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17 Muscle Building Mistakes That Are Killing Your Gains04/05/2017
I remember it like it was yesterday.
Walking into my local gym and performing endless bench presses, bicep curls and tricep pull downs and looking the same for months.
To my complete dissatisfaction, I would repeat this process again and again hoping for a spark of change which never arrived.
What was I doing wrong?
For starters, I didn’t have the basic knowledge of what muscle building mistakes to avoid to stimulate muscular growth (or at least I thought I knew).
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking:
Here we go again, another beginner mistakes article which is going to cover the same old generic crap… “lift with form” or “breathe deep from your balls” blah blah fucking blah.
But hear me out,
Before you head back to the gym and continue to faff around, consider the 17 mistakes you’re probably making below in order to kick start the growth process (which you’ve potentially been neglecting and why you’re reading this).
Hopefully you can instill a new lease of life into your workouts/programme and become bigger than a jacked kangaroo.
17 Muscle Building Mistakes To Avoid At All Costs:
#1 – Not having a goal
This is perhaps the biggest flaw with people starting out which doesn’t get the attention it deserves (even from a few so-called “personal trainers”).
Have a goal of what you want to achieve and stick to it.
The amount of times I’ve walked through those gym doors and seen countless people do the most ridiculous routines baring no relevance to the goal they are wanting to move towards, which almost 100% of the time is to look good.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no shame in having this as a goal and it’s a pretty viable one at that.
The fact is:
Having a goal, any goal, is better than having none whatsoever.
I’m not saying that everyone should start with this goal. However whatever it is, admit it to yourself and make it a priority above all else.
Whether you’re looking to getting bigger, lean down and maintain size, build strength, or even get it on with that hot Russian girl you’ve been eyeing up for months on the cross-trainer, having a clearly defined goal and plan to execute is key.
#2 – Not being consistent
Following on from the previous point, failing to consistently execute your goal and plan will not result in any muscular growth. Period.
This is probably the biggest deciding factor that will determine whether you will achieve any significant muscle hypertrophy or not.
We’ve interviewed numerous experts in the fitness industry who all highlight this key component to training where there are no two ways around it.
Regardless of whether you have the most scientifically sound routine there is, without consistency it will be totally useless.
Building a jaw-dropping, muscular physique is the cumulative result of many consistent workouts where most people never build any muscle because they’re too impatient to stick with one routine long enough.
So, do yourself a favour and find a good workout programme and stay with it for a minimum of 6 – 8 weeks to truly assess your progress.
#3 – Too much isolation not enough compound
If you are just starting out – calf raises, hip abductors and wrist curls are just a few pointless exercises you want to avoid.
Even if you’ve been lifting for years, unless you’re planning to compete on stage, you’re far better off performing big compound movements to bolster your muscle building efforts.
Because compound exercises give you more bang for your buck and target primary and secondary muscles in the process – giving you a bigger, fuller look.
Although isolation exercises are great for bringing out weaker muscles on your frame and improving definition, they are, at the end of the day, ‘decorative exercises’.
The fact remains:
If you don’t have sufficient muscle mass to work off of, leave the isolation exercises until you do.
#4 – Choosing the wrong exercises
Leading on from above, one of the biggest muscle building mistakes you can commit is performing the wrong exercises.
How many of you avoided the staples of developing a great physique like squats, deadlifts and bench presses when you started your muscle building endeavours?
I know I did.
Often times, these exercises are overlooked because of the degree of difficulty involved and how taxing it can be on your central nervous system (CNS).
However, like all things that are difficult at first, progress will naturally follow with practice.
Without a doubt the following exercises should lie at the foundation of your workout programme (even if you’re an advanced lifter):
· Bench Press
· Bent Over Row
· Upright Row
· Dumbbell Pullover
· Military Press/Clean and Press
· Pull Ups
If you have difficulty performing these exercises, practice with a lighter weight load with good form and eventually increase the resistance the more advanced you become.
#5 – Not tracking your progress
A lot of people in the gym go through the motions of their workout like a mindless zombie from the Walking Dead without any conscience effort as to what they are doing and performing.
The fact of the matter is:
What gets measured, gets managed. The more things you measure in line with the goal you set for yourself, the greater your progress will be.
