5 subtle reasons you’re not building muscle

written by Philip Stefanov  |  AUGUST 30, 2022

Do you hit the gym consistently? If so, are you happy with the muscle growth you’re experiencing, or do you look mostly the same year after year?

Stick around because I’ll share five truly subtle ways you sabotage your training and growth.

1. You’re Not Doing More Than Before

The first way you might sabotage your growth isn’t that subtle, but it bears repeating. Doing the same thing week after week and never pushing for any form of progressive overload will prevent you from building muscle at an optimal rate.

Your muscles need a reason to grow, and increasing the stress you place on your body is necessary. The obvious way to challenge yourself is to lift heavier weights, but you can also:

  • Do more reps
  • Rest less between sets
  • Train specific muscles more frequently
  • Do more sets

Progress should come through a combination of overload factors. For example, you should gradually increase the load you’re lifting while also doing more reps and striving to improve your technique.

This is one reason why I advise everyone to keep a workout log. Having one is necessary for tracking your progress or lack thereof. If you’re doing the same thing as you were six months ago, there is a good chance you haven’t gained any muscle.

2. You’re Rushing

Have you ever found yourself on your phone and compulsively scrolling through social media to catch up with all the new posts? If so, could you say that doing so allows you to consume the actual content you’re scrolling through? Likely not.

The same goes for working out. Many people have the idea of working out but lack the discipline to do their sessions correctly. Instead of taking the time to stimulate their muscles, they rush through the workout for the sake of ‘getting it done.’

Doing so will lead to some results, and it is infinitely better than not training at all. But, since you’re investing the time and effort, why not slow down and make the most of your training?

Here are a few subtle ways you might be compulsively scrolling through your workout:

  • Doing reps too fast
  • Using momentum
  • Not resting enough between sets
  • Not breathing well
  • Not bothering to contract the muscles you’re trying to work

Small things might not seem that significant, but they add up.

3. You’re Not Focused

Do you often jump from one training goal to the next, switching up your workout plan and calorie intake? One day you want to pursue calisthenics, then you’re pushing a sled to build power before tackling a powerlifting program?

Many people struggle to make noticeable progress because they don’t have the patience to stick with a plan.

Gaining a noticeable amount of muscle takes a long time, and the only way to see gains is to dedicate yourself. Maintain a slight calorie surplus, focus on a simple hypertrophy program that covers all the bases, and follow the course for at least six months.

You’d be surprised how much progress you can make if you pick a lane and stay in it.

4. You’re Lifting too Heavy

Heavy weight training is beneficial and has its place even in a hypertrophy program. The problem is that many trainees focus too much on lifting close to their 1 RM, sabotaging their muscle growth.

Doing enough sets and reps in various repetition ranges is necessary for causing a good stimulus and forcing your muscles to grow. Lifting too close to your max provides some benefit but not enough to stimulate significant growth.

As I recommended in the previous point, put together a simple hypertrophy program and stick with it for at least six months. You can include the occasional strength block to switch things up, but focus on:

  • Training in various rep ranges (6 to 12, 12 to 15, 15 to 25, and 25 to 30)
  • Doing enough weekly sets
  • Training your muscles two to three times per week
  • Feeling your muscles working on every repetition (squeezing and stretching)

5. You Don’t Give Yourself Enough Time

Most people follow the pattern of bulking during the winter and cutting down for summer. The approach has some benefits, such as being lean for the summer but hinders progress.

As discussed above, muscle gain takes time, much longer than the traditional September to early March period people use to bulk. Here is an excerpt from an Instagram post by Alberto Núñez:

“I was about 180lbs at that point, and this was well short of my goal of being 200lbs. I toughed it out and stuck to my original plan. Looking back, it was one of the best moves I ever made, but it was a tough one. If I looked like this at 180, I couldn’t imagine what 200 would look like.

Come to find out, there was some good stuff waiting for me on the other side. Just three years later, in 2006, I invested in my first actual fat loss phase and found myself 190lbs and much leaner than my old 180. Yes, I spent three full years gaining and training progressively without any fat loss phases.”

Yes, not having abs at the beach might be a tough pill to swallow, but it is a necessary sacrifice you must make if you truly want to build a lot of muscle and reach your genetic potential.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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