Packing on muscle should be a fun process, not frustrating and confusing. Are you at a loss for why you’re not making gains? Let’s look at some common reasons your progress might be at a standstill:
Training frequency: NO MORE BRO SPLITS. Frequency is EXTREMELY important to muscle growth. When you train a muscle, you damage it, creating micro-tears. These tears are repaired through a process called MUSCLE PROTEIN SYNTHESIS. Protein synthesis is CRUCIAL to building muscle. (Brook et al., 2015) (Damas et al., 2016)
The timeline for protein synthesis is a bit debated, but most studies put it somewhere in the 48-72 hours range. (Phillips, Tipton, Aarsland & Wolf,1997) (Miller et al., 2005) After this, the muscle building essentially stops, NO MATTER HOW SORE YOU ARE. This means that if you’re only training a muscle once a week, there’s approximately 4-5 days in the week where that muscle isn’t growing. Use a full body or upper/lower split. These allow you to train much more frequently. (To learn everything you could possibly want to about protein synthesis, check out this link.
More frequency = More protein synthesis = More muscle
Training to failure: Pushing yourself in the gym is important. Pushing TOO hard can be a progress killer. Previous blogs (How often should I go to the gym?) discuss in depth the negatives of overtraining. Focus on stopping every set 1-2 reps short of failure.
Incorrect training intensity: Think of working out as a form of stress. When you go through an intense training session, you’re adding more “stress” for your body to recover from.
If you constantly push yourself to the limit, the most beneficial thing you can do is occasionally take some time for yoga, meditation, a nice walk, etc. When you’re in an extremely stressed state, adding more stress with an intense workout will cause you to regress, because your body can’t recover from it. Occasionally lowering the intensity will allow you to make MORE PROGRESS, your body will be able to handle/adapt to it.
If you’re constantly relaxed in everything you do, you could benefit from more stress in your life. Stress is necessary for adaptation/change. Give a few weeks of intense workouts a go, you’ll see amazing changes.
Not using phases/periodization: After 3-4 weeks of training in the same way, your body becomes fully adapted to your current training style. This makes introducing a new stimulus every 3-4 weeks crucial. Your body is forced to adapt to the new stimulus, creating muscle and strength increases. An easy way to do this is using 3-4 week PHASES. Every 3-4 weeks, change the focus of your workout (i.e. strength, hypertrophy, pump). This ensures constant progress, due to your body constantly being forced to make new adaptations.
A basic layout of a phased program:
STRENGTH: 3 weeks
4-6 Sets of 1-4
Rest 3+ minutes between sets
HYPERTROPHY: 3 weeks
3-4 sets of 8-12
Rest 1-2 minutes between sets
PUMP: 3 weeks
2-3 sets of 10-20 reps
30 seconds to 1 minute rest
Not focused on compound, free weight movements: Compound exercises are movements that use multiple joints at once. Compound free weight movements such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, etc., work much more overall muscle mass than machines or isolation exercises. The much larger amount of muscle mass worked by using compound, free weight exercises means much more potential muscle growth. Use machines and isolation exercises sparingly.
Poor sleep: The best programming and diet WON’T make up for poor sleep. Sleep is CRUCIAL for building muscle. Adequate sleep is essential to muscle recovery and production of hormones essential to muscle growth. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff here, but do YOU consistently get 7-8 hours of sleep per night?
Sleep is just as important as your training and diet. Make it a priority, and you’ll get results.
Poor nutrition: Building muscle requires a caloric surplus (you need to be eating more calories than you’re burning in a day. If your training and sleep are on point and you can’t gain size, you’re probably not eating enough. (For more info on what and how to eat to gain size, see my blog “What’s the best diet for bulking?”
Gaining muscle is simple: Train correctly, sleep lots, eat for your goals. The body you want will come with patience and consistency.