3 Ways You’re Making Building Muscle Harder for Yourself

Josh England
Written By: Josh England
July 24th, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
35.2K Reads
3 Ways You’re Making Building Muscle Harder for Yourself
Are you focusing on all the wrong things? Is building muscle hard for you? Check out these 3 ways you're making building muscle harder than it has to be.

“Do I have to take rest days?”

“Can I add more exercises that target my arms?”

“Don’t you need to change the exercises up frequently to keep the body guessing?”

These are just some of the questions we get regularly and I feel bad when we get them.

You all are making building muscle way harder than it has to be.

Today we’re going to talk about 3 common ways lifters make this mass game harder on themselves and we’ll also pose a few new ways to think about each concept.

If any of these apply to you, hopefully you’ll leave today with reassurance that the process isn’t actually that hard.

1. You Focus too Much on Training

For decades the industry has put most of its eggs in the training basket. And for good reason, after all, proper nutrition, improving mobility, meditation, and the topic of sleep just aren’t as sexy as the workouts that will help you gain or lose x amount of pounds in x amount of weeks.

Related: 4 Fitness Tests You Should Be Able to Pass

However, it’s unfortunate, because training is only part of the process, not the whole process. Truth be told, it might not even be the most important part of the process.

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You’ve heard the saying “you can’t out train a poor diet”. And for the most part it’s true, but I think it’s better phrased as, “you can’t out train poor recovery”.

It’s always a pleasure when I can help someone have that “aha!” moment and they discover that muscles are broken down in the weight room, they’re built through proper rest each night, nutrition, and overall workout recovery.

If you want to build serious muscle mass, you’ve got to start putting more of your eggs in those baskets.

None of this is to say training isn’t important. It is. A good workout program kick starts the muscle building process through the breakdown of muscle tissue. Then, it’s your job to do all the right things to rebuild and repair those muscles.

The end result? A way more jacked you!

2. You Don’t See the Bigger Picture

This point is kind of tied in with my first point. I can’t tell you the number of times I get asked, “Can I add more volume to this workout?” or “Can I just do this workout with no rest days?”

The answer is always yes. You can add more volume to your workouts. But the better question is should you? There’s a time and place for everything, including progression – which should be figured into your long-term goals.

If you decide you’re going to up your set counts to 25+ sets a workout, are you going to be able to continue on with that program week after week? Or is the increase in volume going to make you dread your workouts to the point you don’t even want to do them?

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Consistency is the name of the muscle building game. Don’t think 6-8 weeks down the road. Think 6-8 years down the road.

You have to be consistent in your workouts if you want to see results. And you have to give consistently good effort during your workouts.

This same concept can be applied to nutrition as well in terms of drastically altering your calorie intake or placing extreme restrictions on the foods you eat. Are you adding in or subtracting too many calories from your daily intake based on your goals? If you are, you’re going to short change yourself in the long run.

Not many people can consistently live off a 1000 calorie deficit for the long haul, and even less will maintain a decent body fat percentage eating in a surplus as aggressive.

3. You’re too Focused on What Other People Do

“Bro, you got to do X workout 5 times a week, HIIT 3 times a week, weigh out all your food, and make sure you hit your exact macros each and every day if you want to be jacked like me.” - Most Instafamous Models

Can this work? Sure, for some. But what works for someone else isn’t always going to work for you.

There are plenty of concepts that are backed by science and actually do work (i.e. resistance training can increase lean muscle mass1).

Then there are highly individualized practices that work for someone that might not work for you (i.e. the guy who preaches the benefits of a very specific workout program, who is simply seeing a gain in lean muscle mass because he IS resistance training).

We all lead different lifestyles and have different work and familial obligations. These will alter what we are capable of doing with our workouts, nutrition, and sleep cycles. The trick is to find the things that work for YOU and that you can do – wait for it – consistently.

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It doesn’t hurt if you actually enjoy what is working for you either. Seeing results from and enjoying that bootcamp style training facility your buddy invited you to? Keep at it! Like the strength gains you’re making on your 5x5 program? Keep at it.

Want to cut back your weight training sessions to 2xs a week so you can try out a yoga class? Test it out, track and assess your results. You never know where it might lead – and if you find out it doesn’t work for you, go back to what was working before.

