Building muscle is not easy.
There are a lot of ways you can easily hurt your gains and reverse all the effort you put forth in the gym.
Wouldn’t you rather be progressing towards the body you desire, not preventing it?
You may be shocked by the list I’m about to deliver to you, but there are quite a few things that could be damaging to those muscle gains of yours.
It’s important to incorporate discipline into your lifestyle so you don’t find yourself feeling skinny in the next few months.
Here’s the ultimate list of mistakes that are killing your muscle mass.
Not Eating Enough Calories
I’ve always stressed that nutrition is the key to bodybuilding. As the wise words of Rich Piana once said: “If you want to get big, you have to eat big.”
This means eating enough quality food so that you find yourself in a caloric surplus.
Just that little caloric surplus of 300 – 500 calories is what’s going to repair your muscles and make them bigger.
If you’re bulking, take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by 16 and then by 18.
The numbers you get are how many calories you should be consuming per day.
155 lbs x 16 = 2,480 calories
155 lbs x 18 = 2,790 calories
(Consume between 2,480 and 2,790 calories a day)
For many of you, it requires you to eat a lot! A lot more than you’re used to.
And I’m not going to lie… it can be hard.
But the reality is, there’s no way around it. This is where food prepping comes and tracking your macros comes into play.
Not Tracking Your Macros
Most people assume that because they’re eating a lot, they’re getting enough calories and protein to build muscle.
This is one of the first mistakes I made when I was in high school.
I assumed by eating a few extra bowls of cereal in between my major meals, I was getting the right amount of calories and I was going to be huge in no time.
Boy was I wrong.
I continued to stay skinny. I made very little progress on the weights I was lifting in the gym.
All because I wasn’t tracking my consumption of food throughout the day.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer where you can just search for the foods you eat every day.
MyFitnessPal will add up the all the macronutrients like calories, protein, carbs, and fats for you.
Even better is you can take a photo of your foods barcode, select how much you ate of it, and MyFitnessPal will implement it right into your daily progress.
Low On Protein
How much protein do you need to build muscle?
A bodybuilding question as old as time. You can check out my article where I answered this question here.
But for the sake of time, you need around .6 – .75 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
For you guys using the metric system, it’s 1.3 – 1.65 gram of protein per kilogram
Protein is the building block of the muscle, and if you find yourself not consuming enough you’ll have a difficult time recovering and getting those bulging biceps you’ve always wanted.
Once again this is where tracking your meals through MyFitnessPal comes into play.
Being low on protein won’t just weaken your gains in the gym, but you may find yourself
- Constantly Tired/Fatigue
- Mood Swings
Another way I easily break down my protein is through simple math.
Since I know my body needs around 120 grams of protein per day, I just divide that number by the 4 meals I eat during my day.
Now I know I have to eat 30 grams of protein per meal to get 120 by the end of the day.
Simple but effective.
Cold Showers and Ice Baths
Did you know that cold showers and ice baths could ruin your gains?
Now I know there’s been a huge trend and people talking about all the amazing benefits of cold showers.
I actually agree!
I love taking a cold shower to boost my mood, energy levels, and get my day started. I find it to also increase my motivation.
But taking one right before or after your workout can hurt the process of building muscle.
Taking a plunge in the cold will stop your body’s inflammatory response, which is supposed to repair your body and make you stronger!
And taking one before your workout will stiffen up your joints and muscles.
Instead, take a cold shower in the morning and get your day started off right. But don’t take one right after the gym. Wait at least 4 hours so your body’s inflammatory response can kick in.
Here’s a mistake that everyone’s guilty of, but can be so easily corrected!
Whether it’s the tv, computer, smartphone, or other electronic devices, blue light seems it’s turning us all into zombies nowadays.
Every time I get on the train it seems as if everyone is living inside their phone. They just can’t seem to get off of it.
Sadly, the effects of blue light can also affect our muscle gains.
When we check our phone right before bed, the blue light omitted messes with our brain circadian rhythm, making us think it’s daytime.
It also decrease our body’s natural production of melatonin, the hormone that helps put us to sleep.
As a result of this, our quality of sleep is decreased.
This means our recovery from the gym is inhibited and our muscles don’t grow as well.
Testosterone and growth hormone – which are the most important hormones for packing on muscle mass, are released at night and early in the morning.
Simply by going on your phone before bed reduces the production of both these hormones while simultaneously increasing our cortisol/stress levels – another detrimental impact on muscle growth.
Limit your blue light exposure after sunset, and at the very minimum, don’t go on your phone less than 2 hours before bed time.
If you’re still having trouble, set an alarm or reminder on your phone that rings 2 hours before your scheduled sleep time. That way you know it’s time to put the phone away, read a book, and relax.
Take some personal time to reflect on your day and your goals.
If you feel really tempted to go on your phone, turn it off and put it in another room.
