In this article, I want to address 5 reasons why you aren’t growing bigger and stronger. From anecdotes and reading things over the years, I found that there are 5 major reasons why you might not grow bigger and stronger anymore.
You can find this also as a video on my YouTube channel.
You’ve been training and don’t see any real strength progress anymore. There could be a couple of reasons for that. I just assume that you are not an elite weightlifter, but rather someone who lifts as a hobby or a lifestyle.
It could be that your current training template just is too linear. By linear, I mean that you keep doing the same thing repeatedly. The same exercises, the same number of sets and reps. It can be hard to create progressive overload in a linear way over a given amount of time.
To grow bigger and stronger you need some variety in exercises but also in sets and reps. Strength is a skill and you need to spend time in rep ranges of 1-3 and 4-6. There’s nothing fancy or magical about these ranges. That said, they will force you to go heavier in weight and train the skill of strength.
If you haven’t spent much time there at all yet, consider spending some more time than in the higher rep ranges. Again, this isn’t anything magical, just gives you an opportunity to learn the skill. Doing sets of 2 reps in the squat just isn’t the same thing as doing 12 reps.
In general, you might want to find a template or training modality that phases you through all the rep ranges and pushes your body to adapt to all of them. There are plenty of ways in doing so and none is perfect. Some will work better for you than others, just take a year to try things out.
Maybe your program isn’t working, and you don’t achieve any strength gains or progressive overload because you never stick to a program. If you are a program hopper, you might want to reconsider. Building strength and muscle takes some time. There’s a reason why professional athletes, especially in Olympic sports plan their training over a couple of years. Next time a template asks you to hang around for 10 weeks, give it the benefit of the doubt. You might be surprised.
Your nutrition is another potential reason why you aren’t getting bigger and stronger anymore.
To actually grow physically bigger and also more muscular, your diet needs to support that. This means you need enough calories to signal your body that it can safely grow, that there is no imminent hunger coming. So, eating as many calories as possible daily as your TDEE requires is a must. That said, have a slight surplus (eating a bit more than you need), will help to grow bigger. There’s no need to eat like an unsupervised 4-year-old either. Treat your body with respect, give it all that it needs to thrive, and then some for you to have fun.
There is no reason to eat so much that you gain several kilos a week. A weight gain of half a kilo to maybe a kilo a week – depending on your current weight, goals, and overall size – seems like a good path.
Calories aren’t everything. Your body needs a certain amount of high-quality protein to repair itself and grow new fat-free mass (that is everything in your body that isn’t fat, water, organs, muscle tissue). Make sure that your protein is rich in EAA (essential amino acids) and you get around 1,5-2g/kg bodyweight. Most people will end up in a range of 150-250g of protein a day.
Besides proteins, our body absolutely needs fats. Just as there are essential amino acids, there are essential fats. This mean, in both cases, the body cannot make these themselves but needs them via food. So, focus on fats from nuts, olive oil, avocado, some fats from meat. In order to run smoothly (i.e., produce hormones), we probably need a minimum of 30-40g of fats. More is ok too, just don’t go lower unless there is a reason (like your doctor ordering you too).
Everything else can be carbohydrates if you want. In a surplus, I would make sure to go higher with your fats than what is absolutely needed. If you follow all of the above, there likely will be no difference in outcome regarding your macro split.
Pick a macro selection that fulfils the above points and makes it sustainable for you.
I personally eat around 200g of protein, 80-100g of fats and fill up the rest with carbohydrates. That works well for me on a lean bulk. It could also work for you but doesn’t have to. We aren’t the same and that’s fine.
Sleep is another big rock people tend to miss. There are two parts you might look at it. The first one is on getting more high-quality sleep.
There are a few things that you can do to increase your high-quality sleep. For instance, cut down your caffeine intake overall (coffee, energy drinks, pre-workouts) and have the last bit of caffeine early in the afternoon. Caffeine has a long half-life and will be in your system already. But having it late really will enhance your chances to disrupt your high-quality sleep
Don’t have alcohol before bed. Alcohol is a neurotoxin, which means it can cause damage to your brain cells. While you need to drink a lot and on a regular basis for this to become an actual problem, the fact that it’s a toxin is what disrupts your high-quality sleep. This is because your body will see that there is a toxin and prioritize neutralizing it above many other things in your body. This will make your organs work a lot even while you sleep. If you have alcohol, use it in moderation (both in terms of quantity and frequency).
