Once you have been training at the same gym for many years, you tend to see the same people over and over again. And I must admit, as a coach/trainer in this industry for nearly 30 years I have a tendency to observe others as they workout (in between my sets of course), and often find myself wondering why their bodies never seem to change. I think back to how they looked several years before and realize that except for perhaps a few, the majority display the same amount of muscle now as they did then, despite spending hours each week toiling away with the barbells, dumbbells, cables, and machines. Does this scenario describe you as well? If so, it’s time to stop the madness and discover six possible ways that you may be limiting your own muscle growth.
#1- Calorie Restriction
While I am in no way an advocate of bulking up or eating everything in sight to gain mass, I can tell you that if you eat too little, you will remain stuck in neutral. Quality foods, in ample amounts, act as the building blocks for creating new lean tissue, aka, muscle.
Just as a house cannot be erected without cement, bricks, and/or wood, the body cannot be built without enough proteins, nor energized without enough carbohydrates and fats. Try to make your daily goal a minimum of one to 1.5 grams of protein/carbs per lb. of bodyweight, along with another 300-400 calories from essential fatty acids each day if looking to add lean bodyweight.
#2- Faulty Exercise Technique
Even if the dedication, effort, and intensity are there, but proper exercise form is not, one can fail to make the gains one desires. The movements we perform in the gym act as the stimulus, or signal, for hypertrophy, but only when the target muscle receives enough overload and tension to set the anabolic process into motion.
Cheating, swinging, use of body English, and even lack of concentration will all negatively affect muscle fiber firing, which will more likely increase your chance of injury than your ability to build new lean tissue. Master correct technique on all movements, while focusing intensely on feeling the muscle work, rather than how much weight you are moving from point A to B.
#3- Cardio Overload
Certainly, I recommend that every bodybuilder (recreational or competitive) perform at least some cardio exercise (20-30 min or so) three to five days per week, year-round, because it is heart-healthy and helps keep body fat levels in check. However, there are those that are obsessed with the treadmill, bike, elliptical machine, and/or stair climber, performing more than an hour (or even more) on one of these contraptions each day – and still wonder why their legs still look like stilts and arms are never worthy of a gun show.
An overabundance of cardio exercise not only cuts deeply into our overall recovery abilities but also sends mixed signals to our bodies about what we are trying to accomplish. These two things in combination may not only slow muscle growth but in extreme cases, could even reverse it. Yes, do some cardio – but in reasonable amounts.
#4- Same Ole Same Ole
In the early stages of lifting weights, almost any workout program will help to manifest more muscle – even if utilized week after week. But as you grow more experienced, the body becomes more stubborn (in its “desire” to add more muscle), and unfortunately, far less responsive to doing the same things in the gym time and again.
However, either because of laziness, lack of knowledge, or simple habit, most trainees rely on the same exercises, for the same reps, in the same order at every workout – and the result? Little to no progress is seen. Because the human body is literally an adaptive machine, it needs to be constantly challenged with unique stimuli, or it will remain in a state of homeostasis (its preference).
If you have been training for more than two straight years, make sure to switch things up in the gym at least every few weeks. Use new/different exercises, rep ranges, intensity techniques, and/or rep tempos to keep the body in a position where it feels it must grow to survive.
#5- Lack of Sleep
This is something I find myself reminding my clients and fellow gym rats all the time. Regardless of whether one is training intensely each day, eating a proper diet, and taking all the right supplements, if you are not getting enough sleep, you will not build very much muscle (nor effectively lose body fat). Why? It’s simple really.
Sleep is the period of time that our body uses to recuperate, recover, repair and rebuild. We do not grow muscle tissue while in the gym, or even at the dinner table, but rather in bed while we rest. Too little sleep equals sub-optimal recovery, which leads to suboptimal hypertrophy. Make your goal at least 7-8 hours of quality sack time each night if you want to get the most from your efforts in the gym.
#6- You’re a Phony
No, I do not mean you are fake or act like a flake, but rather a person who cannot put the phone down, even while in the gym attempting to get in a good workout. Trust me, I understand that social media has become a huge part of our lives and that it’s fun, rewarding, and sometimes necessary (for those employed in the fitness industry) to take videos and photos in the gym. However, some take it too far, getting to the point that they are more worried about the best camera angles than hitting the muscles from all right angles.
Sure, take a video or two and post to your favorite media accounts, but then put the phone away, turn up your headphones and get to work. The great bodybuilders of the 70s, 80s, and 90s are often considered the best ever. Perhaps this is because when they entered the gym, they only had muscle on their mind and no phone in their hands.