Not getting stronger? Five questions to consider.

written by Philip Stefanov  |  FEBRUARY 16, 2021

Getting stronger appears straightforward but it’s not without its roadblocks. If you’re having trouble building strength or have found yourself in a plateau, here are five questions to consider with practical recommendations:

1. What is your diet like? Do you track protein and is your body weight going up?

Strength gains can occur independently from weight or muscle gain, but both are helpful in the pursuit. So, the first question to ask yourself is whether you’re gaining weight or not. If you’ve been stuck at a specific weight for a while and don’t pay much attention to your nutrition, it’s best to start there.

Establish a small to moderate calorie surplus (100 to 300 calories over maintenance) and start eating around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

2. What does your plateau look like? Are you sure you’re making NO progress?

Many folks mistake slow progress for a plateau and the difference is huge. It’s important to keep track of your workouts and evaluate your performance regularly. If you’re seeing modest and consistent improvements over time, you shouldn’t worry about it.

Plus, there are other ways besides lifting more weight to spot improvements:

  • Lifting the same weight, but with a longer range of motion.
  • Lifting the same weight, but with smoother form, less effort, and more speed.
  • Lifting the same weight for more repetitions, or doing more sets.
  • Lifting the same weight while losing body fat (improving relative strength).
  • Lifting the same weight for the same number of reps, but resting less between sets and doing the same workout in a shorter amount of time.

3. Which exercises are you stuck on?

Your progress is always going to be better on multi-joint exercises compared to isolation movements for two primary reasons:

  1. Performing compound lifts with heavy weights is much easier and safer, provided your form is good.
  2. Your compound lifts are at the beginning of your workout (or if they aren’t – they should be) and you perform them while you’re at your strongest.

To consider yourself in a plateau, you should be stuck on your primary lifts for at least three weeks. Don't worry if you can't make weekly progress on lateral dumbbell raises.

4. Could the problem be related to bad form or lack of mobility?

Improper form can stop you from getting stronger, and this is especially true for compound exercises like the bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead press. Setting yourself up for each set and leveraging your strengths can be the difference between making good progress, and plateauing for months.

Poor mobility in a given area can prevent you from making full use of your capabilities. Even worse, it can contribute to poor technique and an increased risk of injury.

So, it’s important to consider your progression as a whole and whether you’re stuck in a general sense, or on a particular lift.

5. What do your training volume and frequency look like?

A moderate approach in training volume and frequency will work best for most people with general strength goals out there.

According to most research, we should train the lifts we want to improve between two and four times per week and avoid doing too many sets in any given workout. A good range is between three and six, depending on your weekly frequency.

It’s also important to avoid pushing too hard. Training to failure often prolongs recovery without adding much of a benefit.

If you’re not making progress, the problem could lie in your overall training structure.

If you’re interested in diving deep into the topic of training and eating for optimal strength gain (and two more questions related to strength gains), click here to read the guide I wrote.

Thank you for taking the time! Until next week,



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