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5 Reasons Your Training Program is Stopping You From Getting Stronger

May 10, 2024
 

Are you hitting the gym consistently, putting in the work, but not seeing much progress?

If you’ve been following a PDF program or templated training app, but don’t seem to be getting stronger, you’re not alone.

A lot of so-called ‘strength training’ programs make the same mistakes. And if you don’t know what to look for, it’s easy to fall into the trap of following one that doesn’t actually make you stronger.

So, here are four common mistakes you’ll find in generic strength training programs, and how to fix them.

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1. No Measure of Effort

Here’s a not-so-hot take: most people lift too light to make meaningful progress.

This study found that when asked to select loads for a set of 10 reps, on average, people chose a weight equal to 53% of their 1 rep max.

That’s a weight I would expect most people to be able to lift for around 20 or 25 reps before hitting failure.

In other words, participants were, on average, 10–15 reps away from failure. For maximal strength gains, that number should be more like 2–4.

This is why your program needs to include a measurable marker of effort, like Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

RPE involves rating your set on a scale from 1–10, based on how many more reps you could have done.

For strength gains, you should be aiming for somewhere between 6 and 8 — meaning 2–4 reps left in the tank by the end of your set. If your reps aren’t starting to slow down involuntarily, you’re not lifting heavy enough.

By gauging your effort level and adjusting your training accordingly, you’ll ensure that you’re consistently lifting heavy enough to get stronger.

 

2. Using the Wrong Rep Ranges

If there’s one thing generic programs love, it’s the 8–12 rep range.

It’s easy to gravitate towards this range because it’s traditionally been associated with muscle growth.

While 8–12 certainly has its benefits, it’s not the most effective for maximising strength gains.

By only sticking to these moderate rep ranges, you limit your exposure to heavier loads, which are essential for building strength.

Lower rep ranges (3–6 reps) are ideal for training your nervous system to handle heavier weights.

These reps recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibres, which have a greater potential for strength development.

This doesn’t mean abandoning moderate rep ranges altogether. But by spending more time in those lower rep ranges, you’ll better balance both muscle growth and strength development.

 

3. Supersets Everywhere

For some reason, those generic programs seem to be obsessed with supersets: pairing two exercises back-to-back with minimal rest in between.

While supersets can be a useful tool for saving time, they’re not very conducive to strength gains.

Pairing exercises back-to-back without enough rest limits your recovery and compromises your performance on subsequent sets.

The result? An inability to lift those heavy loads and perform at your best.

To prioritise strength, reserve supersets for accessory exercises or conditioning work, and allow plenty of rest between sets of your main lifts.

 

4. Too Much Work

Another common mistake I see in strength training programs is an excessive amount of volume.

In other words, too many exercises for too many sets.

It’s easy to see why more work might be attractive. More volume means more progress, right?

Yes — up to a point.

Too much volume per session can lead to fatigue, both muscular and systemic, which can hinder your ability to perform at your best.

When you spread yourself too thin across too many exercises, you dilute your focus and energy.

This makes it difficult to train hard enough and, ultimately, progress.

If you’re guilty of overdoing it when it comes to session volume, try cutting out the noise.

Pick 5 or 6 exercises per session, do 2–3 sets of each, and focus on pushing them hard.

It might look easy on paper. But I promise that if you actually take those sets close to failure, you’ll get a better workout than before — without the unnecessary fatigue.

 

5. It Doesn’t Facilitate Progress

If you solve all of the problems above, there’s a good chance your training will be effective enough to stimulate progress.

But eventually, your body will adapt to this progress.

This is a good thing — you’re getting stronger!

But it also means you can no longer lift the same weights for the same reps and expect to make progress. As your body adapts, you need to increase your training accordingly.

A good program should include a built-in method of achieving this, like Double Progression.

Rather than using fixed reps (like 3x8), Double Progression involves using a rep range (like 6–10), and choosing a weight that you can lift at the bottom of that range, within ~1–3 reps from failure.

Each week, aim to increase your reps within that range, sticking to the assigned reps in reserve.

Once you can complete the upper limit of the rep range (10, in this case) with good form, increase the weight slightly and start over at the lower end of the rep range.

This ensures continuous challenge and adaptation, which promotes strength gains over time.

 

Bonus: It’s Not Personalised

If you’re not currently following a program, I’m confident you’d see better progress just by finding any program online that doesn’t make the mistakes above, and tracking your sessions.

But if you’re serious about training, and the templates have run their course for you, a personalised program is the way to go.

There are a ton of benefits to having a program designed specifically for your lifestyle, strengths, and weaknesses.

But I’d argue the biggest advantage of a personalised program is that it’s more likely to be something you’ll actually want to do.

When a program is tailored to your goals, likes, and dislikes, you’ll be more likely to enjoy it, and therefore stick at it — which is the biggest factor for seeing results anyway.

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So, if you’ve been slaving away in the gym but you’re not seeing the strength gains you deserve, it might be time to reassess your training program. 

If you’ve been making the four common mistakes above, start by addressing those, and I’m confident you’ll start seeing results that actually reflect your hard work.

And if you want to find more ways to get reward for effort in the gym, check out my Instagram.