Want to know why you’re not gaining muscle? You’re not alone.
Maybe you’ve been training hard for several months, but you’re not seeing the gains you wanted. You must be doing something wrong, you think to yourself, but you’re not quite sure what that something is.
Today, I want to show you 10 reasons why you’re not gaining muscle as quickly as you’d like.
1. Insufficient Training Volume
When it comes to building muscle, your training volume is a critical factor affecting how quickly that muscle is built.
By training volume, I’m talking about the total number of work sets (not warm-up sets) you do for each muscle group, both in a single training session and over the course of a week.
In other words, the higher your training volume – up to a point at least – the faster your muscles will grow.
If your overall training volume is too low, the stimulus for growth will be relatively weak, and you’ll find that gaining muscle happens a lot more slowly than it otherwise would do.
If you’re a newbie to resistance training, aim for somewhere between 10-12 sets per muscle group per week.
Once you’ve moved past the beginner stage of training, chances are you’ll need a higher volume of training to keep the gains coming. In this case, 13-18 sets per muscle group per week is closer to the mark.
In terms of training frequency, you want to be training each muscle group at least twice a week.
Once a week can certainly work in the sense that it will lead to muscle being built.
But in general, I think most people will see better results hitting each muscle group at least twice every seven days.
2. Poor Nutrition: Not Eating Enough Calories
When it comes to building muscle, what you do in the gym is only half the story. You also need to pay attention to the nutrition side of the equation.
Building muscle takes energy, and a diet designed to maximize your rate of muscle gain requires eating more calories than your body needs to maintain its weight.
That means being in a calorie surplus, rather than the deficit required for weight loss.
It is possible to build muscle in a caloric deficit. But in most cases, muscle growth in a caloric deficit tends to happen a lot more slowly than muscle growth in a calorie surplus.
That is, without enough calories, your rate of muscle gain will be a lot slower than it otherwise would be.
How many extra calories do you need?
In most cases, somewhere between 300-500 calories a day above your maintenance requirements should be enough to get the job done.
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Where should those additional calories come from?
If you prefer a lower carb intake, aim to get around 30% of your total daily calories from carbs, with the rest coming from protein and fat. If you feel better with higher carbs, go for a diet providing around 50% carbohydrate.
3. You’re Not Training Hard Enough
Many times in the gym, I’ll see personal trainers having a full on conversation with a client, all while said client is right in the middle of an actual set.
They’re not offering encouragement or providing helpful pointers about proper form. Rather, it’s just general chit chat about what they did at the weekend, when they’re getting the bathroom done, and where they’re planning to go on holiday.
If you’re able to have a conversation with your trainer (or anyone else for that matter) during a set, or your mind is doing anything other than focusing 100% on the exercise you’re doing, you’re almost certainly leaving gains on the table.
Stimulating muscle growth does require that you reach a certain threshold of effort when you’re in the gym.
You certainly don’t need to push yourself to failure – that point where you’re physically unable to complete another rep. But you do need to get reasonably close.
Training harder doesn’t necessarily mean lifting heavier weights. In fact, gaining muscle doesn’t require that you lift very heavy weights in the gym. Muscle fibers can be made to grow with a variety of rep ranges and loads, ranging from light to medium to heavy.
4. You Try to Stay Lean all the Time
When they say they want to gain weight, most lifters want the majority of that weight gain to come in the form of lean muscle mass rather than body fat.
It’s normal to gain some body fat when you’re trying to build muscle. Lifters who try to stay lean during a period of weight gain are often the ones who struggle to put on any muscle.
It’s rare for 100% of your gains to come in the form of lean muscle mass with zero in the way of fat. Chances are it’s going to be more like 80% muscle and 20% body fat, or even 60% muscle and 40% body fat.
For example, if a lifter gains 10 pounds, maybe two or three pounds is going to be in the form of fat, with the rest coming from muscle.
However, you don’t want to get to the stage where you’re adding fat more quickly than you’re putting on muscle.
5. Your Workout Routine Involves Short Rest Periods
Some say that a workout routine geared towards muscle growth should involve short inter-set rest periods. And by short, I’m talking somewhere in the region of 30-60 seconds.
And by long, I’m talking about giving yourself 2-3 minutes of rest between each set.
Why do longer rest intervals work better for muscle growth?
With short inter-set rest periods, residual fatigue from the previous set tends to bleed into the next one, which has the effect of reducing the number of repetitions you’re able to do.
