Have you been smashing the weights recently but been feeling frustrated because you’re not getting stronger? You’re probably not doing anything wrong with your lifts – but you might want to look at your lifestyle and your programming to ensure you’re working consistently towards your strength goals. Read on to find out the possible reasons why you’re not getting stronger and how you can fine tune your lifestyle to improve.
You’ve run out of newbie gains
There really is something called newbie gains, where you seem to get stronger and PB every week – this is your nervous system becoming more efficient and ‘allowing’ your muscles to use their strength as you become more conditioned. This only lasts so long, however, and once it’s over you’ll have to fight much harder for PBs. You’ll become used to this as you progress but for now focus on the process and above all, enjoy it. If you only get a kick out of training when you PB then your enthusiasm will quickly wane – celebrate things like improving form, feeling good at a higher percentage of your 1RM, or even having a good laugh whilst training with friends.
You’re not eating enough
It’s very difficult to get stronger whilst in a calorie deficit. Although strength training itself doesn’t burn lots of calories while you’re doing it, if you’re in a calorie deficit (ie eating fewer calories than you burn each day in order to lose mass) your body is going to prioritise using those calories for your bodily processes, rather than helping you get stronger. You should be able to maintain your strength in a calorie deficit but try to focus on one goal at a time, so once you’ve finished your cut try eating at maintenance and pushing the weights more.
You’re not recovering properly
Recovering between training sessions is not just for you to get your energy back. It’s giving your body time to send resources to muscles (as well as your other bodily functions) in order to repair them and make them stronger, and this process is prioritised when your body is in a relaxed state. If you’re going from a stressful job, to an intense training session, to scrolling through Instagram only to do it all again the next day after a poor night’s sleep, then your body isn’t recovering adequately. Spend time reading a book, chilling in the bath, playing with your dog or even laughing with your friends to help relax and recover from your training, and don’t worry about missing a session if you feel beat up – you’ll be back stronger for the next one.
You’re not lifting at the right intensity
Lifting 8, 12, even 15 reps for a couple of sets at a moderate weight is not going to transfer to 1RM gain much. Although the strength-hypertrophy-endurance continuum probably isn’t as strict as most textbooks make out, you still want to be training in strength rep and set ranges for optimum strength increase. Try choosing one lift to concentrate on and use the chart below to progress your lifts over a couple of weeks, working up to trying for a new 1-rep max. If you know your current 1RM for a particular lift, then use the chart below – if you don’t, use the percentages as effort, so 80% would be an 8/10 effort.
|Number of reps||Percentage of 1RM|
You’re not programming for progression
You can’t squat once a month and expect to significantly increase your squat weight, similarly you can’t run for 80% of your training sessions then expect to get stronger. Follow a programme that is suited to your goal and stick to it – even if you just stick for one whole block to see if you gain strength. Sticking to your programming will also prevent you from trying to max out too frequently, which can have a negative effect on your recovery therefore your strength.
BONUS: A combination of the above!
Fitness and strength is holistic, so if one or more of the above factors is out of wack, you’ll struggle to get fitter or stronger. Yes, there will always be those genetic freaks that seem to party every weekend then smash the gym in the week, but the majority of us will have to work hard on our wellness to get stronger. If that’s not a priority for you at the moment then it’s not a big deal – just don’t get frustrated when you’re not constantly adding kilos onto your lifts.