Let’s be real, if you are reading the Muscle & Strength blog you are chasing gains.
Good news is that we have the science of how to achieve those gains locked in our vault and are now bringing those secrets directly to you.
Now here is one of the biggest tips anyone can give you about making gains: Avoiding self-sabotage is critical.
Many of us out there spend a large portion of our lives in the gym. But sadly, many of us also negate our work by making simple mistakes.
Here are 8 surefire ways you sabotage your gains. Armed with this knowledge you can avoid these far too common pitfalls.
1. Don’t Eat Enough
“OMG dude, I have been lifting hard for so long but I just am not getting any bigger, something is really wrong with me, I need to unlock the secret formula. Or…. Maybe I am just destined to be small forever”.
A lot of people think that gaining muscle mass is some complex formula, a secret training program, or a $1499 dollar a month away.
Here is the real truth, if you aren’t gaining, stop eating like a rabbit: You need more food.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, start rolling the excuses out now…
“I eat so much!”
“I am eating a lot of food, there is only so much chicken and kale I can consume in a day!”
“No way I can eat 4,000 calories a day!”
If you aren’t gaining and you are lifting hard, you have to eat more. You don’t get to go on to number 2 in this listicle if you don’t squash this piece first.
I mean look, here are the cold hard facts: If you are a 6-foot, 185 pound male trying to add some muscle to your frame you need at least 3,000 calories a day to stay “stable”. You want to add mass, you need to exceed that in a meaningful way over an extended period of time.
2. Go Low Carb
For some very strange reason (actually I know why, slick marketing and the rise of the importance of the post-modern group identity) low-carb is making a huge come-back and it’s even creeping its way into bodybuilding, CrossFit, and all sorts of other fitness endeavors.
This is counter-productive to maximize, or even to moderatize (I just made that word up), your muscle growth. There are two main reasons why low-carb is not going to maximize your muscle growth:
- It reduces your capacity to train at a high intensity over time (this is essentially volume of training)
- Protein and carbohydrates tend to elicit greater muscle protein synthesis than protein alone.
Carbohydrates are easily the most ergogenic aid out there1. When it comes to adding muscle tissue the volume of work you do is perhaps the most critical training variable to consider in your program.
Consuming enough carbohydrate throughout the day, and before/during training, is one of the best tools to ensure you can train at a higher volume.
At the level of the muscle tissue, protein alone is good for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, but carbohydrates and protein together are an even deadlier combo. If you consume carbohydrate and a leucine rich protein you get a much greater muscle protein synthesis response following training than if you just consume protein2.
3. Don’t Train Enough
You are going to hear this word a lot in this article: Volume. To achieve the gains you are chasing you need to accumulate training volume in a progressive manner.
The most simple way to think about volume is essentially Sets X Reps X Weight. As you progress through your “Gainz Phase” it is important that you keep this idea central to your programming and work toward progressively and gradually increasing the volume. If the volume drops substantially or is not progressively increasing you are leaving a lot of gains on the table.
Make sure that you are tracking your volume and adding to that volume each week.
4. You Train Too Much
To grow you have to recover.
Muscle growth is a fairly simple formula: Growth Signal + Nutrients to Adapt + Time to Adapt.
Most people who are in a hurry to gain muscle don’t put the last piece into practice, especially if they are busy people.
During high volume, muscle growth focused training cycles recovery is critical. You need to make sure you give muscle groups adequate rest between training sessions and you need to make sure you are getting adequate sleep.
A general rule of thumb is that it takes about 48 hours, on average, to recover a body part until it is recovered enough to where it can be trained again to a high capacity. This means that if you hammer legs and shoulders on Monday, you probably need to wait until Thursday to hammer them really hard again.
5. Being Impatient
Many people trying to gain muscle are impatient and they try and repeat their newbie gains, expecting large returns on their gym time investment in a matter of weeks.
The hard truth is that as you get further and further into your training career it takes longer and longer to gain noticeable amount of mass.
There are several reasons for this.
The simplest reason is that if you add 1/2 an inch to 10 inch biceps it’s substantially more noticeable than if you add 1/2 an inch to 16 inch biceps. Think about it like your bank account. When you have 10 dollars in your bank account and you deposit 10 dollars you just doubled the value of that account. When you have 10,000 dollars and you add the same 10 dollars you don’t even notice.
The other reason is that it requires a greater level of stimulus to elicit growth as your body adapts to the current level of training. Essentially, as you adapt to a stimulus you have to get an even greater stimulus to adapt to the next level.
When you start to realize it’s becoming harder and harder to add muscle tissue think about how far you have come. Getting to the point of diminishing returns is actually a good thing, embrace that and be more patient with reaching the next level.
6. Not Understanding the Basics of Muscle Growth
Volume. Volume. Volume.
When you break down all the different workout routines and different hacks and tips for muscle growth (and even look into the scientific literature), the thing that drives muscle growth is volume.
I mean think about it: drop sets, myo-reps, high-rep work, density training, etc…. they are all different ways to accumulate training volume.
You can utilize all sorts of different intra-sessions hacks and tips to get you where you want to go as long as they progressively, and systematically accumulate more volume over time.
7. Forgetting Accessory Work
Barbell work and “the big 3” are great for giving you a growth stimulus but the real secret for most of us is that gains happen with the accessory work.
We know that volume is key for gains, and you can only accumulate so much volume from deadlifting, squatting, and benching, before you die. OK, you won’t die, but it would be silly to only accumulate muscle work volume by doing large, structurally intensive lifts.
If you are serious about accumulating a large volume of muscle work you need accessory work.
Let me repeat that - You need accessory work.
8. You Are Training Fasted
Training fasted is not a biohack. It is not really going to give you an “anabolic environment”, and it certainly is not going to make you SHREDDED. St. Schoenfeld (AKA Dr. Brad Schoenfeld) has shown that the reported benefit of fasted cardio is largely over stated. In a study comparing fed versus fasted cardio, training fasted showed no benefit for fat loss, and may have led to greater losses in muscle mass3.
Now, to the contrary, like we stated earlier in the article, training fed, specifically with carbohydrates is a much better way to accumulate volume and add muscle.
Also, let’s just cogitate on this for a second… you are trying to get jacked, why would you want to try and squeak out a minuscule potential benefit on body fat while completely tanking your ability to gain?
The Wrap Up
Getting jacked is one of the coolest things you can do in your life.
The sad thing is a lot of people end up sabotaging their gains by making a few key mistakes.
The first mistake to avoid is to make sure you are actually eating enough calories. If you aren’t gaining muscle, that is your first stop; make sure you are eating enough.
You need carbs to maximize muscle growth. While low-carb is a viable option for fat loss, it’s not a great option of getting jacked.
You need to make sure you are prioritizing volume in your training, progressively adding to that volume, and then ensuring that you recover from each trainings session.
Lastly, don’t train fasted, it is silly and likely counterproductive to maximizing your gains.