUT all of your triceps, pectorals and deltoids exercises are the same strength, then you did not lose strength. You either lost movement efficiency or lost shoulder joint stability.

  2. Have you lost muscle mass? If you didn’t then the strength potential is the same, you just need to start doing some strength work again and it will come back in a week or two.

  3. Did you stop practicing your benchmark lifts (the lifts you use to assess whether you are strong or not)? If you did, or just reduced your practice on those lifts, you can expect a drop in performance due to a decrease in technical efficiency and inter-muscular coordination.

  4. Have you diagnosed your strength loss based on a single workout or has it been a trend over several sessions? Strength fluctuates daily. Heck, it even fluctuates during a day. You might simply have had a bad session.

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Do you feel fatigued? Have problems sleeping? Have lingering aches and pains? Have a general drop in mood? A significant decrease in libido?

If not, I doubt that the issue is something that can be fixed by a deload.

It’s a lot more likely that when you focus on performance/strength for a while, then stop focusing on that specific goal, you lose your edge.

But that’s normal.

No strength athlete is at his maximal strength performance year round. Most powerlifter will peak their strength for a competition, then their maximum capacity decreases as they focus more on muscular development. And when they ramp up their limit strength work for another competition, their strength performance goes back up and often exceeds their previous best.

I trained a female powerlifter, world record holder on the squat (265kg at a body weight of 67.5kg).

In the competition prior to the one in which she got the work record she hit 250kg on the squat.

When we started the next block of training, which was focused mostly on fixing weak links, she reached a point where she had a hard time using more than 200kg on the squat… and she was freaking out! But when she started her competition phase she worked up to a double (2 reps) with 270kg in training within 8 weeks.

Those who try to maintain their maximal strength at peak level year round typically get injured.

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When I look at your plan. I think that what happened is simply that you stopped including heavy pressing work (going from sets of 3-5 reps to sets of 8-12) on pressing movements. So you probably don’t have less muscle. You just eroded your skill to perform heavy work.

Once you get back to heavy work, it will come back within 2, maybe 3 weeks.

In the future I recommend keeping one heavy lift per workout even during volume phases.


Hey Christian

First up, thank you very much for such a detailed response. I really appreciate it.

  1. Strength

At this point, strength is down on all lifts from the end of my last strength block. Hell, even my pull-ups are the exact same as they were before the cut.

My strength loss during the cut was very small and, in my mind, to be expected when you drop 6.3kg in 7 weeks.

The thing that concerns me is that I basically didn’t progress during my volume phase, and now I’ve finished two weeks using higher weights again, and I’ve seen no recovery in strength, be it weight, reps or RPE.
And I have been eating enough during the volume phase. I went from 76.4kg at the end of the cut, to 77.7 at the end of the volume block.

  1. I’ve not noticed any loss in muscle mass.

  2. The main lifts selected have stayed the same during this period.

  3. I’m basing my strength loss from two weeks of Wednesday and Friday workouts. Wednesday focusing on OHP and Friday focusing on benching. Each of these days I do a total of 6 pressing sets between two exercises (I also do some pressing on Monday too, and this is the rough schedule that I’ve been using for a little while now).

I don’t have any of those symptoms of overtraining, but I have never done a deload during my entire time training. It’s one of the reasons I’m thinking of doing one now.
I’m thinking of doing a 2, maybe 3, week cut to drop the fat from the last 7 weeks, then doing a deload, which would also be an intro week and maintenance calorie check week, before going into the next phase of training. What are your thoughts on that?

So when you recommend keeping one heavy lift per workout in a volume phase could that be a top set of 3 followed by higher rep sets? Or would it literally just be one heavy single to start things off?

Also, how many sets of pressing do you normally recommend per week? I used to do ~24 and found it was too much for me to recover from, and I’m now down at 18 per week. Would you recommend bumping it down even further?

