Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to what is keeping you from making progress. Instead, you need to approach this from a trial and error and process of elimination perspective – there are a number of things that you can try to see if they have a positive effect. We’re going to break down different manners of “not making progress” and some of the things you can try to change about what you’re doing.
These are things that are broadly useful to dial in or try changing / improving regardless of what your goals are and how you’re stalling.
- Sleep. Make sure that you’re both getting enough sleep in terms of bedtime to get-up time and that the quality of your sleep is good. Have a look at r/sleep for more information.
- Stress. Chronically high stress levels can have numerous negative health effects, including affecting your performance in the gym and general energy levels. Try to reduce stress if at all possible.
- Hydration. Being chronically dehydrated is also bad for performance and general health. Make sure you’re drinking enough liquids throughout the day.
- General Health. If you’re not getting regular checkups with your doctor, you should probably do that. Be sure you have the opportunity to get any health problems, current or building, diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
- General Nutrition. If you are eating mostly garbage food that is not nutritious, fix it. The best way to describe this is “Eat like an adult, not a television commercial”. Most commonly, this involves adding fruits and vegetables and reducing junk food in your diet.
- General Recovery. Make sure that you aren’t running yourself into the ground with your training. Remember that training is the stimulus, it is not the adaptation. You need to give your body time to rest and recover from your training if you want it to adapt and improve.
- Changing Routines. If you’ve been doing the same routine for a while (6+ months) and aren’t seeing any forward progress, it’s probably time to try something different and see how you respond to it. Try a different number of workout days, try different programs, try different methodologies. For some ideas, have a look at the Recommended Routines, Program Review Archive, and Training Tuesdays Archive.
- Volume and Intensity. This is a more specific sub-piece of #7. Try both more and less of these two things in your training. It may be that you’re not doing enough to stimulate growth, but it also may be that you’re doing too much to recover from properly.
- Patience. Remember that change takes time. If you’re thinking that you aren’t making any progress but it’s only been a few weeks, give it more time than that.
- Cutting Weight. If you are in a weight loss phase (eating at a calorie deficit), this reduces your ability to recover from training. You should expect any progress that you make to be slower than it would if eating at calorie maintenance or surplus.
We also strongly recommend listening to this segment from the Stronger by Science podcast – What to do about below-average gains
If you’re having difficulty with making progress in your weight, see one or the other of our FAQ entries on this, whichever is appropriate for your goals.
If you believe you are having trouble losing fat, there are really only two important things to pay attention to.
- Stop measuring your body fat percentage using scales or hand-held devices. These devices are not accurate, nor are they even consistent in how inaccurate they are. It’s very tempting to treat the numbers from Bio-Electrical Impedance devices as gospel, but the truth is that they are simply worthless. The best way to evaluate fat loss progress is through progress pictures and the mirror.
- Lose more weight. Simply put, fat is weight. If you aren’t losing weight, your chances of losing fat are slim. If you’re trying to achieve the Holy Grail recomp but getting frustrated, forget that the concept of recomping exists and focus entirely on losing weight.
Performance in a Specific Lift
If you’ve been stalled on a certain weight, here are some things you can try.
- Try to improve your technique. Post a form check in the r/Fitness or r/weightroom Daily Threads and see if there’s anything that you might need to fix. Have a look at the Learning and Improving Lifts Wiki page for commonly recommended videos on how to perform the major lifts properly, if applicable.
- Perform the lift more often in your training. Specificity and frequency are important when it comes to specific lifts.
- Do more accessory work for the muscles involved in the lift. Start with close variations of the lift as a higher priority, but feel free to also do isolation movements.
- Have a look at the r/weightroom Weakpoint Wednesdays Archive to see what others who have achieved higher levels in the lift did to bring their own up.
If you are having trouble growing a specific muscle, here are some things you can try.
- Increase the volume for that muscle. This is often best done by increasing the frequency that you’re working it. Try doing extra work on one additional day of the week. If you’re hitting your back twice a week, try hitting it three times.
- Reduce the volume for that muscle. Just as commonly as not doing enough work, some people also do too much work and leave the muscle without adequate time to grow and adapt to their training. Try doing less. Note: It is relatively rare for this to be the solution.
- Add more direct work. If you’re only hitting a specific muscle with compound movements, try also doing some isolation movements for that muscle later in your workout. You can get some ideas from the Muscles and Muscle Groups Wiki page.
- Try using different rep ranges and weight intensities.
- Eat more. Don’t gorge yourself and get fat, but remember that your body needs calories to build muscle. If you aren’t gaining any weight, you probably aren’t going to be building any muscle. This also applies to protein – Make sure you’re getting enough.
- Have a look at the r/weightroom Weakpoint Wednesday Archive to see what experienced users have done which worked and didn’t work for them.
- You may just need to have patience. Remember also that the smaller a muscle is, the longer it will take to grow significantly and noticeably.