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Help, I'm not getting stronger!

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

So maybe you've been working out for a bit, but maybe you're not sure how to get stronger from this point. You've been a little stuck recently? Weight you're lifting doesn't seem to be progressing? You're not feeling stronger or hit a bit of a plateau?

Well, first of all, let me remind you that progress isn't linear. There'll be ups and downs my friends, so keep putting in the reps.

But if you're looking for some new ideas to try, I've got your back. These are some of the most commonly neglected aspects of programming which could be limiting your strength gains.

And if you're new to working out, or working out at home, then these tips will also serve you.

1. Make sure you're working at the right effort

It needs to be HARD. As in, grit your teeth, make some noise, towards the end of your set. You might be able to get two more reps in, but then that would be in.

Sometimes, we just do what's comfortable, and safe, and that's fine - but in the context of getting stronger, it's not going to help. It shouldn't be easy to through your reps.

On a scale of 0 - 10, where 0 is sat on the couch, very very easy, and 10 is failing a rep, you need to be at about a 7-8. Consistently.

2. Tempo

Slow down. Often we're bashing our way through reps, but increasing time under tension even just a little bit can make a huge difference.

Try slowing down the lowering phase especially (be careful, this increase the likelihood of muscle soreness post-workout!). For example, you will see tempos written as 3.1.1. This means lower for a count of three, no pause at the bottom of the squat, and then drive back up for a count of 1.

This might mean you need to lower the weight you're lifting which might sound counter-intuitive, but it's not - lift lighter, and hit the tempo. It'll work really hard for you.

2. Rest

Get off your phone and start timing your rest. Let your lungs light up as well as your muscles. For most goals, 60-90 seconds of rest is sufficient.

The exception: If your goals are for true strength (your reps are 5 or less, not recommended before you've got 18 months of weight training under your belt), then more like 5 minutes (plus!) is appropriate.

But lemme say it again - TIME THAT REST.

Our phone's are time-vortexes, so often you're on it way longer than you think.

3. Weekly volume

If you've hit a plateau, this can be a grand way around it. I remember I'd got to about 25 reps in total of pull ups for a session (sets looked like 6 reps, 5 reps, 5 reps, 4 reps, 3 reps etc.) and I just could not seem to do more. I was finding it really difficult to hit that next level.

Solution (and a technique I still use to this day): weekly volume

I started bringing my reps down to just 4-5 but then hitting as many sets as I could throughout the day. Initially, I'd space them out through the day so I might be hitting 30/40/50 over the course of a morning or an afternoon. I repeated that twice a week, meaning my weekly volume went from 50 reps a week (maxed out at 25 per workout), to 60-100+ per week.

Did I get stronger? Heck yes.

It wasn't long until my max reps per set shifted to 8-10 and my weekly volume grew to 120 reps.

4. Hit muscle groups regularly enough

This is kinda the same and kinda different from the one above.

And it comes with a caveat: If you're working out once or twice a week consistently and can't figure out a way to fit another workout in without everything breaking down and stopping entirely, then I wouldn't worry about this one. The 1-2 workouts you're doing consistently are way better than the workouts you're not doing. Keep putting the reps in. Keep going.

But if you're after greater strength, make sure you're hitting muscle groups with enough regularity, at least every 3-5 days (if you're adding workouts to your week, then of course this will also increase weekly volume).

If you're doing 3 workouts a week, hitting whole body in every workout is a good idea. If you're hitting 4 workouts a week, then there's multiple options: a simple one I like is just upper/lower/upper/lower.

Last important point: you can overthink your training - ultimately, keep putting the reps in.

I had a client recently need to take a 3 month break from the gym, but she was still able to workout 3 times at home. We paid attention to all of the above - and when we came back into the gym together, she was lifting practically the same (and stronger in many things) just by having three months more of reps in.

It doesn't need to be perfect, but these ideas can freshen things up when you're looking for the next challenge or next level.

Questions? Let me know below.

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