Are you frustrated at your rate of muscle gain? Do you wonder why you’re not making the gains that you see others making? Ever wondered what the hell you’re doing wrong?
In this article, we’re about to hone in on the nine most fundamental muscle building mistakes made by new – and not so new – lifters that keeps them spinning their wheels. We’ll also unveil some simple hacks to remove those obstacles to start packing some real mass onto your frame.
Muscle Mistake #1: Neglecting Carbs
It’s a proven fact that going low on carbohydrates will help you to lose stored body fat. When it comes to building muscle, however, carbs are an essential part of the nutrition equation. So, going low carb because you want to get ripped while packing on lean mass is not a good idea.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy. They provide the fuel to drive you through your workouts. When your body is adequately carbed up, you’ll be able to train with greater intensity to create the muscle fiber damage that opens the doorway to muscle growth. Provided that you refuel and recover adequately, you’ll be on your way to lean mass gains.
Carbs do more than simply fuel your training. Recent research suggests that they also enhance protein synthesis after your workout. This is the process by which amino acids repair the damaged muscle cells caused by your training. So, taking a combination of carbs and protein post-workout will replenish your muscle cell’s glycogen levels while also stimulating protein synthesis.
Muscle Mistake #2: Over Training
We’ve been conditioned to thinking that more is better. But when it comes to working out, more is definitely not better. Only the right amount of the right type of training is better. Yet, people who are sold on the more is better mentality get themselves into a vicious cycle. Because they are overtraining, they don’t get the results they are striving to achieve. So, they train even longer, leading to even slower results.
Most trainers need to cut back on what they are doing. A huge part of muscle growth is recovery. Finding ways to enhance recovery is vital for muscle growth [link to recovery article]. When you don’t allow yourself to recover, you hit a wall – hormonally, neurologically, and physically - that will shut down your muscle gains.
Analyze your training volume. If you aren’t able to maximally train a muscle group inside twenty minutes, then you are training for too long. Plan to be in and out of the gym within 45-60 minutes. According to a 2016 study, training a muscle group twice per week with a gap of at least 48 hours between workouts is best for muscle growth.
Muscle Mistake #3: Unrealistic Expectations
Unrealistic expectations often come from making comparisons with athletes who are on steroids or are genetically gifted. It is possible to get shredded and pretty big as a natural athlete. However, you will never look like Phil Heath, or even the dozens of so-called ‘natural’ athletes and cover models who proliferate the fitness industry.
As a drug-free athlete, you have a muscle building limit defined by your genetic make-up. You also need to understand that growth slows as your training life increases. A lot of people are too quick to give up on themselves or classify themselves as hard gainers because their expectations are built on what they see in the muscle magazines. To succeed in building muscle, you need to have realistic expectations about what you are capable of achieving.
Muscle Mistake #4: Fixating on Heavy Weight and Low Reps
The mantra ‘the only way to get big is to lift big’ is so pervasive that nearly every new trainer is convinced that the only way to build muscle is to train in the 6-8 rep range every single workout.
The most important factor when training is choosing an exercise that follows the movement angle of the muscle being worked. After that, there are two mechanisms by which muscle is built:
- Load (mechanical tension)
- Rep range (Volume)
Studies have shown that the ideal rep range for muscle hypertrophy is a middle ground that brings in aspects of both growth mechanisms. Your sets should be in the 6-12 range, using 60-75% of your one-rep maximum.
Muscle Mistake #5: Not Doing Full Range of Motion
Look around your gym. You’ll see people doing half reps all over the place. Now, you will build some muscle with half reps, but it will not be optimal growth. A full range of motion will insure that you elongate your muscle fibers. It will also make sure that you are making the most of the negative part of the exercise.
In one study, participants were divided into two training groups. The first group did a six-week leg workout with a 50% range of motion, while the other group used a 90% range of motion. Exercises included squats, lunges, and leg extensions. After six weeks, the 90% range of motion group was significantly more muscular and stronger.
Often, people will perform half reps simply because they want to look good lifting heavy weight. Don’t fall into that trap. Leave your ego at the gym door and focus on a full range of motion with a weight that you can handle with perfect form.
Muscle Mistake #6: Not Switching Up Your Workout
You see it all the time; people doing the same routine, week after week, month after month. Often, their results are disappointing. Remember that your body is very smart. It will adapt to everything you are throwing at it. What you need to do is to vary your workouts so that you are continually keeping your muscles guessing. This will allow you to hit a training peak with one workout routine, then switch to a new challenge before your body acclimatizes, and your results taper off. In this way, you are continually stimulating your muscles.
Never allow your routine to get stale. A good guideline is to change it up every six weeks.
Muscle Mistake #7: Lack of Intensity
You do not build muscle by just showing up at the gym. If you are going to the gym simply to count reps, then you are wasting your time. The truth is that the numbers that you are doing in the gym and the reps that you are counting don’t matter. The only thing that matters is the intensity that you are bringing to those numbers.
If you are on your 9th rep and are struggling to eke out that rep, and your muscles fail just before the lockout, then you’ve done an intense set. But, if you are just going through the motions, merrily counting off the numbers, putting the weight down, and then waiting to do it again, you are not training with the intensity you need.
You can either train hard or you can train long, but you can’t do both. So, a lot of guys who perform marathon workouts are simply not training with enough intensity. When you bring a high level of focus and intensity to what you do, you will, by default, cut down your training time.
Muscle Mistake #8: Avoiding Hard Exercises
We all know the hard exercises – squats, bench presses, deadlifts, pull-ups. Do you instinctively try to avoid them? With some movements, the impending doom of the bar creates a threat. With the bench press, there’s a threat that the bar could come crashing down on your chest. The insecurity of the exercise threatens you. Same thing with squats.
Of course, those hard exercises are the very ones that will pack muscle onto your frame faster than anything else. So, if you want to get big, you have simply go to build that foundation of size with those hard and heavy compound moves.
But you don’t have to jump in at 300 pounds on your bench, just because that’s what others are doing. You have to start somewhere, and you need to use the correct form. Work within your capabilities, but do not let the fear of the hard moves rob you of your gains.
Muscle Mistake #9: Too Few Calories
Your workouts are breaking your muscles down. Building them back up is all about what goes into your mouth. Unless you provide your body with the material to build muscle, it simply won’t be able to do it.
To add lean muscle to your body, you need to create a caloric surplus, where you take in more calories than you burn off each day. The average man needs around 2500 calories per day to supply their energy needs, with the average woman requiring 2000 calories. To build muscle, you should add 500 calories to that total.
Go here to work out your specific caloric needs.
Rather than eating the traditional three meals per day, eat every three waking hours, for a total of 5-6 meals per day. Your macronutrient breakdown should be 50% complex carbs, 30% protein, and 20% healthy fats. Focus on the following food sources:
- White meat
- Red meat
- Whey ISO PRO
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown Rice
- Coconut Oil
You put a lot of hard work into your muscle-building efforts. Don’t let all of that effort go to waste by making fundamental errors. Apply the suggestions provided here, and you will achieve the following:
- You’ll be training with purpose and common sense
- You’ll be eating to fuel your cells for muscle growth
- You’ll be allowing the recovery time your body needs to grow