Can I ask you a couple honest questions?
Who in the last 10 years has influenced you the most with regards to how to train? Where have you and where has everyone else learned how to build muscle?
Would you agree that bodybuilding magazines and websites have contributed to the bulk of the training information and misinformation today? I don’t want to be completely critical but I am sure you would agree that the majority of mainstream bodybuilding literature caters to the genetically gifted or drug user — that leaves the rest of us wandering…
Today with the jungle of conflicting and misleading messages I do not want you to make the same titanic mistakes and training errors that are costing thousands of young trainees their dreams to a ripped muscular physique by taking advice from unqualified ‘experts’, reading rehashed magazines, trading wades of cash for magical pills and powders and ‘program hopping’ with very little to show for it.
Unless you want to continue to be apart of the mooing herd that is being lead to the slaughter each day, you must learn to filter out the noise and nonsense you are bombarded with each day.
The reality is that there is plenty of free advice dished out in the gym will which can really roadblock your gains if taken as gospel. This can begin a downward spiral of making guys think they are ‘hardgainers’, training harder and not smarter, taking out a small loan for the next supplement breakthrough and even resort to the ‘sauce’. None of this is true or necessary.
Screw Up #1:
Training Too Frequently & Too Long
Overtraining is a result of training too frequently and/or too long. Don’t take a microscope to the definition — overtraining is as simple as that — overtraining. It is a result of one of the following:
Mainstream bodybuilding literature and science has traditionally focused on the symptoms rather than on the prevention of them. You often read articles on ‘overtraining’ and ‘planned overtraining’. This is unnecessary if you are in control of the training and recovery process, if you train for predetermined periods, and recover in pre-determined ways then you don’t need to know anything about overtraining ‘syndromes’!
Screw Up #2:
Not Eating Enough Calories
I know you have heard it before but I will say it again — if you are not eating enough calories, you will NEVER gain weight, no matter what you do. THERE IS NO WAY AROUND IT! Even if you have the perfect training routine, you will never grow unless you provide your body with the proper nutrients.
It’s like saying you want to build a house but you don’t have enough bricks, cement or wood. It will be impossible to build that house. It’s like trying to buy a $100,000 house and you only have $50,000. It’s going to be downright impossible.
Long story short — if you are not growing there could be two problems:
If you wish to ensure that your muscles have enough fuel to support your workouts, train intensely, recover from workout to workout and let’s not forget grow NEW muscle, you have to keep track of what you are eating every day. There is no way around it. This is the number one reason why skinny guys never gain weight or why anybody for that matter will not make quality gains that they so desperately strive for.
Screw Up #3:
Not Sleeping Enough
So how does sleep relate to the phenomenon of building big muscles? The number one reason getting enough sleep is so important is because growth hormone levels rise 30-45 minutes after falling asleep and a higher quality of sleep releases testosterone.
If you are more than a recreational weight lifter whose trips to the gym include more motivation than to pick up the cute receptionist, I would suggest the optimal 8-9 hours. However, this is a very individualistic measure and as low as 6 hours can be adequate for some.
Also, it is rumored that every hour of sleep you get before midnight has the equivalent effect of 2 hours sleep. So if you go to bed at 10pm and wake up 6 am — you will feel as if you have just slept 10 hours (not the actual 8 hours). I have to admit personally that I have experienced higher quality sleep going to bed earlier.
Take advantage of power naps — they are not for wimps. Professional bodybuilders take them regularly in the course of a day so there is something to be said about this. 20 minute naps in the middle of the day are said to be the equivalent of a 2 hour sleep. Again, try it out and see for yourself. Naps are extremely beneficial if you did not sleep the night before.
Remember, your muscles grow when you rest — this is the time between weight training sessions. Sleep is the best opportunity to let your muscles rest.
Screw Up #4:
Not Training Above Your Threshold
The stress must be heavy enough to exceed the normal threshold of your muscles. Training with weights at your 60-80% 1 Rep Max (RM) will not stimulate NEW muscle growth.
