Powerlifting & Strongman

12 Reasons You’re Not Getting Stronger

Being new to training can make getting gains seem pretty easy. Every week, you can up the weight, and it doesn’t take much to start making some real progress. 

Then you hit a plateau and it’s like your one-rep max just won’t budge. Even going up by 5kg can take months. 

Without a doubt, making your way up the weight loads takes time and dedication. However, there are definitely a few common mistakes which can hold you back. 

Below we’ve listed the top 12 reasons that are likely to hinder progression in the gym. We’ve also detailed ways to develop each point so you can get ahead. 

Why am I not getting stronger? 

1) You’re not lifting enough weight 

At the gym, it’s easy to just use the weights that you’re used to lifting. It’s also easy – especially after a long day at work – to not push yourself.  

For a lot of cases, there just isn’t enough weight on the bar for you to be able to make any gains.  

Now, if you’re currently thinking that you can’t possibly get any more weight onto the bar, it might be time to check your reps and sets. 

The term ‘reps’ refers to the number of repetitions of a particular exercise you’re doing in one go, for example, five squats. 

Taking that example, the term ‘sets’ refers to the number of times you do those reps/five squats.  

So, you might do three sets of five squats. That’s 15 squats in total with a rest after every five. 

The reason we mention these is because, to build muscle mass, you want to be doing about five sets of five reps, with around three minutes’ rest in-between. And when you reach that fifth rep of each set, that should be the most you can do. If you feel like you can do more, it’s time to add on a little more weight. 

It’s also important to remember that when doing this style of training, you should work your way up to the heavier weights gradually in each session, to help prepare your muscles and check that you haven’t got any injuries.   

2) You’re confusing getting bigger with getting stronger 

mirafit fitness expert trains with a cast iron kettlebell

Lifting more weight isn’t the same as getting bigger. And you can actually build strength without building muscle mass (up to a point).  

The most important thing to do here is define your goals so you can understand what it is you want out of your workouts. 

As a general rule, you want to work your way through each weight stage as follows, to cover the main times of muscle training: 

  • Hypertrophy – this stage is about building muscle mass and involves lifting a high amount of weight (80-90% of your one-rep max) while doing around 3-5 sets of 5 reps each. 
  • Strength – this stage is about increasing your muscle density and involves working at around 70-75% of your one-rep max and doing around 3 sets of 10-12 reps. 

Firstly, make a note of the weight loads you need to be working with for hypertrophy work. As you train, you’ll get stronger. You’ll then be able to do more reps. 

This is when you use the same weight load to do strength work. By the time you’re comfortably lifting that safe weight for 10-12 reps, it’s time to start pushing yourself up to a new one-rep max. So, you’ll start to increase the weight load to the next level (bearing in mind this might only be by a fractional amount of weight) and go back to doing hypertrophy work with that weight load.  

If you are training for a specific goal (such as cycling or long-distance running) you might also want to include some endurance work: 

Endurance – this type of training will help increase your stamina. At this point, you want to work at around 50-60% of your one-rep max and do around 3 sets of 20 reps. 

If this isn’t your goal however, you can skip this stage. 

The most important thing to remember is muscles grow in response to being overloaded. They don’t grow from fatigue.  

3) You’re not eating enough 

When you train to get stronger, you tear muscle. It’s then your body’s response to not only repair the torn muscle but also to adapt. This means the body produces more fibres that are also thicker, to repair the area with.  

To allow your body to do this, you need to give it plenty of the right type of food and nutrients. 

This is mainly protein and branched chain amino acids (which you can get from things like chicken, eggs, soy, beans and milk). You also need to fuel your workouts with carbohydrates, and eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg. And finally, make sure you include some good fats in your diet too by eating things like nuts, seeds and using olive oil when you cook.  

Supplements can be helpful (especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian) but you can get everything you need from eating a balanced diet.  

How much you eat is really down to you, your body and your training style. But this is definitely something you should be aware of and keep an eye on.  

4) You’re lifting with an injury 

It’s really common for people with injuries to carry on lifting.  

However, an injury is like a broken link in a chain and this is especially obvious when doing compound lifts such as deadlifts. Very few exercises require just one muscle to complete the movement. And so, you need all the muscles you’re recruiting for a particular movement, to be on form.  

If your glutes are able to handle your deadlift weight, but your lower back and hamstrings can’t, you’re going to be putting an unnecessary amount of stress on the weaker areas. And without working on these areas and bringing them back up to full strength, you’ll just keep injuring yourself.  

This is exactly what is meant when lifters say, ‘leave your ego at the door’. Once your injury has recovered, you can’t expect it to be back to full strength. Which also means, you can’t go straight back into what you were lifting before. You need to build back up to your one-rep max and make sure that the foundations are strong before you start piling on the bricks – or weight plates in this case.  

Injuries require proper rehabilitation and if you have an injury that just doesn’t seem to be getting better, seek the help of a fully trained physiotherapist.  

5) You’re not doing compound exercises 

Compound lifts aren’t just good for making your training more efficient, they’re also really important for building muscle. 

Compound lifts include exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts and pull ups. Basically, any exercise where you’re using more than one muscle at a time.  

They are key in building strength so that you have a solid base to work from. So, if you’re looking to make gains and increase muscle size, these are the lifts you want to be doing.  

They’re also great for giving you a mental focus too as they’re more complex to perform and get right. 

6) You have poor mobility 

Poor mobility can really hinder your progress in the gym. 

And weight training doesn’t always help matters either. Frequently contracting your muscles and then not doing any stretching or mobility work can make everything feel tight.  

Stretching out your muscles and working on your joint mobility can help to optimise your exercises. And by getting a greater range of motion, you’re able to work the full muscle rather than just part of it. 

