Getting Bigger, But Not Any Stronger

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  1. #1
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    Thumbs down Getting Bigger, But Not Any Stronger

    Hey everyone,
    I'm new here (as you can see), so I just wanted to say hi before I dive right in to my problem/question. This looks like a great forum with a lot of knowledgeable members, so I'm really glad I was able to find it.

    Alright, here's my dilemma. I've been lifting weights on and off for the last year, but have become really serious about it over the last three months. I've always had real trouble getting stronger, but it's gotten to the point that I honestly haven't been able to add any weight to almost all of my major lifts in the last 2 months (I'm literally lifting exactly the same amounts as I was 2 months ago, and they aren't feeling any lighter).

    I'm 18 years old, 6' tall and weigh 170-ish pounds. I've been eating around 4000 calories a day (all from clean food sources), and making sure that I get 8 hours of sleep each night. As far as my routine goes, I've been working out with a one-on, one-off schedule alternating between two workouts (ex. workout A on Monday, Tuesday is off, workout B on Wednesday, Thursday is off, workout A on Friday, Saturday is off, workout B on Sunday, etc.). Here are the workouts I've been doing:

    Workout A
    BB Military Presses - Warm up set, 5 work sets of 5-6 reps, one finishing set to failure (using approximately 20% less weight than the work sets)

    Bent BB Rows - Same as military presses (one warm up set, 5 work sets of 5-6 reps, and one finishing set to failure)

    Pull Ups - 3 sets to failure (just using my bodyweight)

    DB Lateral Raises - 1 to 2 sets of 8-12 reps
    Bent DB Lateral Raises - 1 set of 8-12 reps

    Power Cleans - 5 sets of 3 reps

    BB Shrugs - 4 sets of 8-12 reps

    DB Hammer Curls - 2 to 3 sets of 8 reps

    Workout B
    BB Squats - Warm up set, 3 work sets of 5-6 reps

    Hindu (bodyweight) Squats - 3 sets to failure

    BB Bench Press - Warm up set, 3 work sets of 5-6 reps

    Elevated push ups - 2 sets of 25 reps

    Deadlifts - 2 sets of 5 reps

    Since my calories are so high, and I've been gaining some weight (not a ton, but it's noticeable), I don't think lack of calories would be the issue. I've also been getting enough sleep, so that's why I'm pretty puzzled as to why my lifts wouldn't be going up even a little bit. The only thing I could think of is that I might be doing too many sets of certain exercises, but that still wouldn't explain why I'm not getting any stronger with my squats/bench presses. I'm just completely confused as to why I can't get any stronger.

    My apologies for the long post, but I wanted to try and give you guys as much information as possible in case you have any ideas as far as why this might be happening/what I'm doing wrong.

    Anyways, thanks for taking the time to read this! If there's anything else you need to know in order to help me out, please let me know and I'll be more than happy to give you the info.
    Last edited by DangerousK; 09-19-2009 at 06:47 PM.

  2. #2
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    First off, post up your macros and calories in the D&N forums. Although you're getting enough calories (assuming you ARE eating 4K...many people think they eat more than they do) we should check to be sure that you're getting adequate protein/fats.

    I'd cut the lifting down to 3 days a week and split your leg work over your two workout templates.

    You also list several "to failure" exercises. Stop doing those. Everyone once in a while to failure is fine, but doing is frequently will actually limit your strength gains because your CNS will shut you down before you actually hit your physical limit.

    Something simple like this would work

    Workout A
    ---------
    Squats
    Leg Press
    Rows
    Military Press

    Workout B
    ----------
    Deads
    Bench
    GHRs or SHELC
    Pullups

    Week 1: ABA
    Week 2: BAB
    Ron Paul 2012

    No gym for home, work out floor with 30, but is it for 20 like 30 lb when you no lift it to be for men, for 30 lbs instead? or half is 10 for 20 pounds?

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    Quote Originally Posted by danzik17 View Post
    First off, post up your macros and calories in the D&N forums. Although you're getting enough calories (assuming you ARE eating 4K...many people think they eat more than they do) we should check to be sure that you're getting adequate protein/fats.

    I'd cut the lifting down to 3 days a week and split your leg work over your two workout templates.

