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I Can't Gain Strength

I’m 5’8. 155lbs.

I can’t gain strength no matter what I do. Here’s an example of what I did 6 days ago:
Overhead Press
75lbs x 5 reps x 1 set

125lbs x 8 reps x 2 sets
125lbs x 7 reps x 1 set
125lbs x 6 reps x 1 set
125lbs x 5 reps x 2 sets

total sets: 6

I then did:
45lbs x 12 reps x 4 sets of seated dumbbell presses

Total shoulder sets: 10

** I felt good afterwards. I felt like I really did a good workout. I couldn’t lift anything afterward and lifted every set to failure and then did an additional rep on every set as I held the bar/dumbbell there.

Now it is 6 days later. I went back, expecting to at least hit 125lbs x 8 reps x 4 sets.
Here were my results:

125lbs x 7 reps x 1 set
125lbs x 5 reps x 1 set
125lbs x 3 reps x 1 set

All rest times were the same as last week (3 minutes between sets). I didn’t change diet. I didn’t do any shoulder exercises in between today and 6 days ago.

This happens all the time. What causes this problem? And how can some guys gain strength while staying the same weight, if I can’t gain strength while gaining weight?

This is starting to piss me off because I’ve been stuck at the same weight for over 3 months now. Gaining muscle and strength shouldn’t be this hard. What the fuck is wrong? I even had my testosterone measured: 1000 on a scale of 200 - 800, so it’s obviously not that.

I’ll never understand how some men can get up to 400lbs squat, 300+ bench, etc. when I can’t even gain a few reps every week.



Why do you only train the lift every six days?

Write out your split.
How has your weight changed? (From what to what)
Why are you training like that?
Can’t you just do 531 or something?

A change in attitude would probably help.

If I could guess, you should probably be eating more.

I train it every 6 days to give myself enough rest. If I try to do it any sooner the same thing happens: I drop weight and reps. I figured I needed more rest but this is getting ridiculous.

I tried ripptoe’s starting strength (3x5) and never gained strength. Now I started adding more reps/sets to see if that would work and it still doesn’t. I’m at a loss of what to do at this point.

I’m 155 right now and I moved up from 140lbs to where I am now without any increase in strength. At one point I was up to 170 pounds (very lean, no fat, always a clean bulk), but strength stayed the same.

Perhaps the meds I’m on have something to do with it? I’m struggling with PTSD, bipolar, depression, and a lot of other shit that I’m on multiple medications for. One of them is Lithium, which is supposed to suppress thyroid function. Perhaps this is why I’m always lethargic, tired, and unmotivated all day, despite all the medication, self-help, and other bullcrap I do constantly trying to up the motivation?

Sex drive is non-existent. Perhaps this is something deeper?

I’ve tried being optimistic but after a while it gets old. Lack of progress will kill anyone’s motivation.

I noticed you’re doing a lot of straight sets, as in all the same weight. In your first example you were doing 6 sets at your working weight with the first two at eight reps. If you are really trying to get stronger I wouldn’t do so many working sets and shoot for lower reps, like five for example.

If it is your first and main exercise for that workout you can ramp up to a 5 rep max or do two warm up sets and three work sets of five. I second the request to see your workout split as I am curious. As far as the meds go, ask your doctor or pharmacist how they may be affecting your efforts. DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT take any advice regarding your meds from anyone that does not have a pharmacy or medical degree.

Good luck.

[quote]johnsmith99 wrote:

I tried ripptoe’s starting strength (3x5) and never gained strength. Now I started adding more reps/sets to see if that would work and it still doesn’t. I’m at a loss of what to do at this point.


How long did you do SS and did you read the book? Military press is one of the slowest lifts to progress btw, so keep at it and follow what Kakno said, try 5/3/1 or another proven protocol rather than just trying a trial and error approach that will get you no where fast.

Thanks everyone.

Here’s my current split, just for reference:

5’8 155lbs 24 years old.
I have the same set x rep scheme for all MAJOR compound workouts listed below: 5 sets x 8 reps. Afterwards I sometimes do additional sets of the original 5 x 8 weight if I feel like I bitched out on a set, should have hit more reps, etc. So sometimes it ends up with 6 or 7 sets total of 5 - 8 reps.

I didn’t list this below, but in addition to my major lifts I sometimes supplement them with higher rep schemes (2-4 sets of 8-12 reps) just to burn-out. These change all the time because they are supplementary, so I didn’t list them under each day of the week below.

Monday: Workout I
1 warmup set 75% working weight
5 sets x 8 reps

1 warmup set 75% working weight
5 sets x 8 reps…

1 warmup set 75% working weight
1 set x 8 reps

Wednesday: Workout II
1 warmup set with 75% working weight
5 sets x 8 reps

1 warmup set 75% working weight
5 sets x 8 reps

Friday: Workout I
Same as Monday: Workout I … so alternate these two workouts every other day

Sat. Sun REST

Monday: Workout II


I read the book and followed the approach for a good 2 months. No progress. I, of course, started with the empty bar and worked my way up. However before starting I did a max lift to see where I stood. After working up from the empty bar and plateauing at the same spot before I even started lifting, I was dumbfounded. I gained weight, muscle at that, but no strength gains.

