Question: Should I take a break to focus on strength?
Reason: I’m not getting stronger.
Here’s a check-down list, in preferred order, to figure out your strength dilemma:
1. You are getting stronger and something else is making you unhappy
2.You’re not as strong as you would like or improving as fast as would be awesome
3. You’re not getting stronger because your technique sucks
4. You’re not getting stronger because your recovery sucks
5. You’re not getting stronger because structurally there is an issue
6. You’re not getting stronger because the programming doesn’t allow it
Scenario 1: You are getting stronger and don’t know it
Numbers. I NEED TO SEE NUMBERS. Math doesn’t lie and can’t be a victim of mood swings. The numbers might say strength is improving, but our feelings say that we’re hopeless. We might have a bad day, not eat enough carbs, or may been scolded by our wives/husbands/moms/grandmothers and feel hopeless and confused.
Additionally, these numbers need to be collected from across months, across all movements and benchmarked workouts in order to show a trend. You are going to improve some months in some lifts, or you’ll get bricked in one lift and make huge gains in others, or a bunch of small baby gains in everything…. and other months you will stall out completely. This is the nature of strength training, so accept that the Gain Train is not perpetual and infinite, and that as you get better it will be harder to improve.
If your numbers are trending upward, you’re getting stronger, regardless of what you think. If your numbers are trending down, you’re not.
P.S. If you’re not tracking your numbers and are serious about improvement, it’s time to start. Please don’t give the “I’m not improving” speech unless you can point to the math. Start tracking your numbers and THEN have that conversation with yourself or your coach.
Scenario 2: You’re not as strong as your would like or improving as fast as you’d prefer
JOIN. THE. CLUB.
I don’t think anyone who takes something seriously anywhere in the history of anything has been satisfied by where they’re at or the progress they’re making.
THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE NOT MAKING PROGRESS.
Acknowledge your current progress for what it is – success – and keep pushing forward.
Scenario 3: You’re not getting stronger because your technique sucks
Gone are the days of newbie gains where your deadlift could be a trainwreck and you still PR by 20 pounds. Especially in lifts that demand a high level of technique, if you’ve hit a plateau in your lifting, you might need to take a look at how you’re lifting.
Scenario 4: You’re not getting stronger because your recovery sucks
This was me last week. Sleep was crap and I lost 4 pounds….during a strength cycle. I was busy with work and thought I’d just go a couple more hours without food….bad decision.
I tweaked my back on Wednesday, all my lifts were down, and Saturday the only thing I felt like doing was lying on the floor of the gym waiting for athletes to show up for class.
Coincidence? Nope. I was dumb. It was my fault.
Your recovery is on par if you’re:
-sleeping 8 hours a night
-eating enough calories in macro ratios suitable for your sport
-hydrating with at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day
-managing stress outside the gym
If you can’t check all these things off over a two week period, start addressing them now.
Scenario 5: You’re not getting stronger because structurally there is an issue
Your legs might be strong as hell, but if your back can’t handle the weight, you won’t lift it. Your legs and back might be strong, but if you shoulders crack under the pressure, keeping the barbell overhead will be impossible.
It’s time to address weaknesses in order to progress. Ask whomever is in charge of your programming for help.
Scenario 6: You’re not getting stronger because the programming doesn’t allow it
Let’s assume the programming is designed to get your stronger.
It’s going to seem like I left these previous two programming based scenarios for last because I create programming and I don’t want things to be my fault.
And that’s true, I don’t. Being responsible for bad things is bad. Do you want bad things to be your fault? Didn’t think so.
But the first 4 scenarios are things that NEED to be great in order to be strong. No amount of elite level programming can improve a person sleeping 4 hours a night and eating 900 calories.
If you’ve covered all these bases, be sure to open a conversation with your coach about your concerns. A good coach will welcome these conversations because it will make them better a coach and will force them to examine how to improve their programming, at least in regards to your individual needs.
Be sure to enter that conversation with humility and respect, and the understanding that improving human performance is as much an art as it is a science.