You’re doing all the right things—hitting the gym consistently, giving 100% in your workouts and eating clean. But for some reason, those stubborn muscles refuse to grow. You feel like a rat on a wheel, peddling like crazy but getting nowhere. Your dreams of a strong, toned and fit body feel like they’re slipping further and further away.
When your gym progress comes to a halt, it can be tempting to throw your workout routine in the ‘doesn’t work’ basket and give up. But sometimes, the answer is as simple as making a few little tweaks to your workouts. Read on for 6 surprising reasons you’re not making progress in the gym— and what you can do to move past them.
1. Your technique is letting you down
When you perform exercises with incorrect technique, you not only run the risk of injuring yourself or having a know-it-all mansplain it to you in the gym, but it can also prevent you from becoming stronger. The reason being, if you’re not doing the exercise as intended, the muscle fibres may not be firing correctly. If you’ve been training for a while and you aren’t seeing much progress, it may be worth asking a personal trainer to check out your form.
2. You’re not increasing your weight in small increments
Often, people successfully complete a set at a certain weight, so they significantly increase the load on their next set. But when they can’t finish that set with that weight, they become discouraged and go back to the original load. The mistake here is jumping up to a much higher weight too quickly, rather than building your strength by gradually increasing in small increments.
To determine when you’re ready to up your weights, use the rule of two. If you can successfully complete two or more repetitions in the last set in two consecutive workouts for any given exercise, then the load should be increased by just 5% (enough to activate muscle growth without putting yourself at too much risk of injury). So say, for example, you’re doing ten reps of barbell presses with a 20 kilo (around 45 pounds) barbell on two consecutive occasions, you’re able to smash out 2 extra reps. At your next session, you could add on 1 kilo, or approximately 2 pounds. You can learn more about the rule of twos here.
3. You can’t get a grip
Sometimes, it’s not your overall body strength that lets you down in the gym, but your grip strength. This is especially true of movements where you have to hold onto a bar for an extended period of time, like chin-ups and deadlifts. While wearing gloves and using a mixed grip (one underhand, one overhand, then swapping for the next set) can help, it may be worth doing exercises that strengthen your grip, like dead hangs and farmer’s walk.
Here’s the thing. You can do all the deadlifts, squats and bicep curls in the world. But if you’re not correctly refuelling your body with food afterwards, those gains essentially go to waste. When you lift heavy weights, your muscle fibres experience microtears. In order to repair the muscle and make it bigger and stronger, your muscles need amino acids, or protein. You also need carbohydrates, to spike the insulin levels and help those amino acids enter your muscles. While conventional wisdom has always been that you need to consume protein and carbs within 45 minutes of your workout, studies show that you’ll still see benefits if you delay your post-workout meal by 2-3 hours. You can check out some convenient high-protein snack ideas here.
5. You’re working the same muscle group back-to-back
If you’re following up your squats with lunges, you may actually be doing yourself a disservice. Sure, working the same muscle group back-to-back is great for your endurance, but it can actually be counterintuitive in that your muscles don’t have enough time to recover between sets. This means your fatigued muscles won’t be able to perform at your full intensity in the second set, which can prevent you from getting stronger. “Your best bet would be to alternate between different muscle groups to ensure each one gets adequate rest before attempting the next set,” says Judine Saint Gerard, certified personal trainer and head coach at Tone House. “That way, you’re always able to give your max effort and get the most out of the exercise.”
6. You’re only working muscles from one angle
Our muscles are complex, not one-dimensional. So, if you’re consistently working a muscle group from only one angle (for example, doing bicep curls), you’re only going to work one part of the muscle. While you’re still going to see some gains from doing so, it may lead to imbalances within the muscles. “Balance throughout a muscle is ideal for maximum strength and functionality, which will in turn improve the overall ‘look’,” says Saint Gerard. This is especially true of large muscle groups, like the glutes. To take your workouts to the next level, look at how you can target the muscles in different ways.