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Once upon a time, it seemed like only young men wanted to build muscle. That’s definitely not the case any longer! But the more people there are who want it, the more people there are who are getting frustrated when the scale doesn’t go up like they planned.
If you’ve been working hard but not seeing any gains, you’re probably making one or more of these eight mistakes.
1. You Don’t Train Intensely Enough
No, you don’t have to bring each and every set of every exercise to failure and beyond with forced reps and dropsets. But if you’re serious about adding muscle, you must do some work that takes you close to the edge of your ability. If you’re not struggling, it’s safe to say you’re probably not growing as much as you could.
The solution: Lift with purpose and power! For at least one set per movement, go hard and heavy enough to challenge your body. If necessary, have a spotter close by.
2. You Keep Adding Volume and Extra Workouts
A ”more is better” mentality is easy to slip into when swole is the goal, but it’s not always helping you land the prize of size. If you’re working out daily for double-digit sets per body part, you’ll quickly find that your workout intensity has to dial back accordingly. Or you’ll get injured, start missing workouts, or just start hating your training. Sound familiar?
The solution: Hit the gym 3-4 times a week, max, with a strict 45-minute time limit. While you’re there, make the most of each minute!
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3. You Isolate Too Much or Too Little
Don’t get suckered in by the ”compound versus isolation” debates online. You need both! Squats and dumbbell bench presses are among the best leg moves and best chest moves because you can move heavy weight and involve lots of muscle mass. Leg curls and cable flyes help hit the gaps left by big moves and allow you to safely push the intensity.
The solution: Structure your routine to include a combination of multijoint and single-joint exercises. As a rule, every workout should contain at least one or two ”big lifts” and a single-joint move.
4. You’re Always Chasing New Maxes
Sure, that grinding deadlift single at 495 sounds awesome when you tell the story later, but was it more beneficial to your physique than pulling 405 for a hard 8 reps? That’s highly debatable, particularly if you had to break every form rule in the book to get the bar above your knees.
The Solution: Use a rep-based 1RM calculator to determine your lifting percentages rather than testing your max. Then look for ways to master heavy weights, not test them regularly.
5. Your Grip is Limiting Your Pulls
Most of us are limited by our grip strength when doing the best back exercises. As a result, the targeted muscles don’t come close to reaching fatigue because the forearm muscles fail first. The result: You end up leaving a lot of muscle development on the table.
The solution: Wear wrist straps! They’re cheap, you can toss them in your gym bag, and you’ll notice a difference from the very first back workout.
6. You’re Not Doing Enough Straight Sets
Supersets, dropsets, compound sets, and other intensity boosters are valuable tools, but they’re not your bread and butter for growth. They’re better for advanced lifters, or for when you’re short on time. Sure, they’ll make you feel fatigued and exhausted, but those aren’t necessarily indicators of progress.
The solution: Built most of your work in the gym around the basic 3-4 hard sets of 8-10 reps, with a weight you could handle for 11-12 reps. Elite strength coach Charles Staley, creator of the Total-Body Strong program, has said that after three decades in the gym, his great regret in training is not doing more of those.
7. You’re Just Not Eating Enough
“Counting calories may actually be more important for someone trying to gain weight than trying to lose weight,” explains registered dietician Douglas Kalman, Ph.D., in Bodybuilding.com’s Foundations of Fitness Nutrition course. ”Plenty of so-called hardgainers just think they’re eating a lot, but a more objective measurement shows them where they’re seriously lacking.”
The solution: Use a calorie calculator and set your goal to ”gain weight.” Want to take it to the next level? Use a macronutrient calculator, too.
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8. You’re Doing It All on Your Own
Make no mistake: You have to do the heavy lifting—literally. But if you don’t have anyone to pepper with questions, to share in your triumphs, to vent to about your frustrations, this journey is a lot harder. Having a fitness community can make all the difference.
The solution: Share your journey with other people who have the same goals. Not sure where to start? For over 20 years, members of BodySpace have been helping each other build their best bodies.