There is always that one guy in the gym. He trains at the same time, every single day, for hours on end. He knows everyone and is always up for a chat. By now, you’ve memorised his routine, his exercise selections and every single one of his mannerisms. He hits every muscle group, he performs the correct rep range; heck, he even gets his post workout shake in immediately upon finishing his workout! Yet, he looks exactly the same as he did the first time you saw him many years ago. How could this be?
If you are wondering why that guy has failed to progress over the last few years, or maybe you are slowly realising that perhaps you could be that guy, then listen up! This may shock you to hear, but building muscle doesn’t automatically occur just because you hit the gym every day. So to keep you on track to making endless gains, we’ve compiled a list of the top 8 reasons why you may not be building muscle. Chances are, you (or old mate at the gym) are likely to be making at least one of these mistakes on your quest for gans.
1. Your Training Intensity is Dismal
Training intensity is often referred to in order to gauge how difficult you are working in relation to your absolute maximum effort. Without adequate training intensity, it is likely that you are simply going through the motions instead of challenging yourself, breaking down muscle fibres, and stimulating muscle growth. Without taking you back to year 11 biology class, muscle growth requires the fibres of a muscle to heal and rebuild to become bigger and stronger. What stimulates this muscle growth and causes the breaking down of muscle fibres in the first place? Training!
You can determine whether or not you are training with enough intensity by analysing how you go about performing a standard set during your workout. When your goal is to perform 12 repetitions in a set, how easily are you completing those repetitions? Are you finishing your final rep effortlessly, or once you get to your tenth rep, are you honestly thinking you might not hit your twelfth? If you are able to complete your repetitions with ease, your muscles have no need to need to change and adapt to become bigger or stronger, as they are already capable of lifting the load you are selecting. Unless your training intensity is great enough to cause you to potentially fail by the end of your desired repetition range, chances are you aren’t stimulating any new muscle growth.
2. You Aren’t Changing It Up
We often hear that it is necessary to change up our workout routine in some way in order to achieve the results we have been longing for. It’s the so called “Keeping The Muscle Guessing” principle. So is this true? Kind of. As discussed, the aim of your training when your goal is muscle growth should be to achieve micro-tears in your muscle fibres. There is a reason why you are no longer dumbbell curling the same weight that you were two years ago; you’ve become stronger! When you challenge yourself, much like when you decide to perform 12 repetitions at a heavier weight than you’re used to, your body comes to learn that if it is to carry this out this successfully, it needs to become stronger. By repeatedly challenging your body to be able to do more than it currently has the capacity to, this stimulates your muscles to change & adapt to handle this increased load. Progressive overload is key; once you can complete your desired repetition range with ease, it is paramount that you increase the load if you want to continue to make progress and build muscle.
Changing it up not only refers to the weight you’re lifting but can also be applied to the method of training you’re undertaking, your repetition range and other elements of your training. The point is, if what you are doing is new for your body and your muscles haven’t become accustomed to the activity, you’ll be more likely to break down muscle fibres and consequently stimulate muscle growth. Need some ideas on different training methods to incorporate into your workout regime? Check out our Training Methods articles.
3. You Aren’t Sticking To A Plan
Although we’ve just discussed the need to mix up what you’re doing in the gym to challenge your body once it has become accustomed to your current training regime, that doesn’t mean chopping and changing every single day. Workout plans are specifically designed to guide every single workout you carry out for a designated period of time in order to help you reach a specific goal. Without a plan, even if you are motivated to get to the gym every day, you may not be selecting the right exercises, rep ranges and set structures to spark new muscle growth. Workout plans make it simple for you, and a good plan will take into account the fact that you WILL gain strength and therefore need to increase the load lifted or vary your rep range in the future. Many people start following a plan, stick to it for a couple of weeks, only to conclude that they aren’t getting the results they expected and change to another plan. Give it a chance; the muscle building process doesn’t occur overnight, and as cliche as it sounds, consistency is key. If the plan you’re following looks the same each week, consider hiring a qualified Personal Trainer or Coach, or check our Free Workout Plan.
4. You Ignore The Eccentric Phase Of Your Reps
The eccentric phase of an exercise refers to the ‘lowering’ or ‘lengthening’ phase; think of lowering a barbell during a biceps curl, or sitting into a squat. You may think of this phase of an exercise as the easier part, but did you know that this phase of the movement actually stimulates more muscle activation than during the concentric (or upward) phase? During the eccentric phase of a movement, you can actually resist up to 1.75 times the amount of load you can lift during the concentric phase. So next time you lift, don’t rely on gravity to return the weight to the starting position, instead of control it and focus on slowly lengthening the muscle you are training.
You can focus on the eccentric phase of a movement and make the most of each rep in a host of ways. You can increase the weight you typically lift during an exercise and focus on the eccentric part of each rep using a spotter to help you on the way up, or you can slow down the tempo of your rep during the eccentric phase, increasing the time your muscles are under tension. For a more thorough explanation on how to emphasis the eccentric phase of your reps, check out our Eccentric Training article.
