You’re dicking around with your training. Simply put, you probably don’t train hard enough to build muscle (like most people in the gym). So ensure you’re not doing these six things in your training and you will build muscle aka become a muscular boy or girl with smelly armpits. How cool is that, huh? Very cool!
1. Your rep speed doesn’t slow down
The involuntary reduction of muscle contraction speed is probably the best indicator that you’re training hard enough to stimulate muscle growth. Jesus Christ are you confused yet? Because I’m sure as shit you’re.
What I’m saying is if you’re not training to the point where your rep speed begins to slow down at the end of the set, then you’re not exposing your muscles to mechanical tension which gives them the sufficient signal to grow.
The other day I posted a reel on Insta on precisely that. Watch the damn reel.
Notice that the weight barely moves on the last two reps. And by the vein popping out on my bold head which always makes my girlfriend freak entirely the fugg out cos’ my head might go kabloom, you can tell it’s tough. I generated so much fatigue that my lifting speed slowed down even though my effort was still high. Sets like that are the most effective for building muscle. So suck it up.
2. You’re not resting enough between sets
If you rest less than 2 minutes between sets, you can be damn sure that either the selected weight or intensity you train with is off (or both). Sure, short rest periods give you nice burn and pump but they compromise the volume you can perform on the subsequent sets:
So don’t rush through your sets. It’s not a cardio session. Make sure you rest enough to perform your best on each set.
If your goal is muscle growth, for compound exercises such as squats, you should rest at least 2 minutes. For isolation exercises such as leg curls, resting at least 1.5 minutes should be fine (although I prefer 2).
Now, if you have limited time for a workout, short rest periods will be fine. Suboptimal but you can still make progress. Although there are better time-saving training strategies than resting less such as agonist-antagonist paired sets.
3. Your form is picture-perfect on the last few reps
Your body is not as fragile as you think. It’s highly adaptive and resilient. So don’t be so paranoid about “perfect” form. If you try to maintain your form picture-perfect throughout the set, you will struggle to get to those last most effective reps at the end of the set.
In some cases — SOME I said, this practice should not be overused — level of form breakdown is warranted:
- During the last rep or two.
- On low-injury-risk exercises. Squats or deadlifts are probably not one of those. And by probably, I mean definitely.
4. You’re changing exercises/programs too often
Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe what a piece of nonsense it is to do different exercises every week or change the program every four weeks.
If you want to change something in your training, change lifting tempo, exercise order, rest periods, rep range, or implement intensity strategies such as drop sets but don’t switch up your training program every week.
Stick to the program and work on slowly getting stronger over time. This will ensure you have enough time to find a proper weight for your selected rep range so that you could take sets within a few reps shy of failure.
Doing the boring stuff week after week after week is what leads to more effort which in turn leads to more progress.
5. You’re not going to failure (sometimes)
Speaking of training within a few reps shy of failure…
As I said in the You’re Not Training Hard Enough To Build Muscle article, I push my online clients to true failure every now and then or program the AMRAP weeks (as many reps as possible). I want them to go to failure often enough to become more accurate at gauging reps in reserve:
So just go to failure. Not always but often enough to get good at accurately judging what 1-3 reps shy of failure feel and look like.
6. You train with excessive volume per workout/week
I once answered a question on Reddit that goes something like hey why my glutes aren’t growin’ even though I do glute bridges, cable kickbacks, frog pumps, machine abductions, walking lunges, and donkey kicks four sets of each every workout?
Are you kidding me? 24 sets for the same muscle in a single workout? Anyone who says they do something like that by default doesn’t train hard. As I said before, most people just don’t train close enough to failure and they try to make up for it by doing more work aka sets.
You can do as many sets as you want but if you’re not taking them 1-3 reps shy of failure, then you’re leaving a lot on the table.
Training volume is individual. Perform enough working sets for each muscle group per week so that you’re not overly sore. Most people will fall within 8 and 20 sets/muscle group/week.
When it comes to volume in a single workout, based on my personal experience working with clients, 4-8 sets/muscle group/session is the sweet spot. Anything more than that either will be junk volume or simply won’t get any clear benefit. Let me explain using the in-house meta-analysis by James Krieger:
As James concluded,
“Muscle growth tends to be best around 6-8 hard sets per muscle group per training session when taking long rests. That can be 12-24 weekly sets for a frequency of 2-3 days per week.”
So, depending on your training split, my recommendation is to perform 4-8 hard sets/muscle group/session by using 1-3 different exercises and train the same muscle group 2-3 times per week.
This way, you will make progress without blasting your glutes with six different glute exercises and suboptimal intensity in each workout. Don’t try to cover insufficient intensity with more sets.
If you’re new to the whole gym thing where sweaty dudes — possibly hairy bears — throw down dumbbells and barbells, you can get away with most of the mistakes I’ve covered. When you’re a noob, anything works. But if you’ve been lifting weights for a while now, you need to nail the intensity part and train hard.
As a fitness trainer, Austin Current wrote,
“Training to build muscle via the process of hypertrophy is rooted in performing high-quality repetitions for a certain amount of volume at a certain level of intensity or proximity to failure.”
Learning proper technique and finding effective volume is easy. Training to or close to failure isn’t. It’s nasty. But if you want to make progress, you gotta learn this skill.
P.S. If you want to bypass all of the nonsensical weight loss information and avoid common beginner mistakes, apply for the 1:1 Coaching Program where my goal is to be at your side the entire way, helping you to avoid scams and pitfalls that most people fall into.
Originally published by me on Medium on July 19, 2023