    You also list several "to failure" exercises. Stop doing those. Everyone once in a while to failure is fine, but doing is frequently will actually limit your strength gains because your CNS will shut you down before you actually hit your physical limit.

    Something simple like this would work

    Workout A
    ---------
    Squats
    Leg Press
    Rows
    Military Press

    Workout B
    ----------
    Deads
    Bench
    GHRs or SHELC
    Pullups

    Week 1: ABA
    Week 2: BAB
    Thanks!

    I actually was doing a similar routine a few months back (Rippetoe's Starting Strength), but didn't really see any increase in size or strength after a month and a half and one re-set of most exercises, which is why I decided to add in a few more sets of things like rows and military presses and some extra exercises like push ups and shrugs as well. Granted, I wasn't eating near as much back when I was doing Starting Strength as I am now, so it might be worth another go.

    I will definitely ditch the failure sets, though.

    As far as my diet goes, I eat 7 meals a day, around 575 calories each. My meals are all centered around steak, chicken, lean ground beef, salmon, protein powder, low-fat cottage cheese, milk, oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, fruits and vegetables and olive oil/natural peanut butter for fats. My macronutrient breakdown is about 350g protein, 400g carbs and 100g of fat per day. I calculated the calories on FitDay.com, so I'm pretty sure they're accurate (or close enough, anyways).

  4. #4
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    Is your goal to get bigger or to get stronger?

    If your goal is to get stronger, what are your stats and at which part of the lifts are you failing?

    Also, you can swap around the exercises all you want, but IMO if you want to get stronger you need to do work in the 1-5 rep range and ideally a bunch of heavy work in the 1-3 rep range.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gtbmed View Post
    Is your goal to get bigger or to get stronger?

    If your goal is to get stronger, what are your stats and at which part of the lifts are you failing?

    Also, you can swap around the exercises all you want, but IMO if you want to get stronger you need to do work in the 1-5 rep range and ideally a bunch of heavy work in the 1-3 rep range.
    Well, my main goal is to get bigger, but I don't understand how someone like myself (essentially a beginner who isn't naturally strong in the first place) can work out seriously for 3-4 months and have extremely minimal strength gains in that time frame. Like my workouts show, I've essentially been focusing on doing sets of 5 for all of the major lifts.

    I could understand the lack of progress if I was putting up big weights, but my lifts are pretty much embarrassingly weak. Even though my main goal is gaining size, not being able to do any better than 125 lb power cleans, 115 lb military presses or 165 lb squats for more than 5 reps probably isn't going to give me the physique I'm after.
    Last edited by DangerousK; 09-19-2009 at 08:12 PM.

  6. #6
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    How much weight have you gained over this time?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Built View Post
    How much weight have you gained over this time?
    Hi! I've gained around 8-10 pounds over the last 4 months. I think most of it is in my shoulders, because they are the only body part that has really gotten noticeably larger over that time-frame.

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    Roughly what bodyfat are you sitting at, ball-park ish? You must still be quite lean at 6' and 170 lbs.

    If I were in your shoes, at your age and weight, I'd aim to gain about 5-8 lbs a month for a few months.

    Are you averse to increasing your fats? A couple of shots of olive oil are very easy calories (a one-ounce shotglass of olive oil has about 250 calories) and the monounsaturates in it have been shown to support testosterone production anyway. You can just toss a tablespoon or two of oil into a few of your daily shakes.

    How much can you below-parallel squat? **Edit you mention 165 for five reps - is this below parallel?
    Off-the-floor deadlift?
    Bench?
    Can you do weighted chins?
    How about cleans? **Edit - I see you mentioned cleans at 125 How about the other quesitons?
    Last edited by Built; 09-19-2009 at 11:38 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Built View Post
    Roughly what bodyfat are you sitting at, ball-park ish? You must still be quite lean at 6' and 170 lbs.

    If I were in your shoes, at your age and weight, I'd aim to gain about 5-8 lbs a month for a few months.

    Are you averse to increasing your fats? A couple of shots of olive oil are very easy calories (a one-ounce shotglass of olive oil has about 250 calories) and the monounsaturates in it have been shown to support testosterone production anyway. You can just toss a tablespoon or two of oil into a few of your daily shakes.