I wouldn’t have just one set of 1 rep. You still need some amount of work in the strength zone. Something like ramping up to a heavy triple, then doing 2 x 3 @ 90% of that top weight, then doing 2-3 sets of slightly higher reps (there is no need to go above 8 reps, even in a “volume” phase).

Singles could be used, but I think that you’d need at least 3. Not max efforts, but certainly in the 90-92% range.

You could also do Miller Extensive Clusters, which is a great method to build strength but also includes enough volume to build size.

In a Miller cluster you use a load that you would normally use for 3 reps, but you shoot for 5-7 reps. You do that by resting between every rep. In a Miller cluster, you rest around 30-45 sec.

It can look like this:

1 rep / 30 sec / 1 rep / 30 sec / 1 rep / 45 sec / 1 rep / 45 sec / 1 rep / 45 sec / 1 rep / end of set.

The load is heavy enough to stimulate the nervous system. There are enough reps in a set to stimulate growth (I’d do 2-3 sets) and it constitutes a lot of “practice” with heavy weights.

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Since you have not lost muscle, the two most probably reasons why your strength has dropped are:

  • Lost skill of lifting maximal weights
  • Accumulated fatigue

It is quite possible that volume work doesn’t agree with you. No two people are the same.

I’ll give you an example (two, really).

Three of the best athletes (from a physical capacity standpoint) were bobsleigh guys.

Here’s are some rough numbers…

Athlete 1
Best squat of 575lbs raw and full
Best bench press of 425lbs
36 reps with 225lbs on the bench
Power clean of 355lbs
Vertical jump of 41"
40 yards dash (at the Chicago Bears private combine) 4.21
60m sprint 6.36 (which is faster than the indoor world record, but he did this with a laser timer that starts when he takes off, so there is no reaction time, which typically add at least 0.24sec)

Athlete 2
500lbs front squat
600lbs back squat
365lbs bench
335lbs power clean
39" vertical jump
60m in 6.55
*Note that he was both a member of the national bobsleigh program AND the track/sprint cycling team

Athlete 3
485lbs front squat
585lbs back squat
300lbs power snatch
350lbs power clean
38" vertical
6.65 60m

Now, all three were pretty much the same strength level overall (some small individual differences in individual lifts) but Athletes 1 and 2 just couldn’t tolerate volume and athlete 3 could do a boatload of volume on top of a full time job as an architect.

Athlete 1 could do a maximum of 6 total work sets 2-3 times per week (not 6 sets per exercises, 6 sets over the whole workout. More than that and he would crash and performance would go down the drain.

Athlete 2 could do 6-9 work sets 2-3 times per week, again that’s total sets, not set per exercice. More than that and he would always get injured.

Athlete 3 could easily do 18-24 total sets per session, 4-5 times per week.

So it i possible that volume work just doesn’t agree with you. Athlete no.2 would always get weaker and not gain muscle from higher reps work.

A deload my been a nice reset. But you might evaluate how you design your “volume” phases in the future.

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With the heavy work, that’d basically be a heavy triple, two back off sets and, say, 3 sets of 8 on the same movement or an accessory. It’s kinda funny to hear that because that’s almost exactly how I’ve programmed my lower rep strength phase. Looks like I’ve got to have a look at some more program examples for strength.

The Miller Clusters look pretty interesting, I’ve never done clusters that way.

Yeah, maybe I don’t respond well to that kind of volume (I know for sure that 24 sets is too much for me, and maybe 18 still is) and who knows, maybe I also jumped into it a bit quickly. Thinking about it, I’ve realised that my sleep actually hasn’t been ideal for a little while now. I put it down to other lifestyle factors, but maybe training has had an effect on it too. I’ll probably deload and change up my programming going forwards.

Thanks Christian, I appreciate your help

Yep, that would be good. One of my favorite approach was similar to that… 3x3 then 3x6

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I’m just wondering now, if you do a top triple then back off to 90% of that for two more triples, what RPE would you aim for the top set to be?