Something that goes in a similar direction is food. Aim to have your last meal early in the evening. Digestion takes time and if you go to bed with a full stomach your body will still work hard digesting the food and prioritize over high-quality sleep. This doesn’t mean you don’t eat at all, maybe consider having most of your calories in the first half of the day and the rest later. This gives you still food to be part of social events or to re-fuel after a workout.
The biggest rock in terms of high-quality sleep is cutting out blue lights. Blue light is very important for our body, it’s a strong signal to recalibrate daybreak and night. That’s why you should get out of your room and get some sunlight into your eyes (not looking directly in the sun of course!) first thing after waking up. It signals your body that a new day has come and plenty of hormonal processes will then get started that you need later throughout the day (including getting tired and sleepy in the evening). If you keep telling your body with the blue lights from the smartphone or PC that it is still daytime, it’s going to be very hard to get sleepy and it will be difficult to get high-quality sleep. Aim to cut it out a few hours before going to be. There’s plenty of things you can do without a phone or computer.
Then there’s the quantity aspect. It’s hard to recover overnight if you don’t sleep much (in hours) at all. While it’s different for everyone, there are enough studies out there that show that we need around 7 to 9 hours a night of sleep. There are a couple of outliers out there who need a lot less. But you are very likely not this outlier. If you are a teenager, you might need a bit more than this. The amount of sleep you need will slowly and slightly decrease over time. If you ever wondered why your grandparents seem to need so little sleep. That’s why we just seem to need a little less as we grow old.
If you are looking for a tool to help you track your sleep quality and quantity, you might like the Oura ring. I have been using it for years now and it has helped me a lot. It’s gathering data, which is useless if you don’t have a look at it. But if you start to transform the data into information, you might see big changes in your quality of life and potentially your strength and mass gains. Like all these tools, you don’t need them.
Consistency in your training and nutrition is probably the most important part. So, stick to all the points above as best as you can. Figure out where you aren’t doing so well and take steps towards improvement. Gaining muscle mass, strength or getting better in anything at all is a process. And these things take time. So, don’t beat yourself up, assess where you are and what you could do better.
Social media makes this difficult, as you get bombarded with the latest “best” exercise to make XY grow faster. Or the new “worst” diet offender (which most likely isn’t an offender at all). If you feel you have a good plan (diet, training, lifestyle), stick to it for many weeks, months, even for years. It’s very hard to make progress if you’re 100% consistent for two weeks, just to underperforming (in relation to your goals) for the next three weeks.
Maybe, if this on and off consistency is the problem, take a step back. Ask yourself and answer truthfully: what can you realistically do and stick to it? Maybe you’d like to train 5 times a week, but circumstances “only” let you train three times a week. This is fine and plenty to get stronger. Then train three times a week and do it over months. You’ll see progress. The same goes for your diet. If you want to gain mass, you need to eat a lot. Find ways to make it consistent. Maybe meal prep is the thing for you. Maybe it’s tracking macros or calories. Maybe it’s a coach. Find what works for you.
It’s difficult to be consistent if you dread the process. No one feels like doing all these things every single day. Find ways to make the complete process fun and enjoyable. Pick realistic mid- and long-term goals that are challenging but achievable. It’s going to help you stay on track if you know why you’re doing it. Find a training routine that you enjoy, add the things you like. In terms of diet, while protein and fats are essential for building muscle and recovery but also for other important hormonal processes. Make sure to add the foods you like and enjoy. This includes being part of social events. There is no reason to not eat out with friends just because you can’t track the macros, or because you can’t bring your own food. This is part of life, enjoy the time with family and friends. You’re not a professional bodybuilder who’s getting paid to be shredded and getting on stage. You’re a human being that has goals and enjoying life and having fun should be, in my opinion, be part of these life goals.
The very last big rock is time. All these things, building muscle mass, getting bigger and stronger take time. A lot of time. Unlike social media standards, it’s not going to take 30 days or 12 weeks. It’s going to take many months and years to reach these goals. And that’s ok. Because as we discovered, you make this process fun and enjoyable. So, it doesn’t matter, as you’re making progress along the way. Just stick to it, do your thing, and don’t let unhealthy social media standards ruin your process.
Remember that this article can be found on my YouTube channel too. Share this post with a friend who needs to read this. Let me know in the comments if there’s a big rock that was new to you.