5 CRITICAL MUSCLE BUILDING MISTAKES (AND HOW TO AVOID THEM)

Are you making these 5 critical muscle building mistakes? 

Mistake #1: You Don’t Have A Pre-Set Training Plan In Place

muscle building workout plan

The first mistake is that you don’t have a consistent, pre-set training plan in place.

This is what the majority of people in the gym don’t do.

Maybe you have a general template you’re following in terms of which muscles to hit on which days, but every time you go to the gym, you’re doing something a little different.

Maybe you follow a different exercise order, different volume, and rep ranges, different little training techniques you throw in depending on how you feel—drop sets, supersets, and burn out sets.

Perhaps you do have a pre-set plan laid out, but you never stick to one plan consistently.

You start off with one program, then you hear some new information online about some other training technique or system you think you should be using instead.

You constantly program hop from one plan to another.

The problem with this approach is that when your training variables are constantly being switched, it becomes more difficult to accurately track progressive overload.

Progressive overload is the underlying basis for the entire muscle building process. In other words, you need to focus on making small incremental improvements in your training performance week to week.

If you’re not following a specific routine consistently, then this also lowers the effectiveness of your workouts since you never end up becoming really skilled at any particular exercise.

What you need to do is fully commit to one pre-set training program that utilizes the same exercises.

Perform these exercises in the same order, on the same days every week, and practice getting really good at those particular movements in terms of your technique and mind-muscle connection.

Put all of your focus on maximizing your strength gains on that specific set of exercises for a consistent cycle of training.

You can still get results by winging it as long as you’re training hard and making strength gains. This is fine if you’re not serious about making rapid progress.

However, winging your routine won’t come close to the gains you’ll make when you commit to one program and start tracking your strength regularly.

Mistake #2: You’re Just Not Training Hard Enough

bodybuilding training intensity

The second muscle-building mistake is quite simply: you aren’t training hard enough.

Having a solid, well-structured routine in place is important.

But it doesn’t matter which exercises you do, how good your form is, how many sets you perform, etc. If you aren’t training hard enough in the gym, none of these things will make a difference to your results since the bottom line is that muscle growth is an adaptive response to stress. 

Muscle growth occurs as the result of you doing something that challenges your body’s existing strength capacity.

If you aren’t pushing yourself close enough to the point of muscular failure on each set, your body isn’t going to have any incentive at all to build new muscle mass.

So many people just go into the gym and follow the typical bodybuilding style “pump” routine. They perform their set and just crank out a bunch of reps until it starts to burn, and then they stop.

But they don’t pay attention to where they are in relation to true muscular failure during the set, and so they don’t fully activate the body’s muscle-building mechanism.

If you really want to put on some real muscle size, you need to focus by taking each individual set seriously.

For the bulk of your main heavy compound sets, you’ll want to go about 1-2 reps short of muscular failure—I’d say 3 reps as a minimum. These are the reps where you’re going to make progress.

For example, if pushing with 100% of your available strength meant that you could perform 10 reps with a given weight, you’d want to stop on about the 8th or 9th rep. In this case, the 10th rep would be an all-out grinder where the bar is barely moving.

This level of intensity is high enough to trigger a significant muscle-building response from your body but it’s also low enough that you’ll still be able to perform enough total volume to maximize your results without overtraining or getting injured.

Mistake #3: You’re Not Eating Enough

muscle growth mistakes

Switching over to nutrition now, the third reason why you might be failing to build muscle is that you’re just not consuming enough total calories.

Now yes, as long as you’re getting enough protein per day (around 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight), then you can still gain muscle while in a calorie deficit if you’re a beginning lifter or if you’re overweight.

It is possible for your body to break down its existing fat stores and then use the calories from that fat tissue to fuel the muscle-building process, otherwise known as recomping

If you’re starting with a decent amount of excess fat, you’ll want to start your program in a deficit to drop that fat first prior to committing to a calorie surplus.

You can probably gain some muscle during that phase as long as you’re doing things properly anyway.

As a long-term muscle-building strategy that will take you close to your genetic muscle-building potential, you are going to need to be in a consistent caloric surplus to maximize your body’s ability to pack on muscle mass.

