The 10 biggest mistakes guys make when trying to build muscle and how to avoid them
Mistake 1 – Change your mindset and stop thinking of it as a “bulk”!!
The first thing guys need to understand is that when trying to build muscle you’re trying to do exactly that; build muscle! To build muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus (I.e., consume more calories than you would typically burn in a day). That way the extra energy supplied from those additional calories and nutrients are put to good work and muscle growth happens. The additional calories mean that muscle protein synthesis (MPS) can be maximised, while protein breakdown is minimised. “Bulking” is a dirty word, it conjures visions of excessive fat gain through eating copious amounts of processed foods, unhealthy fats, and lots of meat. But it’s okay because you’re training hard and you’re “bulking”, right?! Wrong! First of all think of what all that junk is doing to your body. Most of us train to look fit and healthy, to look like we’d fit in on the front cover of any fitness magazine. How is overeating junk because you “need the extra calories” going to help you achieve this?! Yes you need calories, but good quality calories, and only around 400-800 extra calories per day on top of your ‘maintenance’ calories. Surely a few extra steaks, chicken breasts, eggs or handfuls of nuts are going to be all it takes to eat on top of your normal healthy eating plan to hit those daily targets. Go on a ‘lean mass building’ phase, not a “bulk”… Gain minimal fat, maximum muscle and feel great and look healthy at the same time. This way you’ll always be beach ready instead of panicking when summer comes knocking on your door every year!
Mistake 2 – Trying to build muscle without first losing body fat
Generally, the leaner you are the more sensitive to nutrients your body is. Especially if you have a good amount of muscle mass. When you have excess fat on your body, it’s doing everything it can to store it and hold on to it. Generally, your insulin sensitivity is lower, your body deals with carbohydrates like you’re pre-diabetic in some instances (I.e., not very well!), and the size and number of fat cells you have make it much easier for your body to store even more fat. If you first make sure you’re at a good level of leanness (less than 10% for guys, measured using the skinfold calliper technique – other methods may vary); you will be much more likely to have a successful lean mass building phase, as you’re encouraging important nutrients to be put towards building muscle on a lean person, rather than storing fat on someone with a few more spare tyres to lose. First get lean, and then build muscle.
Mistake 3 – Doing excessive amounts of cardio in fear of gaining too much body fat
Cardio training has an effect on MToR. No science lesson needed here, all you need to know is that MToR is the biochemical reaction behind muscle growth. It’s very hard to gain lean mass without MToR being activated in some way. But here’s the deal with MToR: Resistance training activates MToR. Cardio-style training activates something else called AMPK. AMPK can completely shut-off MToR. MToR can NOT do the same thing to AMPK. So what that means it that the resistance training you’re doing is probably going to be completely wasted if you bung some cardio on top of it in the same session or on the same day. What that also means is that due to the effects of AMPK (which will be elevated if you’re doing lots of cardio) you will in fact be pretty much killing your lean mass and strength gains. Yes I said it; cardio kills your gains! Cardio and even fasted cardio are fantastic for fat loss, but try to keep these tools in your arsenal for when you need them during an actual fat loss phase.
Mistake 4 – Not working on weak areas or doing prehab, and focusing too much on strengths
You’re only as strong as your weakest link! For example, your bench press numbers won’t increase if you’ve got a shoddy rotator cuff. Just pay some of those neglected muscles some attention and you’ll see your strength and size gains soar. I’ve seen bench press numbers increase by up to 10% with just a months work of specialised rotator cuff and shoulder stability training.
Mistake 5 – Not keeping track of your gym numbers
If you don’t do it already then you need to have some kind of gym log. Somewhere to write and track how much your lifting, on at least your main compound exercises. Progressive overload is the key to strength and size gains; if you’re striving to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting each exercise, each week, with good form, then your strength and lean muscle mass can only go one way… Up!
