It happens to all of us. At some point in time, we find ourselves getting weaker with each passing week instead of getting stronger.
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Weight training is supposed to be about improving our bodies, not getting weaker. Here's a question I received last week from a reader who is getting weaker and weaker.
I have read a lot of your articles and I really like your website. It is very helpful. I was wondering if you could offer some advice. I am 45 years old and I just started lifting weight again after about a 7 year sabbatical. I started about 5 weeks ago after having done interval training and diet for about two months to lose my gut; I have lost about 20 lbs. and most of my gut.
I am doing a MWF push/pull split using mostly compound exercises like assisted chin ups, bench press, lat pull downs, upright rows, dips etc. Usually 3-4 exercises per day, 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps. I always do some kind of bench press on my push days and chin ups on my pull days but other than that I mix
up my other exercises so that I am not always doing the same thing. I do see some improvement in my muscle tone and do seem to see a bit of growth. I also feel like I am doing pretty well with my diet, I have cut my carbs but I am getting plenty of protein - carbs seem to have a snowball effect and once I eat something with lots of carbs my appetite becomes hard to control.
The big problem is that I seem to be getting weaker! Each week I am able to lift less and less weight. It's to the point that I am almost embarrassed to go to the gym. I don't really feel tired like I am over training or not getting enough calories. I don't remember ever having this happen when I lifted in the past, is this normal thing? Based upon the little bit of info I have provided can you see anything I am obviously doing wrong?
Thanks for the question.
Without knowing exactly what you're doing in your workouts, it's hard to come up with concrete answers. However, I will try and help based on the information you provided. Let's take this in steps:
"I am doing a MWF push/pull split using mostly compound exercises like assisted chin ups, bench press, lat pull downs, upright rows, dips etc. Usually 3-4 exercises per day, 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps. I always do some kind of bench press on my push days and chin ups on my pull days but other than that I mix up my other exercises so that I am not always doing the same thing."
I'm assuming your mixing up your exercises to allow for some type of "muscle confusion". I'm not a big fan of this principle. You see, the muscle confusion principle is meant to spur additional muscle growth by not allowing the body to adapt to certain repetitive movements, exercises and intensity levels. To do this, one must be constantly altering a variety of variables such as routines, exercises (movements), repetitions, sets, rest, and weight. The key here is to prevent muscle stagnation by not allowing the body to adapt.
However, what the muscle confusion principle doesn't allow for is muscular improvement and adaptation. Building muscle requires one thing and that's to make strength improvements from workout to workout, day after day, month after month and year after year. You actually want your body to adapt because this is the only way they grow.
With that being said, you have to ask yourself, "how do I know I'm making strength improvements in each of my exercises if I'm constantly changing the patterns of exercise and other variables?" The problem is that you don't.
What you need to do is decide on a program that's right for you and your goals (objectives). Stick with this program, and make weekly tweaks and adjustments to the exercises. Alter your grip, rest, or pace. Try using drop sets, giant sets, super sets, or 21's for the last sets of your exercises.
For more information about muscle confusion, click here. Also, please see this article here about steady and progressive weight training.
In addition, stop doing anything assisted. Assisted repetitions do nothing but aggravate joints, ligaments and tendons. The only time you should be doing assisted repetitions is on your very last work set and even then, you shouldn't really need one. Reduce the weight and increase the amount of repetitions. Performing assisted repetitions every workout is counter productive. Assisted repetitions requires a huge amount of energy. If your low on energy sources (nutrients) your body will fail to perform.
I strongly recommend you drop the assisted repetitions. For more information on how to improve your strength levels, without going to failure every workout, click here.
"I also feel like I am doing pretty well with my diet, I have cut my carbs but I am getting plenty of protein - carbs seem to have a snowball effect and once I eat something with lots of carbs my appetite becomes hard to control. The big problem is that I seem to be getting weaker! Each week I am able to lift less and less weight.
Kyle, without knowing additional information, I believe this is your main culprit. It sounds like you're not providing your body with enough energy to complete those necessary growth repetitions.
