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7 Reasons You’re Not Building Muscle (Backed by Science)

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Over the past decade working with over 500 clients and some of the world’s top experts in bodybuilding and the science of hypertrophy, I have identified several key reasons why you may have a hard time gaining mass.

Sadly, there is not one simple solution to this problem. There are a multitude of factors or variables to consider. Listed below are ten of the most popular variables I see daily which may be hindering your muscle growth.

By simply fixing these errors you can optimize your training and muscle building. So what are you waiting for? Here we go…

1. Your Training Frequency is Too Low 

I’ve discussed the importance of a higher training frequency in previous articles. In short, a higher training frequency allows you to stimulate the muscle multiple times per week and increase training volume and intensity.

If you still follow a bro split or just train each muscle once per week, there’s a big chance that simply doubling or tripling your training frequency for each muscle can stimulate massive amounts of growth.

By increasing training frequency, you can achieve greater total volume per week which is a key mechanism behind muscle hypertrophy and growth.

In addition, addressing training frequency can also help optimise intensity during your workout, as splitting your normal training frequency over several sessions a weeks allows you to perform each set at a higher intensity.

Finally, an increased training frequency will also allow you to improve your technique and muscular recruitment, which is going to help you retain motor units and muscle fiber recruitment.

2. You Don’t Appreciate the Importance of Training Volume

As touched upon above, the amount of volume or in other words the amount of reps x’s sets x’s weight you lift per session is a key factor in muscle growth.

By optimizing volume you can both increase strength and muscle growth without becoming over trained or under recovered. The current research suggests that volume increases in a linear like relationship, i.e. the more volume you do the more muscle you’ll grow and the more you will adapt.

It must be noted that eventually you will hit a plateau, where extra volume provides no additional benefit and at some point, extra volume can actually be detrimental to your recovery and growth.

The key here is to optimize volume so that you can maximize growth but can also maximize recovery. This is another reason increased training frequency can help, as it allows more volume but also allows for recovery on the rest day.

The amount of volume you require depends on several factors including training experience, age, gender, calorie intake, food intake, training split, recovery capacity, muscle group and much more. As you can see, it’s not easy to pick the optimal training volume, however, a current study suggests that around 45-70 reps or 5-8 sets is beneficial for growing muscle mass.

Lastly, we must consider these results were not conducted on experienced bodybuilders that already train with an increased training frequency. If this applies to you, an additional exercise or 3 sets per session could help you grow.

However, just remember that too much volume can be detrimental so try your best to grow on a sufficient amount of volume without overdoing it. Here’s a visual guide to help explain:

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3. Your Not Eating Enough Protein (Even If You Think You Are!)

Most people will be aware of the importance of an increased protein intake for general metabolic health, muscle mass and fat loss.

Several studies have highlighted that an increased protein intake can be one of the best ways to add new lean mass. There is no definitive or set guidelines for your protein intake, however, several studies have highlighted around 1.3-2 gr./lb./body weight is sufficient to maximize muscle growth.

In addition to this, recent studies have tested up to 5 times the recommended RDA of protein (300 grams or more per day) and found that the additional protein helped add more muscle than a lower protein intake, without storing any additional fat.

Therefore, I always advise to aim for the upper level of protein intake. There is no strong evidence to suggest any detrimental health effects of a high protein intake and as shown in the study above, you won’t gain fat either.

Your protein intake should come from good quality sources such as meat and fish and dairy, which have a high amino acid profile and contain all the key essential amino acids for muscle growth. I recommend around 4 maybe 5 servings of high quality protein every day which can be broken down to around 30-50 grams of protein per serving.

The addition of extra whey protein either before or after the workout or both, is an extremely easy and beneficial way to add more mass while increasing your daily protein intake. For those that struggle with eating enough protein, such as vegetarians, whey protein can definitely help.

4. You’re Not Optimize Your Sleep

Hundreds of research studies have highlighted the importance of a good night’s sleep for health and disease risks, performance, body composition and muscle growth.

A poor night’s sleep can affect all your hormones, metabolism, exercise performance and your capacity to build muscle. Sleep also incorporates recovery time, which is extremely important if you’re on an advanced protocol or using higher frequency and higher volume as discussed above.

You can be on the world’s best training plan, however, if your not optimizing sleep you’ll quickly become under recovered and over trained.

A good night’s sleep is also important for your insulin sensitivity and metabolic health. For example, just one poor night’s sleep can affect how well you tolerate carbohydrates and other nutrients. If you want to maximize muscle growth, an important influencing factor is the ability to stay lean and drive all the essential muscle building nutrients into the muscle cells and away from the fat cells.

A good night’s sleep can help you with this and is crucially important for staying lean while growing muscle.