Mistake 6 – Not keeping some form of nutrition diary
How do you know if you’re hitting your daily macros if you’re not tracking them?! Gaining muscle size isn’t merely a case of training just a little harder and eating more. You need to be eating the correct things, foods that are going to supply your body with the nutrients it needs to grow, and provide it with the correct nutrients at the right time to maximise the recovery and adaptation process. You need to have a good understanding of what you’re eating on a daily basis, what your calories, fats, protein and carb numbers are looking like, so that if you need to adapt how you’re eating you know exactly what you need to do. Here’s a simple training and nutrition diary I give to my clients (you can download a pdf copy here for FREE)
Mistake 7 – Not getting regular body composition checks
If you’re not assessing, then you’re guessing! Fine, you may be looking like you’ve gained some muscle mass, but have you? Before you start a new phase of training why not seek a qualified professional to assess your body composition. They’ll be able to tell you exactly how much lean mass and fat mass you have, and calculate your body fat percentage. There are clinics and universities that actually perform scientifically accurate body composition assessments using equipment that was once not available to most of us, now they’re available to anyone for hire at a reasonable cost. You’re looking for either a Bod Pod or DEXA scan if possible. Alternatively, an experienced person with a set of Skin-fold Callipers can be nearly as accurate, and a fraction of the cost. Getting your body composition assessed professionally before any new phase of training is a highly worthwhile investment for those that take their muscle gaining seriously.
Mistake 8 – Not knowing how much protein is needed in the diet, and how often
Here’s the easiest and most effective way to calculate your protein requirements, and hit your daily targets during a muscle building phase:
- First, work out how many grams of protein you should be eating every day, as a starting point eat your weight in LBS daily in grams of protein (or kg x 2.2), and this’ll give you your daily total. So a 200lb (91kg) man would start at 200g per day, whether trying to drop fat or even gain muscle.
- Decide how many meals and snacks (including protein shakes etc.) you’re going to eat every day. 3-4-5-6, it actually makes no difference! Show me a study that says eating 6 meals a day is better than eating 3, and I’ll show you another that says the opposite. Just eat at a frequency that suits you.
- Let’s say our 200lb man eats 5 meals/snacks a day, I’m going to divide his 200g of protein by 5, so that’s 40g.
As a result, I’m going to tell our man here that each meal or snack, he’s going to have to have 40g of protein in it, snacks will have a little less, while main meals may have a little more. Either way this’ll be the easiest and most effective way to make sure that:
1) The daily total of protein is hit.
2) The protein requirement per meal/snack is hit.
3) Your optimising your nutrition to give you greater and faster results.
Mistake 9 – Not considering recovery and active recovery
You can’t hammer your body every week in the gym and expect that it will just recover and heal its self. Sometimes, if not most of the time the body could do with a little extra help. It’ll recover quicker, you’ll feel much better for it, you can train harder and more consistently with a lower likelihood of getting injured, and you’ll get better results. Awesome ways to recover in between sessions could include going for walks, going swimming, biking, foam rolling, contrast bathing (hot and cold baths or showers), cryotherapy, and hooking up with a good manual therapist for a sports massage.
Mistake 10 – Not working “big” muscle groups or “big lifts”
When gaining lean muscle mass, it’s essential that you’re hitting big compound heavy movements, that target as many muscle fibres as possible, and set off chemical signals that help you pile on slabs of man muscle. Squat variations, deadlift variations, dumbbell and barbell heavy presses (chest and overhead), weighted dips and pull-ups, heavy rows, and even weighted abdominal exercises. You won’t be growing much muscle if all you do are bicep curls, leg extensions, and a few bodyweight crunches. Hit big muscles, using big moves, keep it intense for no more than 1-hour in the gym, then get home and feed the machine!
If you’re looking for your next programme, one that avoids all of the mistakes you could be making, and maximises your results in just 70-days using scientifically proven, fun and innovative training methods; then check out my newest Transformation Plan HERE!