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View Full Version : Shoulder press stalled for 4 months at an embarrassingly low weight


Joe Hastings
12-13-2011, 05:35 PM
(first-time, long-time)

I've been on a strength bias for ~9mos and I'm very disappointed with
my shoulder press. I'm looking for advice on what to try next. There
are several other threads about stalled press but they seem
to relate to much higher weights while in my case I'm stalled not far
from where I was pre-CF.

From a high level I'm making progress on my other lifts. I've gained
weight while on the strength bias (a bit too much) and am fairly happy
with my squats/deadlifts progress so I don't think it's a generic
problem like not enough calories.

I'm 32, 5'9 and currently 185# (up from 165# 9mos ago)

press 1rm 125#
bench 1rm 205#
back squat 1rm 330#
deadlift 1rm 425#

For background, when I first started Crossfit ~2yrs ago I had a 1rm of
115#. After ~15mos of metcon-intensive programming at a box (somewhat
of a CF endurance bias, not much lifting and tons of running) it was
actually down to 100# although my other lifts had improved. I was
about 165# then so I've gained quite a bit over the strength bias
described below.

I then did ~6mos of SS and got my max to 125# but stalled repeatedly
at 5@110 in my progression. I tried 3x5x110 for three weeks, did a
reset, and worked back to 110 only to be weaker than the first time I
had tried that weight.

About 3mos ago my schedule changed and I switched to 531 for lower
volume. For press (and bench) I did the "subtract
10% of max" at the start of 531 so it was a 2nd big reset for press.

For 3mos I've been doing textbook 531 (+ 5 lbs each 4wk cycle). I just
completed a 531 cycle where I hit exactly the required press weights
but nothing extra (all 3 wks). Monday was a 1+ at 125 (my max), and after hitting
1 (but not 2), I rested a while and tried and failed at 130, so in the
last 4mos (1 reset on SS then 3mos of 531) I haven't made any
noticeable progress (I realize the failure on 2nd rep at 125 probably
doomed the attempt at 130).

My bench is also pretty weak and had stalled at the end of 6mos SS
(5@175) but not as badly as press (e.g. I would repeat a progression
and make it the 2nd week). However unlike w/press I seem to be making
some progress on 531 and at least hit a few extra reps each time I lift
(and easily surpassed the previous plateau when I got there).

My current program is (MWF):

531 press / 3x3 front squats (LP) / weighted pullups
531 squat / 531 bench
531 dl / good mornings (LP) / weighted ring dips

The front squats I added to keep the 2x per week squatting when I
switched SS->531. The others (pullups, dips, good mornings) are
things I had been doing w/SS.

I've done zero metcons for the past 3mos, just focusing on the lifting
and not worrying too much about weight gain.

I'm really not sure what to try next. Should I just be patient and
keep doing 531 at the same weight (don't think I'd hit progression any
higher) or yet another reset? Should I try higher volume with some other rep-scheme? Maybe add other overhead exercises?

Paulo Santos
12-13-2011, 06:25 PM
Do you use a wide or narrow grip? Try switching it up. I prefer to use a narrow grip when I do the Press. My numbers are simar to yours, but I can Press 145# (Bench 205, Squat 295, Deadlift 305#). I'm 5'7" 170 @ 36 YOA. You may also want to do some assistance exercises for your shoulders such as front and side raises.

Brian Flynn
12-13-2011, 06:40 PM
Have you tried a ladder approach? This works pretty well.
Take a weight that is challenging for 5 reps.

Easy Day
Do 1 set of each with :30 seconds rest
1x1, 1 x 2, 1 x 3
Repeat ladder 5 times for a total of 30 reps

Medium Day
Same thing but add a set of four
1 x 1, 1 x 2, 1 x 3, 1 x 4
Repeat ladder 5 times for a total of 50 reps

Heavy Day
Same but add a set of 5
1 x 1, 1 x 2, 1 x 3, 1 x 4, 1 x 5
Repeat 5 times for 75 reps.

Also are you packing your shoulder and flexing your lats when you press, are you using tension throughout your whole body or are you loose? You should be tight from the legs up and use tension. When you press up, hold your breath or power breathe so you don't leak strength.

Robert Fabsik
12-13-2011, 08:24 PM
Where do you get stuck in the press?

Do you train at a box or at home?