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5. Being Too Focused on the Weight

For years people have obsessed about lifting as heavy as possible and simply moving the weight from point A to B (myself included).

While this can be important for a power athlete, or those with a strength or power-based goal, it is not optimal for muscle growth. While lifting heavy is certainly important, you should only lift as heavy as possible with good technique, recruiting the working muscle and not compensating with other parts of the body or limiting your range of movement.

As you may know, my good friend Ben Pakulski greatly supports this concept and has really bought it to life. By simply changing your joint angle mechanics and focus when lifting you can recruit the working muscle to a much greater extent, which allows you to increase the overload on that muscle and stimulate greater growth compared to just moving a weight from A to B.

By simply dropping the weight slightly, and focusing on the movement and the mechanics of the exercise you can still create more total tension and share through that joint or muscle that you were trying to work. Remember that the weight in your hand is only one consideration, by altering your joint angles you can easily overload that muscle to a much greater capacity even if the weight in your hand appears lower.

Don’t be a sucker for the weight or life for your own ego.

6. Not Optimize Your Calorie Intake

Whether your goal is fat loss or muscle growth, the amount of calories you intake per day is still extremely important.

Even if you are training right, sleeping right, taking all the best supplements, and eating enough protein, if you are not optimizing calorie intake you still won’t grow as fast as possible.

Your total calorie intake must be higher than your total calorie expenditure, i.e. it must be in a calorie surplus. Being in a positive calorie surplus will signal your body to grow new tissue, as long as you are training right and eating healthily, the majority of this new tissue will be muscle mass.

You should also remember that high calorie intake can help you optimize your gym sessions, with more calories providing more energy within the cell for both performance in the session and also recovery after the session.

The key here is to optimize your calorie intake so you don’t store additional fat. For most, they should consume 300-500 calories more than they burn per day, which can be estimated with an online calculator or as a rough guide you can follow the example below.

For sedentary men, estimated calorie expenditure will be 2000-2500. This may be slightly higher if they exercise daily for an hour or so.

For females, there calorie expenditure will be around 20-30% lower, simply due to their metabolic rate, total body weight and muscle mass. A good ballpark estimate for women is around 1500-2000 calories per day at rest.

You must remember if you dieted many times and are extremely lean your resting metabolic rate may actually be lower than those predicted values or any predictive value online – see THIS article to read all about the metabolic adaptions to dieting.

In contrast, if you’ve got an above average muscle mass or are extremely active such as working a manual job, your total calorie needs and expenditure per day can be way higher than those predictive values.

Try adding 200 calories every two weeks until you find that sweet spot between muscle growth and minimal fat accumulation. Also, try to tailor your calories around the training session, i.e. consume more on a leg session day compared to a smaller and less energy dependent training session such as cardio or arms.

This is just one of the methods I built into the 20 Week Scientific Mass Builder which optimizes nutrient timing and cycle to help you grow large amounts of muscle mass without the normal fat gain!

7. Not Staying Consistent, Everyday!

Above every other point, consistency is always key. Regardless of your goal you must be consistent every day, all day for many months and years.

I always say the best training plan will be worse than an average plan if you are unable to stay consistent with it. This is why you must always build an achievable, sustainable and enjoyable plan that you can keep over the long term.

Even though training volume and frequency are extremely important, if you set yourself an unrealistic target to train for longer and more times per week than you’ll eventually fail. Try to train as often as possible, as much volume as frequency (within reason, of course) but it should also be sustainable.

Remember muscle growth takes months and years not days or weeks. People expect to change and grow muscle mass overnight, however, this isn’t the case. It’s been shown in research that when starting out anywhere between 10-15 lbs of muscle mass per year is great. The amount you’ll grow on a yearly basis will quickly decline as you become more experienced, for an advanced trainee even adding 5 lbs of lean muscle mass per year can be an extremely good achievement.

Don’t fall for online marketing and before/after photos, which trick you into believing that you can miraculously transform your physique in only a matter of weeks. These before and afters are often heavily photoshopped, or they are extreme responders who are genetically gifted or using metabolic steroids.

Enjoy the process, build a sustainable plan and be realistic with your goals.

Fix These Today and Transform Your Physique

Far too often people will obsess over minute details, leaving out and ignoring important factors such as these listed above.

Stop worrying about the timing of your post workout shake or the ratio of your branch chain amino acids and start focusing on the things that matter such as those discussed above.

If you’d like a “done- for-you” highly advanced plan, which you can be sure will optimize every aspect of your diet, training, supplement and recovery protocols, check out 20 Week Scientific Mass Program which is currently 80% off the normal price.

Remember, stay consistent, and follow an enjoyable plan backed by science!

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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