You might know this already, but results in the gym don’t come from sweat alone. Sure, you need to leave it all out there when you train. You need to push your body to new places if you’re going to see results, but those places have to be the right places. For everyone getting themselves big results in the gym, there’s another dozen guys putting in the hours and seeing no discernible change.
It’s not because they’re not prepared to work, it’s because they’re letting themselves down in other areas of the picture. It’s like being on a long journey without a map, you can drive as fast or long as you want to, you’re probably not going in the right direction.
Here are the places I most commonly see people falling down. If you’re hitting the gym hard but not seeing the gains you expected, chances are it’s one or more of these errors that you’re making.
1). The Dirty Bulk
“I can eat whatever I want, I’m bulking…” I hear it a lot. I even hear more sophisticated variations of the same theme, such as “I need the carbohydrates, they’re as important as protein for muscle building,” or “You always put on a bit of fat as you build, you just cut it down in your shredding cycle.”
If you’re using any of the above phrases, you might want to ask yourself what you’re trying to justify. If you’re just trying to convince your amazed wife or girlfriend that people who are trying to actively build muscle can benefit from a plate piled high with chicken, sweet potato and greens, you might be on to something. If, however, you’re using any of those phrases as an excuse to scarf down burgers, pizza, huge bowls of pasta, or anything else that came from a restaurant with a plastic, back-lit menu on the wall, then you might want to re-assess your own bullshit.
What you eat is going to have a much larger impact on your body than just feeding into muscle growth. Our food supports every body process in some way. If you want your body functioning effectively, you want to be fuelling it effectively. Good quality lean protein, carbs from primarily natural sources, and in appropriate quantities, and plenty of vegetables of a wide range of colours. High-fat, high-carb foods might seem like something you can get away with in the short-term, but long-term you’re going to be contending with increased insulin resistance, higher levels of fat storage, and decreased energy levels as a result.
I know you think you’re building more muscle with a dirty bulk, but you’re not. You’re adding an increased layer of fat over the top, which in the beginning might appear like greater muscle gains, but will quickly stop your results in their tracks. If you add muscle and fat indiscriminately it will become increasingly hard to strip the fat away. Oestrogen levels are directly connected to fat levels, because that’s where oestrogen lives, and the higher your oestrogen, the lower your testosterone. Do you want lower testosterone? No? Put down the burger.
2). Too Much Isolation
Are big arms important to you? Do you want comment-worthy biceps? Most people are aware that there are at least two things you’re going to need to be doing to achieve that end, but a lot of people seem to believe that both those things are bicep curls…
Look, I love a good bicep curl as much as the next man, and I’m not entirely convinced by the argument that you should never do them because there are other, better exercises out there that will build arms and other muscle simultaneously. Most of the guys I know with really noticeable biceps are doing curls. Here’s the thing, though; that’s not all they’re doing.
They’re not showing up at the gym, doing a set on the preacher curl, a set with the EZ bar, and a couple of sets of hammer curls with the dumbbells. Yeah, they’re hitting their biceps, but they’re also hitting the big muscle groups that are going to create the systemic T-production that will allow their biceps to grow when they curl.
Do your curls, but never at the expense of your legs, chest and back.
3). Too Many Goals
Just recently I was talking to a keen gym goer who was complaining to me that no matter what he did he didn’t seem to be able to put on muscle. My ears prick up at this sort of statement, it appeals to both the professional and the nerd in me in the same way a malfunctioning computer draws IT pros. I asked him about his training program to begin with, and he seemed to be doing a lot of the right things whilst he was in the gym. I asked him about his diet and although there were a few deviations, they were nothing that was going to horribly undermine his efforts.
It was only when I asked him what other activity he did that he told me he was training to run a number of marathons. He hadn’t mentioned this before because I had specified “in the gym,” and he was doing a lot of his marathon training outside of the gym. On top of this, he had signed up the week before to a martial arts class. Now, one or maybe two of these goals together might have been achievable, but lifting for size and strength is never going to sit especially well in a program next to a muscle-burning activity like running, and if you add in a couple of classes each week of punching and kicking for an hour you’re definitely throwing too many things at your body for it to effectively adapt to one.
If you do martial arts, or if you do go out running and aren’t prepared to give it up, then I recommend lifting weights in support of these endeavours, but if your goal is serious size and/or strength, you need to make sure your other pursuits aren’t blurring that focus.
4). Stimulant Drinks
Now I love my coffee. I’ve waxed lyrical about the virtues of drinking coffee on here before, but when it comes to stimulants, coffee is the tip of the iceberg.
If you’re having one or two cups a day, this concern is not addressed to you. If you’re using a pre-workout, even if you also drink a little coffee, then chances are you’re not my target for this entry either. If, however, you’re expecting results at the gym, but you’re in the habit of cracking a few cans of energy drink to get yourself through the day, you’re doing a number of things that are destroying your results.
