Not Getting Stronger In The Gym

Why am I not getting stronger in the gym?

I’ve been working out for a long time now—over ten years now.

But for a long time, I was putting in the time, effort, and money but wasn’t getting much back in terms of results.

I had initially gained over 25 pounds of lean mass relatively easily (just 4 months). I went from an underweight, dangerously skinny ectomorph to a lean, totally healthy normal-BMI ectomorph with a six-pack.

Jared Polowick Muscle Building
My ectomorph muscle-building results from my four-month “Lean to Mean” experiment

And now, I wanted to continue to get stronger to get even bigger. I was now a healthy weight—but I wanted to be visibly strong not just on the beach, but in a t-shirt too.

But after months and months of training, there were times I couldn’t even add 5 pounds to the barbell.

During this time of plateau—each week, I’d struggle to hit last week’s reps.

Some weeks I even got weaker.

It’s one of the most frustrating feelings when it comes to training.

Nobody likes it when you’re making sacrifices but not getting any payoff:

  • Spending 3+ hours a week lifting heavy weights—month after month—when you’d really rather not be exercising
  • Going to sleep a little earlier than you’d like to “maximize” gains
  • Drinking lots of “meh” tasting protein shakes
  • Spending good money on supplements, gym membership, more food, etc.

At one point, because I was having such a hard time gaining strength, despite my consistent efforts, I was convinced that the problem was that I needed to eat even *more* food.

I thought, if I wasn’t getting stronger—it must be because I need more calories/protein.

So I started adding even more simple carbs (maltodextrin) and doubled the whey in my workout shakes.

I drank disgusting mass gainers in between meals to boost calories.

To hit my calorie goals, I had eat way beyond fullness—making me feel nauseous at times.

This led to building a ton of fat—I was chubby for the first time in my life. Now I had to learn how to burn off fat.

To make things worse, my business partner / friend / training buddy (Shane) continued to get amazing results while doing the exact same program.

Now, the feeling wasn’t envy so much as wondering, “why is the same plan working for him but not for me?”

The common answer is my head was that there must be something wrong with my body/genetics.

I don’t know why I continued to go through the motions for so long and accepted mediocre results.

I suppose it was hard to stay motivated to keep trying when it’s just not working out.

But eventually, I began to experiment with my workouts.

Personal Experimentation & Taking Ownership

  • What if I did chest exercises every training session to break through a plateau?
  • What if I worked out more often—6x a week?
  • What if I did burnout sets?
  • What if I did heavy ISO holds in a stretched position?
  • What if I did bodyweight exercises as active recovery on rest days?
  • What if I improved my fitness to see how that impacted my lifting?
  • What if I stopped overloading with volume and did less with more intensity?
  • What if I rested longer in between sets?
  • What if I rested for a short time in between sets?
  • What if I started lifting lighter and do more reps?
  • What if I kept more reps in the tank to avoid burnout?
  • What if I took reps all the way to maximum effort with AMRAP (as-many-reps-as-possible)?
  • What if I tried pyramid-style workouts? What about reverse-pyramid?
  • What if I swapped in more dumbbell work for natural movement paths?
  • What if I put my most stubborn lifts as the first exercise in the day?
  • What if I deadlifted less often? (The most fatiguing exercise per rep) More often?

I started learning what was (and wasn’t) working for me.

I started to do the same experimentation with my diet too.

And eventually, I started putting weight consistently on the bar.

I started adding 10 pounds to bench press consistently each month—instead of bursting blood vessels just to match what I lifted the prior week.

Practical recommendations for experimentation

  • If something just isn’t working and you’ve given it a good attempt (8–12 weeks)—it might be time to take a step back, review what’s going on, and make some changes. Spending 1 year doing the same program if you’re not getting any results won’t help you.
  • Some programs might work amazingly for some and not so great for others.
    • Focused, short-term rapid bulk/cut programs work amazing for some.
    • Body recomposition and then slow/lean gains—without focused sprints—work better for others.

We see this all the time in studies. For example, here’s a chart from a 2015 study with “untrained” lifters and “trained” lifters and how long their bodies are in the process of building new muscle.

Muscle Protein Synthesis and untrained and trained lifters

An “untrained” lifter could eat all the time and work out less often and still get amazing results.

Personally, I am seeing the best results with the principles that have become the back-bone of our True Gains program. A few of them are:

  • Lifting 3x a week with reverse-pyramid progression
  • Much longer rest times than I’d personally like (I started timing them to wait long enough)
  • Outdoor walks on “rest” days for active recovery and to improve testosterone levels
  • Improving muscle-building effects through fixing mineral deficiencies the majority of us active people have (magnesium, vitamin K2, etc.)
  • A high-meat diet—not just a high-protein diet—with way more vegetables and fruit.
  • Relying less on supplements and opting for whole-food versions.
True Gains Program

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