Just because you CAN build muscle without a surplus doesn’t mean you can build muscle OPTIMALLY without a surplus.

If you’re not eating much food, you’re not going to recover as effectively in between workouts, and you’re not going to be providing your body with the raw materials it requires to maximize muscle growth.

It’s also important that you don’t take this too far.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who do eat in a surplus, but end up going way overboard with their caloric intake.

You do need a surplus in place if you want to make improvements at the fastest rate, but your body can only make use of a limited number of extra calories over any given day for the purpose of building new muscle.

Once you go beyond that maximum point, the rest of those calories will just be stored as fat. The key is to consume just enough calories each day to optimize muscle growth, but nothing more.

This way, the maximum percentage of your food intake will be used for building lean muscle, while the minimum amount will end up as stored body fat.

For most people in the beginner-intermediate stages of training, the ideal “calorie sweet spot” to aim for will be about 200-300 calories above your calorie maintenance daily. Combine this slight caloric surplus with sufficient protein intake, and you’ll be able to gain quality mass week to week while minimizing unwanted body fat.

I’ve covered this topic in more depth here if you’re interested in learning more. 

Mistake #4: You’re Relying On Motivation

bodybuilding fitness motivation

The fourth mistake is that you’re relying on motivation as a way to get yourself into the gym and to stay consistent with your nutrition.

At the end of the day, if your actions are always being dictated by your feelings, it’s unlikely you will succeed in the long run at any large goal you set for yourself.

Your emotional state is always going to be fluctuating because of an endless number of different possible factors.

You can’t put yourself in a position where you’re always relying on positive emotions to keep you grinding. This is a guaranteed way to lose.

Our bodies naturally want to seek out the path of least resistance. So, you have to train yourself to recognize this and learn to be able to take action regardless of how you feel.

Sometimes it is appropriate to listen to your body and to take a rest if you truly need it. But most of the time if you’re honest with yourself, I think you’ll know when it’s truly justified to rest versus when you’re just being lazy.

Set a plan, work on building up the proper daily habits to make that plan feel as automatic as possible, and then execute on it regardless of whether you feel like it or not.

The idea is that over time, your training and nutrition will just become part of who you are. Training and eating right will be something that you just do, like brushing your teeth.

But to reach this level of automation, you have to put in that initial grind and harness your self-discipline to establish a consistent routine of positive habits.

Mistake #5: You’re Expecting Too Much, Too Soon

bodybuilding patience

The fifth mistake is that you’re expecting too much too soon.

Let’s say you’ve been going to the gym for a month or two. You’re looking in the mirror wondering why your chest is lagging, or why you’ve only put on a few pounds of body weight, or why you don’t have a six-pack yet.

The truth is that muscle growth is actually not that slow of a process in the context of your life as a whole.

With that being said, building a significant amount of muscle does not happen overnight.

For a beginner in their first year of training, around 2 pounds per month is a realistic rate of weight gain assuming you’re making lean gains.

After the first year, muscle gain should slow down by about half each following year.

It’ll probably take you about 1 year of consistent proper training and nutrition to achieve roughly 50% of your total genetic muscle-building potential. It will take about 2 years to get to 75%, and after 3 years you’ll be getting closer to 85-90%.

To put on a significant amount of muscle—depending on your definition of significant—about 1-3 years of consistent proper training is required to make a serious transformation.

If you’ve made the decision to fully commit to your muscle-building goals, then it’s really important that you accept the time frames that are involved upfront.

If you don’t, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If you’re expecting quick results, you’ll fall off track and quit after a few weeks or months. Whereas if you keep those realistic expectations in mind, you’ll be far more likely to succeed in the long run.

When you accept that the muscle-building process is going to take a while, you’ll start to focus on loving the journey, which is the very thing that will take you to where you want to go.

It’s the journey that you should learn to love; the incredible physique you desire will simply be an outcome of it.

Summary

Building muscle is a slow, grueling, but rewarding process. It takes years to see significant results.

The five mistakes that you need to avoid if you’re trying to maximize muscle growth are:

  • Not having a pre-set training plan in place
  • Not training hard enough
  • Not eating enough food
  • Relying on motivation alone
  • Being impatient and expecting too much too soon

Set long-term realistic timeframes for your results, and learn to love the journey.

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