If you think of your hip mobility when doing squats for example. Improving this can help lower your squat depth, so you’re able to push the weight back more and then target your glutes.  

So, it’s important you follow up your training with regular stretching and even doing things like Yoga can help. 

Foam rollers and massage balls will also help with extra tight muscles. When using these, remember to apply pressure for around 30 seconds, not only to the area but also around the area, to relieve tension.  

7) You’re not consistent enough 

It takes a long time to build up strength. And the only way to maximise your results is by concentrating your efforts and working consistently. 

Being too random with your training is like blowing a balloon up and then letting all the air out. You need to do the ground work in order to progress. 

Consistency is about tracking your one-rep maxes so that you can progressively overload i.e. up the weight load as you get stronger.  

It’s also about working the same muscles regularly so that you have something to build on.  

Consistency is also about making sure you keep an eye on your form and grip, which will also contribute to your progression. 

8) You’re not rotating your exercises 

As we’ve discussed, it’s good to be consistent. However, it’s also important to make sure you don’t get stuck in a training rut. Doing the same thing over and over again means you’re not giving your body anything new to adapt to. So, it has no need to waste its precious resources on changing, growing or developing.  

However, it’s still possible to work the same muscles but in different ways. 

This is where you would normally employ a rotation which is where you build up banks of exercises that all work the same area, but in slightly different ways. That way, you’re still getting that consistency, which is vital for progression, but you are also keeping your body guessing. 

There is still an element of consistency with rotation. And it really is about shifting your focus and not randomising your training. 

So, you might look to rotate your exercises every month or two months. Or, you might just take a week off to supplement your training and do something different in the gym before you get back to it.  

The point being, constantly mixing everything up is going to be too inconsistent to make way for progression. So, keep your focuses in mind and always question what you’re doing and why. 

9) You’ve got poor technique 

Learning and developing proper technique can take years but if your form is correct, you’ll have all the foundations in place to be able to get stronger. 

Maintaining a poor technique is like putting cake mix into the oven and then not turning it on. It’s just wasted effort that’ll give you zero results. You won’t be hitting the right muscles, you won’t be using those muscles fully and even worse, you’ll be putting yourself at risk of injury.  

Having good technique is also about getting the most out of each rep so that you open up that potential to get stronger. For example, arching your back when doing bench presses or not curving your back when doing squats. 

The best thing to do is get a weight bar and have someone experienced watch you and feedback on how you’re moving as well as your positioning.  

This is also a good chance to make sure your wrists and shoulders are at the right angle so that you don’t hurt yourself as you add on more weight. 

10) You’re not employing strengthening techniques 

mirafit fitness expert using a loading pin to train

There’s nothing worse than hitting a plateau and just feeling like you can’t push past a certain point.  

The good news is, there are certain types of exercises you can do in your training to help you reach the next level.  

Pausing, for example, is fundamental when it comes to getting stronger. This can mean pausing at the lowest point of your squat or bench press, before you push back up. 

It not only gets your muscles working harder, but it helps to stop your body relying on the Stretch-Shortening Cycle, which is your body’s natural, spring momentum.  

Accessory lifts are also really important. These are exercises which are separate to your main, ‘heavy’ lifts and allow you to work on weaker areas as well as vary your training.  

It could mean using dumbbells which are lighter than a loaded barbell but require more control and will help to correct any imbalances.  

Accessory lifts also include partial lifts. So, half squats and partial deadlifts which are ideal for building strength. You can also use these as an excuse to add on more weight. 

Varying your heavy lifts is also great for helping you to get stronger. So, adding in some front squats on top of your back squats, doing some deficit deadlifts or using resistance cables. 

Your main, compound lifts are key, but you need to do more than just these to adapt and progress. 

11) You’re not doing any active recovery 

Active recovery is basically a low-intensity workout. It can mean heading to the gym and just concentrating on functional exercises. Or it can mean doing something completely different. 

The point being, you’re not just sat still on your ‘rest’ days. 

Our bodies are designed to move around and sometimes, the worst thing you can do is sit down all day. It can make your DOMS feel worse (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and hinder recovery. 

Put it like this: you tear muscle in the gym, but you grow it outside the gym. Everything you do when you’re not lifting should be to help your body repair from the last session and prepare for your next session. 

The reason active recovery helps so much is that it gets the blood flowing and into your muscles, and it just gives you a break from your usual training routine. It also keeps the momentum going so you’re used to moving and staying active.  

And when you’re doing a lot of training, sometimes your whole schedule can feel a little relentless. So, doing something different on your days off can give you an excuse to meet up with friends, try something new and just give yourself a break from the gym, that’s still contributing to your goals. 

12) You’re not getting enough rest 

The pressure to always train can sometimes take it out of you. 

Not only that, but very few of us have the luxury of a quiet schedule with plenty of time to eat, sleep and train properly. And so, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that if you have been under a lot of stress at work, haven’t been sleeping and haven’t been eating properly, that your training suffers. 

And all of these things can add up and result in low energy levels and just a general lack of motivation.  

It’ll also make you resent being in the gym which isn’t what you need when you have goals you want to reach. 

Everyone needs some contingency in their training routine. We’re not all Olympians, and sometimes a bit of R&R is needed to be able to get back on track. 

It might be that you swap round your training days so that you can get some rest or hang out with friends.  

Or you might want to plan in a week of deloading where you just take everything back down and give your muscles a rest. 

The main thing to do is just be aware of yourself and where you’re at, as well as be understanding of what you need. 

Maintain your focus and draw up a new plan so that you don’t get stressed trying to keep the momentum going. 

And finally, don’t let a general lack of motivation stop you from reaching your goals. Often you just need a bit of a break so you can get back on it when you’re ready. 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Just send us a message on Instagram @MirafitOfficial and we’ll get back to you.