You've been feeling on top of the lifting game?
Your muscles have grown, and you've added significant pounds to all your lifts. But one fine day, your progress stalls; you hit a big fat plateau where you struggle even to add a measly 2.5 pounds to your deadlift. What gives? Well, you're understandably frustrated. Don't throw in the towel yet, though. You see, most stagnations in strength can be attributed to five major factors. Address these issues, adjust your training, and you'll be back on the massive-gains train in no time!
#1 – You’re not eating enough
How many times have you heard the saying, "You can't out-train a bad diet?" Turns out, not only does this advice apply to fat loss, but it also applies to muscle gain (and, therefore, strength gain) as well! If you’ve put on 5 pounds of muscle mass due to your hard work in the gym, you now need to eat more to fuel your body and your workouts. Always think of food as fuel that helps you get through a brutal workout. And if you’re not sure of how to set up your diet plan for optimal strength gain based on your current weight, be sure to check out this article on ‘Secrets to Getting Lean Body Mass.’
Admittedly, though, learning to eat big is a process. Discovering that you now need to eat 4000 calories a day – in comparison to the past 2500 – can be overwhelming. Sometimes, you'll find yourself nearly vomiting from finishing off that last mouthful of the chicken patty. Well, adapt, and conquer! If you find yourself struggling to hit the required number of calories, incorporate more liquid calories in your diet by blending everything you can. Or, better yet, eat calorically-dense foods. Worst-case scenario, take a mass gainer! There are many routes you can take to the same destination.
#2 – You’ve got poor technique
Learning and developing proper technique can take time, but once you've got it down pat, you'll have all the foundations in place to get stronger. Maintaining poor lifting form is like pouring pancake batter on an unheated pan; it's wasted effort that'll get you nowhere. You won't be activating the right muscles, and even worse, you'll be putting yourself at risk of injury.
Ultimately, if you want to reach your true strength potential, you’re going to have to learn how to perform the exercise as efficiently as possible. And that means mastering the technique for each lift. For example, remembering to retract your scapula throughout a bench press so your front delts don’t take over. Or, maintaining a posterior pelvic tilt on the barbell back squat. So, if you can, engage the help of someone who knows what they're doing in the weights room.
#3 – You’re on the wrong rep scheme
While beginners can make strength gains on as little as 40% of their 1RM (one-rep max), the number moves to 70% once they gain a little more lifting experience. Now, if you’re like most people, you’d only be able to sustain a 70% 1RM effort for roughly 12 reps per set. If you’ve been consistently training in the 12-15 reps range, you’d still be able to gain strength here.
But the trouble begins when you become even more experienced; you see, intermediate lifters can only make strength gains on 85% of their 1RM, which can typically only be sustained for roughly 5 reps. If you continue sticking with 12-15 reps per set of an exercise, you'll never challenge your body enough to make strength gains! So, if you genuinely want to build strength, you need to train like it. Work with a weight load that's around 80% to 90% of your 1RM, while doing 1 to 6 reps (only) per set.
#4 – You’re prioritizing fatigue over recovery
Unfortunately, we live in a society that celebrates excess. When it comes to training, many of us have the mentality that more is better. If heading to the gym three times a week is good, then, following the same line of reasoning, training every single day until you can barely grip a dumbbell must be even better, right? Well, no. Here’s a crucial principle to be aware of: fatigue masks an individual’s true fitness level. In other words, making yourself tired and beaten down from weightlifting is a tried-and-tested recipe for zapping your strength (and performance). So, don’t do that.
Instead, be sure to structure your workout routine such that you make space for rest days and de-load weeks to give your body a much-deserved break now and then.
#5 – You’re always hopping between programs
Be honest: how many times have you switched over to a new strength-building program before you were even done with the last one? Well, if you're a serial switcher of workout programs, there's a good chance that this is the primary reason why you're failing to make any strength gains. The only way your body will get stronger is through progressive overload, adaptation, and re-building to adequate physiological stress frequently applied to it.
Given that most workout programs are set up to overload the body in a calculated way, abruptly ending a program and jumping to the next means you haven't stressed your muscles sufficiently for growth to occur yet! Why would you expect to get stronger, then?
Hopefully, you now understand why you’re not making progress in the gym and know what you can do to continue getting stronger. Now, if you’re unsure of proper lifting technique or how you can structure a workout routine, why not download the GymStreak app? The app includes a comprehensive library of proper lifting techniques for exercises that you can refer to and also helps design a personalized workout program based on your fitness goals through its AI functionalities!Get GymStreak
Folland, J., Irish, C., Roberts, J., Tarr, J., Jones, D., & Williams, A. (2002). Fatigue is not a necessary stimulus for strength gains during resistance training. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(5), 370–374. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.36.5.370
Richens, B., & Cleather, D. J. (2014). THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE NUMBER OF REPETITIONS PERFORMED AT GIVEN INTENSITIES IS DIFFERENT IN ENDURANCE AND STRENGTH TRAINED ATHLETES. Biology of Sport, 31(2), 157–161. https://doi.org/10.5604/20831862.1099047
Wan, J., Qin, Z., Wang, P., Sun, Y., & Liu, X. (2017). Muscle fatigue: General understanding and treatment. Experimental & Molecular Medicine, 49(10), e384. https://doi.org/10.1038/emm.2017.194