Strength gains aren’t easy. Find out what could be holding you back.
Dan Trink, C.S.C.S. 1 / 8
Whether you’re chasing a 600-pound deadlift, trying to lift 3 plates-per-side on the bench or just want to pick up your 4 year-old nephew without blowing out your back, there are a lot of reasons to work on getting stronger. However, so many trainees stall in their attempts to add major pounds to their lifts and have no idea how to bust those plateaus.
Here are 7 reasons why you're not getting stronger and just what you can do about it.
Reason 1: You’re Not Training With the Correct Intensity
Strength is loosely defined as your ability to lift or move a maximal load one time. So why are you sticking with the same old ‘3 sets of 8 to 12 rep’ program in your attempt to get stronger? In order to add pounds to your lifts, you need to train closer to your one repetition maximum. Utilizing set and rep schemes such as 5 sets of 5 reps or 8 sets of 3 reps or established powerlifting protocols such as 5-3-1 will get you training with higher intensities and, ultimately lead to you moving heavier and heavier loads.
Reason 2: You’ve Been on the Same Program Far Too Long
Even the greatest of strength training protocols will only work for so long. If you’ve been banging your head against the wall trying to progress with the same program, no matter how great and proven it is, for the past 6 months, try a new strategy. Adhere to the law of diminishing returns and develop a completely different strength quality (like hypertrophy) for a 4 or 6 week cycle and then come back to your strength training. It may just help you roll right through new personal bests in your big lifts.
If you’ve been training at Globo-Gym where walking on the treadmill while reading the latest gossip magazine is the standard for a hardcore workout, maybe it’s time to find a new gym where other members have similar goals to your own. Being around likeminded individuals in an encouraging environment will push you harder than you will ever be able to push yourself. Plus training around other strong men and women will open you up to getting good advice on technique, proper spotting and may net you a new workout partner who will inspire and motivate you to lift hard and heavy. Think where you train doesn’t matter? Studies have shown that just having multiple other people simply watch you attempt a big lift will add pounds to your totals.
You may think that your gains come when you are in the gym, but truth is most of the positive adaptations to training happen while you rest. When trying to get stronger getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night) is critical for an optimal hormonal environment and to restore energy for training. So cutting back on “Tequila Tuesdays” with your buddies may be a good idea. The other factor to focus on outside the gym is proper nutrition. You want to make sure you are getting ample calories, upping your protein intake and focusing on high quality foods - so those chimichangas that came along with “Tequila Tuesdays” are also out.
It’s no secret that people perform better when they have goals. The problem is that goals that are unspecific - to lose weight, to get stronger, to get toned for Summer - are impossible to measure and, therefore, never get accomplished. Set very specific performance goals with actual dates and then back out a plan on how to get it done. Doing 3 chin-ups by November 15th is a tangible goal that is attainable. Wanting to get strong and do some pull ups, is not.
Eventually, passion, desire, guts and strength will only take you so far. Ultimately, to reach your strength potential you are going to have to move and perform the exercise as efficiently as possible. This may mean working on your power clean technique, developing more mobility in your hips and ankles or using supplemental exercises to fix weaknesses or power leaks. Remember, a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. Simply performing more and more of the same exercise may not fix the problem.
Quite frankly, getting under a bar with more weight than you’ve ever loaded before can be a somewhat frightening experience. Many times fear, doubt and lack of self-confidence will hold you back more than your actual physical abilities. Try utilizing visualization techniques, playing some hype music and letting out a loud roar when you lift to get yourself psyched and break through the fear factor often associated with max effort lifts. Your PRs will be much higher if you do.