Learn everything there Is to know about fItness, performance, fat loss and lifestyle from Adrian McDonnell.
Getting stronger and building strength is something everyone wants to do.
However, it is no easy feat and is actually quite a difficult task.
That’s why it’s worth taking your time to make sure you’re doing it right. Otherwise, you run the risk of wasting your time and energy, spinning your wheels and not seeing any real progress.
It’s important to note that I am by no means perfect! I’ve made all of these mistakes in the past which I hope you avoid. For the purpose of this article, I focused primarily on strength training and didn’t dive into nutrition at all. That is by no means saying that nutrition isn’t important – but the focus on this article is specifically in relation to strength training.
Now, here are the 5 most common reasons you’re finding it hard to get stronger:
You're Rotating Exercises Too Much
Imagine there are two people who want to become better at speaking French. The first person does French lessons three times a week for an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The second person does French on Monday, German on Wednesday and Spanish on Friday. Who’s going to be better at speaking French come the end of the four weeks? The point being, through practice, you start getting really good at something.
Now let’s apply this same formula to your strength training. If you want to get stronger and increase your numbers at a certain lift, you need to be consistently practicing that lift. With familiarity, the lift will get easier for you the longer you train it. This in turn will result in an increase in strength from consistently bettering, refining and improving your technique and movement of that lift.
A common mistake people make is program hopping which goes along the same line of rotating exercises too often. We try something out for one or two weeks, see something new and shiny on Instagram and try that out until the next appealing video appears. We then tell ourselves something along the lines of “I’m not seeing the results I desire” when in reality, we’re not following a routine consistently enough to get the results we want.
Building strength does take time and there are no shortcuts which can be taken. I like to change up my clients programs every 4 weeks. However, while each new plan has plenty of variety, I ensure that when I rotate in different exercises, they’re somewhat similar to the one’s the client is already accustomed to doing. For example, starting out, a Barbell Glute Bridge might from the floor might be the initial main compound lift performed for lower body. The next progression to that could be a Barbell Hip Thrust. While they’re not the same exercise, they’re performed in a similar fashion and the Hip Thrust is just a progression from the Glute Bridge.
You're Not Training Intensively Enough
How you spend your time in the gym or working out at home is important. There’s a difference between working out and training. Workout out involves exercising for the sake of it while training involves following a plan and bringing the right intensity and effort into every session of that plan.
The only way you can add more intensity to your training is with more effort. I’ve been there many times before where I’m in the middle of a set or a session but my mind is elsewhere. I’m thinking about what I’m going to cook later on that day, or what work I need to do after the gym session or something completely irrelevant or off topic! These sessions usually involve going through the motions and not pushing yourself hard enough.
But to get the best possible results, not only do you need to be following a plan, you need to put enough effort in and bring enough intensity into that session so you come out stronger. Effort doesn’t come easy. You will have to convince your mind to give your body what it needs. If you’re capable of doing 5 reps but your program has written down 3-5 reps and you stop at 3, you didn’t bring enough effort. This is something I’m trying to get out of doing myself and I’ve caught myself many times in the past settling for less.
But if you want to get stronger you have to be willing to push harder. It’s a tough thing to do. Whether that’s not stopping when you feel slightly fatigued, reducing your rest or pushing some lighter lifts to near failure – these are all things which require a high output but need the right input. As challenging and all as these things are, it’s such a rewarding feeling after completing a training knowing you gave it your all.
You're Not Pursuing Strength
This might be more challenging for some people who are currently training from home but if you have access to heavier weights, you don’t just have to lift heavy weights, you have to lift heavy frequently. In other words, lift heavier if you want to build strength. This might seem logical but the point needs to be emphasised. Most people just rely on doing lots and lots of reps alone in order to get big.
Imagine two forces were to collide – both the same weight and same height. The first-person trains primarily in the 8-12 rep range while the second person trains mostly in the 1-5 rep range. All things equal, my money is going to be on the second person to win that battle!
In order to continue to lift heavier frequently, you need to continually aim to progress your workouts. This might mean adding more weight to the bar, adding an extra set or doing more reps than you did last week with the same weight. How many people have been benching 60Kg for 3x10 without ever increasing? This is because of lack of progression.
However, I should note an issue can come when the pursuit of that strength comes while sacrificing your technique. Don’t chase numbers at the expense of your joints and muscle health. Ensure you’ve earned the right to increase the weight of a certain lift through good technique and control before adding that extra plate to the bar.
When I’m programming for clients, the rep range they train in will depend on their overall training history. Someone without much or any gym experience will not just be asked to put a barbell on their back and test their 3 Rep Max (3RM) on a Barbell Back Squat! But, it doesn’t mean we don’t train for strength at all. Instead, they will perform a regression of a more suitable and easier to perform exercise for about 5 reps which would still be training within strength parameters.
You Aren't Training Your Weaknesses
Strength training needs to be more specific than just writing down a list of exercises on a sheet of paper without any understanding of the “why.” Why is that specific exercise included? Is it there just for the sake of it or does it have a purpose?
If building strength is a priority of yours, you need to be equally aware of your weaknesses as you are of your strengths. While the temptation might be to just focus on what you’re good at, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. What I mean by this is you might be very strong in at one point of a movement but weak at another which can compromise your entire lift.
For example, my weakest point of my deadlift is the initial pull off the floor (like a lot of people!). So instead of neglecting this, I’ve added in some pause deadlifts where I lift the barbell slightly off the floor, pause for about 2-3 seconds before completing the lift. As much as these suck and I don’t like doing them, it has allowed me to increase my deadlift because of this.
When it comes to programming for my clients, I look at the main lift to be performed that day and then try to improve and increase that lift by doing the right accessory exercises (the exercises you do after your main lift) to train some of the most common weaknesses.
Not Training Like An Athlete
An often-over-looked way to get stronger is to train for speed. It’s something I practice what I preach and this is to train like an athlete. This involves including some athletic activities into your workouts and essentially training for speed. Things like box jumps, broad jumps, jump squats or even speed squats for more advanced lifters all teach you to demonstrate your strength quickly.
Being able to demonstrate and showcase your strength quickly is the definition of power – which athletes in particular need to train. The athletes who I work with who are primarily focused on power and performance will perform some dynamic and explosive exercises for the lower and upper body (depending on the training day) to help build this. I usually like to program power-based exercises at the start of a workout when you are freshest.
If you’re training for strength, avoid these 5 common mistakes:
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this beneficial.
References: Cressey, E 2006: 7 Reason's You're a Weakling.
What To Do Next
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If you’d like a coach to help put all of the above in operation for you, then book your free consultation call today to see if you’d be a good fit for my Online Coaching.
Most people fall off the bandwagon after 2-3 weeks of trying and that’s where a coach can help.
I specialise in providing transformation and performance-based programs specifically designed for you.
What’s the purpose of the consultation call?
To deep dive into your health & exercise history, your goals and current struggles and from there decide if we’d be able to work together (note – I am not the right coach for everyone which is why I have consultation calls with potential clients of mine).
If we are a good fit, we can get working on your personalised program so you can finally make the changes you’ve always wanted.
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Adrian McDonnell -
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