When it comes to progressive weight training, the body will rely on the following energy sources:
The body will first use its stores of ATP to move the weight. For example, when you lift a certain weight for the first two or three repetitions, it will first use ATP. To create additional stores of ATP, the body will rely on creatine phosphate. The more creatine phosphate you have in your body, the more usable ATP that will be available. This result is more muscle energy for those first few seconds of exercise. Instead of performing 2 repetitions, you will now be able to perform 4 repetitions.
This is why creatine is such a popular supplement. Creatine will stock up the bodies stores of creatine phosphate, which in turn will help create more ATP for muscle energy. I have a more detailed guide on creatine here.
My suggestion to you is to stock up on your bodies stores of creatine phosphate Start using creatine.
Glycogen is the bodies preferred energy source. Once stores of ATP are used up, the body will rely on glycogen to keep the muscles moving. The more available stores of glycogen you have available, the more usable energy your body will have to complete additional repetitions. Glycogen is a product of glucose which comes directly from .Carbohydrates. That's right; the bodies' number one fuel source is carbohydrates. The more carbohydrates you take in, the higher your stores of glycogen (up to a certain point) and available muscle energy.
From the sounds of it, you've probably cut too many carbohydrates from your diet. This explains why you're losing energy and can't perform additional repetitions beyond a certain point. My suggestion is to boost your daily intake of carbohydrates. To build muscle, your daily caloric intake from carbohydrates should be 55% to 65%. You should be taking in about 35% more carbohydrates than you do in protein.
Please keep in mind that the bulk of your carbohydrate intake should come from whole food sources such as;
• Whole wheat bagels
• Cream of wheat
• English muffin
• Whole wheat pitas
• Brown rice
• Plenty of fibrous vegetables
I know you don't really want to hear this but I think it's important for you to understand this. There should only be two times of the day when you ingest fast acting carbohydrates (fast acting sugars). The first is first thing in the morning and the second is immediately after your workouts. The best way to think about these two scenarios is to imagine your body is akin to a sponge. The sponge is bone dry first thing in the morning and immediately after your workout. The body will soak up and use as much nutrients your can consume. The fast your get those nutrients, the better to start the recovery process. My suggestion is to consume the following drink first thing in the morning and immediately after your workouts:
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
Trust me; if you can consume this drink at these two times of the day, you'll start noticing a difference in your performance in one to two weeks. Remember, you have to be consistent so drink every day. See our muscle nutrition guide for more information.
The body will also turn to muscle tissue for energy. Depending on how much ATP and glycogen you have in your body will depend on how the body will use up its protein sources for energy. In my opinion, the body should never resort to using its own protein stores for energy. You see, the body will break down its own muscle tissue to use protein as a fuel source. If you have low stores of ATP, glycogen and fat, the body will turn to its protein stores (muscle tissue) and use it for energy This is something you never, ever want. This is a nasty cycle because the body is basically eating itself. You keep training to build muscle but the body is eating more and more muscle tissue to stock up on its stores of energy.
The carbs seem to have a snowball effect and once I eat something with lots of carbs my appetite becomes hard to control result is a progressively weaker and weaker body.
Kyle, it sounds as if your body is out of nutrient balance. By starving yourself of carbohydrates, your body (out of survival instinct) will crave carbohydrates to balance the nutrient scales. Once you start consuming carbohydrates it will want more. The trick is to feed it the right carbohydrates at the right times. The majority of your carbohydrate sources should come from whole sources and as I mentioned above, you should only be consuming fast acting carbs in the morning and immediately after your workout.
Whole food carbohydrate sources won't make you fat. In fact, they will do the opposite. Consume plenty of fibrous and leafy vegetables, low glycemic carbohydrate sources and you'll turn your energy levels around in a matter of days. Don't fool yourself into thinking that all you need is protein to get strong and build muscle. Carbohydrates are just as important so don't neglect this important source of energy.
I strongly suggest increasing your daily water intake. Drink a gallon of water per day (I know, it sounds like a lot but trust me, this make a huge difference). For more information, please see our water intake page here.
To sum up:
Kyle, without knowing more about your diet and weight training program, this is the best advice I can give. I hope this helps.
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