Joe Hastings
12-13-2011, 09:57 PM
Thanks everybody. To answer some questions I use an average to
slightly narrow grip for shoulder press, have not tried a wide grip
but I will see how that feels as an experiment.

I haven't tried anything like the ladder approach. I did the 6mos of
linear progression 3x5 and then 3mos of 531 starting from 90% of my
true max and adding 5# each 4wk cycle until the latest cycle where my
1+ is at my max (125#).

I believe my technique is solid for pressing, full body tension with
glutes squeezed just prior to pressing. I lift at a gym and have had
lots of observers watch me press. I'm sure it's not perfect but I
feel like my issue is more raw strength than technique. It seems
harder to psyche myself up for pressing (compared to say heavy squats)
and I'm sure there is some mental component involved, but I feel like
the weights are so low relatively speaking that I must just have weak
and stubborn shoulders.

When I get stuck it's typically a couple of inches up, bar slightly
below eye-level. At the failure point my left side is often slightly
lower than my right (same w/bench press, I'm right-handed).

Dave Traeger
12-13-2011, 10:07 PM
I had similar. I could do multiple reps at 42.5kg but couldnt get 45kg past my chin. I made an effort of working on shoulder mobility and my press went up.

Chris Mason
12-13-2011, 10:12 PM
Do you have access to an adjustable bench? If so, I would do some steep incline pressing. That will provide for an overload effect and should translate nicely. In addition I am guessing your triceps need work. Do some triceps specific strength training.

Collin Thompson
12-13-2011, 10:28 PM
I found that adding 3x10 overhead presses at a weight I can handle for 12 really helped me avoid pressing stalls. I was stalling, started adding more volume, stopped stalling. Not saying more is always better but it worked for me.

Damon Stewart
12-13-2011, 11:13 PM
What Chris said. My press stalled until I started pressing 4x/week based on Bill Starr's advice and adding specific tricep accessory work.

Dana Rice
12-14-2011, 07:24 AM
Do you have access to an adjustable bench? If so, I would do some steep incline pressing. That will provide for an overload effect and should translate nicely. In addition I am guessing your triceps need work. Do some triceps specific strength training.

Exactly - pretty much what everyone else has said, it looks like you are not doing any assistance work. I would add Incline Press, possibly seated dumbell military press or even arnold presses.

Rick Scarpulla
12-14-2011, 07:48 AM
To raise the shoulder press is not much different then building the bench press. You need lots of tricep, upper back, lats and of course shoulders

Work heavy reps on the bench press. (heavy is a relative term - heavy for you the weight is irrelavent) We do not do much shoulder pressing and yet our shoulders are very strong from benching heavy. ( big benchers have big shoulder presses)
The reason is again the proper supplemental work. We like heavy JM style presses with the elbows under the bar instead of in like a standard power bench press and come down only 1/3 of the full rep. Extra wide benches also. Steep incline DB reps( as Chris said)

Use a balance of heavy weight and high rep work lots of rear delts and some lateral work. Again when ever the arms are driving away from the body in any direction its lots of tris same for bench as shoulder press. The bottom 1/3 of the shoulder press is usaually the hardest- work ballistic movement shoulder presses with lighter weight same as the DE bench- you need the speed out of the hole which in this case is the bottom up to the eyes right where youre geting stuck speed will carry the force through that point. Lots of tricep work most people are not doing nearly enough work to really satisfy the raito for the gains they are looking for.( ever do shoulders after really blasting triceps) They are very important in shoulder press as in the bench.

Shoulders are easily overworked and slow recovery be sure not to overwork them that will cause you to slow gains as well

Dan Schwickrath
12-14-2011, 08:12 AM
It's not completely clear whether you've done this already, but if you haven't you may want to consider microloading with fractional plates

Andrew N. Casey
12-14-2011, 09:10 AM
i will just add that 4 months is not really that long. be patient. keep lifting.

Joe Hastings
12-14-2011, 03:09 PM
Thanks everybody for all the great advice.

Seems like common themes are more assistance work for shoulders/triceps and higher volume (than just 531).

I think what I'll try first is another cycle of 531 but adding the 3x10's for press as well as bench as well as some isolation work (e.g. on the deadlift day).

So something like:

M: 531 press / 3x3 front squat / 3x10 press / weighted pullups
W: 531 squat / 531 bench / 3x10 bench / inclined press
F: 531 deadlift / weighted ring dips / triceps&shoulder isolation / good mornings

If that still doesn't work I'll look into some of the other suggested rep-schemes rather than 531. Hopefully this won't go immediately from too little volume to too much volume, I'll keep an eye on that as well.

