Lifting weights is one of the best things you can do for your body regardless of your age. It strengthens your joints, muscles and bones all while helping to shape and build your body into something you actually enjoy looking at in the mirror.
Now, no supplement on earth can do that alone. Even taking anabolic steroids without actually lifting weights will do nothing but destroy your body and make you look worse than before.
Lifting weights is the catalyst that makes most of the supplements that I review and discuss worth taking. Without lifting weights or some other comparable activity, you are not going to be able to build muscle. It’s that simple.
What about all those people lifting weights but not gaining muscle? That’s almost worse in my eyes than not lifting weights at all. I see so many people in the gym year after year lifting weights but never experiencing a noticeable increase in their muscle mass.
In all my years lifting and being around gyms, I have found 5 major reasons that people fail to make the gain despite going through the pain.
# 1- Poor diet
For most people, this one is at the top of the list. It’s something that I have been guilty of myself in the past as well.
We all know that a diet is when you have to eat the things you hate and put aside the things you love. While it’s not always (or shouldn’t be) that bad, diets are not fun.
In regard to this article, when I say diet I am referring to the standard food sources you consume on any given day. I don’t necessarily mean a low calorie diet meant to shred those excess pounds.
In fact, most people lifting weights with the intent of building muscle are consuming a high calorie diet. The truth is, it is very difficult if not impossible to gain muscle without providing your body with enough calories to do so.
The common mistake I see of many newbie lifters, is to start stuffing their face with any kind of garbage they can get their hands on with the hopes of gaining muscle. It’s the old throwing everything at the wall to see if it sticks method.
Those looking to pack on muscle often start with the routine visits to the local Mickey D’s and high calorie protein shakes around the clock hoping to add muscle.
While you will certainly gain weight like that, most of it will be fat and therefore, not the kind of weight you are looking to gain.
Your body and muscles are not meant to thrive on that type of modified garbage filled with sugar and fat. You want to feed your body with high quality sources of protein, fats and carbohydrates if you are looking to add quality muscle.
Think of it this way. If you own a brand new Ferrari, you’re not going to put the cheapest gasoline in it. It is the same with your body. You really are what you eat so choose quality sources of food and cut out the garbage.
# 2- Poor Sleep
This is another big one and is unfortunately far too common in our modern world. I’ve seen people do everything else in terms of giving their muscles a prime breeding ground for growth but blow it with a poor sleep schedule.
I know that all the greats say to get up at 4 A.M. and sleep 4 hours in order to get that to do list started and be up before the competition.
I am not knocking waking up early and like to do it myself however, most of the people advocating very little sleep have no concern for building muscle and often have very little of it.
Sleep is super important for everyone but even more so for bodybuilders. While we’re sleeping, our bodies produce human growth hormone (HGH) and engage in the protein synthesis process.
It is estimated that as much as 75 % of HGH is produced while we are sleeping. If you have ever followed professional sports, particularly baseball, you will know that HGH is what many of the players are caught taking to pack on muscle mass and increase their strength.
The vast majority of HGH production occurs during deep sleep phases (stages 3 +4) . Those who are restless sleepers or wake up often during the night will unlikely experience these surges of HGH.
Tissue growth and repair occurs while we are sleeping. As lifting weights breaks our muscles down, we want to give our muscles and body adequate time to repair and rebuild themselves.
When did I gain the most muscle? In high school and college when I did nothing but sleep, eat and workout (maybe some light partying). When did I gain the least muscle? When I worked overnight and slept in short bursts as the sun poured through my windows.
Aim for 8-10 hours a sleep per day IF you are training to gain muscle. Many professional bodybuilders sleep far more than this however, most of us are not looking to add that much muscle so 8-10 hours should be enough to accomplish our goals.
# 3-Training with low intensity
I see this over and over. A guy in the gym wearing all the gear, carrying the bags and sucking down the supplements. It’s obvious that he is a fine student of Flex and Iron Man magazines however, many times this individual has very little muscle.
He has become too much of a bodybuilding student. He does all the cable exercises and nautilus machines that are shown to him but wonders why he isn’t gaining muscle.
