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So I have been going to the gym for a decent while now (a couple of years) and have always noticed a problem that I may not have addressed ever and I might be going at the wrong way. I am aware that progressive overload is the proper way to build muscle (increase weight, then increase reps until you can do about 10, then increase the weight again and start over), but for some reason I haven't noticed any success. Here's what it looks like for me at the moment:

For example, this morning I trained biceps. I took 35lb dumbells and did a few different exercises that I normally do. But after the first couple of exercises (I did 8-10 reps of each for a few sets), I could not continue with the remaining exercises without failing after 4 or 5 reps. What's weird is I don't feel like I'm out of strength, it feels like my bicep literally does not want to contract at all. This causes me to end the workout by doing a couple more sets at a lower rep count than I want.

I have a couple of hypotheses' and I want to verify that my thinking is right. First off, I might just be getting tired nearing the end of my workout since I do cardio at the beginning (this is always the way I have done it). The main reason I do cardio near the beginning is that I am cutting right now and want to focus on building stamina as well. Should I be doing cardio after my weight training? How will this affect how much I can run? Another thought I have is my elbows. Yes, my elbows. Whenever I do anything upper body (mainly chest, but biceps and shoulders as well) my elbows crack and start getting uncomfortable. This causes me to sometimes end sets early (especially for bench press) and keeps me from being pushed to the max. Is there any way I can train that part of my arm to withstand more pressure? Or should I not worry and push through the discomfort? My wrists can also feel this same way when doing some exercises.

Finally, is the way I am thinking about progressive overload correct? Can it be explained to me in a way that would possibly fit my situation?

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I have experienced something very similar. After about a year of working out my biceps ~2 times per week (3 or 4 different exercises), I was doing 4 sets of each exercise all to failure and I wasn't getting sore or building mass/strength anymore.

I think your hypotheses all have some validity.

  1. Tiredness - This can definitely contribute, I noticed that when I had less sleep or had been eating less, this feeling came much more often. I usually do cardio at the end of my workouts but I think the results are different for each person. The best way to find out is to try mixing it up for a few weeks and see if anything feels different.
  2. Elbows/Wrists - I would definitely not push through the pain for this type of thing, you can easily injure yourself. If the pain from those areas are limiting your reps, I would try to find a new exercise for the same muscle group (i.e. flys instead of bench). Maybe see a chiropractor or sports doctor to find out what the problem really is. I have a separated shoulder that sometimes pops when I do chest/shoulder exercises but it isn't too painful so I am not worried about it.

For me the initial problem was fixed by changing up the exercises I was doing, now I rotate exercises ever few months because my muscles get too accustomed to a certain set of exercises and stop growing.

I think your method of progressive overload is fine but it may not work for you. It may be worth trying something different if you aren't noticing any gains.

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  • Thanks for the advice! I feel as though the pain of my elbows/wrists isn't a big limiting factor, I just haven't felt comfortable with pushing through because of possible damage. – ThatOneNerdyBoy Mar 4 at 0:14

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