If you’re like most lifters, bodybuilding can be a two steps forward/two steps back exercise in frustration.
Gains may come at a snail’s pace, if at all.
So if you’ve found yourself backsliding, or simply wish to grow faster than your current rate, keep reading.
It’s time to address a range of all-too-common muscle-building barriers.
Most well-meaning lifters struggle to add appreciable size and it’s often due to seemingly small mistakes that add up to mediocre progress over time.
Poor training progress results from many undetected errors rather than the few big mistakes (like poor protein intake) that can be easier to detect and fix.
By removing these barriers to success we give our physiques the freedom to grow.
Learn from these mistakes to fast-track your mass-building efforts and grow like never before.
Related: Old School Gains - Build Muscle Like an Iron-Game Legend
Mistake One: Sugar Intake
Most of us know that too much sugar can spell dietary disaster, promote obesity, and sidetrack lean muscle gains.7 The excessive intake of sugar may also, over time, promote insulin resistance.
Worst case scenario, a diet rich in concentrated simple sugars may cause our cells to become unresponsive to the important anabolic hormone insulin. When this happens, we may struggle to properly absorb glucose, which in turn may promote high blood sugar levels and the onset of diabetes.8
Whatever the degree of insulin resistance, those afflicted will invariably experience fluctuating energy levels and, worst of all, muscle catabolism due to inefficient nutrient partitioning and poor muscle protein synthesis.11
Most lifters admirably banish obvious sugars (those found in donuts, cakes and other sweet treats). However, they often do not go far enough and instead gorge on supposedly “healthy foods” that are nevertheless high in hidden sugars.
Such hidden sugars include those found in breakfast cereals, specialty coffees, and condiments of all kinds, fruit smoothies, various breads, frozen yogurt, and even sushi. These all add up over time and can create many of the above-listed problems, not the least of which includes added belly fat and obscured muscle definition.
Be aware of all forms of sugar and eliminate them accordingly.
KEY FACTOR: Identify hidden sugar in your diet & try to avoid it when possible.
Mistake Two: Low Intensity
The most important mass-building principal could arguably be training intensity. To produce growth, an adequate training stimulus must first be presented.
Without enough muscle-microtrauma resulting from progressive overload via weight training, the muscles simply have no reason to adapt and grow.2 Muscle must instead be challenged and forced to become larger and stronger to handle increasingly heavier weights and more training intensity overall.6
Many times I’ve personally walked away from a set knowing I could have given much more. However, once I eliminated low intensity efforts in favor of fewer but more intensive sets, satisfactory muscle growth was finally achieved.
For intensity to work, one major caveat must first be obeyed: nutrition and rest must never be neglected. Put each of these factors together and the results you seek will finally be yours.
KEY FACTOR: Log your sets, reps, & weights. Make sure you're increasing steadily while maintaining a high level of intensity.
Mistake Three: Poor Supplementation
There’s no need for me to expand upon the muscle-building merits of a diet rich in a wide variety of healthy whole foods. All lifters know this. However, what many often overlook in their quest for added size and strength is the importance of proper supplementation.
For many, supplementation may provide an edge that is otherwise lacking in an exclusively whole foods diet. Supplements can provide quality nutrition in the most convenient and nutrient-dense manner.
Various proteins, aminos, carb formulas and a vast array of micronutrient products can be found in today’s marketplace. As a key builder, protein is integral to developing quality muscle.4 Now, with more protein options than ever before, serious lifters may both train and recover faster.
Sensible supplementation can fill nutritional gaps to optimize performance, health and physical development. A big mistake many lifters make is to leave such outcomes to chance, and instead rely exclusively on what are increasingly found to be depleted and nutrient-sparse whole foods.10, 11
Make no mistake: nutrient-dense whole foods must come first. However, supplementation is an integral part to muscle building success.
KEY FACTOR: Choose supplements that make it untra-easy to stay on target.
Mistake Four: Excessive Activity
Most of us live busy lives that continue to get busier by the day. With an increasing range of commitments, obligations and activities, there is hardly a second to spare. While many are forced to eat on the run, others bypass meals altogether.
Most committed lifters fortunately do not go to such extremes. However, due to the nature of their employment and their various daily commitments, many are constantly on the move.