If you use your phone as alarm clock, buy a real one instead.
A good night’s sleep can never be underestimated.
Training To Failure Every Set
Do you head to the gym, jump on the bench or squat and then crank out as many reps as you can until you can’t lift anymore?
It’s definitely hurting your gains.
If you’re training to failure every single set, you aren’t doing your body any favor.
The idea of weightlifting is to stimulate the muscle, not annihilate it.
Studies have been done on training to failure, and it’s been shown that there’s not much-added benefit.
It’s also very costly to do it right on your first set. You’ll just end up fatiguing your muscles and you won’t have the power to grind through the rest of your sets.
Instead, work each set until you feel you have 2-3 reps left in you, then re-rack the weight.
Your body will be able to work out longer, and you’ll get more volume is, a necessity for hypertrophy.
On your last set, give it all you got, and go completely until failure. Pushing yourself on the last set will add some strength benefit the next time you lift.
Too Much Cardio
Jogging on the treadmill for 45 minutes will certainly burn calories, but it can also put you in a catabolic state, which starts to burn muscle mass.
Too much cardio has never combined well with strength training.
If you want to get the added benefit of cardio, try High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT.
Its quick, fast-paced, all-out cardio for around 10 minutes.
During those first 30 seconds of sprinting, boxing, battle ropes, jump rope, or whatever cardio of your preference, just make sure you give it all you got. Then rest, for 30 seconds.
After your rest time is over, it’s back to all-out cardio for another 30.
Repeat until your 10 minutes are up.
Not only does this work your cardiovascular system on all levels, but it won’t hinder your gains.
Instead, you’ll find it actually improves your lifting sessions.
Try 10 minutes of HIIT after your strength training and see how you feel!
Too Many Reps
If you’re not gaining muscle, your workout routine may be the reason.
How many reps are you doing each set?
If you said anything over 15, try again, because that’s not helping you get stronger or bigger.
Earlier I mentioned how volume is very important for increasing hypertrophy (muscle mass).
But using super light weights and just trying to get a massive muscle pump doesn’t cut. (Unless you’re utilizing bfr training)
You have to go heavy and train for strength
Not Training For Strength
Like mentioned in my last point, you have to be training for strength.
Muscle and strength go hand in hand.
If you’re getting stronger you’re going to be more muscular. If you’re getting more muscular, you’re going to be stronger.
Train each muscle group for strength at least once a week.
Do so through using heavy compound lifts. Compound lifts will get your stronger by incorporating full body movements and multiple muscle groups so you can lift way more weight than you would with an isolation exercise.
Aim for 1-5 repetitions when training for strength. If you can do more than 6 repetitions the training will gear more towards hypertrophy (which isn’t a bad thing).
Try and break your PR’s every week! If you can’t add more weight to the bar make sure you do another repetition.
It’s all about improving!
Not Trying To Improve
Are you doing the same old exercises every week?
Is your main routine focused on benching 135 pounds and you’ve been pressing 8 reps every set for the past month?
Make some progress god dammit!
If you’re not adding more weight to the bar you’ll constantly look the same!
Do you think Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronnie Coleman looked huge by deadlifting 135 or barbell curling 20 pounds?
No! They pushed themselves every workout to be better than their last!
Yes at one point, every huge bodybuilder was skinny and weak, just like the rest of us.
The only difference is they decided to work their butts off for months, years, and decades by continuously improving themselves.
They got bigger, stronger, and many of them became Mr. Olympia champions.
You too can be a champion, simply by progressing and improving yourself and your workouts every single day.
Only Using Machines
I see a lot of newbies make this mistake, and I was one of them.
As a skinny 16-year-old who thought in order to use the free weights, you needed to be a bodybuilder.
I stayed put on the machines almost all my workouts, and I figured they were super easy to use, so why not?
Did the machines give me a good workout?
But was it as good as free weights and compound lifts like dumbbells, barbells, deadlifts, and squats?
Machines are the easy way out of lifting.
It’s easy to sit your butt down on a machine and choose a comfortable weight to push, pull, or move around. I hate to say it, but a lot of the machines you see at your gym were designed for lazy people.
Don’t get me wrong, I still use a few machines here and there, sometimes at the end of my workout to get a little more activation, but they certainly shouldn’t be your main course.
Focus on compound lifts and go back to the basics! – A bar, plates, and some dumbbells are all you need!
Your weekend routine might be messing up all the work you put in for the week.
How much sleep are you getting on the weekends? If you’re up partying until 2am Friday and Saturday you can kiss your gains goodbye.
The lack of sleep will hurt your production of melatonin and ability to have a good workout the next day.
Bodybuilding requires consistency.
Eating clean on the weekdays and then gorging on burgers and pizza isn’t going to get you anywhere.