Firstly, you’re teaching your body that the combination of stimulants and other chemicals in your favourite day-glo concoction is a normal thing to have inside it. Over time your body will perceive this as baseline normal, and will struggle to function optimally without it. The same thing can happen with coffee, but a cup or two of coffee a day has associated health benefits. Not so for fizzy, stim-jacked sugar water.
Secondly, in the gym, part of what we rely on to allow us to rise to the challenge of a gruelling training session is our release of adrenalin. If you’re chucking stimulants into your body that cause it to be in this state anyway, there is no heightened state when training. In fact, you’re going to have to use everything your already-overloaded adrenal system has just to feel normal, let alone hit a PB.
5). Not Enough Protein
This is one of the two most common gripes I hear from people who consider themselves “hard-gainers.” Now, I’m not saying being a hard-gainer isn’t a thing. I’m sure it is, but as a guy who is capable of eating several times his own bodyweight in almost anything it’s never been a problem I’ve struggled with. So you can work as hard as you want to in the gym, but it’s hard to know whether you’re really a hard-gainer or not if you’re not actually giving your body the building blocks it needs to build the muscle after you’ve sweated blood for that anabolic response.
The problem is that some people’s idea of a huge daily quantity of food is less than I eat for breakfast, and they won’t be convinced otherwise. If you want to foster muscle growth, the amount of food you want to be eating is probably going to look absurd to most ordinary human beings. First of all, 3-4g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight isn’t unreasonable, plus your carbohydrate allowance, plus all the green vegetables you can fit in on top of that. Secondly, keep in mind what I actually mean when I say 3-4g per kilo of bodyweight. That doesn’t mean 320g of chicken per day for an 80kg guy. I don’t give a damn what anyone says, that’s not enough food for someone who’s looking to build proper muscle. 100g of chicken contains around 28g of protein.
Get the picture?
6). Infrequency of Protein
When I start explaining the above problem to a lot of people, they often say to me, “But how the hell am I supposed to eat that much in a day?”
My response? “Eat frequently.”
Your body, my body, everyone’s body, is always doing one of two things, it’s either building or breaking down muscle. One of these is good, the other is bad. If you want more muscle, can you guess which one’s which?
So if you want your body to keep building, what do you need to do? Make sure you’re constantly supplying it with raw materials. Imagine it to be like a building site, filled with hard working but slightly deranged builders, who will keep on adding to the construction as long as you keep supplying bricks, but will start to angrily tear the walls down if a delivery doesn’t arrive on schedule.
Or don’t. You could dispense with that simile entirely and just eat protein every three hours or so.
7). Inconsistency Of Plan
I just Googled the words “Celebrity Muscle Building Workouts.”
The first three returns alone offered me access to one hundred and twenty nine programs that famous people supposedly used to get their famous physiques. Now let’s just pretend for a moment (and this is a massive pretence) that a piece of paper with some words on it was ever going to be enough to guide you through the complexities of manifesting an effective body transformation. It’s not, because without the added support of technique guidance, nutritional coaching, motivation, assistance with lifestyle integration and a dedicated spotter, all you’ve got is a quick rundown of how many sets and reps these guys did. It would be a little like learning to fly a plane from a sheet of A4 paper with some self-assembly-furniture-style instructions on it. Nevertheless, let’s pretend that these magical documents truly did contain all the secrets you needed to get to your results.
THERE’S ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY NINE OF THEM IN THE FIRST THREE HITS ALONE.
This is an information overload, and it’s exactly what leaves the average gym-goer permanently stranded at the gate. You start off with a program that Kai Greene apparently followed (is now a good time to point out that you’re not Kai Greene, and this is a program that was designed for him? This is just another spot where these print-and-follow programs fall down). Three weeks later, the new XMen movie comes out, and Hugh Jackman’s looking more shredded than ever. On the way home from the cinema, this month’s copy of Men’s Whatever has a description of his workout, so you adopt your favourite bits of that into your routine.
The week after that, whilst waiting at the doctor’s for your results so you can see if that rash is infectious, you happen across an old interview with Christian Bale, who says he had to get shredded very fast for the first Batman movie, then tells you how he did it. “Cool,” you think, “I could do with getting a bit more shredded. I’ll put some of that into my routine.”
Only a few days later there’s a Bruce Lee marathon on pay TV, and after watching it you are inspired to find out more about his training. Once again the online version of Men’s Whatever has a “Kung Fu Circuit Workout,” that you decide to give a go.
See what’s happened there? You are now following the bastard lovechild of four different celebrity workouts, which chances are weren’t ever what they did in the first place, you’re probably not doing accurately, and even if they were what they claimed to be were designed for them, not you.
Are you going to end up looking and feeling like the bastard lovechild of a bodybuilder, a mutant superhero, an actor and a martial arts legend as a result? No, it’s like trying to cook a cheesecake, a chicken pie and fried fish all at the same time in the same pot. You don’t end up with the best bits of all of them, you end up with an unholy, inedible mess that ruins all your ingredients.
Even a mediocre routine that you follow consistently is going to get you better results than a great one you don’t stick to. Now imagine what you could do if you stuck religiously to a great program instead of putting all that effort into dicking about…
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