If you’ve been training for a while but are still weak and struggling to build muscle mass, you are probably making some common diet or workout mistakes. That’s a shame because it means you are wasting most of your valuable time and effort.
It doesn’t matter what supplements you take or what the meme on your T-shirt says if you aren’t paying your dues in the gym and the kitchen, you’ll never reach your workout goals.
Take an honest look at your current workout plan and diet, and make sure you aren’t committing any of the following training or nutritional sins. If you are, make the recommended changes to take the brakes off your progress and see the results you deserve.
1. You are scared of eating enough
You can’t build muscle without food – lots of food. Your body needs carbs and fats for energy and protein for muscle repair and growth. You also need vitamins, minerals, and fiber to stay healthy.
A lot of exercisers are scared of eating enough. They are convinced that they’ll gain too much fat. That’s BS! If you don’t eat enough, you’ll never build muscle and gain strength. That doesn’t mean you can chow down on an endless supply of junk food, but you do need to make sure you eat enough calories, protein, carbs, and fats to support muscle growth. Not just once or twice a week, but every single day.
If you ARE gaining a little more fat than you’d like, simply cut back on your food intake slightly. Balancing your food intake and energy expenditure isn’t rocket science; you are in control of your food intake.
Here are a few muscle-building nutritional tips to make sure you are eating enough:
1- Chug down a protein shake between meals to increase your protein intake.
2- Never skip breakfast. Start each day with eggs, oatmeal, and some fruit.
3- Carry healthy snacks with you, so you never have to go more than a couple of hours without eating. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, natural yogurt, fruit, beef jerky, and cold cuts are all excellent portable muscle-building snacks.
4- Have a mass-gainer shake once a day to increase your daily calories and macros.
5- Add a portion of rice, quinoa, potatoes, pasta, or bread to every meal you eat to add muscle-building calories to your diet.
Remember: you are what you eat. So, if you want to get big, you need to eat big too. Think of food as the building blocks of muscle. With more blocks available, you’ll be able to build more muscle and strength than ever before. But, too few blocks and you won’t be able to build anything at all.
2. You aren’t pushing yourself hard enough when you train
Nobody ever got bigger and stronger by taking it easy in the gym. Building strength and muscle mass takes effort and commitment. When you go to the gym, go to work and not to socialize. Leave your phone in your locker to avoid unwanted distractions.
Muscle and strength building workouts are hard, and that’s how it has to be. Your body would prefer to stay small and weak, and it has to be bullied into growth. Your workouts need to be so hard that your body has no choice but to get bigger and stronger in response. If there is no perceived threat to its survival, your body won’t change. Period!
Make sure you take most of the sets in your workout to within 1-2 reps of failure, using the heaviest weights you can safely lift. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted between sets or exercises; too much rest could undo the benefits of your otherwise productive workout.
3. You only do exercises you enjoy or are good at
If you are really serious about getting bigger and stronger, you need to start spending more time on the exercises you hate. Why? Because most people hate the exercises they suck at, and if you suck at an exercise, it probably means you find it hard. When it comes to productive training, hard is good, and harder is better!
There is nothing inherently wrong with things like leg extensions and triceps pushdowns but, if you want to get better (or any!) results from your training, you need to build your workouts around more demanding exercises. Good choices include:
- Squats – the king of quad exercises
- Deadlifts – the best total back builder around
- Bench presses – to bulk up your pecs, shoulders, and triceps
- Overhead presses – because real men don’t just bench press!
- Pull-ups and chin-ups – for a bigger back and biceps
- Bent over rows – to counterbalance your bench press workouts
Biceps curls, calf raises, and cable crossovers all have a place in your workouts, but only after you’ve done the more productive, compound exercises that are best for building muscle and might. Focus more on the harder exercises, and you’ll get better results from your training.
4. You are ignoring the importance of recovery
If you are training hard, you need to recover hard too. You can’t expect to hit the gym, party all night, and make progress. Sleep is when your body heals and grows, and most adults need 7-9 hours per night. Studies show that not getting enough sleep can adversely affect testosterone production, muscle mass, and strength (1).
