During the initial phases of your lifting career, it seems like almost everything works. As long as you train, muscles will grow. Unfortunately, this does not last. As you get more advanced, muscle growth slows down and may even come to a halt.
I learned this the hard way. When I just started off with lifting weights, I used to train 5 times a week. All I did was isolation exercises with a few compound lifts and a drop-set after every single set. I did gain some muscle, but this did not last very long.
In this post, I will be showing you 4 mistakes (which I all made) that could be holding you back as an intermediate or advanced trainee. Preventing these 4 mistakes will help you make better use of your muscular potential. But first, I will be explaining why beginners seem to build muscle faster.
Why ”Newbie-Gains” are real
Muscle growth is not something that just comes along with training hard and eating right. It’s an adaptation to a “stress.” This stress is provided by resistance training. Someone who is new to the gym is not used to the stress resistance training provides. So these muscles will react very well to training stress by adapting to it.
How do muscles adapt, you ask?
Muscles adapt by becoming bigger and stronger than before, so they can handle future stresses more efficiently.
As you get more advanced though, your body has already adapted quite a bit to stresses from resistance training. Therefore it does not see the need to keep increasing muscular strength and size at the same pace.
For muscles to keep growing, a need for adaptation is critical. This helps explain why overloading your muscle is essential for muscle growth. Constantly challenging your muscles beyond their present capacity causes a need for adaptation.
Without further ado, here are the top 4 reasons why most intermediate and advanced trainees are not gaining muscle.
Reason #1: You are doing too much
Since childhood, we’ve been told that if we want something, we will have to work hard for it. This somewhat does apply to fitness, a certain level of dedication is required to achieve a great physique. But there definitely is a point where “more becomes less.”
Training volume (sets*reps*weight) has a linear relationship with muscle growth. Meaning, the more volume you perform, the more muscle growth occurs.
However, this relationship only exists up to a certain point. If you perform more volume than you can effectively recover from, your fatigue levels increase, which causes your performance to go down and you are in a suboptimal environment to train for progression.
The helps explain why an extensive research review shows that there indeed is such a thing as having too much volume in your training. So, eventually, training too hard results in less muscle growth and strength.
The earlier cited extensive research review shows that performing 30-60 reps per muscle group 2-3x per week is a good starting point for maximizing muscle growth. Based on your progression over time, you can adjust the volume to fit your training needs more.
Reason #2: You are relying on ”fancy training tricks” and isolation exercises
Training for muscle growth is actually quite simple. The new ”revolutionary” ways of training, which supposedly give you pumps like Arnold and abs like Frank Zane, do not magically work better than traditional training methods.
Training tools such as drop-sets and supersets cause great fatigue and a good pump. But if achieving a pump is your main goal when training, you are missing the bigger picture. Achieving overload by progressively challenging your muscles beyond their present capacity should be the main goal of your training plan.
Performing primarily big compound movements and getting stronger will always be the best way to build muscle.
But a stronger muscle isn’t always a bigger one, right?
That’s true, research shows that your body recognizes movement patterns and becomes more efficient if you perform certain movements consistently. This enables you to lift more weight (get stronger) without actually having bigger muscles. In exercise science, this is known as “Neuromuscular Adaptations.”
With that said, once you’ve mastered a movement, any progress you achieve over time is partly also due to you having bigger muscle fibers that can be put to use to produce force. So, eventually, consistent strength progression is a good indicator of positive muscular adaptations occurring.
Reason #3: You are not eating enough
Building muscle and losing fat at the same time, is possible. But to lose fat, you will need to consume fewer calories than your body burns (energy deficit). This energy deficit somewhat inhibits muscle growth, as it decreases protein synthesis rates and increases protein breakdown rates.
The human body constantly synthesizes (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins. If the number of muscle proteins you’ve synthesized exceeds the number of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle. So, eating at an energy deficit simply results in less muscle growth.
When you consume slightly more calories than your body needs (like in a bulk), you can optimize muscle growth by facilitating anabolic processes and supporting heavy resistance exercise. Maintaining an energy surplus of 200-300 calories is generally sufficient for optimal growth.
Want to learn more about the proper way of bulking? Read this article.
Reason #4: You are underestimating your potential
Believe it or not, your perception of what is naturally achievable has an effect on your results. Those who think that everyone with a bit of muscle is on steroids are often very skinny.
They have ”accepted” that they will never be able to achieve good muscular development without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Clearly, this is not the case.
Having an optimistic mindset and truly believing in your body’s abilities goes a long way.
A very interesting (and kinda funny) study by the Manchester Metropolitan University, shows that a different mindset has a great effect on your physical abilities. The volunteers in this study were all powerlifters. The powerlifters received a pill before training, which was presented as a ”fast-acting steroid.” The pill was filled with saccharine, an artificial sweetener.
Basically, they tricked the powerlifters into believing that they were taking steroids. The result? The powerlifters broke their PR’s by an average of 5% in just 1 training session. Considering these were high-level powerlifters, a 5% increase in total weight is quite high. Normally, such an increase in weight would take months of periodized training.
This all just because they truly believed that their body was capable of more. Therefore, don’t underestimate your capabilities, as this directly can influence your actions.
There you have it, the 4 likely reasons why some of you are not gaining muscle. I hope you enjoyed this article and have gotten plenty of insights. If you have any questions or remarks, don’t hesitate to comment below. I will gladly help you out.
If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data regarding muscle growth in “simple English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.