You are smashing your workouts and your diet is on point but you don’t see any muscle growth and your gym progress is quite questionable too. Something is not adding up and you turn to the Internet to find out what, if anything, you are doing wrong.
The top stories on Facebook confirm that your workout plan and diet should get you ripped in 12 weeks. The fitness influencers on your Instagram feed, however, claim that their program is better and it delivers these results quicker. An article share on Twitter discredits both and suggests that the answer to your physique transformation is a meal delivery website.
You are confused and you tweak your routine, yet again.
That’s your first mistake: you are jumping from one trend to another, quicker than you change your socks without giving any of them the chance to “work” their magic on your physique.
I learnt that the hard way and in this article I list the top 5 mistakes that slowed my muscle growth and gym progress.
Muscle growth mistake 5: You have unrealistic expectations
My first attempt to getting into shape was over a decade ago when I convinced myself that a pair of dumbbells and a DIY body weight workout routine will get me chiselled abs and bulging biceps in 3 months. I was very skinny at the time and my “research” led me to believe that I can achieve that with light weights and high reps.
I was too weak to do push ups, so instead – I took to the floor in the spare bedroom lifting 5kg dumbbells as if I was bench pressing them. Yes, that’s a true story and yes – it got me nowhere.
You can see how delusional I was though. Besides my obvious lack of knowledge, I had no strength and there was no way I could achieve anything in 3 months. I didn’t see that and I carried on until I injured my shoulder. In fact, that injury is the only thing I achieved and I still carry it with me today.
The moral of the story is that you need to set realistic expectations, based on your fitness level and your body’s ability to adapt and react to the pressure of the workouts. It is also important to take into account your limitations and adapt your program to reflect them.
Take your time to get to know your body and pay particular attention to how long it takes you to adapt to a new routine. The visible changes are the result of consistency at the gym and in the kitchen. You can’t eat and drink what you want, when you want it and hope that a few extra minutes on the treadmill will cancel out the extra calories. If it was that easy, everyone will be taking topless selfies posing as a fitness influencer on Instagram.
Whatever you do, don’t believe everything you see and read on social media. Don’t fall into the trap of scrolling through Instagram, looking at guys with 6 packs and setting that as the benchmark. Think about the filters they use, the lighting and all other tricks they have at their disposal to get that perfect picture. Remember that it is their job to look that way.
Muscle growth mistake 4: You don’t allow enough time for rest between workouts
Back in my 5kg-dumbbell-bench-press-on-the-spare-bedroom-floor days, I had no time to rest. I was on a mission and, as far as I was concerned, the harder I worked out, the quicker the results would come. I figured out that if I exercised every day, I could speed up the “muscle-shaping” process and have the abs that I wanted with a month to spare.
You’d think that 5kgs dumbbells wouldn’t put too much strain on my body but they did. I was lifting them like they were going out of fashion for days on end until my arms were rock hard and sore. Instead of taking that as a sign to take some time off and rest, I carried on because I genuinely believed that my progress would stop if I took any time off exercising!!!
I am laughing with you now but I couldn’t see it back then. As far as I was concerned, I was doing the right thing.
Remember that when you exercise, you tear the muscle fibres. They need time to repair and grow bigger and stronger as a result of it. That’s why resting between workout sessions and cardio bursts is an absolute necessity.
Don’t let the guys in the gym and the fitness models on social media tell you otherwise. Be sensible and pay attention to what your body tells you. If you can barely walk, missing legs day in the gym is not just a good idea, it’s what you need to do.
Muscle growth mistake 3: Lifting too heavy aka lifting with your ego
It took a while but eventually, I outgrew my 5kgs dumbbells and replaced them with a set of cast iron ones. At the time, I think everyone had those in their spare bedroom or garage. They were great because you could stack the plates to make up different weights and increase the resistance of your exercises.
Not that I bothered to do that. It was all or nothing from the get go. I remember struggling quite a bit to do more than a couple of reps because I was still fairly weak. Despite that, it never occurred to me to take a couple of plates off until I got used to the demands of the heavier load. Nope. I just carried on. I did drop my reps to 4 because I was “bulking”!
It makes sense to lift heavy weights if you want to increase your muscle mass but it is a stupid and dangerous thing to do if you can barely resist a bicep curl with a 10kgs dumbbell.
Feel free to laugh at my stupidity and naiveness back then but, please, do not lift weights that are outside of your strength.
Don’t try to keep up with the guys at your gym who trash the weights as they guzzle their intra workout drinks and take selfies of their gainz between sets. Just don’t do it. Pay attention to proper form and technique when you perform your exercises instead. That’s what makes your muscle grow and take shape.
Related: Lifting plan for beginners
Muscle growth mistake 2: Avoiding certain exercises
The more I think about it, the more sure I am that the combination of the heavy weights and my poor form at the time led me to avoid certain exercises. They were the ones that challenged me and I struggled to finished my sets. I tried dropping the sets, then the reps but none of it made it easier and, eventually, I dropped the exercise all together.
That’s the reason for my weak biceps. Even though my form and strength are improved beyond recognition from the days when I used to exercise on the floor in the spare bedroom, I still find any of the biceps exercises challenging. Then I feel guilty and I compensate by doing triceps and chest instead.
Remember the saying: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”? It applies to the gym too. Your workouts are meant to be challenging and the exercises must be difficult in order to make your muscle grow. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and money on gym membership.
Related: Full body workout for beginners
Muscle growth mistake No1: Poor nutrition
My biggest mistake, by far, was poor nutrition and the denial of the importance of food in relation to developing strength, building muscles and changing my body shape altogether. It took me many years to understand that connection and to alter my attitude towards food.
To me, diet meant loosing weight and, being a skinny guy for the majority of my life, that was the last thing I needed. In doing so, I failed to understand that I needed that “fuel” in order to be able to increase the resistance of my workouts.
The day you master your nutrition is the day when your body will change into the one you always wanted!
Anyone can go to the gym, lift weights or exercise at home but only those who adopt that lifestyle and make it their own, are the ones who benefit from perfectly sculpted bodies, complete with chiselled abs and muscular legs to finish the look.
Related: Protein rich foods
How to avoid slow muscle growth and speed up gym progress
Don’t obsess over numbers and do what your body tells you to do. Bench-pressing your body weight when you are nursing a lingering injury is far worse and counterproductive than taking a day off to recover and use it to meal prep for the rest of the week.
Don’t follow trends and fads because they are here today and gone tomorrow. Results take time and that’s why you need to follow a tried and tested plan in the gym and in the kitchen.
More importantly though, don’t push yourself too hard but hard enough to make progress. Otherwise, you may fall into the habit of missing workouts, skipping gym days and turning into a casual gym goer.
Do whatever it takes to make fitness and exercise part of your lifestyle. Find what works best for you and find the place for it that fits in with the rest of your life.