I’ll be straight with you – building large amounts of muscle isn’t easy. Which is why I can’t help but laugh – and be a little annoyed – when people say “I don’t wanna get too big.” or “I don’t lift weights because I don’t want to get bulky.”
No one ever accidentally got too big from lifting weights, and no one ever built too much muscle by mistake. It’s not possible. Understand that the body does not want to build muscle. The process of building and maintaining muscle tissue takes a lot of energy – energy that the body would rather not have to expend.
This is why you can’t just walk into the gym 6 days per week, pick a muscle group to train, while guzzling a protein shake every few hours, and achieve significant gains. You ever see someone at your gym, who lifts weights religiously, week after week, month after month, but never seems to really get any bigger? Hell, maybe you’re that guy?
And chances are it’s because he (or you) is making one of these 5 critical muscle building mistakes…
1️. Only Doing One Type of Exercise
In order to build the most amount of muscle possible, you need a variety of exercises.
Sure, you can build some muscle only doing compound lifts, or only using barbells, but you will never build a well-rounded physique that way.
By limiting yourself to only doing certain exercises or variations, you also limit the number of muscle fibers you activate; which then limits how much muscle you can build.
Take the deadlift for example. If you’re using this as your main or only back movement, you’re missing out on your full muscle-building potential because the deadlift does not train the back muscles through their full range of motion and thus doesn’t activate all of the fibers.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should jump from program to program, and do different exercises every session. But what it does mean is that if you want to build the most amount of muscle possible, you’re best served to have a variety of exercises (free weights, machines, compounds, and isolation) in your program.
Speaking of jumping from program to program…
2. Program Hopping
Your muscles don’t need to be confused. And hopping from program to program every few weeks is the fastest way to stay small. Instead, your muscles need to be overloaded. Which means, adding more weight, reps, or sets, session after session.
The only way to build more muscle is to progressively do more and more work overtime. Stick with a program for a minimum of 4-6 weeks, and only switch when you stop seeing progress.
3. Not Lifting Under Control
Doing more work isn’t the only factor contributing to growth. How you lift the weights matters too. Muscle growth is driven by tension placed on the muscles. One way to do this is by lifting more weight and doing more reps.
But the quality of those reps matter too. Because the better the quality of your reps, the more muscle fibers you activate, the more tension you create, and the fewer reps you end up needing.
How do you do this? Lift with control, and focus on executing what I call Perfect Reps: Lowering the weight slowly over 1-2 seconds, lifting controlled but explosively, and pausing briefly at the top and bottom.
4. Dirty Bulking
A dirty bulk is essentially eating as much food as you can, without concern for nutritional value, in an effort to gain as much weight as possible.
And while yes, this method may seem fun and you will likely gain some muscle, you’re also going to gain a ton of fat. And while some fat gain during a bulk is inevitable, dirty bulking will often lead to you gaining MORE fat than muscle, which is going to mess up your hormones, making it harder and harder to add muscle, and make it more difficult to lose fat later on.
This is due to what’s called fat hyperplasia, which is when your existing fat cells are full, and your body has to create new ones. The problem is, you cannot get rid of fat cells. You can only shrink them. And the more fat cells you create as a result of a dirty bulk, the harder it is to get lean.
5. Not Eating Enough
On the opposite side from dirty bulking is the mistake of not eating enough.
If the number on the scale isn’t increasing, and you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough. Plain and simple. No matter how much you train, your body can’t add muscle without a surplus of calories.
Most people fall into the trap of not eating enough because they’re not tracking their calories. But when trying to add lean mass, this should be priority number one when it comes to your nutrition.
It doesn’t matter when you eat, and it doesn’t matter how much protein you eat – if you’re not eating enough calories, you will not build muscle. Period.
Take your bodyweight and multiply it by 16-18, based on your activity level, to give yourself a starting point for how many calories you should be eating each day. Eat that many calories consistently for a few weeks, track your progress, and adjust accordingly.
Building muscle is by no means impossible. I’ve done it. My clients do it. So if you’ve been struggling to do it yourself, don’t fret. Run through the 5 mistakes above, see if you’re making any of them, and adjust accordingly.
And if you’re stuck without a plan of attack, I have an incredibly effective training program you can grab here for FREE, that will help you get started. Jorden is a dessert-loving former fat kid turned online fitness coach; who lost over 80 pounds and has now helped hundreds of men and women get in better shape and improve their lives. You can find him on Instagram musing about fitness, life, and cookies.