Building muscle is a central part of being man. In fact, muscle hypertrophy might be the number one reason that guys get into lifting weights.
So it’s worth taking the time to make sure that you’re doing it right. Otherwise you risk wasting your time and energy, spinning your wheels, and not seeing any real progress or building any noticeable muscle mass.
Mistake #1 – You Don’t Eat Enough
You must provide your body the ‘fuel’ it requires to synthesize new muscle tissue – there is NO way around this.
You must eat more calories than your body needs to maintain your current weight. Think about it this way: your body cannot create new muscle out of thin air. The food you consume is literally energy for your body. And it requires excess energy to construct new tissue, whether it be muscle or fat. We’ll cover how to make sure it uses that extra energy for muscle, and not fat, below.
Start with these weight gains hacks if you struggle to gain weight.
Mistake #2 – You Don’t Lift Heavy
You must lift weights that are heavy, at least relative to your current strength level, in order to give your body a reason to build muscle.
Hitting the gym and bench pressing the same old 135 pounds for 3 sets of 8 isn’t going to get it done. You must provide your body the stimulus it requires to synthesize new muscle tissue. You accomplish this by lifting heavier and heavier weights and creating a ‘demand’ inside your body for more muscle mass. THIS is what guarantees that the weight you gain by eating more calories is muscle and not fat.
If you’re confused how to get stronger, start by using this basic progression.
Mistake #3 – You Don’t Do THESE Exercises
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but some of those ways are going to be more effective than others.
You want to do exercises that allow you to move the most weight possible. This way you can push your body’s limits with more efficiency and apply that crucial stimulus it needs to begin building new muscle mass. In general, these are the foundational, compound movements that you hear so much about. Start with these:
- Barbell back squat
- Barbell deadlift
- Barbell bench press
- Barbell overhead press
- Barbell bent over row
- Weighted pull up
Note: This does NOT mean that you can’t do any other exercises for your arms, shoulders, and abs. But you should make the above exercises your focus. If you’re getting stronger in these movements, then all of the major muscle groups in your body will grow.
Mistake #4 – You Try to Confuse Your Muscles
I suspect you’ve heard of the concept of ‘muscle confusion’ before… Maybe on a TV infomercial (hint, hint).
Basically it advocates constantly changing up your routine in hopes of ‘confusing’ your muscles and somehow causing them to grow. But this is BS pseudo-science. Your muscles do NOT have brains inside of them. They don’t get ‘confused’.
You’re better off sticking with foundational exercises like those listed above and getting stronger and stronger in a small set of movements. This allows you to fully focus on exercises that will have the biggest impact on your growth and give you most ‘bang for your buck’.
Mistake #5 – You ‘Hop’ Routines
The same way that you shouldn’t follow a routine that constantly changes up exercises in hopes of ‘confusing’ your muscles, you similarly shouldn’t constantly change up the routine itself.
Any good routine takes time to work. By ‘routine-hopping’ you do yourself, and whatever the latest routine you’re testing out, a big disservice. You essentially ‘short-circuit’ the underlying foundations of the routine, and of muscle growth in general, because you’re too ADD to stick with it for more than a few weeks.
Generally three months is a solid bare-minimum to aim for when trying out a new routine. That’s roughly how long it will take for you to get into the swing of things, max out any neural adaptations*, and experience some true strength gain and muscle growth.
*Note: Neural adaptations are the strength gains you realize from performing a new exercise (or performing an old exercise in a new rep range) as a result of your nervous system getting more efficient and doing the movement. This is in contrast to actual muscle growth that allows you to lift more weight as a result of having bigger muscles.
Mistake #6 – You Expect Instant Results
Muscle hypertrophy takes place over months and years, not days and weeks.
Sure, the newer you are to lifting weights and the less muscle mass you have, the quicker you’ll see gains in muscle mass. But, even then, it’s not something that happens overnight. If you expect to transform from an average-sized dude into the Hulk over one summer, you’re only setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. And these are two things that usually lead to quitting. And then you definitely will NOT build any significant muscle mass.