In other words, if you simply want to have the ability to lift weights to failure using 60-80% of your one rep max than keep doing this because your muscles will accommodate this specific stress. Your muscles will not grow larger than they have to accommodate for that specific stress.
Don’t get me wrong — your body will adapt muscularly, neurologically, and structurally to this specific stress — but it will stop and end here. Even if you are increasing reps and sets, the muscle will grow very minimally but there will be NO sufficient reason for your muscle to grow further because you are still within your natural threshold.
Screw Up #5:
Relying On Supplements To Gain Size
Supplements will NOT stimulate muscle growth – exercise does.
Assuming your training, nutrition, lifestyle, and sleep habits are operating on the optimal end of the spectrum, introducing supplements might make a 5-10% difference. You will be more successful taking your fitness to the next level by working on your training, nutrition and sleep first. It will also be easier on your wallet!
Powders are nothing more than crushed up food and loaded with artificial flavoring, preservatives, and lots of chemicals to preserve their shelf life. Shakes are certainly convenient and may assist you in reaching your goal calories but do not ever kid yourself that they will have the same anabolic effect as food.
Dumping chemicals, artificial colors, flavoring, sugars, sweeteners, and preservatives into your body basically turns it into a toxic waste dump! And did you know that this toxic waste loves to attach itself to your fat stores making it even harder to get rid of body fat. You can imagine how much harder it will be to build massive muscle in a toxic environment. What goes in must come out!
Put garbage in and garbage will come out in the form of decreased energy, slow recovery, poor appetite, poor sleep, and poor attitude — all elements critical for muscle building.
When was the last time an athlete won, or a medal was won, or a team won on pills, powders and shakes? Never! Don’t get me wrong, there are many time-tested and powerful products that will enhance your recovery, hormonal levels and assist in muscle growth.
Screw Up #6:
Low Testosterone Levels
Unless you are pumping MASSIVE amounts of anabolic steroids in your veins to ARTIFICIALLY increase testosterone levels then stop reading. However if you are a drug-free trainee what you do need is every single secret that will provide the level of support necessary to optimize T-levels safely and naturally!
There are too many tips and tricks to discuss here but I would like to share a few of the most common tricks to keep your T levels elevated and not dropping to that of the guys in the ‘arts and crafts’ club!
Training too long, lacking true intensity, not targeting your legs, high stress levels, not enough monosaturated fats, and training at the wrong time of day amongst many other pitfalls can lead to T levels to drop so low that ‘Captain Willy’ will go on permanent vacation.
Screw Up #7:
Not Making Consistent Strength Gains
Let’s be honest. When was the last time your strength really went up?
Has your strength averaged at least a 5% increase from week to week or even month to month?
If you are like most trainee’s you got stuck at the same weights after the first few months of your first ever exposure to bodybuilding. If not — congratulations, I applaud you and you are doing something right.
I’m also confident to say that you make the majority of your muscular gains in the first few months that you began lifting. Is it safe to say that your muscular gains leveled off at about the same time your strength gains leveled off. Coincidence? Hardly!
Your muscular size is ALMOST (there are many other factors we do not have time to discuss here) a direct correlation to your muscle strength. Have you ever seen someone who can bench press, squat or deadlift a few hundred pounds with a small physique. Very, very rarely!
Screw Up #8:
Training Instinctively And Listening To Your Body
Do professional athletes and teams practice instinctively? Do competitive long distance athletes train without their stop watch? Of course not, so why would someone trying to build muscle approve an ineffective and unproven tool that can lead you astray?
Building muscle is based on improving the intensity of the workout progressively each session. So why complicate things by following this ‘inner compass’ that has never scientifically been verified to work?
Do you really think your body can decipher between the intensity of 9 reps with 225 lbs in 30 seconds and 13 reps with 185 reps in 45 seconds?
