Quick: what’s the number one reason people give up on bodybuilding? Don’t think too hard about it; the answer is obvious: they’re not building muscle!
Here’s the good news: all you need to break through this barrier is information, so keep reading to learn the top 5 reasons you’re not building any noticeable muscle mass – and what to do about it!
1. Your Caloric Intake is Too Low
The number of calories needed to stay at your current weight is calculated using the basal metabolic rate, or, BMR. A number of factors – such as your weight, muscularity, activity level and age – affect your BMR. Eating fewer calories – a caloric deficit – than your BMR demands, results in weight loss. Eating more calories – a caloric surplus – than your BMR demands, results in weight gain.
One way to calculate your BMR number and caloric requirements is to use the “Harris Benedict Equation”:
66 + (6.23 × your weight in pounds) + (12.7 × your height in inches) – (6.76 × your age in years)
To calculate your caloric requirements for maintenance, take your BMR number and multiply it by whichever of the following numbers is applicable to you:
- Sedentary: 1.2
- Lightly active (easy exercise 1-3 days/week): 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 days/week): 1.55
- Very active (hard exercise 6-7 days/week): 1.725
- Extremely active (extremely hard exercise or a physically demanding full time job): 1.9
Take the figure you calculated by multiplying your BMR by one of the above numbers, and add 500 calories. Remember, your goal is to grow, not stay stuck at the same size.
For the less mathematically inclined, use the Cornell University calculator, found here
Don’t forget to add 500 calories!
2. You’re Not Eating Well
Not to say that the food you eat is unhealthy or unappetizing – merely that gaining lean mass requires eating enough, and eating meals with macronutrient ratios that promote muscle growth. It is widely agreed upon that the best way to accomplish this is to consume 30 percent of calories as protein; 50 percent as carbohydrates; and 20 percent as fat. Spread the amounts over 6 or 7 daily meals – eating every couple of hours keeps the body in an anabolic state.
3. That thing you’re doing there, with those weights…it isn’t working!
Okay – you know how much to eat and what to eat. But if you stop here, so does your progress. A common mistake among novice bodybuilders is choosing a serious training routine better suited to seasoned athletes than beginners. Trying to “go hard” when you’re only learning the ropes won’t work. Keep in mind the following when beginning a new routine:
- Arrange your training to allow for sufficient rest.
- Avoid overtraining any one muscle group.
- Arrange your routine so each muscle is worked (but not overworked) fully and efficiently.
- Blend isolation and compound exercises to work large muscle groups and individual muscles.
- Don’t forget to warm yourself up before training.
4. Poor Technique
It’s not just about how much weight you lift, how many reps or the number of sets – how you lift a weight has a significant bearing on your training’s outcome. Poor lifting technique, or, “form”, not only limits the muscle growth any given exercise can help achieve, but increases your risk of injury. In a nutshell, good technique entails:
- Slow, controlled repetitions
- Using a full range of motion
- Lifting, not swinging the weight
- Avoiding “locking” the joints
5. You aren’t Giving Yourself Enough Down-time
If you don’t arrange your training to allow for sufficient rest, you’ll miss out on one of the most important factors required to gain mass. All that hard work in the gym isn’t what’s actually building muscle – it’s what damages muscle tissue, by generating a huge number of micro-tears. These tears need to be repaired to allow muscle fibers to expand – and unceasingly hitting the weights won’t allow that to happen.
Serious training sessions should be spaced apart. Sometimes it takes days to recover, even if you feel ready to go at it again sooner. Working out puts stress on more than just muscles – your ligaments, tendons, mind and central nervous system all take a pounding, and need to recover. You might feel tough by training day after day, week after week, month after month and year in year out, but you won’t look the part if you burn your CNS out or damage connective tissues.
Take at least 1 full week off training every 10 – 12 weeks… and no, you won’t lose muscle, you’ll gain muscle and come back to the gym fresh, strong and injury free!