Why am I Getting Weaker Even Though I’m Working Out?


question-icon-newI just started weight training and I’m having some problems. The first time I worked out at the gym, I bench pressed 200 pounds and managed to do 3 sets of 8 reps. My first 2 sets were great and the 3rd set was more difficult but it still went well. The problem is that the week after when it came time to do chest again (I train 3 times a week) I could barely do 185 pounds on bench press. My workout partners said I will have good weeks and bad weeks but 5 weeks later I’m still at the same weight and can’t get any stronger. I don’t have the strength to lift anymore weight.

This has been affecting every excise I do. My weight lifting poundages have dropped in every exercise. I’m totally confused. How can I drop so much? I’m also always tired and I don’t seem to have the strength to do any of these exercises to a level I know I could do. I eat 2 bananas 30 minutes before each workout to try to boost my energy levels. What is happening and how can I fix this so I can start getting stronger?

answer-icon-newAs your friends in the gym mentioned to you, everyone has good days and bad days in the gym. Sometimes it feels like you can lift a truck since you have unreal energy and strength, while other days leave you feeling totally tired and worn out. I’ve had amazing workouts when I lifted my absolute maximum weight I’ve ever done on an exercise (personal best) and then came into the gym the next session and not even come close to lifting that same weight again. For some reason, my body was simply primed for that specific day and I believe it was more of an anomaly than anything else. It sounds like you are in the same boat when it comes to your 200 pound bench press on that day. If it wasn’t, then you would easily come close to the poundage the next week unless you were injured. It’s really not that large of a change in weight (15 pounds) which is less than a 10% difference in weight being lifted on those different days. This is very common among people who weight lift and I would not be too concerned about why this specific occurrence happened when you had a great workout.

The more important thing to focus on is why you’re not getting any stronger over the course of 5 weeks along with your low energy levels. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Change your pre-workout meal. Switch from bananas pre-workout to 1 cup of oatmeal and 1 scoop of whey protein powder. The oatmeal will give you more sustained energy for your weight training workout and the added protein is crucial for providing amino acids to your muscles. Save the banana for your post-workout shake and include another 1-2 scoops of protein powder (fast acting whey protein) for a nutrient blast immediately after training.
  • Take a closer look at your diet.Nutrition is crucial for making overall gains in muscle mass and strength. If your strength is going down or has plateaued, then you may need to eat more calories derived from clean carbs (yams, oatmeal, brown rice), healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, peanut butter) and lean proteins (chicken breast, fish, eggs, lean steak, turkey breast).
  • Check your resting heart rate. Do this every morning to help indicate any signs of overtraining. If it becomes elevated, you may be working out too much and your body needs more time to recover since it’s being overworked.
  • Get more rest! If you feel tired all the time, you might just need more rest. Instead of taking 2-3 days between body parts, take 4-5 days of recovery to make sure your muscles are fully repaired before training them again. Split your workouts into separate body parts and implement a split routine where you train different muscles on different days during the week. If you currently train 3 times per week, you can split your training into chest and back (Monday), legs (Wednesday) and shoulders and arms (Friday). This way you will only train a muscle group once per week which should allow for maximum rest and recovery.
  • Cut back on your cardio. If you do a lot of cardio training, decrease it for 3-4 weeks and see if it helps to increase your strength and energy levels. Excessive cardiovascular exercise can start to burn lean muscle tissue. Losing muscle is the last thing you want to do since it will wreak havoc on your metabolism, energy levels and overall strength!
  • Slowly increase the weight being lifted. Don’t add a 25 pound plate to your bench press each workout and think you will easily lift it up. Strength increases don’t work like that. You need to gradually increase the weight very slowly in small increments (2.5 to 5 pounds) each week to get stronger. So, if you bench 185 pounds for 8 reps now, try benching 190 pounds for 8 reps on your next workout and don’t increase the weight until you hit that number. If you can’t lift 190 pounds, drop it down to 187.5 pounds and make sure you complete a full 8 reps before moving up in weight

If you make these changes in your diet and your current training, you should experience slow and steady strength gains over time. As I mentioned earlier, you should always look at your diet first when analyzing whey you’re not getting stronger. If you’re eating enough high quality nutrient dense foods, it’s very hard not to continue making gains in size and strength. Calories are king, so review the foods you’re eating and your overall caloric intake to make sure you are putting high-octane fuel into your body to support high intensity workouts!

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  1. Avatar

    I have been having this problem a lot lately. It is frustrating as heck. I have packed on 30 pounds in the last year. I finally started eating right and lifting heavy. But the past month I have felt gassed out at the gym. I feel like all of this work has been a waste other than clothes fitting tighter. I will give your list a try, although I know I need to stop trying to increase my weight faster than I should. I have been trying to compensate lately and being frustrated, I have just physically tried to break through my plateau. It hasn’t been working for sure. Thanks for the article and the tips!

    • ShapeFit

      Hi Dee – There could be a number of factors to why you have experienced a decrease in strength when doing the bench press exercise. You could be overtraining your chest with too many workouts per week. You could also be training your secondary muscles too much before doing the bench press. If you’ve just trained your triceps or shoulders the day before doing chest, then this could have a direct impact on the amount of weight you’re able to press on the bench. Make sure to structure your workouts so your chest and all of the secondary muscles have completely recovered before doing bench press again. Focus on training each muscle once per week for the best results. Hit it hard and then let your muscles recover and grow.

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