7 Reasons You're Not Building Muscle

by Evelyn Valdez

It can be extremely frustrating when you're training consistently and all of a sudden the results stop rolling in, especially if you feel like you're doing everything right! Hitting a workout plateau is the worst, but it's common. The key is to not let it demotivate you, and instead figure out what you're doing wrong.

You might think you're doing everything right, but sometimes it's just one or two small things that need improvement to get you back on the right track building muscle! To help you overcome your workout plateau, we've put together a list of the 7 common mistakes lifters make and how to fix them.

You're not practicing progressive overload

The first mistake that typically new lifters make is neglecting progressive overload. This is a technique that involves increasing the total volume of your workout. This could be by increasing the weight, reps, or sets of any given exercise. This is a major determinant of increasing muscle size and strength. Many beginners make this mistake because they tend to make fast progress at the start of their strength training journey. However, our bodies usually adapt to the stressors of weight lifting which leads to hitting a plateau.

So, how can you fix this?

Every week or so aim to increase the number of reps or sets you're performing. Once you've hit 12-15 reps at the given weight, increase the weight by 5-10 pounds! Your rep range will decrease due to the heavier weight, but in the next few sessions, you'll focus on increasing the reps and sets again.

To ensure you're focusing on progression, make sure to track your progress! Write down your entire workout, from the list of exercises to the number of reps and sets completed and the weight used. That way you can easily look back at what you did previously and can determine what changes you need to make to continue driving progress.

You're doing the same exercises too often

Just like your body can adapt to rep and set ranges, your body can adapt to exercises. However, there's a fine line with how much exercise variety is in your workout routine. You want to improve the efficiency of important compound movements, like squats and deadlifts, by doing them consistently... but you also don't want to neglect other variations. A recent study proved just this! They showed that individuals had a greater increase in building muscle and strength when different variations of exercises were used.[1]

However, this is different from the idea of muscle confusion. Some believe that in order to drive progress you have to consistently "confuse your muscles" – this is not true! Constantly changing up your exercises every week can actually inhibit growth because the body doesn't have sufficient time to adapt.

So, avoid changing exercises every week. Instead, use different variations of important compound exercises occasionally. For example, you shouldn't stop doing barbell deadlifts altogether. Continue practicing barbell deadlifts, but throw in different variations to help give your body a different challenge. Like throwing in Romanian deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, or other popular deadlift variations.

This will allow you to continue improving your technique on important exercises, but target different muscle groups and provide a new stimulus that encourages muscle growth!

You're not eating the right foods

Diet and exercise go hand in hand. You have to take your diet seriously in order to obtain results, have energy for your workouts, and recover post-workout. However, many people make the mistake of only counting calories, which can lead to making some bad food choices. Your calorie intake matters, in order to build muscle you need to eat in a small surplus and to lose weight you need to eat in a small deficit. But where you get those calories from matters too!

Most people think they can just consume whatever they want to achieve that calorie surplus and pack on muscle, but this often leads to putting on more body fat and not growing enough lean muscle. Instead of tracking only calories, track your macronutrients. Tracking macros involves tracking the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats you eat daily. The best ratio for muscle growth is 30% protein, 50% carbs, and 20% fats, but we suggest calculating your macros to get a more accurate estimate based on your activity level, weight, body fat percentage, etc.

Following this method opposed to only counting calories will ensure you're prioritizing nutrient-dense foods. You'll also be prioritizing essential muscle-building foods! Muscle-building foods are just foods that are high in protein and carbs, like eggs, meat, chicken, brown rice, potatoes, etc. These are all foods at are great at packing on muscle and keeping you full and satisfied!

You should always aim to eat healthy, but place extra attention to what you eat post-workout. Make sure you're getting a high carb and protein intake to help with muscle recovery. This could be through a whey protein shake so that you're getting all the essential amino acids needed for better recovery, or by eating a meal 2-4 hours post-workout with a good protein source and carb.

Your workout plan sucks

When you're barely starting out training you can get away with not having a strategically planned workout routine. Random training, at the start, can help you get stronger, but it won't help you build muscle effectively... and eventually it will lead to a workout plateau.

Here's what you need to build an effective workout routine:

  • An appropriate training split. Training splits allow you arrange your training so that you're not training the same muscle group back to back. They allow your muscles to get adequate rest and recover effectively, whole allowing you to train each muscle extensively.
  • Implement one full rest day after 7 days of training. You need at least 1-2 rest days a week (depending on your workout plan) to avoid overtraining and to ensure your training performance doesn't take a dip.
  • A good selection of compound and isolation exercises. Compound exercises should be your priority in your workout routine, but you also want a good selection of isolation exercises to further target a particular muscle.
  • A proper warm-up and cool down. Warming up for 5-10 minutes before your workout is crucial. It'll help your muscles and joints prepare for the heavy lifting they're about to do and reduce your risk of an injury. Taking the time to cool down post-workout will help your muscles recover after intense training and reduce your risk of soreness.

Your grip is limiting your pulls

A strong grip is necessary when doing heavy back and lower body exercises, like deadlifts and barbell rows. However, there is a limit to our grip strength which can lead to your forearms fatiguing before the intended muscle groups. This can leave a lot of muscle growth on the table!

To continue making progress on important pulling exercises, use lifting straps on your heaviest sets! Weightlifting straps help reduce grip fatigue so you can concentrate on finishing your heavy pulling exercises before your grip gives in. They attach the barbell or dumbbell to your wrist/hands so you can grip the weight without it slipping around.

Your form and technique is off

Having good form and technique is more important than you may think. You might be doing all the right exercises, but not doing them right will lead to ineffective results. Executing proper form is important to place the maximum amount of stress on the intended muscle and also reduce risk of injury.

Before executing any new exercises look up a video tutorial or even written directions so you can get a step-by-step guide on how to do it. Besides that, here are some general techniques you can apply to every exercise:

  • Move slow and controlled throughout the entire exercise to fully feel the tension in your muscles.
  • Avoid swinging and using momentum to move the weight.
  • Go through the full range of motion, don't do half reps. It might be hard for beginners to do this at work, so just work you're way up to it.
  • Don't lock your joints out at the top of movements, like on shoulder presses and chest presses.

You're not getting enough rest

One of the most common mistakes lifters make once they start getting into the groove of things is neglecting to rest adequately! Once you start seeing progress, you want to keep up and go harder at the gym, but this can eventually lead to a workout plateau. You have to learn to listen to your body.

Excessively working out with little rest will halt your results and can even lead to unpleasant side effects, like...

  • Lack of sleep.
  • Decrease in motivation.
  • Persistent sore muscle.
  • Reduced training performance.

Your muscles need rest because this is the time in which your body breaks down muscle tissue so it can adapt to new strength training exercises and grow back stronger. So, take at least 1-2 rest days a week to ensure you're getting adequate rest for your muscles to recover. You also want to rest a muscle group 1-2 days, this is why a good training split is important.

Overcome your wall and start building muscle

You might not be making all of these mistakes, but try to determine which ones might be halting your progress and follow our tips on how to fix them. This will help you break through that wall you've hit and continue building muscle on your fitness journey!

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