We’ve all been there: shaking our head, throwing a tantrum, or cursing at the Squat Rack wondering, “Why Am I Not Getting Stronger?” Other times it may be while watching The CrossFit Games or scrolling through your Facebook Newsfeed seeing the incredible achievements by people you admire, asking yourself “How do they keep getting stronger while I sit here stuck at the same weight?” Whatever the scenario, you know what I’m talking about. And what typically follows is reactionary behavior: quitting lifting and going back to solely WOD’ing or searching Google and finding a new training program.
It’s time to stop this nonsense and face the reality of your training habits. There is always a reason why things aren’t going your way on the training floor and many of them are within your control.
Ask yourself, how many of these reasons apply to you?
1) Not Eating Enough Protein: Food is a beautiful thing and eating adequate amounts of protein is vital for your strength gains. Your muscles need fuel to live, and by not eating enough protein, you are starving your muscles. The standard is to eat 1g of protein per desired bodyweight. For example, if your goal is to go from 150lbs to 170lbs, eat 170g of protein daily. Note that I am discussing protein versus total calories. Protein is non-negotiable for strength gains. If you want to manage the number on the scale in your bathroom, manage your carbohydrates; don’t skimp on your protein.
2) Not Sleeping Enough: You cannot get stronger if you do not sleep enough. When you train the body through a progressively challenging strength program, what you are actually doing is stressing the body in a directed manner with every workout that causes a breakdown of muscle. It is during the recovery time post workout and up until the next workout that your muscle rebuilds as a result of the stress that was placed on it. This is called Adaptation. The methods in which you stress the body, through the program you undertake, results in a specific type of adaptation that satisfies a performance goal (in our case, an increase in Strength). Adaptation cannot occur without recovery. Period. When you sleep, your body recovers from the previous training session’s stimulus and is then ready to conquer your next prescribed session’s numbers.
3) Lack Of Consistency: A mediocre program done consistently will beat out the best program done sporadically. A program, regardless if you agree with it or not, is written for the purpose of being followed. Mark Rippetoe writes about this concept of “not following the program” in great detail. If the program calls for 3 times per week and you only show up twice that week, you’re not following the program and thus cannot attribute your lack of progress to the program. Show up. It’s that simple.
4) Lack Of Patience: Patience is an underrated dark horse. As humans, we want things yesterday; we can’t imagine time being a factor in getting what we want. In many instances that I’ve witnessed, lack of patience results in either adding in workouts that are not prescribed in your program or the neurotic behavior of Lily-Padding, the act of jumping around from one program to the next because “it just didn’t seem to work for me”. Here’s my question to you: did you give the program an honest shot? Did you follow the program as directed for at least 12 weeks, along with all the other factors listed in this post, before jumping ship? Be patient.
5) Starting Too High: This topic goes hand in hand with consistency and patience as it’s part of the “not following the program” conversation but commands its own expansion. On any strength program, when you start too high with your numbers, you aren’t giving yourself enough room to grow. In other words, you’re being greedy. Greed will only result in frustration. You will find yourself stalling much faster than had you started out with lower weights and progressed slowly. As Jim Wendler mentions in the 5/3/1 Manual, “Strength is a life-long pursuit; if you bench press 225lbs and want to get to 275lbs, you have to bench 230lbs first”. Think about it this way: a 5-lbs PR in the Squat each month doesn’t sound like much, but do that consistently for a year and you now have a 60-lbs Squat PR in a year. Don’t know about you but that’s a good deal. Be a LIFER. Start lighter, don’t rush and allow yourself time to progress.
6) Following Rich Froning’s Program and wondering why you don’t turn into Rich Froning: It’s common to want to do what successful people do to get their results. In the CrossFit community, Rich Froning is looked up to like a God and many CrossFitters want to reach his abilities. As a result, they follow his programming in the attempt to reach his level of fitness. I use Rich Froning as my example, but this applies to following any program of highly successful athletes. This is a huge mistake. Rich Froning is an exception; he’s already stronger than some national level Olympic lifters. His O-Lift Total qualifies for national competitions at his weight class. His only job is to TRAIN and CROSSFIT! Is yours? Doubt it. His program that you’re seeing didn’t make him this strong; it already took into account his genetic abilities and background. Follow a general strength program that has worked for the majority of people on your level.
7) Having too many goals: Do you have too many goals? Most people want the endurance of a marathon runner, strength of a Powerlifter and the body of Adonis. Some people can do that: they are professional athletes and are not reading this because they are busy counting their millions of dollars. Focus on one goal at a time. If you want to get stronger, be on a solid Linear Progression Strength Program such as Starting Strength. If you must do your conditioning or WODs, just be smart about it – they should not affect your lifting days – and be aware that your strength gains may be even slower than had you 100% followed the strength-only program. For example, if you do Murph on Wednesday, I guarantee you won’t be recovered to perform your lifting on Friday. This point is specifically geared towards the CrossFitters reading this who are not getting stronger as a result of doing CrossFit and wondering why. Those of you still new to CrossFit may still experience yourself getting stronger even on the randomness of the CrossFit programming because your body is adapting to all this new stress. Eventually you will hit a plateau and will not be hitting PRs in class or shaving time off WODs or adding more reps in an AMPRAP. This could vary greatly from person to person, from a couple of months to years for some deconditioned individuals. At the point of plateau, choose a strength program, stick to it and dabble with conditioning as long as strength gains keep occurring. I promise that you will not only get stronger, you will also be higher up on your WOD leaderboard.
The bottom line is that this isn’t brain surgery.
Clearly define your goals of what you want to do, eat protein, sleep, choose the right program for your level and goals, show up, be consistent, be patient, don’t be greedy and most of all, have some fun!
*Dana’s mission is to empower people worldwide to create the Fit Life that they deserve. A sought-after Fit Life Coach, her goal is Strengthen Your Fitness — Body, Mind and Business. She has the innate ability to coach you in reaching your fitness goals and simultaneously drive you into discovering what you truly want in all areas of your life and directing you on how to get there. She is also the Co-Founder and CEO of fitID and part of the Starting Strength Seminar Staff. Click here to inquire on how to work with Dana in-person in NYC or virtually*