Aside from hearing your muscles yelling at you to stop when the going gets tough, can you really interpret which was more intense? Of course not!
Screw Up #9:
Focusing On Getting A Pump
The ‘muscle pump’ is described as when you put your muscles under an extended period of constant tension. As your muscles stretch and contract they become gorged with blood that makes them feel tighter and fuller.
Getting a muscle pump is not necessarily what causes the muscle to grow — doing 100 reps with a light rep will create a huge pump — but does this make a muscle grow? Of course not! Distance runners get a pump in their legs when they sprint uphill and do they get big muscles? Heck no!
Most bodybuilders swear by the ‘pump’ and preach that you are shuttling more nutrients into the muscle — but is that what is really happening?
Sure it feels great, like Arnold says in the unforgettable scene in Pumping Iron, but all that is occurring is a ‘back-up’ of blood. The blood is ‘stuck’ inside the muscle, which creates that worshiped tight and full look.
The blood that’s backed up into the muscle has hit a dead end and has nowhere to go. If you had fresh new blood that would be great but unfortunately you just have old, stale blood getting ready for a snooze. That will NOT help you gain weight or build muscle mass!
The pump that is built up by the blood in your muscles will usually occur after you repeat set after set which results in a the famous “burning” sensation known as lactic acid. Lactic acid forms in the absence of oxygen. Lactic acid is a WASTE product and does NOTHING to build muscle weight.
Now if you are lifting extremely heavy weights and achieving a pump then this is a very good indication that you are making the muscle fibers work fully. I would only use the pump as an indicator to reveal how well you are ‘targeting’ the working muscle. Not as you guide to mark your success.
Screw Up #10:
Reading Bodybuilding Magazines
Do you think professional athletes and professional strength training coaches read bodybuilding magazines? If so, it is probably only for humor and to see what kind of garbage their athletes are being exposed to. Do you think high quality, world class athletes and coaches follow the advice found in these magazines?
If they don’t, WHY THE HECK WOULD YOU! Even though these magazines may have inspired millions, they have done a better job at misleading millions as well.
It’s unbelievable how many young guys think they need creatine and a whole list of other supplements; they need to ‘split’ up their workouts into ‘body parts’, and are trying to build muscle in an over trained and undernourished state…and then wonder, ‘Why can’t I gain weight?’ They have no idea that these programs don’t work without drugs. These are DRUG routines, and drug routines don’t work for natural guys. Period.
The modern mainstream bodybuilding (and even mainstream male and female fitness magazines are guilty) magazines at the newsstands are really just ‘muscle comic books’ written at a 6th grade level. They glorify drug-using ‘bodybuilders’ and portray them as the picture of health.
The cleverly combine two or three rehashed articles, a lot of pictures, gimmicks, sex and hype to sell this nonsense to millions. And what does porn-like photo sections have to do with a muscle building magazine? The publishers of some of these magazines beat the hell out of this marketing tactic with partially nude women with their asses hanging out in thongs.
It would be nice if men could pick up a bodybuilding magazine to learn some quality information, not to end up getting an erection…
Even though supplement companies have always been apart of fitness publications (but it was not as blatant in the past) marketers are now the writers and the product is no longer a magazine but rather bottles of pills and protein powders, etc. I would say almost 70% of the articles in magazines have a marketing purpose and it’s even hard to tell these days what is an ad and what is just a legitimate article.
Bottom line, there is too many rich supplement companies and too many frustrated weight lifters who are not gaining the size and strength they deserve.
Screw Up #11:
Not Keeping A Training Diary
Tracking your progress is mandatory. This is like professional sports teams competing without keeping score. Or like runners and swimmers working out without a stopwatch. How do you expect to get better? In my opinion, if you workout without a log book you might not be that serious and should reconsider the reasons you workout. Feel free to continue working out – just do not expect any exceptional gains.
