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5 Reasons You Aren’t Building Muscle

Why aren’t you building the muscle you’ve been dreaming of?

Your goal may be to build heaps of powerful, aesthetically pleasing muscle.

But, are you really following the steps t it takes to successfully build that muscle you’re chasing?

It’s becoming all too common to have building muscle, and a more aesthetic physique as a training goal, but then to neglect the steps and “big rocks” you need to have in place in order to achieve just that.

Because let’s face it, building muscle requires a surplus of calories. And creating that surplus often means eating a little beyond the norm, among other factors.

Let us address the 5 “biggest rocks” that are holding back your gainz.

1. You aren’t eating enough protein

protein next to salad

Often times when I help a friend, family member or client adjust their eating to make a change in their physique, they’re blown away by how much protein they need to start taking in.

But in reality, it only seems like a lot as they’re often coming from a place where very, very little was being eaten on a regular basis. So, when I ask them to aim for a gram per pound of bodyweight, it can come across as a little shocking.

When it comes to protein, things are pretty straightforward. You need a sufficient amount on a daily basis to fuel day-to-day bodily functions, balance blood-sugar, mitigate cravings and hunger, neural support, and perhaps most importantly, to fuel muscle-protein synthesis.

I mean, that is why you’re reading this, right? To build more muscle.

As a general rule of thumb, I like to start people at 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. After a couple weeks of maintaining that baseline, you can then toy with your intake adjusting up or down. The amount will hinge on your progress to date, goal, digestion, and sex.

2. You’re suffering from carb-o-phobia

In the wild, opinionated world of nutrition, there always seems to be at least one food group that becomes demonized beyond belief. The most recent victim of this fear-mongering?

Carbohydrates.

In a nutshell, carbs have been said to contribute to cancer, bestow you with diabetes, steal your money, and leave you homeless.

Talk about hyperbole.

For one, the above couldn’t be further from the truth. Carbohydrates are a tremendous source of energy, and a big player in helping your refuel, and recover from a tough training session.

More importantly, carbs are your primary source of glucose. Which is needed for the aforementioned recovery, and to provide fuel for the muscle growth you’ve been chasing.

Stop trying to get into Ketosis, eat carbs after 6PM, and don’t be afraid of using them to fuel your workouts. Chances are, you’ll get some muscle growth out of bringing them back into your life.

3. You’re not giving enough attention to your recovery

man drinking water

When it comes to training in general, your recovery is incredibly important.

In the context of building muscle, it becomes even more so.

You could train as hard as you want, for as long as you want, with enough volume and intensity to make an IFBB Pro cry. If you’re training in such fashion, and then grabbing something from your favourite fast-food joint for a post-workout meal, not sleeping, not managing stress levels, running around perpetually dehydrated, and failing to pay attention to what your body is telling you, you aren’t going to build the muscle you want.

It’s really quite simple.

Take care of your body, fuel it with what it wants, attend to your recovery, and you’ll grow.

Or, beat yourself into the ground, ignore the warning signs, and don’t keep yourself nourished and hydrated. I’m sure you’ll enjoy painfully slow gains, aching joints, cosmetic issues (hair, skin, nails), drops in strength, and the list of ill effects goes on.

You can only train as hard and as often as you can recover. Don’t forget that.

4. You aren’t focusing on creating quality volume and tension

woman with plated barbel

The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for MASSthetics.net.

Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is a direct product of creating and placing tension upon your target muscle. The more tension you can create and place on your muscles over the course of your session, the more you’re going to grow (given a surplus of calories).

In case you’re wondering what exactly tension is – it’s the product of weight x acceleration.

I will admit that this is a change in my train of thought on what I previously understood tension to be. Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s not so much a change in my thought process, as it is the fact that I’ve gained a better understanding of what intramuscular tension is.

Meaning that to achieve maximal intramuscular tension, you need to be lifting heavy weights as fast as you possibly can.

That’s quite the concept shift from tension being approached as “flex your muscles against the weight as hard as you can.” Which is the classical definition that’s thrown around in bodybuilding circles.

Despite tension being equation-based, there is an “art” or “magic touch” to finding the sweet spot in terms of load used and acceleration. If you use too light of a load, you’re going to be accelerating far too rapidly through the movement to generate enough intramuscular tension to stimulate growth.

Much the same can be said for throwing you 1-3 rep max on the bar and trying to move that load as quickly as possible. If it’s a true 1-3RM, you won’t be able to accelerate the load quickly enough to create much tangible tension.

As with much of lifting, the answer or “sweet spot” lies somewhere in-between the two.

My advice? Focus your efforts on finding a sweet spot in terms of loading – one that allows you to move a respectable weight, with plenty of acceleration.

You want strength and growth? Find that sweet spot.

5. Your training frequency is underwhelming

One of the most sure-fire ways to kickstart some new muscle gains, especially for a particular muscle group, is to up your training frequency.

Drawing from personal experience, and client anecdotes, the best muscle building results have come from the following training frequencies:

  • Arms: 3x per week.
  • Shoulders: 3-4x per week.
  • Chest: 2x per week.
  • Back: 2x per week.
  • Legs: 2-3x per week.
  • Calves: Every, or every other day.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to train in a body part split to achieve this. If you’re following an Upper/Lower split and training 5-6 days per week, you’re going to get a ton of stimulation on each muscle group. Provided you’ve intelligently laid out your sessions, and made wise choices in terms of exercise selection, of course.

Let it be noted that you don’t have to blast your arms with crazy amounts of volume 3 times per week. You can get awesome results from having one higher volume day, one high-intensity day, and one day per week that focuses on strength and power output.

But, that leads into an entire article of its own merit.

The bottom line when it comes to your training frequency? Try hitting the muscle you’re trying to grow with an extra session or two per week. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

The 5 muscle building “rocks.”

shoulder press

At its core, building muscle isn’t rocket science.

1. Eat enough protein to maintain your amino acid pool, and fuel muscle protein synthesis. Starting at 1g/lb of bodyweight is a great starting point.

2. Break free from carb-o-phobia. You’ll need the fuel to enhance your recovery and bring life to your training sessions.

3. Make your recovery the number one priority. Even if that means cutting back on your weekend beers, going to be an hour earlier, or learning a few new meals to cook. If you’re serious about building muscle, you may have to make some lifestyle adjustments.

4. Leave your ego at home when you go to train. Learn to train with and stimulate your muscles with high-quality volume and intramuscular tension.

5. Up your training frequency. Especially if you have a weak point (or two) that you’re trying to bring up.

My aesthetically inclined friend, you’ve been learned. Now, go lift something heavy, and eat a bowl of rice.

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