‘Why Can’t I Get Any Stronger?’ — Ask Coach Rick Scarpulla
I feel like I’ve hit a plateau in all of my lifting — especially my bench press. I can’t get past certain weights and I’ve tried everything. Is it possible that I just can’t get any stronger? — Tim, 23, Fresno, California
Everyone, regardless of age or gender, can ALWAYS get stronger. So get the plateau idea right out of your head. In most cases, the issue is a weakness in one or more of the supporting muscle groups. Here are a few quick tips that will help immediately:
First, constantly rotate your exercises. For example, if start with an incline bench this workout, next workout begin with a flat bench or decline. Next, focus on the supporting muscle groups and work those with heavy volume. In this instance, since your example was bench press, this would mean working the triceps, upper back, lats and shoulders. Notice I didn’t say “work the chest” because it is not a primary muscle group in the bench press. Put your hand on your chest and do a bench press motion and you will notice your pecs don’t move at all. The primary function of the chest involves a horizontal movement of the arms across the body — not pushing things away from the body.
Finally, stick with big compound exercises and work each body part optimally but not always to failure. In most cases you’ll be better served if you leave a rep “in the bank” so to speak.
One of my favorite expressions is “there is no such thing as failure without reason.” If you fail, or are stuck in one place, there is a reason. Usually it is a weakness or imbalance in your training. You need to adjust how you approach your workouts. If you’ve hit a wall in regard to how much you can bench, the worst thing you can do is to just keep benching. You need to step away and evaluate what is really going on.
Follow these tips, get plenty of rest, and a eat a sound diet and you’ll see gains in no time. Good luck. Train hard – train smart.
Rick Scarpulla, the creator of The Ultimate Athlete Training Program, is a highly sought-after and renowned strength, speed and conditioning coach who works in developing top high school, college and professional athletes and programs throughout North America. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.