Whether or not you buy a formal training log or simply use a mini notebook, here is a list of things you should keep track of:
Number of Sets
Time to Complete Workout
Time of Day
Screw Up #12:
Ignoring The Weaknesses
You’re only as strong as your weakest link, correct? Many claim to understand this principle yet these same individuals seem to ignore it in application.
If your biceps can curl 50 lbs but your forearms are constantly failing first, then what is the weaker link? Correct, your forearms. Will your forearms ever get stronger and will you ever make further gains on your biceps if you do not fix the root problem? No!
Surprise, surprise that this individual’s quads are more developed than his hamstrings and calves and I would not doubt that his calves and hams are weaker relative to his quads causing an anterior pelvic tilt (quads are over reactive and hams are under reactive) resulting in the start of lower back pain…
There are two main reasons why trainees never make consistent muscular and strength gains on a program like this — this is a very generic example but I think you will get the point:
It prioritizes the same muscle sequence endlessly — assuming this is what the trainee does every time he performs this workout he will be emphasizing his quads every workout. Guess what happens to his hamstrings and calves? They begin to lag and become limiting factors of making consistent strength gains. How can we ever make the frame bigger if they are always trained last with a sub-max load?
It prioritizes one muscle group by volume — this simply means that the muscles receiving a greater percentage of training time and effort will receive the greatest benefit and improvements. Common sense right? It’s amazing how many guys wonder why their arms, calves, and abs are non-existent.
Think about it. Where do you allocate the volume of your own workout? Don’t be surprised if your weaknesses are receiving a lower percentage of volume relative to your stronger and bigger muscles.
Screw Up #13:
Not Stretching At Least Half The Amount Of Time That You Lift
Stretching is not relatively popular nor has it ever been. Most ‘current’ thinking leads trainees to believe that stretching is ‘bad’ and results in a fear of the unknown leaving many to avoid it all together. I think the ‘fear’ is more of an excuse for laziness and an uncertainty of what stretching can actually do. And interestingly, most of the anti-stretch advocates change their reasoning every few years and can not even touch their toes!
Many ‘believers’ in stretching have learned the side-effects of not stretching, not stretching enough and not stretching effectively. Before you read any more literature on the academic stretch debate I encourage you to decide on this one yourself.
It does not really matter what kind of stretching a person uses, providing that the desired range of motion is achieved and sustained to minimize injury and maximize performance.
Studies show that shortened muscles perform weaker, slower and have a higher incidence of injuries and big muscles require strong, lengthened and healthy tissue — so why would you neglect a component of your fitness that can skyrocket your strength through the roof, maintain healthy specific joint relationships, promote greater joint angles and accelerate recovery.
Screw Up #14:
Training Beyond Failure
Training to ‘failure’ has probably received more debate, misinterpretation, and improper logic resulting in too much wasted effort. Going to failure— going to the point in a set where you are physically incapable of going just one more rep, hence you ‘fail’ – is preached as the most promised rule to make continual muscle gains.
Interestingly, there is no activity outside the gym that demonstrates this ‘going to failure’ principle as critical as bodybuilders have employed.
Growing up as a long distance runner I often stood by and watched the sprinters compete and was astonished by their tremendous quadriceps and hamstring muscle. Yet I never remember watching any sprinter on my team train until failure nor do I recall them ever sprinting through the finish line and collapsing. Yet they did demonstrate a greater amount of muscular work in less time each time they practiced and raced.
Also, I will never forget the phenomenal muscularity of the construction workers I used to work with when I laid bricks and framed houses. Yet I never recall them carrying timber around the yard until they could not pick up one more 2 x 4. Nor do I remember the brick layers moving the bricks around until they could not move them anymore.
Both of these groups had incredible muscularity and were able to stimulate muscle growth without going to failure. So why do so many command that ‘failure’ is an absolute law for stimulating muscle growth when much evidence shows otherwise?
Improving your bodies sensitivity to the cold does not require you to go outside in the middle of winter with no clothes prior to passing out. Nor, if you want to improve your tan, is it necessary to subject your skin to the sun prior to the moment of blistering. Nor, if you want to improve your ability to hold your breath under water, do you need to go to the point prior to losing consciousness.