5. Your Nutrition Isn’t On Point
“But I eat so much!” This is what many will say when confronted with the idea that they perhaps aren’t adequately meeting their nutritional needs in order to fulfil their goal of building muscle. For some, consuming enough calories each day is the main factor inhibiting their muscle gain potential; for others, getting the right kind of calories is more the issue. To put it simply, to gain muscle, your body requires an excess of calories that can be utilised during the repair and regeneration of muscle tissue. This means that you need to be eating MORE calories than you would typically need just to fuel your usual daily activities; you have to be in a caloric surplus.
Therefore, it is paramount that you are actually aware of both how many calories you are eating each day, and how many calories you NEED to be eating in order to achieve your goals. If you need some help with this try our Free Nutrition Plan to learn what your daily intake should look like. This will also provide you with the necessary insight into how much protein you should be eating; another integral component of the muscle building process. Without sufficient protein, your body won’t have the necessary nutrients required to actually rebuild muscle fibres. To enable your muscles to recover to their full potential and achieve the desired growth you have been working so hard for, make sure you are hitting both your calorie and protein requirements each and every day.
6. You Aren’t Taking Advantage Of Your Post Workout Window
It’s common for gym goers to end their workout with a protein shake, but do you actually know what role this plays in recovery and muscle growth? After a tough workout, you’ve likely used up a lot of your muscle glycogen (carbohydrates stored in muscle tissue) to provide energy during your workout. You’ve also likely broken down muscle fibres that now need to be repaired in order to rebuild and grow bigger and stronger. Therefore, post-workout, you want to opt for both fast digesting carbohydates and proteins that will break down rapidly and enter the bloodstream quickly to start the recovery process.
Most of us get the protein side of things – protein builds muscle, right? But the best way to get that protein, or more correctly, the amino acids from that protein shake into muscle cells to start the muscle repair process is via a spike in insulin. And the best way to spike insulin is by consuming rapidly digesting, simple carbohydrates. A great combination for your post-workout shake is Core Nutritionals ISO paired with Creation Supplements DextroPURE.
In addition, adding creatine to your post-workout shake is an effective way to ensure it is transported into your muscle cells along with amino acids by taking advantage of the spike in insulin. Creatine plays an integral role in the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP); your body’s primary source of energy for short, sharp muscle contractions and other anaerobic exercises, including lifting weights. Creatine allows you to move more weight for a longer period of time, hence stimulating more muscle growth, resulting in an increase in muscle size and strength.
7. You’re Performing Too Much Cardio
Whether you purposely incorporate cardio in a bid to shed some unwanted body fat or improve your fitness, or you have no choice but to do cardio by virtue of having a highly active job, you have to remember that performing cardio results in the burning of extra calories. You’ve just learned how many calories you require to build muscle, and by incorporating cardio into your regime, you have to consume even more calories to put yourself into a caloric surplus. If you are performing cardio with the intention of losing weight, you’ll need to really ask yourself what your priority is: building muscle or losing fat? While it isn’t impossible to achieve both simultaneously, you’ll be able to achieve one faster if you are completely focused on it. This is why many individuals opt to use winter as an opportunity to build size, and summer as a time to shred down and reveal all their progress.
If you perform cardio to optimise your fitness levels, or you participate in sports, you’ll also have to pay additional attention to your caloric intake. You’ll need to replace the calories you’ve burned during your cardio, therefore making it crucial to be aware of how many calories you need and what that actually looks like in a meal plan. Alternatively, find out what the most effective methods of cardio are not only for improving your fitness levels but for losing weight and retaining your muscle mass in our HIIT v LISS Cardio article. Or if you play sports and want to learn how you can still make progress in the gym during the season, even with all the games and practises each week, check out our Making Gains During Footy Season article.
8. Your Hormone Levels Aren’t Where They Should Be
Many of us are certainly aware that healthy hormone levels, specifically testosterone, are necessary to achieve muscle growth. Yet many of us lack the knowledge of how to ensure our hormones are in the ideal state for muscle growth. Before you jump the gun, Google “How To Increase My Testosterone”, and find yourself purchasing products that over promise and under deliver, learn what you can do that is already within your control to create the optimal anabolic environment to gain some size.
To optimise your natural testosterone levels, ensure you are choosing healthy sources of dietary fats and including them in your daily diet. Because testosterone is created from cholesterol in the body, and the body sources cholesterol from dietary fats, not eating enough fat each and every day may actually be causing your natural testosterone level to drop. In the gym, ensure you are including large, compound movements into your exercise regime, as heavy lifting has been shown to elevate natural testosterone production. At home, ensure you are getting enough hours of shut-eye each night; sleep is when your body rests and recovers and actually creates new testosterone. Finally, ensure you are intaking adequate amounts of key micronutrients and minerals including Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B6; and while you’re at it, ditch the sugar, which wreaks havoc on your hormones.
If you’re unable to meet the requirements of these micronutrients from your food alone, consider supplementing with a multivitamin and greens Formula such as MTS Machine Greens. If you’ve clinically tested your hormone levels with a General Practitioner or other Heath Professional and discovered you have below-normal levels, or you are over the age of 30, you can consider using a natural testosterone booster, which contains key ingredients shown to elevate free testosterone levels by up to 350%. Our favourites are MTS Barracuda and Platinum Labs Anabolic Triad.