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Step #1 to build lean muscle: follow Arnold and EAT!
Below are 7 things that were holding me back from building lean muscle. Are you making any of these same mistakes in your training? If so, have a look at the presentation at the bottom and see how I eventually turned things around.
1. Burning muscle, not building it
You’re doing a few things that actually burn muscle, rather than build it. I was performing far too many reps to build muscle. Too many reps = muscle used as energy. Working out with no fuel also means muscle being used as fuel.
You can combat both by shortening both the duration and frequency of your training sessions, but upping the intensity. Also, have a good pre-workout meal about an hour before you train filled with ‘good carbs’, good fats, and lean protein. I also have gatorade and protein towards the end of a workout. Then get a post workout shake in within 15 minutes of finishing your session that has a 2:1 carbs to protein ratio. This will give your muscles the fuel they need to begin repairing.
This goes hand in hand with #1, but I see a lot of skinny guys on treadmills. The thing is, most of them want to add muscle, but they’re terrified of getting fat. So they balance out their weight training with cardio – usually running – ending up with a 1:1 cardio:weight training ratio. I’m not saying don’t do any cardio, but don’t let it hold you back.
If you have a hard time gaining weight, you shouldn’t be scared of getting fat. Eat a lot of food, lift a lot of weight, and apply the steps in this article to your routine. If you do this you’ll be successful.
3. Not enough variation
You need variation in reps, sets, tempo of the lifts and in the weight you’re lifting. You should be adding weight to each lift on a weekly basis in order to prevent plateaus.
Plateaus are the killer. I’ve heard so many stories and received a ton of emails from guys who had minimal gains that have dissipated. When I ask them how long they’ve been on the same split, the usual answer is “I don’t know. For a while though.”
Change things up. If you get a program – here’s a GREAT one – it should have variations every 3-4 weeks which will help you avoid the dreaded plateau and keep your gains skyrocketing.
4. Not enough food
You NEED to eat a ton of food. Stuff your face with everything in sight. Don’t bother counting calories. Just eat a shit load of food. Have a lot of protein with each meal (1.25-1.5x bodyweight/daily), lot’s of quality carbs, and yes, a lot of fat as well. Fat is important, when our bodies process fats our testosterone levels rise, which means faster muscle tissue recovery, which means more muscle.
Eat a lot of food = put on a lot of muscle. If you don’t, you won’t.
5. You’re in the gym way too often
Our bodies need more time to recover than we realize. And it’s pretty hard to stay out of the gym, I’ll admit that. For some of us it’s like a drug. That feeling we get from working out. We feel healthy, we get that runner’s high and the blood pumping through our muscles feels f*@!& awesome.
But if you find it hard to put on lean mass, you have to resist going to the gym any more than 4 times a week. Anything above 4 days a week is overkill. If you’re just starting out, just trying to pack on those first 10 pounds on, I’d suggest going even as little as 2-3 days a week for the first 2-3 weeks.
Recovery is where the work we have done in the gym is allowed to payoff. If you aren’t letting our muscles recover, we won’t build as much muscle as we’re capable of.
6. Too many shakes, not enough food
If you have time, have food. If you’re in a rush, grab a shake. Food will give your the roughage and the nutrients you need to recover and put on lean muscle mass. Shakes are great for when we need something quick, like the 15-minute period after an intense workout when our bodies are craving nutrients having just been put through hell.
That is the only time during the day where I have a shake – unless I’m in a rush. If you are short on time, by all means dump some protein powder into some organic whole milk, or even chocolate milk and create whatever concoction you please.
7. Stopping short on the reps
You’re getting to about 8 reps and stopping, when you could have got to 10 or even 11. If your program calls for a rep count, you should be failing at the rep number or 1 or 2 reps short. Getting to that rep count with ease and dropping the weight just won’t cut it.
You’ll hear different theories from different people. Some will say that lifting to failure every time in the gym is too much, others will say its exactly right. But studies have showing that the ‘magic’ happens in those last couple of reps, including the failure rep (failure within proper form, not failure to the point of bad for which leads to injury).
As long as you’re allowing your body enough time to recover, performing exercises to form failure is what you need.
What on this list is holding you back from building lean muscle?
Here’s a presentation that helped me learn from my mistakes and pack on 32 lbs of lean muscle in just 32 weeks.