Blog / 9 Reasons Why You Aren’t Gaining Muscle

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Muscle trouble? Training becoming robotic? There are many benefits associated with achieving slabs of new muscle tissue, making it a desirable choice for many. However it is a long and hard process. Are you having trouble putting on size? Below are 9 reasons why you aren’t gaining muscle.

1. You aren’t lifting heavy weights

Needless to say it is hard to put on muscle. This process isn’t made any simpler by avoiding heavy weights. Now I know what you’re thinking, what about calisthenics, those powerful athletes build muscle without weights at all. The truth is they follow the same principles as weight training, progressive overload (the art of progressively overloading the muscles with new stimulus).

For a long time it was popular belief that high reps and moderate weight were the best for muscle gains. Recent studies suggest low reps with heavy weight are just as beneficial. To get the best results both should be incorporated in a plan which consists of high, medium and low reps.

Think about it, ever seen somebody bench press 500lbs without having a slab of upper body mass?

SIMPLE TIP: Start all workouts with at least three heavy compound exercises using the 3 sets of 5 principle. You may find your rest periods increase from conventional body-building training.


2. You are focusing on accessory work.

‘Accessory’ work or ‘isolation’ exercises sure do have their place in ones training routine. They can be used, mainly at the end of workouts to, funnily enough, isolate individual muscle to the point past failure.

The problem occurs when people use this and only these moves in their sessions primarily because they’re easy and let’s not forget, bicep curls fall into this category! Anyone who is trying to put on muscle or increase strength should be doing primarily compound moves. These are the squats, lunges, deadlifts, cleans, military presses, bench presses, chinups, dips and so on. These are the ‘big’ moves which take up a lot of energy and work the muscles through multiple joints. If you solely did this exercises for ten years, I am certain you would gain a huge amount of muscle. Although its key to note accessory work can help iron out weaknesses or imbalances.

For example a bench press works through the shoulder and elbow joints, making it a compound exercise. A Tricep extension however only works through the elbow joint making it an isolation move. It’s surprising that most people who want to gain muscle won’t be seen doing squats, deadlifts or rows but will be seen daily hitting bicep curls and lateral raises.

SIMPLE TIP: Start all workouts with at least three compound exercises followed by the isolation moves afterwards. Compound exercises burn more calories and impact central nervous system more increasing growth hormones.

3. You hardly drink water

Water is a fundamental make-up of life. Humans are made up of roughly 60% water without muscles being up to 75% water. How can you expect to put on more muscle tissue if you are not taking in what is essentially going to become your muscles? Same theory applies with proteins.

Research has shown that being even 2% low in water (extremely mild dehydration), can affect your brain function e.g. concentration and slower thinking whilst also impacting strength levels. So water not only is essential to life it has a direct impact upon muscle and strength. It is also water that aids with food digestion which includes protein synthesis. Being hydrated is essential for performance and regular water intake will ensure your muscles are delivered with regular energy and amino acids.

SIMPLE TIP: Keep a two litre bottle of water at hand all day. If you are struggling to drink water try marking your bottle with times and stop at nothing until you have completed your checkpoints (a little fun).

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4. Your workout routine is far from optimal

Most of us in the gym follow the art of drafting. We watch and learn how others workout and usually copy them. This is usually from a website/magazine or a routine by last years Mr Olympia that they swear by. We should be more scientific in approach. Muscle protein synthesis (the process of synthesizing new muscle) is essentially what we want to occur when we touch a weight. However it is something that we ignore and/or don’t know about.
 
Each training session has a positive and a negative effect on us. There will be protein synthesis (process of new building of muscle tissue) as well as protein breakdown (your body reacting by breaking down amino acids from skeletal muscle).
 
protein synthesis > protein breakdown = Hypertrophy/GAINS.
 
Research shows in beginners the muscle protein synthesis window lasts only 48 hours after a workout at which point it returns back to baseline. For seasoned lifters and people who have been lifting weights for 5 years or so the time muscle protein synthesis is elevated is going to be around 12-24h. Think about that for a second. You may be sore for 4 days but you’re only theoretically building muscle for a maximum of 48 hours. This is one of the reasons why bodypart splits with 1 body part once per week aren’t optimal for natural lifters. Somebody enhancing with the use of anabolic hormones will automatically increase their muscle protein synthesis even from sitting at home doing nothing! 
 
The solution? A workout that means training the muscles with more frequency and less volume. Something like Jason Blaha’s Novice Program linked below. Training in this fashion will mean the muscle protein synthesis rates will be elevated for a longer period of time which means more growth. 
 
https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/jason-blaha-ice-cream-fitness-5×5-novice-workout
 
Also here are the references for the muscle protein synthesis. 
 
http://jap.physiology.org/content/73/4/1383
http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/273/1/E99.short
 
Omar Isuf explains it really well here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLJuzcN5EW0
 
 

5. You aren’t eating enough

You hear it a lot from most beginner lifters that they are trying their hardest and not seeing results. Upon investigating their diets which consist of tea and toast for breakfast it isn’t hard to establish there is no framework of nutrition in place.

 
Nutrition is vital for any goals within health and fitness. It really is the play-maker (for most people).

It is easy to work hard for 1 hour in the gym but the other 23 hours of eating and resting is where the real hard work takes place.

 
Regular meals consisting of complex carbohydrates, essential fats and proteins will help you on your way to increasing muscle and being rewarded with the host of benefits they offer. 2500 calories is the rough guidelines (RDA) for average males with 2000 calories being the average for females. General rule of thumb is to increase by 500 calories if you are trying to pack on muscle. If you start to see some fat gain you may want to reduce by a couple hundred, same applies if you aren’t seeing results, increasing a couple of hundred calories will kick-start the process. 
 
