So muscle growth is what you’re going for.
You are putting in the effort, both inside and outside of the gym, but your results aren’t reflecting your dedication.
If you’re a beginner, it’s very likely that you’re so caught up in the details of your training and nutrition plan that you’ve completely missed the big picture.
So here are four common muscle growth mistakes that could be killing your gains!
1. Your meals look great in isolation, but you’re eating too little
We literally hear the following question every single day: “Hey, I had this and this for breakfast/lunch/dinner. Does that sound good?”
And the answer is always the same: “It depends”.
We have no idea what you had earlier in the day and what you plan on having later. Outside the context of your daily (and even weekly) diet, there is no way to tell if one of your meals is “good” or “bad”.
Let’s put things into context to make this point more clear.
Let’s say that you’ve estimated your maintenance calories to be 2500 calories on average per day. As we’ve discussed before in Part 2 of the How to Build Muscle series, a small energy surplus of around 200-300 calories is usually required for maximizing the rate of muscle growth for most people, which means that you should be getting around 2700-2800 calories per day on average.
Now, suppose you’re having 4 meals every day of 500 calories each, spread evenly throughout the day, all with a good amount of protein and comprised of primarily minimally processed foods.
In isolation, each of your meals looks great. However, you’re only getting 2000 calories per day, which means that, not only are you not maximizing muscle growth, but you’re actually risking muscle loss, since you’re in a pretty big deficit every day.
Take-away point: whether your goal is fat loss or muscle gain, you should be concerned with your diet as a whole rather than about a single “good” or “bad” meal. Set your goals, find your maintenance calories, set your calorie and macronutrient targets and try to hit them by eating mostly minimally-processed, micronutrient-dense foods.
2. You train to get a pump, but never to get stronger
Yes, we’ve all been there. Getting a pump feels great! It’s like having a glimpse into what you can look like in the future if you keep lifting and eating right!
Arnold even said that pumping up feels as good as… errr well, just Google it.
What we’re trying to get at is that going to the gym for the purpose of getting a pump is just plain silly.
And guys are especially guilty of doing this: very little rest between sets, lots of supersets and dropset after dropset, all in the name of looking, temporarily, bigger.
Now, we’re not saying that getting a pump has absolutely no place in training for muscle growth. After all, according to hypertrophy specialist Dr Brad Schoenfeld (a.k.a. Dr Broenfeld), metabolic fatigue could provide a stimulus for hypertrophic adaptations.
However, mechanical tension seems to be the most important muscle hypertrophy mechanism, with metabolic fatigue and muscle damage being less clear contributors.
How do you achieve mechanical tension, you ask? Simply put, by moving heavy loads through full range of motion.
In any case, all three mechanisms mentioned above are interrelated, and training with sufficient intensity and volume will, inevitably, result in getting a pump, at least during your volume-oriented sessions.
Take-away point: there is no need to lift for the purpose of getting a pump. If your goal is to maximize muscle growth, lift with moderate loads at moderate to high volumes with the primary aim of getting stronger.
3. You take all the supplements, but your diet sucks
We’ve all been guilty of doing this at some point. You know what we’re talking about. That one cupboard in your kitchen that looks like GNC took a crap in it.
Because how else will you make gains without your creatine, whey, casein, a protein blend, two different preworkouts that you mix together, some beta alanine, glutamine, citrulline malate and, of course, your BCAAs, right?
We should never forget about our health, however, so a multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin C, ZMA, glucosamine for our joints, probiotics, prebiotics and a greens blend are also necessary.
Think about it. How many times have you heard people in the gym ask someone about their nutrition? “Hey bro, how many calories are you eating? What are your macros like?”
Almost never! It’s always “Hey bro, what supplements are you taking? Do you take BCAAs?”
Now we’re not saying that some supplements can’t be useful, but don’t forget that they are only a small part of your diet regimen and will have a relatively small effect on your health and body composition.
Just to put things into perspective, here is Eric Helms’ Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid which shows the relative importance of each of your dietary intervention variables on meeting your body composition goals.
Take-away point: supplements certainly have their position in a dietary intervention, both for health and body composition goals. Remember, however, that the effect they will have compared to more important things such as caloric intake, macronutrient composition, and even meal timing and frequency is relatively small.
4. You always do the “fluff work”, but forget to do the basics
So before you get upset about this one, let us make it clear that we are by no means “minimalists” when it comes to training for size.
We will never tell you to only squat, bench and deadlift, and that everything else is a waste of time. In our book, even if you are a beginner, accessory work can have its place, especially if you are training for muscle growth.
However, if you are injury-free and lifting to get big and your training doesn’t involve some form of squat, hip-hinge, press and row movements at least once a week, as well as a progression plan for these movements, you are, most likely, doing it wrong.
If nothing else, look at it from an efficiency perspective.
For example, a squat movement (i.e. squat/leg press) will work your quads, glutes, adductors and, to some extent, your hamstrings and calves. To cover all that with isolation movements you would have to do a separate exercise for each muscle. Would that be efficient? Probably not.
The same goes for upper body training.
Do any horizontal pressing movement and you’ve worked your pecs, front delts and triceps. Any rowing movement and you’ve engaged your lats, trapezius, rhomboids, rear delts and biceps (and a few others).
And there is even research showing that these basic, compound movements will increase the size of your arms significantly, even without doing direct arm work!
Take-away point: Base your training on compound movements. Do them first in your workout, at least once a week, and try to progress on them. Add some accessory movements as needed and you are good to go!
If you make sure you’re not doing any of the mistakes above, we can guarantee that you’ll be much closer to reaching your muscle growth goals!
If you want to get as big and strong as possible, we highly recommend that you check out the following posts:
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