When I walk into the gym, I can always spot a handful of guys who look the same as they did last year. And they’re lifting the same amount of weight as last year, too. But they’re there every day. They’re sweating and working hard. They’re even chugging their protein shake in the locker room right after their workout. Yet they aren’t making any noticeable progress.
And it’s unfortunate, because they clearly want to be bigger and stronger. They’re putting in the effort, but they’re not seeing any results. The fact of the matter is that over 90% of men fail to reach anything close to their genetic potential when it comes to building muscle. And yes, I’m only talking about men who lift weights with the intention of building muscle.
The reason that most of these guys are failing to accomplish what they set out to do is that they’ve been fed a load of BS. They’ve read too many bodybuilding magazines and websites whose main aim is to sell supplements and workout plans rather than actually helping anyone improve their body. The result is that men everywhere are following ineffective diets and workout plans that are getting them nowhere. Except maybe to pounding their heads against the wall in frustration.
Below are seven of the most common muscle-building mistakes men make, and a quick description of how to correct them.
1. Not lifting heavy enough weights
When it comes to building muscle, the most important thing you can do is to get stronger. When you push yourself in the gym to lift heavier and heavier weights, your body is forced to adapt. Each time you lift a heavier weight than you did last time, your body is exposed to a stronger stimulus than it has previously seen.
And it can only respond to this stimulus by synthesizing new muscle tissue in order to accommodate these new demands. But if you don’t push yourself to get stronger, your body won’t have any reason to adapt.
2. Not doing these 4 exercises
When it comes to the exercises themselves, not all are created equal. You see – almost every exercise can be split into one of two categories: isolation movements and compound movements. Isolation movements only target one muscle group while compound movements target several at once. For example, a bicep curl only targets your biceps, but a pull-up targets your biceps and your back.
For this reason, you can lift heavier weights with compound movements, and as we explored in point number one above, lifting heavier weights is ultimately what causes your body to build new muscle tissue.
If you focus on getting stronger doing these four compound exercises, the muscle will start to pile up on:
Barbell back squats
Barbell bench press
Barbell bent-over rows
Barbell overhead press
Together these movements combine to work just about every single muscle in your body. They also build strength in functional movement patterns (this is why they’re some of the main exercises professional athletes perform). So don’t ignore them.
3. Not eating enough calories
Most people today have been conditioned to be afraid of calories. And this is unfortunate, especially when it comes to building muscle.
You see – calories are energy for your body. And your body needs energy to synthesize new muscle tissue. Sure, eating too many calories and not training hard and getting stronger will probably lead your body to storing them as fat. But if your workouts are on point and you’re still not seeing any results, then this could be why.
While you don’t need to go overboard, make sure that you aren’t starving your muscles by eating at least 3 hearty meals per day, each of them including solid sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
4. Lifting weights too frequently
More lifting equals more muscle, right? Wrong.
Our muscle protein synthesis rates are raised for approximately 48 hours after we lift weights. This means that we have the highest potential to build muscle for about two days after we lift weights. During this time your focus should be on diet, rest, and recovery – NOT lifting more and more weights.
You see – when you’re in the gym, you’re actually in a catabolic state. This means that you’re actually losing muscle mass while you lift weights. So ideally you should focus on going hard and getting stronger in the gym every other day. And then eating and resting in between those sessions.
5. Doing too much cardio
Cardio can sabotage your muscle-building efforts for the same reasons that eating too few calories can do so. When you do cardio, you burn calories. And, as we explored above, not giving your body enough calories can prevent it from having the energy necessary to build new muscle mass. So while you shouldn’t ignore cardio completely, because it is good for your heart, I believe it should be limited to once per week when you’re focused on getting bigger and building muscle.
6. Relying on supplements and powders
Men’s health and bodybuilding supplements constitute a multi-billion dollar industry. And it’s quite unfortunate. The harsh truth is that the only “supplements” that really work in terms of building muscle are steroids. And they’re illegal. And they’ll mess up your hormone levels. So they shouldn’t be considered.
Aside from steroids, your money is better spent on buying groceries and real food. Protein powder isn’t magical – it’s just convenient form of the same stuff you get in chicken, eggs, or any other whole food source of protein. If you focus your time and energy on getting stronger in the key movements we covered above, and eat enough calories, you’ll make better progress than 95% of guys at the gym. All while taking no supplements.
Trust me, I’ve gone through the studies and even tried a bunch of different products myself. The best progress I’ve made has always been while keeping it simple and focus on my diet and training. Not shoveling supplements down my throat.
7. Not getting enough sleep
As we covered above: it’s not until after you’re done lifting weights that you’re body actually synthesizes new muscle tissue. And then there are two key ingredients that allow this to happen: diet and rest. We already covered diet above. Getting enough sleep is the second side of the coin. When you’re sleeping, you’re body is in a state of repair, and this is when the muscle is built. So aim for 8 hours of sleep per night, or you might be sabotaging your efforts in the gym.
Featured photo credit: michael brooking via flickr.com