    How much can you below-parallel squat? **Edit you mention 165 for five reps - is this below parallel?
    Off-the-floor deadlift?
    Bench?
    Can you do weighted chins?
    How about cleans? **Edit - I see you mentioned cleans at 125 How about the other quesitons?
    You'd think, wouldn't you? lol. I was actually in really bad shape to begin with, and I'm probably at 13-15% bodyfat right now.

    I'd love to be able to gain that much weight, and am definitely not adverse to trying out anything to see if it helps me add some bulk, so I'll definitely try adding some extra olive oil into my diet.

    As far as the weights, 165 for the squats is below parallel. My five rep maxes are:

    Off-the-floor deadlift - 220 lbs
    Bench presses - 150 lbs

    And unfortunately I can't do weighted chins yet. It's kind of depressing to think that my 15 year old sister can probably out-lift me, but I'm not giving up yet.

    These are the weights I've been stuck on for a while now. While I was doing Starting Strength, I'd get stuck on these weights and do a re-set of my lifts (dropping the weight by 20-30% and gradually working my way back up adding about 5 lbs to each lift every week). Even when doing a re-set, I'd get back up to the same weight I was lifting previously and never be able to add extra weight to the bar without either sacrificing a rep or two per set, or completely losing my form.

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    I agree that if you want to be able to lift more weight, you have to do low rep sets with high weight.

    I used to lift with my school's football team, and at my "peak" my benchpress 1RM was 140. I quit the football team after the season ended, took a break from exercising really, and around April of this year I started lifting again. I have no idea what my 1RM was at this time, because I didn't use bench as one of my workouts.

    After a summer of working out, doing my friend's high tension workouts, I decided to max out on Bench again. I got 1 rep at 160. This was 3 weeks ago. After hearing about this program that my football team uses that gets crazy results, Me and my friend decided to try it out.

    I can't remember how it works exactly (we just follow a guide sheet) but I believe it consists of something similar to the following:
    -5 reps at 65% of your "goal" (1RM + 5lbs)
    -3 reps at 75%
    -3 reps at 80%
    -2 reps at 85%
    -2 reps at 90%
    -1 rep at 95%

    I haven't maxed out since we started this program, but in the 3 weeks (3 times a week) we've been using it my goal has gone from 165 to 200. That's more improvement than I saw from an entire summer of other workouts.

    I'm no expert like Built; I don't know why this works, I just know that it does work. Obviously this rate of performance gain won't last (I expect to hit a wall sometime soon) but it's been nice to see such results so fast.

  11. #11
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    prioritize bench press and squats/deadlifts (pick one). over the next 2 weeks work up to 1 rep maxes. train at 3 rep max for a couple workouts, then get up to 1RM.

    this should increase your strength in the short term. until i worked up to my 1 rep max on bench a couple weeks ago my strength had been stagnating, but after having done it i got way stronger. your 5 rep max will feel a heck of a lot lighter after you've worked up to a 1RM.

    in the long term, you need to re-shape your workouts. everyone these days is saying that you need to do heavy compound movements in order to see gains. you have definitely heeded that advice. the problem is you've taken it too far. for instance,

    <<Workout B
    BB Squats - Warm up set, 3 work sets of 5-6 reps

    Hindu (bodyweight) Squats - 3 sets to failure

    BB Bench Press - Warm up set, 3 work sets of 5-6 reps

    Elevated push ups - 2 sets of 25 reps

    Deadlifts - 2 sets of 5 reps>>

    ...you are doing ALL 3 power lifts in the same workout. that means that you cannot possibly be training at even close to maximal intensity in any of them. you are beating the crap out of your CNS without sufficiently overloading the muscles involved in each movement, and you are therefore not seeing much in the way of gains.

    this is easily fixed. pick two heavy compound exercises, like bench press and squat or deadlift, and train them at high intensity (low reps, high weight) on individual days. stop doing them during the same workout! add assistance work for your compound exercises (bench: heavy weighted dips, shoulder presses; deadlift: pull ups and rows i guess - don't bother with rack pulls and partial range-of-motion until you're lifting way heavier weight) and that's it. i personally train bench 2x a week and deads 1x a week, and have had incredible strength gains throughout the last 4-5 months.

    so you are on the right track with your program design, in prioritizing heavy weight on compound movements, but you take it too far. too much of a good thing = bad. so just pare down the number of compound exercises you do (to say bench/deads), train specific assistance exercises for those exercises, and you should start seeing progress.

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