Every impressive physique you see at the gym or the beach is the result of years of consistent training and eating. You must incorporate strength training into your lifestyle, and learn to enjoy it, in order to stick around long enough to achieve the bulging chest, coconut shoulders, shredded arms, and defined stomach you desire.
Mistake #7 – You Don’t Track Your Progress
Clearly getting stronger is a central piece of muscle hypertrophy. The million dollar question is: how do you ensure that you’re actually getting stronger?
And the answer to that question is, of course: you track your progress. No matter what routine you’re following, you need to record how many sets and reps you performed… Of every single exercise you did. And the exact weight you used each set.
Only with this information do you know how much weight you need to lift next time in order to get stronger. Only with this information can you be sure that you’re actually getting stronger. Most guys fail to do this. And this is why so many guys will be spotted at the gym three years from now, bench pressing the exact same 135 pounds as today… and looking about the same, too.
Mistake #8 – You Do Too Much Cardio
When it comes to building muscle, cardio can be a sticky subject. Some people see it as the enemy of hypertrophy, while others swear that it’s necessary to maintain heart health and minimize fat gain when gaining weight.
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Cardio can be detrimental to muscle growth because it burns calories and, if you’re someone who struggles to gain weight (i.e. a ‘hard-gainer’), this will work directly against your weight gain efforts. And, as we explored above, weight gain is necessary for your body to synthesize new muscle tissue.
On the other hand, doing absolutely NO cardio can be dangerous for your heart health. Depending on your weightlifting routine, you might already be working your cardio-respiratory system sufficiently with just lifting weights. But by doing absolutely ZERO cardio, you run the risk of not getting enough cardio.
For these reasons it’s generally best to incorporate one day of cardio per week into your training regimen if your focus is gaining mass. This way you don’t neglect your heart health, and you also avoid burning too many calories and jeopardizing your weight gain efforts.
Mistake #9 – You Have Poor Form
There are many dangers to using improper form when lifting weights. The biggest one is undoubtedly the risk of injury. If you get hurt then you won’t be lifting weights for a while… and you surely won’t be building muscle either.
But unfortunately that doesn’t seem to motivate most guys to take a step back and re-evaluate their form. So consider this: while you can still build loads of muscle using poor form, it’s not as efficient as learning proper form. This is for two main reasons:
- Proper form actually recruits your targeted muscle groups in a more effective manner. Rather than relying on yanking your body around and using your bones and joints to lift the weight (e.g. cranking out a deadlift with a rounded back), you’ll instead be relying on your actual muscles to do the work. This will create a larger spike in muscle protein synthesis and, in turn, lead to more muscle growth.
- When you use improper form you’re far more likely to hit strength plateaus. This is because poor form is often marked by underlying compensations in your body (e.g. excessive forward lean on a squat causing your spinal erectors to lift the weight rather than your quads, hamstrings, and glutes). When you hit a strength plateau, you’re going to fail to be able to continue giving your body the stimulus it needs to synthesize new muscle tissue. And again, this will undermine your hypertrophy goals.
Mistake #10 – You Rely on Supplements
The supplement industry has grown to be mammoth sized. So it’s easy to fall victim to their all-reaching marketing campaigns and develop a dependence on supplements. Sure, there are a few supplements that are proven to work, but 99 percent of them are pure BS.
The problem is, when you think you need to be taking X, Y, and Z supplements in order to build muscle and see progress, you sell yourself short. Not only do you NOT need supplements to build muscle, but also you’re likely place your focus on the supplements rather than your diet and training regimen. Then, rather than being laser focused on hitting a new PR when you’re at the gym, you’re actually sitting on the bench feeling the caffeine high of your pre-workout drink, sipping on your intra-workout supplement, and thinking about your post-workout shake…
And then you fail to push your limits inside the gym. You fail to get your diet on point outside the gym. And you fail to build muscle mass.