Make sure you get enough sleep by heading off to bed around eight hours before you are due to get up. This may mean turning off the TV earlier, turning down invitations to go out, or otherwise curtailing your partying lifestyle, but that’s what you need to do if you want to get enough muscle-building sleep.
5. You are too reliant on supplements
Supplements can help you build muscle faster and get stronger too, but they are not magic bullets. You still need to put in the work. Taking creatine, using protein powders, and chugging down a pre-workout can all be useful, but not if your diet sucks and you aren’t training hard enough. By all means, use supplements, but don’t even consider them if you aren’t putting all the information in this article into action.
For example, it doesn’t matter how many protein shakes you are chugging down if you skip more workouts than you complete. Think of supplements as effort multipliers – the harder you work, the more beneficial they’ll be.
3. You aren’t following a good workout plan
If you want to build muscle and get stronger, you can’t just turn up at the gym and do whatever exercises your training buddies are doing. While exercise variation is important for muscle growth (2), you’ll get better results if you create and stick to a good program for 4-8 weeks before changing it.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a four-day per week program that balances hard work and compound exercises with plenty of time for rest and recovery. Work hard to increase your weights week by week, and then, when your progress starts to stall, switch things up with a new workout.
- Monday: Lower body 1
- Tuesday: Upper body 1
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Lower body 2
- Friday: Rest
- Saturday: Upper body 2
- Sunday: Rest
|Workout 1 – lower body|
|2||Romanian deadlifts||3||8||90 seconds|
|3||Leg press||3||10||60 seconds|
|5||Standing calf raises||3||15||60 seconds|
|Workout 2 – upper body|
|1||Bench press||4||6||2 minutes|
|2||Pendlay rows||4||6||2 minutes|
|3||Inc. DB bench press||3||8||90 seconds|
|4||Chest supported rows||3||8||90 seconds|
|5||DB shoulder press||3||10||60 seconds|
|6||Skull crushers||3||10||60 seconds|
|7||Triceps pushdowns||3||12||60 seconds|
|Workout 3 – lower body|
|2||Front squats||3||8||90 seconds|
|3||Good mornings||3||10||60 seconds|
|4||Bulgarian split squats||3||12||60 seconds|
|5||Seated calf raises||3||15||60 seconds|
|Workout 4 – upper body|
|1||Barbell shoulder press||4||6||2 minutes|
|3||Shoulder press machine||3||8||90 seconds|
|4||Wide grip lat pulldown||3||8||90 seconds|
|6||Barbell biceps curls||3||10||60 seconds|
|7||DB preacher curls||3||12||60 seconds|
Nothing in life comes easy, and that includes getting stronger and building bigger muscles. That’s why so few people ever achieve impressive levels of either. If you want to rise above the mediocrity that most gym users have settled for, it’s time to make changes to your diet and workouts.
If you commit yourself fully, you will be astounded at the progress you can make. Or, you could just keep doing what you are doing, and stay as you are. Ultimately, it’s up to you!
1- Auyeung, Tung Wai; Kwok, Timothy; Leung, Jason; Lee, Jenny Shun Wah; Ohlsson, Claes; Vandenput, Liesbeth; Wing, Yun Kwok; Woo, Jean (July 1, 2015). “Sleep Duration and Disturbances Were Associated With Testosterone Level, Muscle Mass, and Muscle Strength–A Cross-Sectional Study in 1274 Older Men”. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. 16 (7): 630.e1–6. doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2015.04.006. ISSN 1538-9375. PMID 25959075. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25959075
2- Fonseca, Rodrigo M.; Roschel, Hamilton; Tricoli, Valmor; de Souza, Eduardo O.; Wilson, Jacob M.; Laurentino, Gilberto C.; Aihara, André Y.; de Souza Leão, Alberto R.; Ugrinowitsch, Carlos (2014-11). “Changes in Exercises Are More Effective Than in Loading Schemes to Improve Muscle Strength”. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 28 (11): 3085. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000539. ISSN 1064-8011. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2014/11000/Changes_in_Exercises_Are_More_Effective_Than_in.9.aspx