Stuck In The Mud: Why You Aren't Making Progress!

Many lifters quickly hit a wall where everything stops! What happens? Let's examine some of the more common dilemmas that hinder our progress and simple solutions so we can hit our goals.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is more frustrating than putting forth the time and effort to train hard and eat right, but see no progress. Sure, initially we may see an increase in strength, maybe a little body fat loss, but it seems that many lifters quickly hit the wall where everything stops! What happened?! Let's examine some of the more common dilemmas that hinder our progress and simple solutions so we can hit those lofty goals.

1. Not Varying Training Methods

Because of muscle magazines and books most lifters are stuck in the idea of performing 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions. While this is not incorrect for muscle gain, it is limiting. Strength training experts, such as Vladimir Zatsiorsky, have categorized three main methods of improving strength.

  1. Repetition Method: Lifting a submaximal weight till failure or close to failure for numerous repetitions. This is most commonly known as the corner stone of bodybuilding programs.

  2. Maximal Effort Method: As the name implies, lifting maximal loads in the 85-100% intensity range. This is a primary method of many strength athletes.

  3. Dynamic Effort Method: This has become into vogue in the past ten years, but has been utilized by Olympic lifters for decades. The method involves lifting a submaximal weight, usually 50-70% intensity, and trying to move the weight as fast as possible.

Note: Please see my past article "Improving the Big Three" to read these methods in greater detail. Sports Performance Coach, Christian Thibaudeau goes into greater detail of these methods in his excellent book, The Black Book of Training Secrets.

Quickly the question becomes which one of these methods should I use? The answer is all of them! There are many different ways to vary these methods and the basis for periodization. A simple method would be using a four day a week split. One day would utilize the maximal effort method for a core lift, i.e. squat, and the rest as the repetition method.

The next day an upper body dynamic effort exercise could be the core, i.e. push press. The following two days would be reversed. Please refer to the above mentioned articles and texts for greater details of program design.

2. New Movements For New Results

Often we get in a rut of performing the same exercises year after year. This not only becomes stale mentally, but the results decrease from the movements as well. If we are not constantly manipulating sets, repetitions, rest intervals, and intensity we will see a plateau in progress. Since this can sometimes be a complicated issue, changing exercises can be just as effective. NOTE: If you are a powerlifter or Olympic lifter you will need to specialize in your competition lifts and not move your focus. A great example of manipulating an exercise is the squat.

Here we have several forms that are relatively easy to learn:

  1. Back Squat the bar high on the back (Olympic style) - View Exercise
  2. Back Squat the bar low on the back (Powerlifting style) - View Exercise
  3. Front Squats - View Exercise
  4. Single Leg Squats - View Exercise
  5. Barbell Hack Squats - View Exercise
  6. Overhead Squats - View Exercise

All these variations can stimulate new progress as they can emphasize different areas and cause the body to learn new movement patterns. For example, the front squat will place greater loading on the quadriceps than the low bar back squat that hits the hips more, even different than the overhead squat that places more loading on the upper body and trunk.

Try to find some easy to apply variations for your favorite exercises and see how much more fun and productive your training becomes.

3. Proper Warm-Up

Often this is an article all by itself. The typical gym warm-up is sitting on a bike or walking on a treadmill for five to ten minutes. While this does increase body temperature it does little else to prepare the body for the work it is about to perform. Increasing your body's readiness for movement can increase the quality of work in the gym.

Dynamic stretching has become the common form of pre-workout training for athletes, but is applicable to anyone exercising. Dynamic stretching has been shown to increase strength and improve movement efficiency. There are many forms of dynamic stretching (lunging, skipping, carioca, and leg swings), however, in the past year I have found a method that has had a profound effect on my clients' and my own progress.

Zhealth is a joint mobility program developed by sports performance experts, Scott Sonnon and Dr. Eric Cobb. The system can easily achieve the goal of increasing body temperature, but also prepping joints to function more efficiently. By improving the movement of the joints, the muscles can develop more force and the lifter will experience less potential for injury. You will also find and increase in balance and coordination with many of the drills.

To see the potential of this system please refer to " Three Dimensional Balance Training: No Equipment. No Cost!" by Coach Sonnon.

For those that might want something for now there are many variations that can be used in the gym. Basic tumbling drills (forward and back) are exceptional for improving mobility in the spine, hips, and shoulders. Simply perform 3 sets of 5 each direction. You may also set a Smith Machine bar down on a low setting and perform duck unders. Standing lateral to the machine, take a long step down and under the bar. You will be ducking under and feel a great stretch in the hips. Raising the bar one notch you can also perform step-overs that will also increase the hip and low back flexibility through the hip flexors.

In the end, it is important to take notice if you are improving or stuck in your current routine. Sometimes the smallest changes can provide huge progress. Try some of the above methods and see if not only are you breaking plateaus, but enjoying your training again!

What Intensity Technique Works Best For You?
    Triple Drop & Rebound Sets
    Isolation/Compound Rebound Sets
    Jump Sets
    2 Up - 1 Down Negatives
    Combination Sets
    Rep Targeting
    Add Sets
    Static Hold Weight Pyramiding

About The Author

Josh Henkin is owner of Innovative Fitness Solutions ( in Scottsdale, Arizona. Coach Henkin has presented nationally in the field of fitness and sports enhancement. He is also the author of High Octane Sandbag Training manual and DVD ( You can reach him at