For strength development, the RPE/Reps in reserve are much less relevant than for hypertrophy. Load is the key determinant in strength gains. The main goal, when lifting for strength (or the strength portion), is to gradually use more weight (from week to week or at another interval depending on experience).

But to give you a ballpark figure, 2-3 reps in reserve for the back off sets of 3 is very good.

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That makes sense.

So if your approach to a higher volume phase is 3×3 followed by 3×6, how do you go after a more strength focussed phase? In my eyes, there doesn’t seem to a whole lot of volume there to take out

Ok, first you need to establish your priorities. If strength is more important than just building muscle then the programing will be different.

As such what will be defined as “volume phases” and “strength phases” will be different as with a pure bodybuilding approach.

For example, the “volume phase” for a powerbuilding program might be a “strength phase” for bodybuilding.

That’s why I prefer not to use the terms “volume” or “strength” when building phases (unless we are talking strictly about hypertrophy).

I use the terms accumulation, intensification, realization and peaking to describe the phases.

Anyway, when building phase for someone focused on both strength and size, but with a focus on size, the volume is decreased mostly through:

  1. A reduction in the reps per set
  2. A reduction in the amount of assistance exercises

During an accumulation phase, there are more “minor” (single-joint) exercises thrown in, ideally to address lagging or weaker muscles which may limit performance in the big lifts.

So an accumulation phase workout might have 2-3 multi-joint exercises in a session and another 2-3 single-joint ones (which are obviously not trained with strength parameters).

The reps per set will be higher during an accumulation phase. BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean high reps (or even moderate reps), especially on the multi-joint exercises. It will be higher reps for YOU (your goal and your responsiveness) compared to the other phases.

If you are focused on getting stronger those reps might be in the 3-8 range whereas someone purely focused on building muscle with no worries about strength might use 6-12.

In the intensification phase you:

  • Reduce the number of assistance exercises (e.g. from 2-3/session to 1 mayyyybe 2)
  • Increase the number of sets for the multi-joint lifts (essentially give the volume that was allocated to the single-joint exercises you took out to the multi-joint movements). The overall number of sets will be similar to the accumulation phase, but a greater percentage of those sets are given to the multi-joint movements.
  • Decrease the number of reps (so if you where in the 3-6 range on the multi-joint exercises you might go down to 2-4)

During the realization phase you:

  • essentially take out all assistance/single-joint exercises out of the program. It’s all big basic lifts.
    *be the heaviest and can use overload methods like partial lifts (e.g. half squat or bench from pins, rack pulls from below the knees, push presses) on top of your full range lifts (e.g. once a week you have your 3 important lifts done full range, once a week you have a partial version of your 3 important lifts and once a week you have a variation of your 3 important lifts, eg. front squat instead of back squats).

A peaking phase is only used if you plan on competing.

Typically, I would recommend having the accumulation block lasting 6 weeks, the intensification block 4 weeks and the realization block 2 weeks.

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Really good write up, that makes it clear.

It looks like I’ve been aiming for strength, but have been using a bodybuilding style higher volume phases. No wonder the carry over to heavy work hasn’t been as good as I was expecting.

If I don’t plan on competing, would you recommend I keep the realisation phase or bump the intensification phase out to 6 weeks instead?

I’d keep the realization phase. Then after the 12-weeks cycle, you’d take a week off and plan a new one.


To be fair, a bigger muscle is potentially a stronger muscle. But…

  1. You can build just as much muscle with sets of 5-8 as with sets of higher reps

  2. When the reps are higher, you do not work on the skill to lift heavy weights and the neurological factors involved in force production.

That makes sense.

I’ve also got a (competing) goal of trying to slowly lean out over the course of the year. The idea I’ve got in my head is to do a short cut at the end of every complete training cycle. The goal here is to end up at the same bodyweight that I started at. Ideally I’d only be in a deficit for 2-3 weeks each minicut.

I’m able to maintain a 0.2kg per week increase in bodyweight (maybe even less) per week when in a surplus.

Do you think this approach is realistic?