Blair Robert Lowe
12-14-2011, 04:47 PM
have you thought texas method?

I was gonna say more volume and assistance but if you do the assistance stuff that should take care of the volume.

This is my opinion after running 531 without dedicated assistance work (besides 15 hours a week of gymnastics).

Chris Mason
12-14-2011, 09:06 PM
Thanks everybody for all the great advice.

Seems like common themes are more assistance work for shoulders/triceps and higher volume (than just 531).

I think what I'll try first is another cycle of 531 but adding the 3x10's for press as well as bench as well as some isolation work (e.g. on the deadlift day).

So something like:

M: 531 press / 3x3 front squat / 3x10 press / weighted pullups
W: 531 squat / 531 bench / 3x10 bench / inclined press
F: 531 deadlift / weighted ring dips / triceps&shoulder isolation / good mornings

If that still doesn't work I'll look into some of the other suggested rep-schemes rather than 531. Hopefully this won't go immediately from too little volume to too much volume, I'll keep an eye on that as well.

I don't think the above looks very good. The people who want more volume found it worked for them because they are relatively weak and had not grooved the movement from a CNS perspective. I think you will overtrain if you try the above.

Remind me what the 531 has you doing on your Monday workout.

Joe Hastings
12-14-2011, 11:46 PM
Chris, my 531 press on Mondays looks like the following over 4wks:

5x85, 5x95, 5+x110 (hit exactly 5)
3x90, 3x105, 3+x115 (hit exactly 3)
5x95, 3x110, 1+x125 (hit exactly 1)
5x50, 5x65, 5x80 (deload)

This is actually the 531 template applied to a max of 130 (my PR is 125), which I arrived at after a large reset and adding 5# each 4wk cycle (until this cycle I had been hitting extra reps on the plus sets). Maybe I would have been better off micro-loading on the last increase e.g. 2# rather than 5#.

Blair, I considered Texas method rather than 531 back when I switched from SS 3mos ago. I didn't have a strong preference but went with 531.

Blair Robert Lowe
12-15-2011, 12:00 AM
Are you doing the warmup sets as well in 531?

Michael Capalbo
12-15-2011, 12:54 PM
Another suggestion: Have you had a coach check your form? Especially at the beginning of your reps, right when you just are getting the weight off your shoulders. Get someone whom you really trust. Anyway, for one thing, maybe you are moving the weight out too far forward (instead of straight up) when you are pushing it up in your press.

Do you ever mix it up and, instead of strict presses, try push presses or jerks instead. What about HSPUs (unassisted or assisted)?

The thing that's puzzling to me is that you can deadlift almost 4x what you can press. A 425-pound deadlift for someone who is only 185 is really good.

Joe Hastings
12-15-2011, 02:08 PM
Blair, I am doing warmup sets prior to 531 work sets. Only thing is I usually do 5x45 twice rather than the precise first weight (currently 55 per 531 formulas but was until recently floored at 45# anyway during the lengthy reset) just out of habit from various other warmup schemes.

Michael, believe me I am puzzled as well. I have always been relatively better at deadlifts than any other lift but I figured a 10mo strength bias would make things relatively more similar while instead it seems to have accentuated my lower vs. upper body imbalance.

I haven't been doing other overhead lifts since I started 531. My HSPU's aren't great, I can do 1 w/full ROM but can't even do multiple singles (one will kill me for way more than 5mins). I used to do slow HSPU negatives but haven't since I started 531.

Blair Robert Lowe
12-15-2011, 07:46 PM
Have you thought of 531 for PL which is something like 3-5-1. There is an ebook and it's detailed over at Tnation.

Ryan R Johnson
12-16-2011, 10:25 AM
im only a novice, so take this with a grain of salt. when i hit say 135lbs for 5 reps. ill go up to 140 and bang out 5 sets of 3s. then next time ill go to 155 for push presses or jerks. then when i go back to 140 i can get 3 sets of 5 reps.

this has worked well for me

Alex McRobie
12-21-2011, 02:44 PM
I was similar to you press stuck at 130ish for a very long time, couldnt make that 135 barrier.

what i did was press 5 days a week, even if its not a lot of volume, sometimes light sometimes heavy just press often.

hope that helps.