Since your bodies primary function in life is to survive it will adapt only to the point where your body has sufficient defense to whatever element it is exposed. Similarly, when lifting weights your body will adapt to the intensity you have exposed it to over time while maintaining your recovery resources.
As you can see, muscle growth stimulation operates on the same principle and does not require overkilling your muscles absolute limit.
Screw Up #15:
You Need To “Shock” Your Muscles And Keep Them “Guessing”
This has got to be one of the silliest and most misleading statements ever made (no hard feeling because in theory it can be convincing). Interestingly, the people who used to give me this advice must have been ‘shocking’ or ‘tricking’ their muscles the wrong way because they had no muscle mass on their bodies to back up that statement.
If you think about this myth long enough you might start to laugh. Do you think you can really change your exercises and training routine to ‘surprise’ your body and get a different reaction out of them?
Your muscles do not have outside eyes that reward you with new muscle growth if you ‘confuse’ them. Your muscles understand MOVEMENT and that’s all — push, pull, curl, extend, contract or release — that’s it.
You can be lifting bags of sand or deadlifting 400 pounds and the action on your back is the same — your knees bend and your trunk flexes. So where is the shock? Why would your back muscles say, “Holy Macaroni Batman, you’re lifting with an Olympic bar and not sand bags anymore.” Better pack on some muscle.
Or maybe you can switch up the order of your routine by hitting a weak body part twice in the week. If you only train your arms once in the week and then ‘strategically’ throw arms in twice one week then they will be ‘confused’ and ‘shocked’ into growing. Please! Your muscles operate on laws of science, not on laws of trickery.
Forget trying to shock, confuse, trick or ‘keep the muscle guessing’. The only thing that will be shocked and confused is the person messing around with this theory with no clue why their body has not changed in a month since he started his magic show program.
Your muscles are not shocked by change in exercise. They are designed to tolerate it.
Screw Up #16:
Monday is Chest Day, Tuesday Is Leg Day, Wednesday Is Back Day…
Splitting up a routine is preached like ‘gospel’ and is rarely on trial or questioned as the way to structure a muscle building routine. If you are a hardgainer then think again!
And sure, splitting up a routine is fine and has some benefits BUT is also the fastest way to overtrain and burn out. Remember, you do not get stronger in the gym — you get stronger and bigger when you go home, rest, sleep, eat and FULLY recover.
To SUPERCOMPENSATE from your previous work out your muscles are not the only thing that must experience a full recovery. Do not neglect the fact that you are taxing and depleting your central nervous system, hormonal system, and immune system — systems that in fact take longer than your muscles to recover.
Just because your muscles say, “Okay we feel fine, let’s train again,” you must experience a FULL recovery prior to attempting to stimulate your muscles again for more muscle growth. Because there are so many variables involved in FULL recovery I lay out a easy recovery blueprint.
Screw Up #17:
Low Reps Equal Size And High Reps Equal Cutting
Your muscles do not have much personality — they are either growing, shrinking or staying the same.
If you want your muscle to grow then gradually force your muscles to do more work and outperform your last workouts performance.
If you are content with the size of your muscles right now than this is easy — just keep doing what you are doing. And to make the muscle smaller, this is even easier — simply avoid and do not train it.
You cannot pick certain exercises to get a muscle ‘cut’ or make a muscle ‘huge’ – this theory holds no water. Muscle ‘cuts’ are a reflection of two criteria on the body: pure muscle size and the low levels of body fat (in the single digits).
So if you want to build massive muscles get ready to apply the fundamental principle of progressive overload. And if you wish to get ‘cut’ and ‘ripped’ be prepared to drop your body fat levels into the single digits.