One thing about the overhead press is that I’ve gone down in weight since starting SS. I used to be able to do 160lbs x 5 reps x 5 sets. Now I can’t even do 135lbs for 5 reps, even though I’ve gained over 15 pounds of muscle. I’ve always been what I considered strong for my weight (wrestled, sports, etc.). Is it possible to max out neurologically? Maybe it is the drugs; ritalin is a CNS stimulant, so perhaps this is messing with recovery?

Thanks as always for everyone’s help. I’m trying to get to the bottom of this; my work ethic is there but no progress, so this is very frustrating for me.

Where did you get this program? It’s really unbalanced and the volume is pretty ridiculous if you’re doing five work sets for your major lifts. The set and rep scheme are definetely unlike any strength program I’ve ever seen before and I don’t see how anyone could make consistant strength gains on it.

I made an adaptation to the SS program after it failed to work after 2 months of being on it. I thought perhaps I wasn’t working hard enough, so I upped the sets and increased the reps as well (but of course dropped the weight to compensate).

If I stick to a 3x5 routine, I generally do each set to failure (pick an appropriate weight to do this). I always feel taxed after the work out, but I can always do the same set-rep scheme the following day. I figured I wasn’t working hard enough, which seems weird because during the workout it seems to be enough. This is why I upped the weights/reps, because then I can feel it burning the following days while I am recovering.

Come to think of it, I’ve only really made progress in strength while doing gymnast routines; static holds. I did them every day and progressed in strength every day, which doesn’t seem right because everyone else preaches taking days off in between workouts to recover. Are static holds different?

Don’t know much about static holds, so I can’t comment. If your primary goal is strength I would get Wendler’s book, read it through a couple of times, and follow it to a “T”. Just make sure you include DB Rows, chins, and face pulls in your accessory work as the program is light on pulling/rear delt work.

2 months is nothing more than the blink of an eye in the journey to getting stronger. A funny conversation I had with a female trainer who was trying to get her pullup numbers up was that when she could only do a set of 2-3 before she got too tired she would switch to having a partner help her up. She would do this for 3-4 more sets with help to no avail and when I asked her what the point of doing a pullup was she told me that it’s obviously to get her self up to the bar. Yet more than 75% of the work she was putting in had nothing to do with that. She changed her approach to doing the 2-3 reps on her own throughout the workout and week and is now repping 8+.

The beauty of programs like 5/3/1 and SS are that they provide the minimum dose for the most benefit, but you have to stick with it in order to see the progress, so instead of trying it for what, 8 weeks? Try it for half a year or more and don’t get discouraged, strength is a lifetime pursuit.

Thanks guys, awesome community here. Regards,

you seem to already have a pretty strong OHP for your size, assuming you use good form. SS didnt help me increase my OHP much either. but heres the thing: if you do a program, you cant change it. about a year and a half ago i tried starting strength but i tried to sorta customize it. doesnt work. dont do that. if you do that then youre not doing the program. if it doesnt work the way youre supposed to do it, then switch programs. so i barely made any gains with it and i stopped lifting. then about 6 months later or so, i tried it again. did it right that time. made great gains in my lifts. but eventually i hit the wall.

one thing i learned during that time and since then is training to failure all the time doesnt usually get you anywhere. once in a while itll help you make a jump but usually itll just hurt you more than help you. you cant overstress your nervous system. and remember that the overhead press progresses slowly. i mean SLOW. with 531 i only add 5 pounds a month to my training max. as frustrating as that is i know that if i went any faster it wouldnt be long before i hit a wall again. slow and steady will take you further than short spurts of burning yourself out.

yeah. once you can’t make progress on a linear progression program anymore (e.g., starting strength) then it is time to do a program with heavy / light built in (e.g., 5/3/1).

sometimes people bail on linear progression too fast. they don’t learn lessons that could be learned. e.g., they might not do the program 3x a week (as written) they might adapt it and try and do it every day or only do it once every 6 days and then complain about not making progress… in that case the lack of progress would be from training too often or not often enough respectively. or sometimes people don’t eat enough to fuel proper recovery or don’t sleep enough or whatever…

but linear progression ends at some point, to be sure.

a lot of people on this site report good strength gains with 5/3/1. good gains over the long haul. might be worth a shot.

I’m not an expert so definitely listen to these guys over me, but your situation sounds very familiar to mine about a year ago. I also posted that I couldn’t gain strength on a different forum. For me the problem ended up being: a) I wasn’t eating enough. I needed to eat 3000+ calories a day. b) some of the food I was eating was messing me up: wheat, dairy.

I also agree with others: pick a program and stick to it for its duration.

One note on the OHP: sometimes I don’t do any more reps in a set but I find that I have better form and can do them more controlled.

Only really two possible problems:

Lack of balls in the gym
Lack of balls in the kitchen

Edit: My apologies; didn’t see the last half of the 4th post.

[quote]Just_Matt wrote:
Only really two possible problems:

Lack of balls in the gym
Lack of balls in the kitchen[/quote]

Did you ignore the list of meds he’s on and the fact that his program isn’t conducive to long term strength gains? I’m not taking a shot at you, though, as the two things you listed are the two most common causes.

Hey John, one quick note:

People like Wendler and Rip know their shit, so for Godsake DO NOT in any way modify their programs.

They are built that way for a specific reason. More that one idiot has tried in many different posts

over the years here at T-Nation to modify it at their own peril.

Also, you have to go more than 2 months on something. I’ve had a PLATEAU that has lasted three weeks ; (

So be consistent, be dedicated and the strength will come…be Strong(er) !