Trying to gain muscle can be frustrating.
We meet new clients all the time who come to see us at Lean Body Training with complicated reasons as to why they’re not progressing in the gym.
However, the problem can be simple, and is typically rooted in one of these four mistakes:
1. You’re not eating enough
This seems obvious, but most people who struggle to build muscle simply aren’t eating enough.
When we initially speak to muscle clients who want to build muscle, one of the first things we would ask for is a food diary.
Almost every time, the calories are nowhere near the amount they need to be in order to change their physique in a meaningful way.
When a thin person tells you that they’re eating ‘a lot’ what you’ll commonly see is they eat one or two large meals in the day and get so full they ‘think’ they’re eating loads.
This is where the frequency of meals becomes important, and why intermittent fasting and bodybuilding probably wouldn’t go well together. A good starting point for building muscle is 15-20 calories per pound of body weight, and perhaps more if you’re naturally very skinny. For a 100kg male, this could mean a total calorie intake of around 3600-4000 calories per day.
Trying to fit this into 2-3 meals with high-quality food is simply not going to work, on top of this, your digestive system is going to hate you!
You need to be eating regularly and consistently over the course of the day, where splitting total calories into 5-6 meals may be more useful.
2. You’re not getting stronger
If you’re lifting the same weights as you were 5 years ago, your body probably hasn’t changed either.
Now it’s important to mention that we want to get stronger in the right rep ranges. This isn’t performance or Olympic training, so we aren’t necessarily interested in 1 rep maxes. For building muscle, we want to focus our rep ranges in the 6-12 range. For certain muscle groups, such as quads, setting high rep ranges as high as 20-25 also works really well.
A simple method for focusing your training to build muscle is as follows:
- Upper body push eg. Dumbell chest press
- Upper body pull eg. Lateral pull-down
- Lower body push eg. Barbell back squat
- Lower body pull eg. Deadlift
2. Test your current 6-8 rep range
3. Set a 12-week plan
4. Put focus into progressing your 6-8 reps whilst emphasizing correct form. Progress can come in way of increased reps, more weight or 4 sets instead of 3.
3. You can’t feel the muscle
Whilst gaining strength is number one, you must be able to get stronger whilst being able to stimulate the muscle always. This isn’t about swinging weights around from A to B. Doing this will only lead to achy joints, an increased chance of injury and no muscle growth.
Being able to perform heavy sets with effective form is a skill, but one which is a must to learn if maximal muscle growth and prevention of injuries is the aim.
If you’re struggling to feel the intended muscle, activation drills with little or no weight prior to the workout can work well.
For example, many clients when first coming to see us struggle to feel their lats when they perform exercises such as lat pull-downs and seated rows. A simple activation trick with a partner can work well:
- Keep your elbows bent by your sides (like you’re halfway through a bicep curl
- Ask your partner to apply resistance from right above your elbows and the bottom of your triceps
- Resist by driving the elbows back
- Hold the resistance for 5 seconds, and perform 3 sets. You should start to feel your lats switching on!
With activation drills, the key is being able to feel the isolated muscle whilst performing a compound movement. To do this, you may need to start with a low weight initially before applying more load.
It’s important to remember, that we want progressive overload in rep ranges with perfect technique whilst always feeling the targeted muscle.
4. You can’t stick to a plan
If you read our Building Muscle: The 3 Pillars article, you’ll be aware of consistency.
Muscle growth can be a frustratingly slow process at times, driving the need for consistency, weekly and monthly, to make it even more important.
Training and nutrition together are more prominent now than ever. And this may be the downfall for many who have muscle building ambitions.
An inability to stick to the one training and eating plan means the body never experiences the most important factor in building muscle tissue: progressive overload.
The problem occurs if you don’t stick to a programme long enough is you can’t say if it worked or not. You need to give it some time and allow progression to compound.
Do you want to know the reason why so many clients have great success at Lean Body Training in Finchley? Or essentially why any sensible long-term programme works well?
All the guesswork is gone! No thinking and figuring out is required. All you need to do is show up, train hard, eat the required foods and repeat.
There’s also a focus on one goal for an extended period of time.
That’s the real secret.