As I have come to observe this creature over the years, I came to the conclusion that his biggest issue is often a lack of intensity while he trains. He does every single exercise as slowly and carefully as possible. He will often use lightweight and go for the “pump” as opposed to lifting some heavy weights.
In contrast to that, you will see another guy come into the gym with no knowledge of what he’s doing however, he will start lifting heavy weights and training with some intensity. Even though this type of lifter seems to have no idea what he’s doing, he will likely gain some quality muscle if he remains consistent.
There are pros and cons with both types of lifter. The first guy will unlikely gain any quality muscle however, he will probably never get hurt and will be able to train for most of his life. The second guy will make some high quality gains but is likely to get a serious injury at some point.
The smart lifter takes from both lifters. He trains with intensity but also trains smart. He realizes that injuries will come but as long as you train smart for the most part, they will likely be few and far between.
Intensity is the name of the game when it comes to building muscle. You need to lift heavy weights that cause you to strain and struggle. You also need to continue to get stronger which is where the intensity comes in and helps you push through those last few muscle building reps.
While I try to have excellent form for most of my workouts, sometimes you just need to get in there and sacrifice some form to lift those heavy weights and give your muscles a reason to grow.
If you doubt that intensity is important for gaining muscle, check out this video of 8 time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman training.
# 4- Inconsistency
Doing all other things right but failing to workout consistently will also cause you to go through the pain without the gain.
In order for your muscles to grow, you need to break them down through lifting weights so that they can repair themselves and grow bigger and stronger.
Working out sporadically might give you some small gains in muscle if you are doing it correctly however, you will never gain the amount of muscle you’re capable of if you are not going to be consistent.
Your body thrives on consistency. Working out here and there will simply not be enough in order for your body to add muscle mass.
People lift weights consistently for years with the hopes of even gaining a few pounds of muscle. How could you possibly think you can do the same by lifting a couple times per month?
Whether it’s a couple days a week or every day, you need to pick a workout schedule and stick to it if you want to gain muscle. Nothing good in life comes from being inconsistent. It comes through hard work day in and day out.
# 5- Low protein intake.
While this is technically included in your diet, I think it bears it’s own category. I know many people, myself included, who have made the mistake of thinking that a healthy diet is enough for adding muscle regardless of how much actual protein is in it.
I have gone through periods of my life where I limited my consumption of animal protein for various reasons. During that period, I was taking in a low amount of protein. Very few things can provide the amount of quality protein that meat can regardless of what vegans say.
During those times, I continued to lift but noticed that my muscles always felt tired and never seemed to recover well. I also had to work tremendously hard to add even a little muscle.
I have since returned to eating meat and consuming protein supplements and watched my muscles bounce back to what they were. Luckily muscles have a memory.
I see many people eating very healthy however, they are not taking in enough protein. Now to be honest, I think a lot of people, particularly in America, probably take in far too much protein. The body does not need a massive amount of protein however, it does need an adequate amount.
There is no need to drink 6 protein shakes a day to get enough protein and yes, I know someone who does that. Eating or consuming high quality protein with every meal should be enough.
Here’s a cool calculator to help you find your daily recommended protein intake.
The recommended amount of protein for those looking to build muscle is about 1-1.5 grams per pound of lean body mass. In other words, if you weight 180 pounds but 20 of it is fat, you calculate your intake for 160 which would be 160 grams of protein per day.
It is not difficult to get an adequate amount of protein in. My advice is to experience with your protein needs and don’t go overboard like many do.
Putting it all together
I wrote this article because I see so many people work hard to gain muscle but fail to reach their goals due to these small but harmful mistakes.
Nobody is perfect and I will be the first person to admit that I have made all of these mistakes at some point in time. The reason I recognize these mistakes and notice others making them is because I made them myself.
Do yourself a favor and check yourself and your habits against this list if you are having a difficult time gaining muscle. It could be one mistake or it could be all however, fixing them can make all the difference.
Are you or have you made some of these mistakes in the past? I’d be interested to hear your experience with them as well as any other common mistakes you think people make that prevent them from gaining quality muscle.