With all the extra calories and junk you’re eating you could find yourself gaining some unnecessary fat and losing strength.
Drinking Too Much Alcohol
What else comes along with weekend shenanigans?
And the more you drink the more your body and muscles will suffer.
Alcohol is filled with a ton of empty calories.
Some drinks are better than others, but none is better than any.
Simply 1 beer has around 150 calories.
Multiply that by the number of beers your inebriated friend has had and woah… that’s a lot of calories!
Limit yourself. It’s okay to say no to going out because you’re focused on your goals.
If you do go to a bar, club, or friends house, it’s okay to not drink.
And if you do drink, I suggest consuming no more than 2 alcoholic beverages.
Did I mention that alcohol increases estrogen and lowers testosterone?
I get it, drinking with your buddies is fun, but so is deadlifting 495 pounds. Which one do you think brings more intrinsic motivation and happiness?
If you’re only training 2 times a week… step your game up.
If you want to get bigger and stronger you need to lift heavy and lift often.
We’re all busy people with jobs, families, problems, vacations, and stress.
But getting to the gym is the one place you can separate from the rest.
And not going to the gym enough will not get you the body you want.
I highly doubt you can’t find the time to get to the gym at least 4 times a week for 40 minutes.
Do you think other people have more time than you do?
Not at all! They just know how to prioritize the things they want!
Make it a habit, get out there and train!
How do you know if you’re overtraining?
Listen to your body!
Are you constantly sore, weak, have low energy levels, and are not making any progress on your lifts?
Take some time off! It’s perfectly okay if you don’t go to the gym every day.
If you really just love going to the gym, but you’re dying from overtraining, do some stretching or yoga, maybe get some jump rope in.
Get some blood flowing, it’s actually proven that being lightly active after a day of lifting can improve your performance.
But DO NOT get back to the weights and kill yourself.
Your body’s your temple… and it needs to recover.
Recovery means eating the right foods.
I recommend eating foods like leafy greens and fruits that are high in micronutrients:
- Goji Berries
Recovery also means getting enough sleep. Like stated above, avoid blue light before bed. Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night and a maximum of 9 hours.
Sleep is where the muscles grow, not during your workout.
Not Warming Up
If you get injured from weightlifting, the first thing I’d ask you is “did you warm up?”
Simply by taking 5 minutes of stretching and getting some blood flow to the muscle can be the difference between a new deadlift PR and 5 months of rehab.
But don’t focus on static stretching, which is holding the stretch. It’s actually been proven to decrease muscular performance before a workout.
Incorporate dynamic stretching into your routine which is stretching with movement and pushing your flexibility.
Examples of dynamic stretching include:
- Soldier Kicks
- Knee To Chest
- Hip Twist
- Air Squats
- Arm Twirls
Dynamic stretches will help you get the muscles and joints ready to press and push heavy weight. It’ll also help increase your energy levels and get your mind ready for a workout!
Do you ever see ‘that guy’ at the gym who’s lifting extremely heavy weight with the worst form imaginable?
Yea… don’t be the laughing stock of the gym.
If the weights too heavy, lower the weight!
You don’t want to risk injury and be out a few months because you though adding an extra plate was a good idea.
Lift only what you know you can lift, not what other people are lifting!
I see huge guys at the gym all the time and wish I could lift the weight they’re lifting. But that doesn’t mean going out and trying it.
Keep good form! Bad form does not work your muscles correctly!
I get it, I used to try deadlifting more than I could so I would tell my friends “oh yea I can deadlift that.”
Then a few months later I was out with an irritated disc in my lower back. Painful and not fun.
There’s no shame in using lighter weight. That doesn’t mean using 10 pound dumbbells. Instead, use weights that are heavy for you, while still maintaining and focusing on good form.
Not Being Consistent
One day of positive nutrition and one day of bad nutrition means bad results.
A lot of little things stack up together to make a big difference. That’s how you should treat the muscle building process.
If you think that you can just do a couple of good workouts and eat some high protein meals 3 times a week, you’ll never grow.
This is a 24/7 365 days a year work in progress. It never goes away.
Focus on making it a daily habit to work out, eat the right foods, and get the right amount of sleep.
Habits will help keep you consistent and on the right path towards your goal.
A bad mindset in the gym means you won’t improve.
This isn’t just true for your fitness goals, but all aspects of life as well.
The most important muscle in your body is your mind.
When you step in the gym, be positive!
Tell yourself that you’re going to have a killer workout and you’re going to make today your bitch.
If there’s anything I wish for you to leave here with from this article is that your mind is your reality.
You can create or achieve anything you desire, simply by using your mind.
That means you should be partaking in mental training every day by practicing meditation, visualization, affirmations, positive self-talk, and action!
You CAN do it! Walk with your shoulders back, your head up, and believe and yourself!
Say it to yourself every single day and you’ll achieve more than just gains!