Next time you hear someone say, “I just lift light weights to get toned,” then pat them on the back and point them in the direction of the cardio room as a better option. Light weights do not build muscle period. They will burn calories and that’s all. You’re better off maximizing your time by burning calories running or doing jumping jacks. And if you see someone with the goal to get bigger and they are a cardio junkie — grab their hand and lead them to the heavy weights.
Now you know that lowering your body fat is for ‘cutting’ and heavy weights are for building size.
Screw Up #18:
Alternating Between High Intensity Phases And Low Intensity Phases
The fact is that your muscles will only get bigger and stronger as a result of applying the most fundamental muscle building principle in the book — progressive overload. How will your muscles grow if you reduce the overload for a ‘low intensity’ phase? No new muscle can be built because there is no overload. When you are train ‘light’ you are wasting your time and your body’s resources.
There is some merit and benefit to training with lower intensities such as active recovery and maintenance and even improving muscular endurance and fat loss. Muscle growth occurs while you rest after high intensity training phases, so if your going to rest – than rest.
Screw Up #19:
Not Lifting Truly Heavy Weights
Your muscles do not want to work any harder than they must. Think of your muscles as being lazy — like a permanent hibernation. They only want to wake up in an extreme emergency and if it will disrupt their sleep.
Your muscles WILL NOT work any harder than necessary and will recruit the least amount of muscle fibers responsible to get the job down. If this means the inactive muscle fibers make no effort or contribution to the lift — so be it. They would rather sleep anyways and not come out of hibernation!
From this we discover that we must do exercises that are extremely demanding (yet avoiding injury) and involve the totality of the muscle. So how do you recruit and use every single muscle fiber without your own MRI machine? You lift really HEAVY WEIGHTS! So heavy that every single muscle fiber must kick in by using all your muscle’s capacity. Forget those wimpy isolation exercises that target only part of the muscle.
Screw Up #20:
Setting Outcome Goals Instead Of Performance Goals
What most people don’t know is that effective goals focus on performance, not outcome. I will use the term performance to also parallel the word habit.
Performance or habits are what you control. Outcomes are often controlled by others. An outcome goal would be, “I want to gain 30 pounds on the scale,” or “I’m going to put two inches on my arms,” or “I’m going to bench press 400 pounds next month.”
Don’t get me wrong, it is okay to set these goals and I actually recommend writing down your outcome goals prior to beginning. However, setting ONLY outcome goals is a sure-fire way of failing.
You see, you do not ultimately have any control when setting outcome goals — how can you possibly control the outcome? Do you know anybody who can control the amount of muscle they build week by week, how much they lift and how to make a muscle grow by making it a goal?
But you can control the habits that are required to build muscle from week to week, increase size and improve your strength. You can set goals like:
You see the difference?
Goals focus on a specific outcome. Outcome’s are out of your control. But you CAN control habit and performance goals.
Bad habits can be starved and destroyed. New habits can be fed and grown. You have the choice and you have the ability to make the decisions that are required to building more and more muscle on a weekly basis. Watch the difference by simply adjusting your mindset on performance goals!
Discover How Ex-Skinny Guys Finally Gained Weight After They Tried Everything Else…
In defense to the mainstream, bodybuilding style approach to building muscle, it does work for some people. The reality is that you probably know some guys training with the traditional 5 or 6 day ‘split’ program and making some impressive gains. You see, not every guy has to bust his butt in the gym… some guys can grow just by using wimpy ‘isolation’ exercises; spending more time picking up the girls than picking up the weights and training less intense than you.
I have learned that these guys are the exception and not the rule. Do not mimic their training habits or copy their methods. It will not work because they probably fall into one of the following categories:
Whatever the situation, they are not in your shoes nor have they ever walked in your shoes. So, in my opinion, they are not as qualified to give you a solution to your problem as someone who has actually conquered the same obstacles as you.
Would you take money advice from an inherited millionaire? Probably not, right! So why would you take muscle building advice from someone whose muscle fiber type, limb length and muscle/tendon length relationship allows him to bench press 315 pounds the first day he walks into a gym!