As a result, the strength of the muscle-building stimulus generated by a given workout is weakened, which in turn puts the brakes on muscle growth.
6. Inadequate Protein Intake
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for building muscle, mainly because your muscles need it to repair and recover after training. Without enough protein in your diet, your muscles aren’t going to grow as quickly as they otherwise would.
To calculate the amount of protein you need to maximize muscle growth, aim for at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. If you prefer metric, multiply your bodyweight in kilograms by 1.6.
That will do the job for most people.
While you can go higher, there is a ceiling on the amount that your body can use to synthesize new muscle tissue. And most research suggests that ceiling is somewhere in the region of 0.7 grams per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of bodyweight per day.
What about supplements?
As long as you’re getting enough high-quality protein from your diet, it is possible to build muscle without the need for protein supplements.
However, eating enough protein on a regular basis isn’t always easy to do, which is where supplements can help.
Let’s say that your daily diet provides around 100 grams of protein. However, you’ve calculated that your daily protein intake should be closer to 150 grams per day, and you’re finding it very difficult to get that extra 50 grams from your diet.
In this case, a protein supplement can help you bridge that gap, and will make a difference to the speed at which muscle is gained.
7. Too Much Cardio
Too much cardio does have the potential to put the brakes on muscle growth, mainly by interfering with the quality of your workouts, slowing recovery, as well as interfering with some of the molecular signalling pathways that drive muscle hypertrophy.
How much cardio is too much?
That’s going to vary from person to person, and there are no strict rules that say exactly how much cardio you can do without interfering with muscle growth.
As a general guide, I’d suggest limiting the amount of moderate-intensity cardio you do to a couple of hours a week.
Don’t do any intense cardio immediately prior to strength training. You’re better off doing it once the heavy lifting is out of the way, or better still on a completely different day.
Finally, be very careful with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which does have the potential to put the brakes on muscle hypertrophy if you do too much of it.
If you want to do HIIT while you focus on building muscle, limit it to 1 or 2 short sessions a week.
8. You’re Only Doing Compound Exercises
Workout routines designed to build muscle usually focus on compound movements like the squat, deadlift, bench press and so on.
These exercises work a large number of muscle groups simultaneously, making them a very efficient use of your time in the gym.
However, for best results, your workout routine should include a mix of both compound and isolation exercises, which leads to more complete development of a muscle group.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Take the quadriceps, which is made up of four different muscles – vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris.
Squats alone don’t do a great job of targeting rectus femoris, the muscle running down the front of your thigh.
In fact, when researchers used MRI scans to assess muscle growth after ten weeks of barbell squat training, they found three of the four muscles that make up the quads grew by roughly five percent . But rectus femoris didn’t grow at all.
For complete quad development, you’ll need to combine squats with an isolation exercise like the leg extension, which hits rectus femoris to a greater extent than the squat .
9. You’ve Got Bottom of the Barrel Genetics
One of main reasons you’re not building muscle as quickly as you’d like is the fact you’ve got bottom of the barrel genetics.
Not everybody gains muscle at the same rate, even if they do the same training and eat the same food.
That’s because there are genetic factors outside your control that affect how long it takes to build muscle, as well as the maximum amount of muscle you can expect to gain.
Some people gain muscle quickly when they start weight training, while for others the gains come much more slowly, even if they lift and eat the same.
In one study, researchers found that a 10-week lower body training program led to an average increase in muscle size of 8 percent .
However, some subjects saw their quads grow by a disappointing 1 percent, while others saw gains of 15 percent.
That’s a big difference. Although everyone followed the exact same training program, there were large differences in muscle growth from person to person.
10. No Progressive Overload
The principle of progressive overload refers to the idea that you need to constantly increase the demands you impose on your muscles in order to make them grow
That extra work can come in the form of more weight on the bar, or an increase in the number of sets and reps you do.
You’re not going to see much in the way of muscle growth if you do the same number of sets and reps, while lifting the same amount of weight, for the next 12 months. You need to give your muscles a reason to grow, or they’ll remain at the same size they are right now.
Building a decent amount of muscle is hard work. It takes persistence, consistency and sustained effort over a period of several years. However, you should be making some kind of progress from one month to the next, even though that progress might not happen as quickly as you’d like.
If what you’re doing right now isn’t working, and hasn’t been working for some time, it’s not suddenly going to start working tomorrow. If you want to generate a different set of results, you’ll need to start doing things differently.
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