Whether that involves writing in a journal, using an app or even taking a mental note of how you fared the week before, if you’re able to track how much you eat (to be explained later), how much weight you lifted and for how many reps and so on, you’ll be in a far better position than 98% of others who wonder why they’re stagnating.
To successfully build muscle, you need to monitor how you’re doing in order to make adjustments and avoid the illusion that you are en route to landing supermodels in your bed when all you’ll end up with is a physique that looks as if it’s never even seen a dumbbell.
#6 – Undertraining
This is an extreme situation but is certainly a possibility among those who may be starting out.
Although a workout is better than no workout, if you are not working out enough then sadly those long awaited gains will be hard to come by.
Failing to manipulate your weight loads, frequency of workouts, intensity and rest periods is the fastest way to under-train.
Despite there being no negative side-effects from under-training, it can take a toll on your motivation and self-esteem which will alter how consistent you are.
And as you’ve just learned…
Without consistency nothing you ever do will lead to meaningful progress.
Does this describe you?
Do yourself a big favour and try the following solutions:
· Workout a minimum of 3x a week;
· Target your weaker muscles 2x a week through compound movements;
· Invest in a stopwatch and monitor your rest periods (minimum 15 seconds, maximum 1 minute);
· Follow a tempo (3 – 4 seconds on a negative movement will ensure you’re torching your muscles);
· Hire a personal trainer or workout with a friend to hold you accountable.
#7 – Overtraining
If undertraining was an extreme situation, so too is overtraining.
The reality is,
Working out too much is just as detrimental to your gains as not working out enough.
Overtraining syndrome is alive and real. Progress is made through adequate recovery after a workout which allows your muscles to repair and grow as a result.
If you’re consistently training for hours on end every day, you risk burning out and severely stressing your CNS.
The worst part?
Persistent aches and pains, illness and increased susceptibility to injury are heightened due to a fatigued hormonal system.
When your hormonal system is taxed, it will release the stress hormone cortisol and cut-back on testosterone. Cortisol provides energy the body needs to fight trauma and stress which leads to amino acid breakdown.
Thus, cortisol will eat into your gains quicker than a fat kid seeing cake which will make you weaker in the long-run.
As a rule of thumb, avoid two consecutive days of training and allow for a rest day between each workout. For example, Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
It is also a good idea to train no more than 4x a week if you are concentrating on compound exercises (mentioned earlier).
#8 – Using the same routine
A classic muscle building mistake.
As humans, we become accustomed to routine and comfort so will often find ourselves falling into the trap of performing the same old routine again and again.
You want to avoid this at all costs.
Change is necessary when it comes to building muscle and without some degree of this, it will be difficult to grow effectively.
It’s important to not grow too accustomed or attached to one particular routine as doing so can lead to a plateau.
As mentioned earlier:
Look to switch things up every 6 – 8 weeks to keep your body guessing as well as employ a few advanced training principles if you find that your efforts are being wasted employing your current intensity.
#9 – Not fully recovering (including having a deload week)
This concept still eludes many lifters.
The thought of taking it easy in the gym and purposely cutting back on the weights and rep range is like asking a porn addict to switch to soft-core videos of drunk white girls twerking on YouTube.
Not likely to happen.
The simple truth is,
Taking the time to fully recover is an absolute necessity to keep your gains your track.
Building muscle in the classic 8 – 12 rep range takes a lot more recovery than you expect as not only will you be trying to recuperate from the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), but you’ll still need to recover from the stress placed on your CNS as mentioned previously.
Over a 4 week training period, your CNS’ energy tank will slowly empty which will have an adverse effect on how you perform.
Although you may not feel sore from time-to-time, you may begin to feel slightly more tired, you might be unable to successfully complete a set and you could even fall ill as your immune system becomes fried.
So what can you do about it?
You deload. Reduce your training volume to at least 30-40%.
This means everything!
Reps, sets, weights or a mix of everything which will do the trick.
I would even go as far to say that you should aim to take a whole week off away from the gym (once every 4-6 weeks) to allow a full reboot of your muscular and hormonal system, allowing you to return refreshed and ready to smash your goal.
Even if you’re a beginner and new to the lifting scene, I still recommend utilising a deload week as symptoms of fatigue can and will quietly creep up on you.
