Looking to build muscle?
If you’re struggling to pack on the size you want, there can be some simple things that are holding you back.
Here are seven things you can do right now to get growing and making gains in the gym again…
Myth #1. You Should Train a Muscle Group Once a Week
If muscle building is your goal, what would be better? Stimulating a muscle 52 times a year, or 104 times a year? It’s a no-brainer.
But a large percentage of gym-goers are still only training muscle groups once per week. For example, training chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday, legs on Thursday and arms on Friday.
If this sounds like you, then start training muscle groups twice per week.
To do so, you’ll need to manage your training volume (the total number of exercises, sets, reps and weight you lift during a workout) so that you can recover.
If you’re currently training a muscle group once per week, start by splitting this into two separate workouts and performing them at least two days apart.
What you shouldn’t do is repeat the exact same workout later in the week and overload your muscles with double the amount of training volume they are used to.
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Myth #2. You Should Train Every Day
Training every day ignores the most overlooked factor in muscle growth: recovery.
If you’ve read our ‘‘how often should you workout’ article, you’ll know the importance of recovery, and strategically increasing your work capacity to deal with higher training frequencies.
You’ll also know that training every day is never a good idea.
When you’re in the gym, you’re tearing your muscles down in the hope they repair and come back bigger and stronger.
If you’re never out of the gym though, your body never gets the chance to recover properly.
The absolute minimum anyone should train for results is three times a week. If you can train four times, that’s even better.
After that, it depends on your stress levels, sleep, diet and overall recovery capacity.
Training five to six days a week can work well for short blasts if the above factors are intact, but you must be strategic with your training volume and know when to back off.
Remember, you grow outside the gym!
Myth #3. You Should Change Up Your Workout Every Week
‘Training Attention Deficit Disorder’ is a big problem amongst trainees trying to build muscle.
With the increased availability of information on the internet, people are now program-hopping and changing all aspects of their workout every time they step in the gym.
This myth probably grew from the old bodybuilding magazines which told you to ‘shock’ and ‘confuse’ your muscles into growing.
However, if you’re chasing muscle growth, you should repeat a workout several times before changing.
You will typically spend the first one to two workouts of any training program refining your exercise technique and finding the right weights to lift. Following this, you should test yourself against a consistent set of exercises and try to improve from workout to workout.
However, this doesn’t mean you should never change your program.
There is only so much you can fit into a single workout, so you’ll need to vary your approach over time to challenge your muscles from different angles and with alternative pieces of equipment.
Program variation also has significant motivational benefits, as following the same workout for too long can be very boring!
Once you’ve got your training program in place, follow it for at least three weeks before changing.
Myth #4. You Should Follow the Workouts of Your Favourite Bodybuilders
We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve read about the training routine of a professional bodybuilder or cover model and tried it the next day in the hope of looking like them.
Sadly, what many fail to realise is that the style of training promoted by these bodybuilders (think 30-40 sets, all-angle assault on one body part) is rarely the same as what made them big in the first place.
Also, remember these pro bodybuilders are the genetic elite of muscle building. When you couple this with anabolic drugs, you’re going to have an approach that is entirely different to what works for the Average Joe.
Myth #5. You Should Avoid All Isolation Exercises
When training for muscle size, you can’t go wrong by focusing the majority of your training time on the most bang-for-your-buck compound lifts.
Exercises like the bench press, pull-down, rows, squats and deadlifts should form the foundation of your training.
However, this doesn’t mean that isolation exercises don’t have merit.
If strength, muscle size and longevity are amongst your goals, including isolation exercises can help take your training to the next level.
The two ways they work best are:
- ‘Filling the gaps’. If all your workouts are composed of compound exercises, you’re probably neglecting some important muscle groups that are not fully challenged during bigger lifts, such as calves, rear delts (shoulders) and hamstrings.
- Increasing your mind-muscle connection. If you’re struggling to ‘feel’ a muscle when training it, chances are you have a weak neural connection to it. Isolating it can enhance this and allow you to put more load on the muscle when going back to the bigger lifts.
Myth #6. You Should Always Train to Failure
You’ve probably heard before that it’s ‘the last one to two reps that make the muscle grow’.
If this is the case, then surely, we should train to failure?
Maybe, but not all the time.
Not training to failure on your first set allows for the fact that the number of reps you can achieve on each set will reduce as your muscles fatigue.
If your first set pushes you to the limit or you fail to achieve the rep target, then you are even less likely to achieve the target on the next sets.
And if you attempt to do so, you will be taking several sets close to failure, which increases the chances of technique breakdown and injury.
However, if you can complete more than three extra reps on set one, then the weight is too light.
We regularly push our clients to the point of failure, but save this until the last set of an exercise for a body part in a workout and only do so on safe exercises like machines.
Myth #7. Strength Doesn’t Matter
If your goal is to get bigger, you need to get stronger.
Pumping up with light weights may look good for the camera, but the reality is that if you want to get bigger, you’re going to need to challenge yourself with new loads.
By this, we don’t mean one-rep max strength (the heaviest weight you can lift for a single rep). We mean increasing how much weight you can lift in the six to twelve rep range.
The most important rule of weight training is that you need to apply progressive overload.
There are several ways to do this, but the most effective will always be to add weight to the bar or complete more reps with a given weight.
Set goals for each exercise, and chase them down while maintaining perfect technique.