We’ve all been there… for months now you’ve not set a new PR in the gym, your performance hasn’t improved and you don’t seem to be making any improvements in your physique, not like the early days when it all came so easy. So what went wrong?
We have to remember in the early days of training, any improvement in diet and increase in training, especially from doing nothing, is likely to have a large positve effect as the body has more potential for adaption as the stimulus we provide is brand new. However, as we adapt to our nutrition and training, progress will inevitably slow as our bodies become accustomed to the training stress and it takes a little more effort, both with training and nutrition to get to the next level results we desire.
There are of course a number of different reasons why progress stalls, and for some people even go backwards, but in our experience, it usually comes down to one, or even all of these 3 things.
1: A lack of patience.
In short, building muscle takes time, and although fat loss can take place more rapidly it will slow as we get leaner. These are completely normal physiological adaptations that we need to overcome and this takes some patience.
Fat loss is generally non-linear so there will be weeks where the body does not appear to respond, however we can either choose to sit this out and see if the situation changes or be proactive about our nutrition and training. We can do this either by looking to be more accurate with our nutrition and more rigorous with diet, decreasing calorie intake or adding in extra activity to break through these plateaus. However, a word of warning. Showing a lack of patience and creating too severe an energy deficit will likely make dieting more difficult than it needs to be, leading to increased hunger and even putting us at risk of muscle loss, making dieting even harder still. This means a sensible reduction of intake/increase in expenditure of around 300kcal should be made at each plateau and make sure you keep your protein intake high!
If we are struggling to build muscle then we have to except those ‘newbie’ gains are long gone, the more muscle we have the more stress we have to place on it to force growth, and the better our recovery has to be to support it. In effect the more you grow the harder it gets and we need to have a little more patience and pay a lot more attention to our training and nutrition, what may have worked a few months ago may not be adequate for what your body needs now, take stock of calorie intake, training volume and recovery practices and think what you could do to improve them.
2: A lack of training structure.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to not growing muscle is having a lack of training structure. Although it is good to have an element of variety in training in order to make progress we need to ensure that we have a plan in place that allows us to focus on improving our strength and performance by having a plan of attack.
This is all about consistency, not just in terms of making it to the gym or training, but also about ensuring that there is consistent progression in terms of training structure towards a goal. For example if your goal is to set a new bench press PR, then training must be planned to reach this goal, there is no point just randomly deciding to test this every few weeks at a whim and expect to see improvements. This also feeds into point one, where people try to make too big of a jump in their progress increasing load or volume above a reasonable level to which the body can reasonably adapt. For example if you can bench 100kg for 5 repetitions then jumping to 110kg the follwoign week will likely be too big a jump to hit the same repetitions. Instead by increasing the weight by just 2.5kg each week this makes the goal more manageable and the stress appropriate to previous adaptations. We guarantee you will make progress so much quicker this way… there is a reason why gyms have 1.25kg plates, use them!
This also applies whatever your goal, whether that be to lose fat or do an endurance event. Their needs to be consistency in training so that the appropriate adjustments can be made at the right times to get the results we want. If we have a lack of consistency and are without a plan of attack as to where to go next then it really just becomes guesswork and this will inevitably lead to frustration, lack of progress and even injury.
3: Being stuck between goals.
Although it is possible to do two ‘things’ at once such as lose body fat whilst building muscle, get stronger whilst becoming fitter and so on, there is a point at which these goals will become counterproductive to each other in terms of getting the best possible result for a specific outcome. Typically at some point a decision has to be made about the right course of action to make progress in the direction we want.
A classic example of this is people wanting to build muscle and strength but not increase body fat levels. Although it may be possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time this is not going to be optimal for muscle growth. It is also unlikely that unless a person is genetically gifted or are already carrying an excessive amount of body fat (that is required to provide the energy to support muscle growth if calorie intake is reduced) then there has to be an acceptance that there is a requirement to consume a calorie surplus that is required to fully support muscle growth. This calorie surplus has to come from increasing food intake and this will inevitably lead to a ‘fluffier’ look. However, with proper nutrition and training strategies this can be kept under control and excessive ‘bulks’ are often unnecessary to reach your goals without completely sacrificing all hopes of seeing abs again!
So there we have it, three simple reasons why you might not might be able to make progress, with fairly easy fixes to help you reach your goals whatever they may be… pick a goal, design a nutrition and training strategy, stick to it, make small, manageable changes as required and most of all be patient and the results will follow.