Diet

Going backwards – How to avoid getting weaker in the gym

By March 22, 2011 12 Comments

I was in the gym the other day attempting to break my own record with weighted chins, when I epically failed on achieving an improvement from the week before. In fact, I had gone backwards.

I struggled to punch out the second rep with 45kg’s hanging off my  waist and had to let go whilst shaking my head in frustration. The week before, I had done the same weight for three reps — so what gives?

With certain types of max-weight training, you can hit a wall and proceed to go backwards if you don’t do the right things with your life style. Especially with chin-ups and pull-ups — you can decline into a weakling faster than you can say ‘spank my ass and call me charlie sheen’.

How can one avoid such declination into sub-awesome areas of performance and avoid getting progressively weaker in the gym? Read on…

#1 Don’t overdo the alcohol

What I neglected to point out above, was that prior to failing miserably on a set of chin-ups, I had been smashing my body religiously with alcohol at the weekend. How do I know it had an affect on me in the gym come monday morning? Simple — I felt like a slug and even contemplated skipping the gym altogether. It’s a familiar feeling that I’ve experience one too many times.

A toxic liver makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus.

#2 Be careful what you eat whilst drinking alcohol

A weekend full of alcohol usually ties in nicely with a weekend of bad food.

Pizza at 3am and chomping down spoonfuls of ice-cream out of the tub (standing in front of the fridge, yes that was me) are all the evil twin of too many cocktails.

So maybe my muscles were hit with the wrong types of nutrient macros over the weekend (not enough protein and too many carbs and fats?). Who knows, but I’d say my body was battling through a huge insulin spike caused by the influx of alcohol and therefore neglecting to send any of the bad food I was eating straight-to-my-lats.

#3 Thinking you’ve slept well when really you haven’t

Sleep deprivation might have had something to do with alcohol. You may THINK you’re passed out and sleeping like a corpse after a heavy night of drinking, but the fact is — alcohol robs you of that all important deep sleep which means you wake up feeling like you been punched in the head by Oprah Winfrey’s cankles.

#4 Training to failure (all the time)

Sometimes I just can’t take my own advice and tend to push myself to the point of failure on a regular basis. This can affect the central nervous system in a negative way, gradually decreasing the amount you’ll be able to lift over time.

Training to failure is good in moderation and for busting a plateau — just be mindful of how often you choose to use it.

#5 Going to the gym too many days a week is a no-go

Less is more when it comes to training. Sometimes, it’ll be the end of your workout and you’ll think to yourself

“I’ll just bust out one more exercise, surely my 4 other bicep exercises weren’t enough!”

Yes, you’d be an idiot and you’d be definitely wrong. Not only are too many exercises in a training session bad, but too many training days can also be a ball-ache.

A lot of ripped-massive guys only train 3 days a week, and yet I see skinny-fat guys in the gym who train up to 6-7 days a week looking like they’ve never even set foot in a gym.

To wrap it up

Was it any single one of the above factors that caused me to grow weaker as the weeks progressed? Maybe.

I’d put my money on it that it was a combination of stupid lifestyle choices and good pizza that were the ultimate cause.

So, reassess what you’re putting your body through on a regular basis. It can be easy to fall off the wagon over time.

Remember, it’s not the end of the world. Unless you’re training for the Olympics, then you shouldn’t be worried. Tell your coach I said hi.

Editor’s Note: Have you ever found yourself getting weaker? Comment below.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More posts by Clint Nielsen

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • This happened to me consistently for like 2 weeks once but it was purely psychological, I was majorly stressed in my personal and career and I thought hitting the gym would be a good stress reliever but then when my exercise started taking a hit as well it just made things worse!

    Luckily I snapped myself out of it and everything turned out ok, and my form in the gym gradually came back.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Not surprising at all — training is largely psychological in many ways. If you don’t believe that you will lift a set amount of weight, you’ve already failed and the chances you’ll physically lift it, are very slim. The concept of mind-muscle connection rings true.

  • Bryan says:

    Good post Clint. I know we have all been there saying “Why the hell can’t I make it another rep?” You tell the truth in all of the points but I would like to suggest one more. If you go through your routine over and over again, without having a single week off, your body (seems) to start restraining itself in order to preserve the energy. Meaning, less sets/reps. I ended up taking a month off and came back strong. I believe you touched on this point while being sick. Same thing applies, in my opinion, even if you are not sick.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      The rule I tend to follow is — if the thought of “i should take a week off” even enters your mind, then you should immediately. It’s like an automated trigger.

  • All great reasons why you may get progressively weaker in the gym. One other time I’ve experienced this is after rapid weight loss. Suddenly the weights can get a lot heavier. Some of this may be due to muscle loss associated with losing weight too quickly. Another portion might be attributed to having less fat leading to less leverage on exercises like the bench press.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Nice point Dave.
      After shedding a tonne of fat, even though you may look better, it’s a psychological set-back which takes a strong mind to overcome.
      You just need to remember that you WILL return to your former strength in due course.

      • Garret says:

        Hi Clint, have been dieting on and off for a year now. (217-160 pounds) Still have that niggling bit of fat to go. Do you think a phase 3 workout of VI would do the trick? Have lost strength as a result of Uni timetable and would like to get it back before summer.

        • Clint Nielsen says:

          Phase 3 would be perfect if you’ve been cycling the previous two.
          Otherwise, i’d be lifting in the 3-6 x 7 range and incorporating some intermittent fasting (if you’re not already).

  • Ha! That video is hilarious. Back in the days when I was too much of a gym rat, spending too much time there definitely affected my body composition and health negatively.

  • Hi! I really love the way you have made this site, or should I say blog ^^ Alot of intressting and good stuff in here, I got years of experience and still learned alot! Great mate, keep up this good work! take caare peaaaace ! :D

  • I had a moment in the gym a few weeks back doing dumbbell bench press. I got halfway through a rep on one of my working sets and I just failed. It was like my muscle wouldn’t fire. Before that rep I was going strong. After a bit of a rest I tried another working set with the same result. I was frustrated as hell because the week before I managed the same weight fairly easily. When I re-evaluated my whole day I realized that my water intake had been woeful. I was actually training in a dehydrated state. Never again will I make this mistake. Training dehydrated ruined my session. It really highlights the importance of keeping your water intake up when training.

  • Tim says:

    Well I did notice I was 10 down on my record of 36 consecutive pressups last time I checked. I had had a lazy Christmas and also at the time of testing I was feeling tired. I’ll do another fair test when my chest muscles are completely gone of ache.

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