#10 – Using too much weight
I admit – I used to find myself doing this from the beginning.
Shamelessly whacking on 120kg onto the bar for squats 3 months into training.
Looking back, I’m very surprised I didn’t end up with a slipped disc and end up in a wheelchair.
The point is:
Do not attempt to lift heavy weights to stroke your ego, rather, focus on controlled and consistent movement of the exercise in question.
When it comes to weight training, practice is vital which will help you to develop the strength and confidence you need to go for the bigger lifts whilst keeping it safe.
I’m not saying put some piss easy weights on the bar and train like there’s no tomorrow, instead, simply train with probity and keep it challenging at the same time.
There’s nothing worse than seeing someone lift more than they can handle only to completely stack it and look like a complete cunt in the process.
Practice lifting with good form, perfect it, and move on to the next weight when you’re ready.
#11 – Failing to progressively overload
This point follows on nicely from the previous one.
In order to grow, you need to increase the demands placed on your musculoskeletal system and make your muscles work harder than they are used to.
More often that not, the most common way of doing this is to increase the resistance, but this is not and should not be the only way for you to use.
A few other methods include increasing reps (but remaining in the 8-12 rep range), volume, training frequency as well as reducing rest periods between sets.
If you’re not progressively overloading in some shape or form, all you’re doing is telling your body to remain the same or, dare I say it, get smaller.
Whether you’re able to get in one more rep where you couldn’t previously or even add on 5kg to a working set, it doesn’t matter. You should always aim to beat what you did previously.
As long as you continually cause some form of gradual progression, over time, you will give your body a reason to continue change and grow.
#12 – Not eating correctly
Without a doubt, your diet will either make or break your muscle building efforts.
After 3 months of going to the gym consistently you expect to be the size of Hercules without a second thought of what you are eating.
This is detrimental and counterproductive.
Okay you’ve added a decent protein shake to your diet, but most fail how they approach their nutrition when it comes to getting bigger.
A basic rule of bodybuilding is to eat more calories than you burn, so ensure you eat in a way that will fit the physique you are working for.
For instance, if you’re currently weighing 70kg and have a steady diet, lifting weights alone will not lift you up to 80kg unless you are eating a lot more food.
Use a calorie calculator like this to workout how many calories you need to maintain your weight and adjust it accordingly to how much weight you want to put on.
It is also a good idea to download a calorie tracking app like MyFitnessPal to get a hold of what you’re eating throughout the day.
More often than not, most people are usually surprised to find that they are eating far less than what they assumed.
Don’t be one of them.
#13 – Not supplementing
We’ve just emphasised how important it is to have a sound nutrition programme.
Once you’ve got this under control, you should look to supplement what you’re already eating in order to optimise your recovery and progress.
It goes without saying:
When you’re constantly hitting the weights, your body is going to break itself down.
Although having supplements in your diet is not a prerequisite to gaining size, it is useful if you find yourself in busy situations.
Remember though, supplements should only make up around 5-10% of your diet with your main sources of energy and recovery coming from whole foods.
With a lot of hype surrounding pre-workouts, intra-workouts and post-workouts, it can get slightly confusing on where to begin.
To cut through the noise, you only really need a high-quality protein shake which you can use to help you get back in the gym faster.
For a full lowdown on what supplement options are available, check out our full guide which covers the basics.
#14 – Performing too much cardio
If you’re looking to pack on some serious muscle mass you want to limit the amount of cardio you do.
Don’t get me wrong,
Cardio does have its place in any fitness programme, but it’s very easy to overdo it particularly when you do it for hours on end to stay lean when bulking up.
In particular, LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) cardio is the main culprit here due to the sheer duration a session can last.
Over long periods of physical exercise, your energy levels will drop to a point that your body will begin breaking down its own muscle tissue in search of fuel to keep you going.
Incorporate some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) once or twice a week.
The workout time during HIIT is so minimal that your body will not need to resort to such drastic measures to keep you getting by.
Make it quick and painful to get far better results rather than waste your time sitting on the arm bike for one hour.
Here’s my all-time-favourite HIIT workout which can be completed in 15 minutes:
Get on a treadmill.
Set a pace that will challenge you to use 90% effort (100% if you’re a bad ass).
