6 Reasons You’re Not Building Muscle (And What to Do About It)

You’ve been trying to build muscle for a while. You’re pushing it in the gym, eating plenty of protein and spending up large on supplements. Yet, your expected muscle gains just aren’t happening.

What gives?

My guess is that you’re making one or more of the 6 most common newbie muscle building mistakes. Don’t worry, though – you’re in good company.

Millions of frustrated muscle builders the world over are in the same boat. If you’re ready to stop spinning your wheels and start building some real muscle, you need to address each of our muscle mass roadblocks, so you can start seeing some results for your hard work. Read on to find out how.

Working out is a bit like cooking a steak. You want to keep going until you are well done - not overcooked! As 8 Time Mr Olympia Lee Haney famously said, your goal in the gym should be to stimulate, not annihilate.

So, how long should it take you to train a muscle group to positive and negative failure? Around 20-30 minutes if you are operating at the needed level of intensity on major body parts like the chest and another 15-20 minutes for a smaller body part like the triceps. That means that your workout should take no more than 50 minutes maximum.

Yet, most guys are training far longer than 50 minutes. They are normally doing way too many sets and exercises. As a beginner (1st six months), you should be doing whole body workouts with just 5 exercises (3 sets each), twice a week. That’s 15 sets, which you should complete within around 50 minutes. When you move to split routine training, you should hit each body part just once every 5 days.

Most guys don’t work out hard enough. They may think they do but often they’re wasting a lot of energy (and the huffing and puffing that goes with it) on trying to lift too much weight with too little emphasis on stimulating the target muscle. For real results, your intensity needs to be focused.

Share it

Think of every set as the last - and most important - set that you will ever do in your life. Get connected with the muscle you’re working. Learn about the direction of the muscle fiber and visualize those fibers fully contracting and expanding on every rep.

Use progressive resistance and pyramid sets, where you increase the weight and drop the reps, to make each set harder than the last. Then, on your last set, make use of such intensity enhancers as drop sets, super slow negatives and forced reps to get the absolute best out of every set that you’re doing.

The amount of time that you rest between each set of every exercise is a critical factor in your muscle building success. When you perform a set, you are causing stress to the muscle. That is what you want. In fact, you want that stress to build from one set to the next. The cumulative stress will lead to minor tears in the muscle tissue. When you provide the proper nutrition after your workout, the muscle will grow back a little bit bigger and stronger.

However, when you rest too long between sets, the cumulative effect of increasing muscle stress is negated. It will never get past the level you achieve on that first set. What you want is a stair step of intensity from set to set, not a static level.

The answer?

Do not pull out your smart phone between sets. Look at the clock – and stick to it. Keep your rest to between 45-60 seconds, unless you are training for pure mass with compound moves like heavy squats, in which case you should give yourself two minutes of rest between sets.

You should also isometrically stretch the working muscle group between sets.

Here's a training program you should try:

You don’t build muscle in the gym. On the contrary, you are tearing muscle down, creating micro tears in the fiber as mentioned in Roadblock #3. It is the feeding and the recuperation of the muscle cell that allows it to grow back bigger than it was in the first place.

Even if you are giving the needed nutrition to the muscle cell, it will not grow unless it gets the rest and recuperation that it demands. And when does the bulk of this recuperation take place?

When you’re sleeping.

Not only is that when you are able to repair your cells, but is also when the two most important muscle building hormones, testosterone and human growth hormone, reach peak levels. So, if you are not getting at least 7 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night, you are robbing yourself of your muscle building potential.

Walk into any gym and you’ll see guys who are more interested in staring at the phone than building muscle. These pretenders will never reach their muscle building potential. Why not?

Because they are distracted.

When you’re on the gym floor you simply cannot afford to be distracted. That means no smartphone, no 15 minute conversations between sets and no mindlessly pumping while you’re fixated on the hottie taking selfies in the corner.

You should build up your mental training intensity over the few hours leading up to the workout. Two hours ahead of time, begin to mentally run through the workout. Visualize yourself performing each set with perfect form, hitting your rep counts and weight records.

Keep doing that mental rehearsal several times. Then, when you take your pre-workout, dial up the mental focus, giving yourself two or three specific training goals to achieve. When you walk through the gym doors, you should be revving on all cylinders, completely dialled in to own your workout.

Lack of proper exercise form will stop your muscle gains dead in its tracks. You need to isolate the working muscle when you're training. However, when your form is sloppy, you’ll be using other muscles to get the weight up.

This often involves swinging with the hips to build momentum. You do not want to do this. Often the problem is that the weight is just too heavy. The ego causes us to focus on that rather than on our exercise form – this is a mistake!

Drop back the resistance and focus on isolating, squeezing and contracting the working muscle and your gains will come a whole lot quicker.

Over the next two weeks, put the suggestions in place that we’ve provided and you will, one by one, eliminate the roadblocks that are preventing you from building muscle. You’ll then be free to unleash your real muscle building potential!

Share it
Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner and personal trainer and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.

Weekly knowledge exclusively for people who want to improve their health, fitness and mindset.

First Name