T Nation

What to Do When Nothing Works?

Hi. 5’9"/160 lbs
I’ve been training for two years now, for strength only.
I have never been to reach past 2 plates on anything.
My current lifts are 155/200/220 lbs for bench/squats/dl.

I started with a PT to teach me correct form, and went with a program similar to starting strength except I didn’t do OHP and had pullups. Done this for a year, got to these lifts. Then next year, nothing. I’m not able to add even 5 lbs. Or it fluctuates, until it adds up to, say , 20 lbs and I get injured, and get back to where I was before.
I got up to 25% bf too, so I don’t undereat.

I’ve always trained three times a week with ONLY compound exercises : bench press, squats, DL and pull-ups.
Recently tried 5*5 stronglifts, doesn’t work. I get until my current lifts and it doesn’t go higher.
Also, my muscles just won’t grow at all. Really, I don’t think there’s the slightest difference between when I started and now, physically speaking, except for some additional fat. I think strength went slightly up just because of neural connections…

So, what do I do to get stronger ? Beginner programs don’t work. I always get stuck to the same place. Yet every time I try to find some other programs, they are always for people who are benching two plates+ or squatting 3 plates+.
Am I genetically prevented from getting stronger in any way ? I really don’t know what to do. 2 years is a long time and most people start with my weights

Do what you are not doing. By this I mean you are only training 3x week. Up it to 4 or 5. Instead of focusing on programs, write your own and try to hit goals.

Example, set a goal to do 135 lbs for 5 sets of 10 on bench press. Once you get that see if you can get 145lbs in a 5x5. Once you get that try to set a new 8 rep dip record. Do the same for squats. Do the 20 rep squat program with the goal of getting 20 reps at 185 lbs. Once you achieve that give yourself another goal. Perhaps squat everyday until you get to 225 lbs.

Don’t focus on your numbers or looks. Focus on performance and good diet and the rest will come. Otherwise you will get demotivated.

Also if your body fat is that high I would focus on getting that wayyyy down. Big isn’t better if you’re fat.

Alternatively try something completely different for a month. 10,000 kettlebell swing program rips you up pretty good.

To make your body change you really have to force it to. I’m not sure what your intensity is like but for a natural it takes a fair bit of work to get it to budge. Especially if you have been lifting for a while.


Thanks a lot for your support. Upping frequency is something I’ve never tried. I will give it a chance. Is it really bad if I train muscles two times in a row ?
I have already tried rep progression, and it never worked though. Adding even one single rep makes me fail my incoming sets. Even with 5 mins rest. I have to either stop or deload.
Setting records just get me injured or makes my form falter. Because my muscles won’t grow at all, so I can’t increase the weight, at all.
I’ll definitely try to drop on fat %, however if I didn’t make any gains on a surplus, what will happen once I cut ? Will I still be able to squat or bench the empty bar ?
For the two years I’ve been training, I always left the gym with sweat all over my face, and it didn’t really help…
Does it take 10 years for a natural to get a 2-plates/3-plates bench press/squats ? I’ve always heard it is a milestone to achieve within the first year of training… even while cutting…

Let me guess. You listened to some clowns telling you to build a “base of strength” before you can train for hypertrophy.

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Yeah. I was wondering whether it wasn’t one big mistake. Always trained in the 5 rep range. So I should stop right now ? Or at least make it less often. (Edit : end goal is still strength though, but I can’t be strong without muscles I guess)

Not. At. All. The olympic lifters seem to do just fine with high frequency training of their muscle groups.

Now–granted when you go from a low frequency program to a high one you have to do it in small steps initially, but once acclimated yes it is completely fine.

My physique girls train up to 6 times a week in the off season. Football players routinely train the same muscle groups day after day in whole body lifts.

Both high frequency and volume are trainable. The key is that they need to be added in gradual chunks AND you need to pay attention to mobility and your soft tissue quality (a lesson 2 people I coach are learning now after not listening to me for years on end).

So, if you are only training 3x a week, move from that to a 4x a week upper/lower program for a month, then to a 5x a week Upper/lower/upper/OFF/whole body/lower/OFF program for a month.

Then, if you wish, you can start going true high frequency.

That is one approach and there are numerous others. Do not be afraid of bodybuilding style work–it serves good purpose in your primary goal of gaining strength.


Huge mistake. Accessory work is important and useful, and although some people don’t use it (like Bulgarian olympic lifters of old), many, many successful lifters do. The majority in fact.

I used to be like you, and that’s not a dig. But you are right–you can’t be strong without muscle.

I would try this: do 4 days a week, upper/lower, upper/lower split. Use 1 day of each as a typical 5 rep zone day for you, with 2 exercises of 3x10 reps at the end. Use the other 2 days as volume days. Bodybuilding days even.

IF it is not your technique holding you back you will probably find that testing your muscles with reps over 5 will help in the lonf run.

You also have to pay attention to the supporting muscle groups (back, glutes, hamstrings).


Noted. Thanks a lot for the advice.

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Just work it up gradually instead of all on one go, and you will be ok. This is a marathon not a sprint but it does get really frustrating.

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This topic went in an awesome direction.

The only question I would have (since @dt79 and @Aragorn already crushed it) is what are you doing for conditioning?


Yep. Conditioning is very important. After all if you are so out of shape that you can’t handle adequate training volumes then how do you expect to grow or get stronger? The connection with poor conditioning is extremely well known (even if not widely admitted).

Of course as @T3hPwnisher will agree you don’t need to be–nor should you try to be–a crossfit monkey. Conditioning should be like dessert, not the primary source of intake or nutrition, but a “topper”.

Incidentally this is one area that higher rep training can help fill even though it is not actually “conditioning”-- the idea of conditioning is basically more or less something that is teaching your body to overcome or adapt to more stimulus than you are used to getting. It shouldn’t take center stage unless you are a guy that competes in something requiring a fair quantity of endurance, like say triathlons or MMA. But it should be present in some small quantity in most programs for some of the time.

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Basically, if your goal is strength your priorities should be strength > muscle building > conditioning. As an example only, strength should vary between 40-50% of your week, muscle should vary between 30-40%, and conditioning somewhere near 10-15%.

That doesn’t mean that 50% of every workout needs to be “strength”, these are just examples. It just means to keep a clear set of priorities. Maybe you go through 3 or 4 months of the year where muscle and volume is your most important goal for that time period. You just keep strength as the goal the other time except for a month or 2 where you focus on conditioning.

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Okay, sorry I didn’t see the new posts that were added while I was posting. So nope, I haven’t been doing any conditionning because I had no idea what it was, and am still unsure actually

Imo start 531 and stick with it.It has so many templates that you can literally run it for 2-3 years if you want to

Also on a side note,the moment you choose a program put all your trust into it and don’t stress yourself too much

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Spot on. Conditioning is critical, but it shouldn’t be the focus. To me, it just seems to be the missing variable for most trainees, because all they want to do is lift weights. No point in being a conditioning king, but definitely needs to be there to allow you to continue progressing.

This is a great article on it.

And this one


Totally agree! Well said.

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its normal with those two programs, 80%+ of trainees report hitting a brick wall after 3-6 months. There’s a ton of effective programs on this site just try something else

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hey! I’m the guy who comes into every thread and says just do 5/3/1.

Get your own rhetoric


love this way of training

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I’ll start commenting westside from now on