You’ve been attacking your workouts, your diet is in check but you still haven’t seen any noticeable size and growth.
Despite keeping all of the variables under strict control, building lean muscle mass continues to elude you the harder you try.
If you are tired of being stuck on a muscle-building train to nowhere, it’s time to take a closer look at what you are doing wrong (or not doing at all) because chances are, you may be making one or more of these 4 damaging mistakes:
#1 NOT EATING ENOUGH FOR GROWTH.
The old saying holds true, you need to ‘eat big to get big’. Your muscles require the right fuel in the right quality and quantity to truly grow and develop.
The most effective way to measure how much you need to eat to get bigger is to first workout your calorie maintenance level. This is the amount of calories you need to eat each day if you were to do nothing but rest and remain at the same weight.
Once you have worked out your calorie maintenance level, you want to begin eating slightly more calories on top of this and move into a calorie surplus (eating an extra 200 – 500 calories as a base).
It is important to apply trial and error during this stage, as going well above your calorie maintenance level may lead to unhealthy weight gain in the long-term.
However, eating at a calorie surplus will prevent your body burning fewer calories which can be used to repair and develop damaged muscle tissue from exercise, and ultimately, lead to more growth.
A few things to mention is that your approach to nutrition should be as clean and unrefined as possible. Staple foods such as lean meat, fish, poultry, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, pulses and legumes should form the bulk of your diet, all the while avoiding refined and processed foods as much as possible.
Your calorie intake for the day should ideally be coming in mainly from protein (either through food or a protein supplement such as Pure Whey Protein™), followed by a moderate amount of carbohydrates and a low amount of fat.
A good split to trial is 50/30/20, although you can adjust these macronutrient ratios according to your lifestyle and personal goals. Just be sure protein is your highest food source as we’re after quality muscle mass, not mass made up of fat.
Remember: Eating above your calorie maintenance level will ensure your body has enough fuel to use for repair and growth. Aim to get all of your calories from whole unrefined foods and ensure your protein intake is of the highest quality.
#2 MOVING WEIGHTS RATHER THAN LIFTING WEIGHTS.
This may be hard to take for some, but working with the heaviest weights in the gym does not guarantee you will build muscle.
In fact, this can be likened to merely ‘going through the motions’ as it is next to impossible to keep a high level of intensity focused on a muscle group with extremely heavy weights.
However, if hypertrophy (muscle growth) is your objective, drop the resistance down to a moderate level (usually between 55% – 70% of your one rep max) and aim to place a greater focus on executing the appropriate movement with strict form using ‘mind-muscle’ connection to really target the working muscle.
Bearing this in mind, the weight you lift should be treated simply as a means to an end. What matters most is the amount of stress your muscles are placed under and the level (rather than amount) of resistance it has to overcome to engage more muscle fibers for growth.
Remember: Placing your muscles under the greatest amount of stress which is controllable, safe and encourages the work of different muscle fibers will yield far greater results than using the heaviest resistance available. Leave your ego at the door and make your muscles work.
#3 NOT MAPPING OUT YOUR PROGRESS.
If you do not have an end goal in mind for what you would like to achieve, how you are going to achieve it and what training methods you will use to get you there, you have set yourself up to fail before you have even begun.
Knowing what you will be doing 4 – 12 weeks from now, including volume and intensity, exercises and rep range is key to maintain your muscle-building progress and avoiding a plateau. This is because it is easy to fall in a ‘comfort zone’ when your body begins to adjust to the intensity it gets subjected to.
Planning for success may include breaking your workout routine into 3 month cycles, followed by 1 deload week in each. For instance:
Goal: To add 1 pound of lean muscle mass a month
How?: Workout 3 – 4 times a week focusing on progressive overload including high volume training with moderate to moderate heavy resistance.
A sample plan may include:
Month 1: 6 x 6 consisting of 70% of your 1RM (+ 1 week of 3 x 6 consisting of 60% of your 1RM)
Month 2: 8 x 8 consisting of 65% of your 1RM (+ 1 week of 4 x 8 consisting of 55% of your 1RM)
Month 3: 10 x 10 consisting of 60% of your 1RM (+ 1 week of 4 x 8 – 10 consisting of 55% of your 1RM)
You can then pick and choose the workouts you wish to perform. But for optimal growth, you should include basic compound lifts into your routine such as pull ups, bench press, squats and deadlifts at all costs.
Training methods: 15 – 30 second rest periods, negative repetitions, supersets and pre-exhaust training.
For a more extensive list of training methods you can use for building muscularity, read these 10 advanced training principles.
Although the above sample is by no means a guaranteed proposition, it is in fact a SMART objective which is what you need ahead of time before you enter those gym doors.
Having a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and bound by time are vital ingredients for your muscle-building efforts.
Remember: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Without a concrete plan of moving you from A to B, you may often find yourself stuck in a rut. Focus on progressing over time rather than moving beyond your own limits from the get-go. Consistency and dedication will get you there.
#4 NOT GETTING ENOUGH REST.
Sufficient sleep is fundamental for recovery. Neglecting sleep can reverse the effects of being in an anabolic (growth) state which you are creating through quality nutrition and exercise, and lead to catabolism (muscle tissue breakdown), which is counterproductive for building muscle.
When you are sleeping, your body begins repairing damaged muscle tissue through the release of natural human growth hormone (HGH) which is needed to grow and develop. Generally, this is produced in higher amounts when your body is getting the rest it requires, which for the average person, is at least 8 hours a night.
However, if you are not getting enough sleep, this process gets disrupted and can slow down your overall muscle development. If you find that your eyelids weigh a tonne when you arise in the morning, you simply did not rest optimally.
Studies have also shown that lack of sleep raises the hormone cortisol which is a catabolic hormone that causes stress on your muscular system and can undo all the hard work you have been putting in. Not what you want!
Allocating enough time for rest should be as much of a priority as watching what you eat and maximising the intensity of your workouts.
Muscles aren’t just built in the kitchen or the gym, they’re also built in your bed too.
Remember: Getting high quality sleep each and every night is crucial to remain in an anabolic state and prevent muscle breakdown. If you wake up and your eyelids are still heavy, you aren’t sleeping enough. Aim for at least 8 hours at night as a bare minimum.
Gaining lean muscle mass is by no means an easy feat but it is certainly achievable.
Careful thought to quality food sources, calorie intake, exercise routine(s) including progressively increasing the stress placed on your muscles over time and scheduling in a plan for optimal recovery will certainly do more to benefit your progression than anything else.
However, do not expect results overnight. As with anything that involves significant change, consistency is the key to your success and building muscle mass is no exception.
Now you know what you must do and avoid, what are you waiting for? Attack your lifestyle from this new angle and go make those long awaited gains, the right way!
About the Author
Joseph is a Certified AfN Nutrition Adviser at Levels 3 & 4. He is also a fitness junkie who is commonly seen pulling up the world in the gym