To recover and grow, the body needs complete rest. When we are moving, the body is forced to draw from its energy reserves, reserves that could be better spent optimizing muscle growth and fuelling intensive workouts. Recovery, at such times, is less likely to occur.
It’s no secret that the biggest and most successful lifters prioritize rest as one of the more important growth perquisites. There are many ways you too can take advantage of rest.
First, limit extracurricular activities. While getting out and about is healthy for mind, body and soul and not to be avoided completely, an extremely active social life combined with multiple recreational activities will limit your ability to recover from intense training.
Thus, it is important to learn to efficiently manage your time. Use any new found time to kick back and rest your muscles. When in the gym, sit and rest between sets rather than walk from station to station and talking with fellow lifters. Every day we are presented with opportunities to act. Be more selective in how you spend your time.
Rest more. Move less. And grow faster.
KEY FACTOR: Promoting healthy sleep habits whenever possible will benefit your muscle building attempts.
Mistake Five: Negative Self Belief
No discussion on how to succeed is complete without acknowledgement of the degree to which mind-power can influence human behavior. Because the information we routinely feed our minds controls our conscious thoughts and our intentional behaviors, what we say and think about ourselves can influence the actions we take and shape who we ultimately become.3, 5
Research suggests that what we believe goes a long way toward establishing the behaviors necessary for achievement.1, 3 Take a good look at the successful people among us. Here you’ll find plenty of positive self talk and an overriding sense of unconditional belief in one’s abilities.
On the other hand, those who doubt their abilities tend to wallow in complacency. These people never seem to get anywhere in life and it’s their belief system that is likely to blame.
So before you commit to building muscle, know that what you tell yourself will likely be reflected in the mirror or onstage come contest day.
What’s the best way to go about programming the mind for success?
You can start by completely eliminating negative self talk and replacing it with more affirmative language. Negative self talk and negative self belief is something most of us are guilty of. Such thinking is so easy to overlook. We catch ourselves doing it almost by default. The good news is, like any habit, our sense of positive self-belief can strengthen over time.
Related: 6 Proven Ways to Boost Workout Motivation
For some, speaking in exclusively positive terms about oneself might seem strange at first. As trite as it may seem, by expressing positive affirmations (such as, “I will succeed”) on a daily basis, you’ll shape your reality the way you want it.
Positive thoughts and words can, when specifically applied to our training goals, bring us much closer to obtaining the physique we want.
KEY FACTOR: Visualize the physique you want. Keep it in your mind & you will succeed.
Eliminating the Negatives
You’ve been doing what you need to do to get results in the gym. You’ve been training hard, eating the right foods and trying to get enough rest.
However, your lack of progress tells you something is amiss.
If you’re not satisfied with your current level of progress, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at all of your daily actions to see whether a process of elimination needs to take place.
Chances are you’ll find at least one of the above-listed barriers. Perhaps you’ll find them all.
Either way, it’s now time to begin making some cutbacks.
- Bargh, J., A. The Unconscious Mind. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2008 Jan; 3(1): 73–79.
- Baechle, T., Earle, R., & Wathen, M. Resistance training. In: Baechle T, Earle R, editors; Essentials of strength training and conditioning. IL: Human Kinetics, Champaign; 2008. pp. 381–411. 3rd ed.
- Breines, J., Three Ways Your Beliefs Can Shape Your Reality. Psychology Today. [Online] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201508/3-ways-your-... Retrieved on 10.3.17
- Campbell, B., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 20074:8
- Herbert, W. How Beliefs About the Self Shape Personality and Behavior. Association for Psychological Science. [Online] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/how-beliefs-about-the-self-... Retrieved on 10.3.17
- Mangine, G., et al. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. 2015 Aug; 3(8)
- Musselman, L., P. et al. A high-sugar diet produces obesity and insulin resistance in wild-type Drosophila. Dis Model Mech, 2011 Nov; 4(6): 842–849.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Pre Diabetes and Insulin Resistance. [Online] https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-d... Retrieved on 10.3.17
- Shiffman, M., A. Chemicals Used in Food Processing. Am J Public Health Nations Health. 1966 Dec; 56(12): 2166–2167
- Scientific America. Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious? [Online] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-... Retrieved on 10.3.17
- Wilcox, G. Insulin and Insulin Resistance. Clin Biochem Rev, 2005 May; 26(2): 19–39.