I want to touch on protein a little bit since it is often consumed in abundance. There is no need to eat more than 0.8g per pound of bodyweight and this is what has been shown to be optimal in studies after which point no extra benefits (muscle gain or strength gain) were noted. In other words any excess is literally going down the drain. Literally they can measure the nitrogen in your excrement. 
 
As you can see, 1.8g/kg (0.82g/lb) is the point at which additional protein intake ceases to yield any benefits.
 
optimal-protein-intake
 

 

SIMPLE TIP: Aim to eat around 4 times a day with balanced meals (although frequency of meals is personal preference). A 50:25:25 ratio works great with 50% being carbohydrates, 25% protein and 25% fats. Get onto MYFITNESSPAL (app) and begin to track what you eat. I adhere to the principles of flexible dieting, so get a macro plan in place and make it work 🙂

6. You avoid the little things

Common notion around about muscle hungry individuals is that they workout hard in the gym and sit around all day to accommodate their ‘gains.’ All in all we tend to avoid other activities thinking they will impede with our muscle gaining abilities. I’m here to tell you they won’t.

Taking regular walks, doing some light cardio will help blood flow around the body and help kick-start your metabolism. This will help you to eat more and more importantly help you body make better use of this energy.

Other things that are ignored are relaxing activities. When people say rest is just as important as the gym, they aren’t exaggerating. I am talking about rest that involves meditation, deep breathing, massages and stretching. Not rest that is watching TV or playing video games. This correct type of resting should be engaged every day. It will not only help with recovery and reducing soreness but assist you in becoming one with your body, something that is very closely linked to effective weight training (mind – muscle connection and all).

Take more time to RELAX.
 

SIMPLE TIP: A daily 20 minutes walk will do wonders for your metabolism, muscle-building energy and general wellness. Similarly night-time meditation of some form will help you to unwind the day’s stresses and encourage better quality sleep – that is when muscle is built!

7. You skip warming up and cooling down

Being in a gym environment on a daily basis, almost as a second home I have seen this amongst most lifters. To the point I congratulate those who do warm up and cool down!
Warming up, both from a mental and physical preparation point of view is essential for bodily function. Spending as little as 5 minutes on a cardio piece of equipment will help to set your mind for the session ahead as well as increase blood flow and heart rate. Then another 5 minutes can be spent on dynamic stretching which will be more specific to your session. For example, hip thrusts if you are going to be doing Squats.

Those of you more into strength performance will know the importance of remaining loose and warming up efficiently. The same goes for cooling down. Doing some static stretching and foam rolling not only help with flexibility and removing physical tightness but help one to unwind and reflect on the session just had.

SIMPLE TIP: Take out up to 10 minutes at the beginning of the workout and up to 5 minutes at the end of your workouts to warm up and cool down. Your performance will go up in due course, for sure!

 

8. You don’t snack on nuts

If you are trying to build muscle and are not eating any form of nuts, you are missing out on an entire hoist of ‘gains.’ These little gems come in many forms and tastes so leave your excuses at the door (unless you’re allergic of course, then an apology is due).

Nuts are high in fat (making them calorie rich), and high in protein and fibre which make them ideal for muscle-building. Best thing is they can be taken with you anywhere for snacking throughout the day. Most nuts also contain high levels of minerals which are essential for muscle function. Iron levels in peanuts being a good example. As a Vegan I can’t praise nuts enough. Seeds are amazing too.

SIMPLE TIP: To increase level of nuts eaten each day take a small handful of any nut with each meal. Providing you eat at least 4 meals a day you will have a great and beneficial supply of muscle-building energy. Change the nut with each meal, for example almonds with breakfast and pecan nuts with meal two. This same principle can be applied with fruits.

 

 9. You don’t sleep enough

 
If I told you there was a supplement out there and that supplement could increase your anabolic hormones, decrease your catabolic hormones, keep your RER (respiratory exchange rate) low to keep your body burning fat, keep you focused and energised during the day, would you be impressed? 
 
What I just described were the benefits of sleeping optimally (7.5-8.5 hours per night). 
 
Everybody knows sleep is essential. It has a huge role to play in cognitive function, hormones and even body composition. Most of the studies out there are done on sleep deprivation. Deprived sleepers (getting 6 or less hours per night) meant more catabolic hormones like cortisol and a higher RER which means not utilising the fat we eat for energy. In other words storing it. If you’re working really hard in the gym and trying on the nutrition side of things too and only sleeping 6 hours per night and you fall asleep whilst on your phone you’re seriously damaging your chances for progression.
 
There are also studies out there like this one – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3119836/ which indicate athletes who ‘over-sleep’ or get more sleep than their normal baseline actually increased their sporting performance in their respective game. Interesting stuff! So why did I compare sleep to supplements at the very beginning? Well we’re always looking for shortcuts and ways to give us the edge when often it is simple things we can do. Take a nap after workouts, sleep an extra hour – do whatever you need to do to get some more shut-eye because it means GAINS and it requires literally no effort. 
 
It is also important to mention quality of sleep. Duration isn’t the be all and end all. There are many things you can do whether it’s listening to peaceful classical music, taking a hot bath pre-bedtime or even a ZMA supplement. 
 
SIMPLE TIP: Try to create a sleeping and waking routine. Our body works on a clock system and we love habits. Set an alarm 30 minutes before you want to be asleep, at this time get into your room (ideally it’s cool and dark), whether you grab a book, do some stretching or meditate, that is your preference. The purpose is to signal to your body you’re slowing down, relaxing and trying to get to sleep. Wait and see how you feel in the morning. 
 
 

To sum up – Focus on compound heavy lifts, working muscles multiple times per week and eating and sleeping abundantly. Think of training, nutrition and rest as a tripod. All are of equal importance.

Happy muscle-building!

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