Mistakes You’re Making That Leaves Muscle on the Table
Initially, when you start working out, you may see a lot of muscle development. That’s due to the “newbie” gains everyone sees when they’re not used to lifting weights. Unfortunately, many people eventually stall out after this initial beginner phase. They’re in the gym consistently, yet they’re not moving the needle forward when it comes to making actual progress.
If that’s you, fortunately, it’s an easy fix once you cut these mistakes out below.
1. Not following a plan
If you’re going into the gym and doing random workouts every time, then you’re missing out on muscle for sure. It may seem beneficial to mix up your workouts as often as possible, but it’s actually counterproductive. A lot of the progress you’ll get from the gym comes from a structured and strategic plan (1).
random actions lead to random results.
Some people may not know which workouts to do, so they just go into the gym and pick movements on the fly, or maybe they’ve heard of the term “muscle confusion” which means that you want to mix up your movements for your body to continue to grow without adapting to the same movement.
Although part of this is true, you don’t want to mix up your movements as often as claimed. Yes, your body will eventually adapt to the workouts you’re doing, which is why it’s good to switch up your workouts periodically. However, it takes time before your body adapts and you’ll want to utilize this time to maximize muscle growth.
Master a Few Key Movements
Muscle growth is the byproduct of how strong you’re getting. The stronger you are, the more muscle you’ll have. And for you to get really strong on a movement, you’ll need to stick with the same exercise for enough time to build adequate strength. For your body to grow, you’ll want to master just a few key movements and stick to those same movements for 6-8 weeks. That’s the sweet spot.
That’s enough time for you to build as much strength and muscle as possible targeting key muscle groups, while also not too long for your body to become stagnant to the movements. After about 6-8 weeks though, you’ll want to switch up your movements to target muscle you aren’t hitting and to make sure your body doesn’t become too accustomed to the same movements.
2. Not tracking your workouts
Not only do you want to follow a training plan, but you also want to track the workouts you’re doing. This is important. You don’t want to go into the gym every time not knowing the weight, reps, and sets you did the time before. This makes your workout regimen disorganized and leads to less muscle growth.
That’s because you won’t be able to push yourself to your fullest capability if you aren’t doing weight and reps you should be doing necessary for muscle growth. Without knowing what you did in your prior workouts, you’re leaving muscle on the table. If you bench pressed 225 pounds for 5 reps last time, but you didn’t log it so you don’t remember, and this time you only bench pressed 215 pounds for 5 reps, it’s going to be much harder to build muscle.
We recommend you log your workouts through a notepad or training app. Just using a fitness tracker is linked to an increase in activity (2). This will ensure you remember everything you did in your workouts so that you can build a Greek God/Goddess physique.
When it comes to muscle growth, every rep, set, and weight you use is vital, especially if you’re past your “newbie” gains. Your muscle only grows when you place a stimulus on it greater than what it’s used to.
3. Omitting the progressive overload principle
According to legend, there was a fella named Milo of Croton who was a champion wrestler of ancient Greece; he was known for his incredible strength and athleticism. One day when he was roaming the hills of Italy, he stumbled upon mankind’s greatest secret to muscle growth. He found a calf near his home and decided to carry it on his shoulders every day for four years. Each day, the calf got bigger until it grew to a full-blown bull. Since the weight Milo carried increased each day — due to the growth of the calf — he became incredibly strong and muscular. This is all because of the potent effects of the progressive overload principle.
Tracking your workouts go hand in hand with this principle. Basically, the progressive overload principle is increasing the overload you place on your muscle.
In order for your muscle to grow, it must be forced to adapt to a tension it has not yet experienced.
You can do this by increasing the reps, sets, or weight (or the size of your pet you haul around town) (3). For example, if the previous time you did barbell bench press you did 3 sets of 225 pounds for 5 reps, next time you do them you’ll want to aim for 6+ reps with 225 pounds, or you’ll want to increase the weight to 230 pounds.
Of course, if you don’t track your workouts, you won’t be able to practice the progressive overload principle though.
4. Doing too much volume
This may sound contrary, but the reason doing too much volume is bad for muscle growth is twofold. For one, you risk overtraining and not getting the recovery your body needs to grow. For two, typically, when you’re doing too much volume it means you aren’t doing enough weight and focusing on strength. As aforementioned, how strong you are is directly related to how much muscle you have.
So you don’t want to focus on doing more volume for your muscle to grow, you’ll want to focus on getting stronger. And when you’re focusing on strength, you’ll want to keep your volume lower. That’s because for you to use the most weight you’re capable of using each set, you won’t be able to do too many reps or sets.
Training for volume has its time and place and is especially beneficial for bodybuilders and for that final layer of muscle that you want, but it’s not where the majority of your muscle growth comes from. It comes from strength training.
There are sarcoplasmic muscle growth and myofibril muscle growth. Myofibril muscle growth gives you the bulk of your muscle and builds dense muscle. It comes from strength training. The last 10-20% of muscle growth comes from training for volume — sarcoplasmic muscle growth. You’ll mainly want to focus on myofibril muscle growth for a well-developed and athletic physique.
In order to do this, I recommend you lift weights in the 5-8 rep range and do 2-4 sets per exercise. This will ensure that you’re using heavy enough weight to spark muscle growth while making sure you’re able to push yourself each set and not overtrain.
After your beginner gains start to stagnate, many lifters plateau since they’re making one of the common mistakes above. Cut these lifting mistakes out and your body will continue to grow again.
For optimal muscle growth, it’s important to follow a structured workout plan, track your workouts, increase the weight you lift as often as possible, and not overload your muscles with too much volume.
1 – Strategic Planning: Why It Makes a Difference, and How to Do It. (2009). Journal of oncology practice, 5(3), 139–143. https://doi.org/10.1200/JOP.0936501
2 – Laranjo L, Ding D, Heleno B, et alDo smartphone applications and activity trackers increase physical activity in adults? Systematic review, meta-analysis and metaregressionBritish Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 21 December 2020. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2020-102892
3 – Evans JW (2019) Periodized Resistance Training for Enhancing Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength: A Mini-Review. Front. Physiol.10:13. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00013
4 – Thomas, M. H., & Burns, S. P. (2016). Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training. International journal of exercise science, 9(2), 159–167.