10 Reasons You Aren’t Building Muscle

Building muscle isn’t easy.  If it were, you’d be seeing a hell of a lot more impressive people out there and I wouldn’t be kicking my own ass 5 days a week to keep getting bigger and stronger.

The problem is, there could be a myriad of causes for you to not be making the progress you are looking for.  Good news is, a lot of these are fixable, and it doesn’t take rocket science to fix them in a hurry.

Now don’t get disillusioned…easy fixes don’t lead to easy muscle; there is no such thing.  It takes one thing and one thing only to pack on the pounds.

But using this list to identify shortcomings in your training will help you make progress, and by keeping all of these in check, I’d be willing to bet that you make more progress than you ever have before.

#1 You Aren’t Lifting Heavy Enough

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You will not get any training effect from lifting anything less than 70% of your 1 rep max (1RM).  Stay below this threshold for your warmup sets, but when it is time to work, you need to be working with weights in between 70-85% of your 1RM.  Stick with reps in the 6-20 range per set, depending on the exercise.

You can stray above this if you want to gain some strength, but keep your reps and frequency low.  With my current program, in a given week I’ll hit 90-95% of my 1RM only twice per big lift (squat, bench, overhead press, deadlift) and my reps are usually never more than 3 for those sets.

When it comes time to do assistance work, I’m always in the 70-85% range.  Anything less, and you are wasting your time.

#2 You Are Resting Too Long

This is a huge problem for a lot of people, especially in a commercial gym scene.  If you are really trying to pack on the size, your rest periods should not be any longer than 2 minutes.  Be honest with yourself and carry a stopwatch.  Time your rest intervals and make sure you aren’t slacking.  Generally, by the time I add more weight for my next set, my rest period is just about up and it is time for me to bang out another set.

If you are training for pure strength gains, you can rest 3-5 minutes in between sets, but if you are training for hypertrophy, you better be in the 90-120 second time range.

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#3 You Aren’t Training Frequently Enough

The less you train, the less muscle you build.  Bottom line.  This especially goes for people doing body-part splits, which is why you should ditch that style immediately and do full body or upper/lower training sessions.

You need to train frequently to trigger muscle growth and induce your body to grow and adapt.  For most of you, that means 4 days of lifting, with 1-2 days of high intensity cardio like hill sprints, or sled work.

#4 You Are Training Too Much

There is a fine line between training enough and training too much.  I’m really not a believer in overtraining, but you need to get your rest.  Your rest days are the days you actually grow, and if you don’t give yourself time to recover, your body will never catch up.

A good rule is 48 hours in between body parts/sections.  If I train upper body on Monday, I won’t hit it again until Thursday.  If you have a light workout, 24 hours of rest may work.  Just remember to take days off (and in some cases weeks), eat like a beast, and let your body recuperate from the pounding it takes.

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#5 You Are Doing the Wrong Exercises

If you want a list of the best muscle building exercises, check it out here.

Pick exercises that recruit the most muscle by focusing on compound lifts and avoiding isolation work.  The more muscle you can recruit during a training session, the more growth you will trigger.  Plain and simple.

That means squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts are king.  Bicep curls, rope tricep extensions, and leg curls suck.  Don’t sabotage yourself by spending time on a bunch of junk work and wasting valuable training time.

#6 You Are Program Hopping

Far too often, someone will try a new program for a few weeks, feel like they aren’t getting results, and switch to something else.

Give it a chance!  Programs could take months to yield results and all it takes is persistence on your part to stick with it.  This goes especially for intermediate lifters; guys will have tremendous early success from lifting a few weights and think that is the norm.  After they plateau they may switch it up and not see the same results, but the problem lies not in the program.  They have progressed in their bodies beyond the point where results come so quickly.

Pick a program and give it a good honest 2-3 months, and then re-assess where you are.  The key here is being honest.  A lot of the time, people don’t perform the program as prescribed, tweaking things here and there, and wonder why they aren’t getting jacked…

#7 You Are Doing the Same Program For Too Long

Quite the opposite of the previous problem, but still just as common.  It is easy for us to get trapped in stale gym routines, doing the same exercises to death, and not switching things up.  Your body adapts to everything you subject it to; time of your workouts, exercises, resistance, movements, everything!

If you have been doing the same program for years, I’m no genius but it may be time to switch things up a little.

#8 Your Diet is Out of Whack

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Your diet may be the most important component to getting the body you want, far more important than your training itself.  Want six pack abs?  Hate to break it to you but that is all diet…

Want to gain muscle?  You gotta eat.  Not only making sure you are consuming calories above your daily maintenance levels, but also counting your macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, fats) to make sure they are sufficient to meeting your goals.

If you aren’t consuming enough protein and carbs, or consuming more calories than your body requires to fuel itself, you will not gain muscle or weight.  Period.

Record a daily food log if you have to.  Without a proper diet tailored to your needs and goals, you will not succeed.  Guaranteed.

#9 You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep

Not really much to say about this.  You need to be getting 8 hours of sleep.  This is when most of your tissue is repaired from ripping it all up in the weight room.  Lack of sleep increases your stress and cortisol levels, and can really f**k with your psyche.  Turn off the t.v., get your ass in bed, and get some z’s.

#10 You Haven’t Found the Mind Body Connection

If you’ve ever seen Pumping Iron with Arnold, he talks about this some.  He recalls how he can actually feel his muscles growing in that very moment and how his mind – body connection helps him get better results.

As touchy feely as this sounds, the man is right.  If you’ve ever felt this, you know what I’m talking about.  It is more than feeling “the pump”.  It is really focusing on your muscles as you complete a movement or do an exercise in the gym.  Feeling how your muscles contract and expand, how they work harmoniously together to make your body perform.

Work to establish this.  Meditate and concentrate.  If you can focus on your muscle building goal, and truly immerse yourself in the steps to get there and “feel the process”, your mind and body will be connected in such a way that you can’t help but improve.  You will be “in the zone”.

Wrapping Up…

Think about these problems and reflect on your own training habits.  Give yourself an honest evaluation and identify where you are falling short.  Use the guidelines I have given you to help rectify the problems, and re-evaluate your progress after a few months.

I will guarantee you that you will have put on more muscle if you follow my advice.  You can thank me later…

Evolve!!

— Tank

6 thoughts on “10 Reasons You Aren’t Building Muscle”

    1. Derek,

      Working out late shouldn’t kill your gains as long as you are getting good post-workout nutrition and getting plenty of sleep.

      When I first started lifting seriously, I didn’t hit the gym until about 8:30pm and didn’t get home until about 10. But after your workout you should try to get a good nutritious meal in. 8 hours of sleep is a goal to reach for as well, but I realize with your schedule you may not be able to fulfill that. Nap when you can!

      — Tank

  1. Derek,

    Working out late shouldn’t kill your gains as long as you are getting good post-workout nutrition and getting plenty of sleep.

    When I first started lifting seriously, I didn’t hit the gym until about 8:30pm and didn’t get home until about 10. But after your workout you should try to get a good nutritious meal in. 8 hours of sleep is a goal to reach for as well, but I realize with your schedule you may not be able to fulfill that. Nap when you can!

    — Tank

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