There’s no shame in trying new things. However, it’s important to realize there’s no one right way for everyone to follow. You’ve got to find what works for you.

Bonus: You’re Not Adding in Enough Compound Lifts

Despite my first point, it’s hard not to put a focus on training. Mainly because there’s a lot of misinformation out there about it and it’s also where most health enthusiasts begin their fitness journey.

The most common thought process for a lot of lifters, especially those new to the gym, is “I want to make X muscle bigger”.

That leads to them increasing the amount of isolation work for the given muscle group. That’s fine, but if your goal is to increase your overall lean muscle mass, you need to lift heavy and you’re going to be able to lift a lot more weight performing compound exercises than you would doing isolation work.

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For example, say you want to build bigger biceps. So, you decide you’re going to target them with a lot of curls. That’s not a bad idea. But the biceps are a small muscle group and they get worked a lot when training pull variations such as the chin up and row.

And since your back is going to be the primary muscle group worked here, you’re going to be able to move a lot more poundage during the workout.

Related: A Beginner's Guide To Strength Training Program Fundamentals

The more weight you’re able to move during a workout, the more testosterone and growth hormone you’ll release, meaning the more jacked you’re going to get in the long run2.

You can always add in isolation work. But the majority of your workouts should be centered around big lifts: Squats, deadlifts, presses, rows/pulls, and carries.

Wrap up

The top ways you’re making gaining muscle harder than it has to be:

  1. You focus too much on training and not enough on things outside the gym such as proper nutrition, sleep, and overall recovery.
  2. You don’t see the bigger picture and jump into workout and diet plans that put you in way over your head. This leads to inconsistency.
  3. You’re too focused on what is working for other people and not enough on finding what works for you and your lifestyle.

Building muscle is a lot easier than folks make it out to be. It’s just a long process. And you’ve got to be consistent in your efforts.

What about you? Do you know of any other ways people are making this muscle building game harder on themselves than it has to be? I’d love to read them in the comments section below.

Joe C
Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 23:11

My favorite are the supplement "gurus" that try to make you think a "perfect stack" or regiment of a million sups are going to get you lean and jacked...no short cuts for hard work and consistency as you pointed out several times.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 09:13

Hi Joe,

Thanks for reading and commenting! Indeed. A lot of people out there want a magic formula for minimal work and quick results and some companies like to take advantage of that. What's truly sad is the process is somewhat easy and results do come from it. It just takes time, effort, and commitment.

Thanks again!

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 08:20

Hi i enjoyed your article and i always wondered if im getting enough rest. My workout schedule is usually legs, chest, back, shoulders , then bis and tris. I throw in a few 20 min cardio sessions and core work throghout the week. My problem is i wake up at 4am for work every morning and usually get to sleep around 10-1030. Im looking to gain weight.not loose it and its always been hard for me please help!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 09:08

Hi Sal,

Thank you for reading and for your comment! Hate to hear you're having trouble building muscle. It sounds like you're getting in plenty of exercise during the week.

A lack of sleep could very well be causing sleep here. Ideally, you want a minimum of 7 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep each night. 8-9 hours is an even more ideal number. From the sounds of things, it looks like you're only getting 5.5-6 hours a night. I'd recommend checking out these articles:



You may also want to take a hard look at your diet. Are you getting enough calories to be in a calorie surplus necessary to build muscle? Find out how many calories you need each day here: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator

Then add 250-500 calories to that number. Test that out for a couple of weeks, if the scale doesnt start going in the right direction, increase by another 100 calories and test again for a couple of weeks.

You'll get there. It's a long process. And as stated in the article, it takes a lot of consistency both inside and outside of the weight room.

Hope this helps!

Posted on: Tue, 08/01/2017 - 05:19

great article josh it is really helpfull :)

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 08/01/2017 - 09:08

Hi Kiran,

Thank you for your comment and your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed reading the article. Hope it helps you accomplish your goals.

Thanks again!

Gaurav Jain
Posted on: Mon, 07/31/2017 - 03:07

Great articel, Josh!!
Thanks for providing such insights, as most of the guys at the gym tend to focus more on Workout routines rather than on balanced diet & rest, which are equally important.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 07/31/2017 - 10:06

Hi Guarav,

Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the article and found it helpful! Indeed, diet and rest are so important and often overlooked.

Thank you again for your comment!