One of the most common emails I receive are from people who want to know why they’re not getting stronger on their training program. Many of these people will provide me with the specifics of their program and swear to me that they’re following it to a “T”. The crazy thing is that – more times than not – the program does actually look pretty good! But, if the program is so damn good, and they’re actually following it…why the hell aren’t they getting any stronger?
After receiving what seemed like a million different variations of the same question this week; I decided to tackle this topic and give everyone my thoughts on the subject. Experience has taught me that there are a few “little things” that commonly get overlooked and end up making a program that looks good “on paper” end up failing in the gym.
Without further ado, here’s my TOP 5 “Little Things” that will screw up your program BIGtime!
TOO MANY WARM-UP REPS!
Most programs will provide detailed weights, percentages, etc., regarding your work sets, but the warm-up sets are an after-thought. This is NOT something that can be overlooked, especially if you’re looking to improve maximal strength! When I worked in a “regular” health club, I witnessed the same warm-up by almost every single person! 135 for 10-15 reps, then 185 for 8-10 reps, etc., etc. If you’re looking to train with maximal weights, the worst thing you can do is perform too many reps in your warm-up! This will only fatigue you for the sets that “count”. Don’t get me wrong — this doesn’t mean you should jump right into your work sets without performing any warm-up sets; but, the key is to perform multiple sets of low reps in your warm-up. This will “save you” for the heavy sets. FYI, if you’re someone who routinely performs 10-15 reps with your initial warm-up sets; be prepared to get instantly stronger the day you switch to low rep warm-up sets. On average, I’ve seen 10-20lb. increases on max lifts when people switch to this “low rep” method…TRUST ME on this one!
Here’s a quick look at how I warmed up last week before benching. My three work sets were 350 x 3, 2, 2.
After performing a “general warm-up” to increase body temperature and some specific stretches, I hit the bench. Here’s the warm-up:
135×5, 185×3, 225×3, 275×2, 315×1, 335×1
As you can see, I only performed 15 TOTAL reps in six sets. I handled heavy enough weight so that my work sets didn’t feel heavy…and the speed of my work sets/reps improved with each set because my muscles weren’t fatigued from performing too many warm up reps.
PERFORMING “FORCED” REPS!
If you’re that guy that asks people to spot you all the time, only to have the weight crash down on your chest – as you proceed to attempt rep after rep – while the poor spotter has to perform max-effort shrugs, rows and curls to prevent the weight from splitting you in half… YOU SUCK AT LIFE! Oh yeah, you’re definitely weak, too! Seriously though, have you ever noticed that the people who fit my above description are NEVER jacked?! The reason being is if you regularly perform “forced reps”, you never know how much weight you’re actually lifting yourself! And if increasing strength is your goal, proper progression is key! It doesn’t matter if you perform your max-effort exercises “Louie Simmons-style” (where you attempt to break records each week), or you map out your exact percentages ahead of time; the bottom line is that if you don’t know exactly how much weight you lift each week, you can’t progress! And please don’t be fooled by the spotter who says, “Dude, I barely helped you; that was ALL YOU.” Think about this… how hard is it to shrug/upright row an empty barbell? It’s not hard at all, regardless of who you are! So even if the spotter isn’t ‘killing himself’, he can easily still be giving 45 pounds of ‘help’ while spotting someone on the bench. Bottom line is that it’s NOT “all you” if someone is giving you (minimum) 45 pounds of help on any exercise!
Testing your Strength, instead of Building it
There is a BIG difference between testing your strength and building strength.
One of the biggest mistakes I see – especially among high school and college kids – is that they test their strength each week, instead of focussing on building it. I used to see this scene every Monday when I worked in the health club setting — A bunch of skinny high school kids walk in the gym (wearing wife beaters); they do the classic “triceps stretch” for about 2 seconds each arm, then they throw 135 pounds on the bench. On average, they bang out 4-6 reps each. Then they throw on 185. The bar free-falls down onto their concaved chests as their legs flop around like fish out of water; by the grace of God, many of the kids are able to squeeze out one painful-looking rep. Then, every single week, 225 pounds gets thrown on the bar. Most of you probably know how the story ends. Every single kid gets crushed by the weight, then they repeat the process one or two more times – (while getting crushed worse each time) – before moving onto the next exercise. This takes place, week after week, month after month, year after year… with the exact same weights! In other words; kids who “test” their strength in this fashion always end up with the same “test results”!
Building strength requires more volume than just one “set” in which you get buried! Generally speaking, you want to perform multiple sets of low reps with 75% – 95% of your 1RM. Make sure you have a plan before heading to the gym and you’re progressing each week. And make sure you’re being honest regarding your 1RM when working with percentages! If you base your weights on a false 1RM, your training weights are going to be too heavy, which will lead to forced reps…and hopefully you now know how I feel about forced reps!
Progressing too Fast
If you’re after steady, long-term strength gains, your goal should be “micro” progressions each week. Going “balls out” every single time you step in the gym may result in strength gains for a few weeks, but will eventually lead to burnout and/or injury. If you’re looking to be in the “strength game” long-term, slow and steady will definitely ‘win the race’!
You eat like a Bird!
If you’re doing everything right with regards to your training, but you’re still not getting stronger, most of the time the problem is your nutrition! Remember that “mass moves mass”; so if increasing strength is your main goal, you can’t obsess if your bodyfat percentage goes up 1 or 2%. You must constantly feed you’re body in order to stay in an anabolic state and grow. Skipping meals, not eating enough, or waiting until you’re hungry before eating again are all very catabolic and will most definitely hinder your strength gains.
Hopefully these 5 tips will help you in your quest to develop superhuman strength! Drop me a comment below and let me know what you thought of this blog post!