Articles  >  Weightlifting Program Design
Why Your Lifts Just Aren’t Getting Better… And What to Do About It
Mike Gray
April 14 2015

Let me try and put together a little scenario for you and tell me how close it is to what you’re going through right now. You’ve been lifting for about 18 months to a few years and all of a sudden gone are the days of monthly PRs and you are now even struggling to get within sniffing distance of lifts that used to be attainable whenever you wanted them. Nothing has changed, you just can’t seem to get any better. You’ve added volume and that didn’t work, you’ve cut back some and that didn’t do anything either.
Well the good news, and there is some, is that you aren’t the new guy anymore; the bad news is, well, you know, the bad news: you’ve stalled. So me being the great guy I am, I’ll give you some ways to hopefully get you back to hitting PRs and keep it going that way for a while. I’m doing this in list format because people seem to like that, and it keeps the grammar Nazis from blowing up the Catalyst Athletics Facebook account and making me angrier than I already am most days.

1. You’ve picked up some bad habits. This is very probable if you train alone or you train where your coaches are either new or they suck and wouldn’t know a good lift if it landed on them. So how does one fix that? Well, that’s pretty simple: train with people who know what they’re doing. I had to spend a year training alone at an isolated base in Japan, and shockingly enough, I was the only guy doing the Olympic Lifts at a command of 200 people. Guess what happened? I picked up some shitty habits. Guess what happened when I got in front of Coach Burgener after that year? That’s right, I got those kicked back out of me. Point of this? Find somebody who doesn’t suck to look at your lifts even if it’s only a couple of times a month.
2. Time to get bigger. Let me tell you a story of a new lifter. We can call this new lifter Greg. Well Greg was right around 85K when I met him and let’s say his lifts were around 90 and 120 at the time. Well Greg decided to put on weight over the years, and I watched Greg do 143/175 last weekend. Morale of this tale: if you get bigger so should your total. Especially you tall guys. Seriously I’m like 6-1”ish and the best thing I did was move up to 105 (granted still a light 105) and my total went up like 20k.
3. Time to get stronger. I am not about to start the debate of this ratio vs. that ratio or Americans suck because we can’t back squat some amount or whatever is being discussed on weightlifting forums right now. I can pretty much guarantee no weightlifter ever complained about his squat or pull feeling too strong. If you’re getting pinned while trying to recover from the clean over and over again then it’s probably time to get some front squat work in. Feel weak coming off the floor? Maybe some pulls are in order. There are plenty of articles all over this website with examples of ways to shore up your lifts.
4. You’re starting to believe your own bullshit. AKA known as big fish little pond syndrome. At one point you were probably not the best lifter where you were, and that in itself is a motivating factor to get better. Over time, though, you have progressed up the ranks and have surpassed many people and got comfortable to the point where maybe just maybe you aren’t pressing as hard as you once did. Fix that immediately. Feeling good about yourself is important, but it doesn’t take long to find videos of someone doing a lot more weight than you, at probably a lot less bodyweight. If it’s possible, arrange to train with people better than you on a regular basis.
5. You aren’t doing the little things. When you get to a certain point in lifting, it gets harder and harder to improve, so what happens is your margin of error gets smaller and smaller. When you’re new, you can show up with little sleep, a bit hung over and eating pop tarts walking in to the gym, and still probably have a legit chance of hitting some of your current best lifts. A few years down the road and you need to have a couple more things going your way for the stars to align. Getting enough sleep, warming up properly, and being properly nourished are more important than ever.
6. Get back to the basics. Sometimes as people progress they tend to get a bit fancy in their programming, thus shying away from what made them good in the first place. Take a look back on some of your old programs and see what you were doing at the time and try that. Everyone is looking for that crazy lift or program that some lifter from wherever is using on YouTube right now, but when it comes down to it, all the top lifters do the same thing: snatch, clean & jerk, squat and pull; they just do it better than everyone else.
7. Get a coaching certificate and use it. I firmly believe helping other people with their lifting can and will make you a better lifter. Going to a Catalyst Athletics seminar/certification, for example, will not only give you a much better idea of what you’re doing, but will give you the opportunity to start teaching others as well.
8. Reevaluation. I wrote an article about this not too long ago. Maybe it’s time you sat back and really evaluated what you’re doing and what changes need to be made to get you where you want to be. I was really guilty of that for quite some time: just keeping my head down and trying to put my head through problems instead of looking up and deciding what might be the best way to fix them.
9. Nagging Injuries. You might at this point have one of these little nagging injuries that are possibly holding you back just enough to not allow you to get over that hump. Get it evaluated and treated. Where would you rather be in 6 months? Looking back and saying, “I’m damn glad I got that knee squared away and can move on” or “I can’t believe my knee still hurts and my lifts are worse now than they were 6 months ago.” Not a difficult decision, and yes, I have had to make that decision, and yes it did suck at the time.
10. Mindset. Remembering why you are coming to the gym everyday besides the fact it’s just something you have been doing for the last few years is important. Have goals that are attainable and consistently update these to give you a reason for showing up.
It doesn’t take much to understand that eventually you will hit a sticking point and your progression will slow down. It’s normal and it’s going to happen to every lifter at some point. What I have done is come up with some reasons and ways to get your lifting back in the direction you want. If these don’t work, there is always the excuse that your shoes suck and that alone is enough reason to buy some new ones. If new weightlifting shoes doesn’t do it, then I might not sure what will.