Run at your chosen pace for 30 seconds.
After 30 seconds, reduce the pace to allow you to walk briskly and catch your breath for 1 minute.
Repeat for 10 rounds.
Not only do you get the benefit of burning off some excess fat, you save yourself a whole heap of time with minimal muscle loss.
#15 – Placing too much emphasis on ‘the pump’
Another common muscle building mistake, especially with beginners, is focusing too much on ‘getting a pump’.
Don’t get me wrong:
Being pumped is one of the best feelings you can get whilst lifting weights and is a good indication that your muscles are being worked in the right way.
Arnold Schwarzenegger even humorously compared getting a pump to having a sexual orgasm in his feature film “Pumping Iron”.
A lot of people tend to confuse and associate a pump to muscular growth.
This is far from the truth.
As I’ve mentioned throughout, the key to achieving more muscle mass is to place the working muscles under more stress than what they are reasonably used to.
Simply pumping the muscles with more blood through less resistance may feel good but does little for actual muscle tissue growth.
So, stop wasting time chasing a pump and focus on working against resistance with inch perfect form to see some meaningful growth.
#16 – Copying professional bodybuilders
A 6 day split consisting of 2 workout sessions in one day followed by 25 sets for each muscle group may work well for the likes of Ronnie Coleman and Rich Piana, but someone who has a moderate amount of experience in the gym will fair better from a more ‘modest’ programme.
99.9% of bodybuilders who compete on stage and those whom you may look up to are using performance enhancing drugs (steroids) to obtain their ungodly, unnatural physiques.
This is why it is almost always a bad idea to copy the same muscle building programme as these guys because they are training with an excess amount of growth hormones which your body cannot match naturally without going down the same route.
Not only this:
Most pros have been training for years, some for most of their life, so their body is well conditioned at training at such a high intensity that 25 sets per body part is what they need to grow (right now).
The best thing you can do is replicate their drug-free workout programme which they used at the beginning of their career.
What you do in the beginning lays the foundation of how you will look in the end when you reach your goal.
9 times out of 10, every single professional bodybuilder focused on compound movements (mentioned earlier) to get to where they are today.
Therefore make compound movements the foundation of your growth and save yourself the time and frustration of trying to match someone on steroids.
You’re fighting a losing battle.
#17 Having unrealistic expectations
This point ties in well with the second muscle building mistake mentioned earlier.
It is natural to lift with excitement and enthusiasm at the start but when your progress begins to slow down, you lose motivation.
Before you know it, you’ve cancelled your gym membership and go back to eating pop tarts and wanking to fitness models on Instagram.
This usually happens because you may not see the progress as quickly as you’d like.
Building muscle takes time and can be a frustrating road from time to time, but it’s important to manage your own expectations and strive towards what’s realistic for you.
Avoid reading the latest fitness articles and magazines or watching YouTube videos on how to get “fast” results. These click baiters are interested in one thing and one thing only, to sell you something at the end and part you with your hard-earned cash which will undoubtedly leave you disappointed.
Instead, stick to the basics (mentioned throughout this article) and get on a solid nutritional and workout programme which you can easily measure and assess.
Just because you think you’re not making progress, doesn’t mean to say you’re not.
If you keep looking at yourself in the mirror, you won’t see it but others may well see it for themselves.
Stick with it and don’t give up.
Learn, adjust, test and repeat until you find the winning formula for you.
That’s all there is to it.
17 muscle building mistakes which are slowing down your progress faster than you can say, “lift big, get big”.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter, pinpoint exactly where you are going wrong and look to implement some of the solutions above for the next month and see how you get on.
Besides, if you aren’t building muscle the way you want, you have nothing to lose.
Put your anxiety to the side for one moment and focus on mastering what you are lacking in.
Do these things consistently and you’ll soon find you’re ahead of the 99% who try to build muscle, get in shape but fail miserably.
Enjoyed this post?
Feel free to drop a comment below if we missed out a mistake or if there’s anything else others can learn from!
Joseph is the Founder and Editor in Chief of CheckMeowt. When he is not sat at the computer guzzling down the nearest thing with protein in it, he can be found pulling up the world in the gym. Occasionally, he is best described as socially unreliable and easily distracte.