3 Weaknesses That Ruin Your Strength Gains

WRITTEN BY Calvin Huynh

3 Weaknesses That Ruin Your Strength Gains

This scenario happens all too often.

Your lifts have been going smoothly for a few weeks and then all of a sudden the bar feels heavier than it should.

Your squat is crumbling, bench feels slow, and your deadlift is glued to the floor.

Doubt starts to creep in and the next attempt is even worse. You’re pissed you can’t detect the weakness, and now you’re worried not completing this workout will throw off your whole program.

It would be such a wonderful world if no lifter had weaknesses.

Our calves would never be lagging, the bar would move smoothly, and grip strength will never be an issue.

That’s a wonderful dream, but a lack of weakness isn’t even a reality for the most competitive lifter. We all have sticking points, lagging muscles, and a lift that all our friends seem to be way better at.

The reality is weaknesses are inevitable.

Our lifestyle, movement patterns, and habits cause them. The difference between successful lifters and unsuccessful lifters is not in the lack of weakness, but rather choosing to addressing them.

Here’s what you need to understand. While we all have individual weaknesses that might hinder progress a bit, there are 3 extremely common weaknesses in powerlifters that are notorious for stopping progress if not addressed.

The deadlift, squat, and bench are great at developing strength, but not great at fixing common weaknesses in most lifters. In fact, focusing too much on the big 3 has been one of the biggest culprit of not being able to progress in your powerlifting total.

Here are 3 common weaknesses you’ve been neglecting and exactly how to fix it, so you can have your strength skyrocket like it used to.

weaknesses that ruin your strength

1. You’re Neglecting Your Upper Back

Look, I get it, when you’re competing in powerlifting, your program often includes high doses of pushing exercises.

Bench press and squats occur multiple times a week along with accessories like close grip benching. While this is great to practice necessary movement patterns, it’s also a recipe for massive imbalance.

The big 3 requires a powerful, stable upper back to execute big numbers and prevent injury. While the upper back is active in these movements, it is not efficiently trained in these movements causing it to lag behind. It needs some love too.

What causes many lifters to neglect upper back work is thinking, “Well, the upper back isn’t the prime force producer to move the weight in benching, squatting, and deadlifting.”

This is a deadly way to think. While the upper back isn’t primarily responsible for moving the weight, it is the base for all your lifts to take place.

It’s the solid foundation that is required for powerful force to take place. Powerlifting with a weak upper back is like throwing a football while balancing on a Bosu.

You will always generate much more force when the upper back is strong and stable, so let’s show it love and add some much needed accessory exercises to our program.

Here are the 2 best that have corrected many weaknesses for some of my powerlifting clients.

The Bent Over Barbell Row

  • Strengthens posterior muscles in a horizontal plane
  • Corrects forward head posture that many lifters have
  • Allows shoulder blades to retract freely
  • Parallels the lowering portion of a bench press
  • Strengthens grip

The Pull-up

  • Strengthens lat muscles
  • Allows shoulder blades to depress vertically
  • Boost bodyweight strength significantly

Both of these are great addition to strengthen the posterior muscles to give you a rock solid base for your next workout. They are also crucial in keeping your body in optimal posture.

Everyday people need a higher pull to push ratio as it is, but powerlifters need it even more because of the high volume of horizontal pushing occuring. If you work a desk job, this issue is also further perpetuated due to sitting a a desk with rounded shoulders.

By adding both horizontal and vertical pulling, your posture will improve, imbalances will be addressed, and the foundation for lifting will be rock solid. Squats will better transfer force, deadlifts will fly off the ground, and more force can generated in the bench press.

2. Rear Delts Need Some More Love

Look, if you have shoulder pain and compete in a strength based sport, one of the most common causes are weak rear delts. Without training them, you are pissing your shoulders off.

Rear delts are just like vegetables. Vegetables don’t do anywhere near as much work as meat does when repairing muscle, but without vegetables your body is going to get pissed from digestion and health issues. Same with the rear delts.

They don’t do as much work as your triceps and anterior delts, but without strong rear delts, the bar will eventually feel stuck. Not to mention posture will also become an issue.

With all the compound pressing being programmed, it’s easy for smaller muscles like the rear delt to get neglected. The rear delts can get fatigued easily and make your bench press harder if neglected.

To mitigate this shoulder misfortune, simply add rear delt work into your warm up and towards the end of your workout to increase volume.

The chest supported rear delt fly is money for isolating the rear delts. Keep the weight low in order to move them in a controlled tempo. Too much body english won’t let you feel your rear delts working.

Seated face pulls are also great. Especially as a primer to prior to your first bench press working set. Fight the urge to shrug and move in a controlled tempo.

3. Your Grip Keeps Giving Out

Some of the most common sticking points can be fixed from a stronger grip. Straps and gloves are often misused and create weak grip strength in many lifters. Straps should only be used on extremely heavy sets or during competition. If used too often, your grip will begin to depend on them.

If you want your deadlift to be massively powerful, you need a grip strong enough that a grizzly bear never wants to shake your hand.

Your grip is responsible for further activating your central nervous system, stabilizing the bar, and helps you lift even more when straps are thrown back on.

Here’s how to develop a monster grip strength that can be done at the end of any workout.

This superset trains your grip in both short and long durations. This helps you be more explosive and prevents bar slips in higher volume sets. This superset also pairs a compression exercise and decompression exercise to prolong the life of your spine.

A1. Heavy Farmers walk 10-20 seconds

A2. One arm bar hang 15-40 seconds

If one arm hangs are too difficult, try switching to two arms and adding some weight. Be sure for both exercises to actively fight to keep your pinky strong. Once that itty bitty finger slips, grip will give out. Repeat this superset 1-3 times at the end of a workout.

Staying consistent with your grip work will allow you to develop hands stronger than the hulk. Your grip will be ready when your friend’s grip start to dwindling. If you compete, having a strong grip will make your numbers insane once you reintroduce straps.

Crush Your Next Workout

Weaknesses occur in all of us. Don’t beat yourself up about having them and definitely don’t let them stick around. These common weaknesses need to get addressed or else your numbers will stay still for eternity.

Not to worry, with these tips, you will absolutely crush your next workout. Stronger rear delts will make your bench pain free. A stronger grip will prevent the bar from ever slipping from your hand and a strong upper back will give you a monster foundation for some of the best PR’s of your life.

Author: Calvin Huynh
Calvin is a personal trainer, online coach, lover of food, and content creator who makes videos on all things health, nutrition, and fitness.
You can find Calvin Huynh at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf9PU62oDNYqNm7puyIRinA

Get your hands on my cheat sheet for setting up training programs that took a 132lbs. skinny weakling from not being able to bench the bar to deadlifting 3x his own body weight and winning silver at the nationals.