The struggle to build muscle is one that’s near and dear to me. Never the genetic freak. Completely average at best.
I know what it’s like to pour everything into your training with only negligible returns.
I’m not complaining though. This reality is what’s helped me sift through so much of the BS that’s written in articles and on other blogs and shown on YouTube.
Now when I read, see or listen to someone I know whether they’re full of shit or there’s something legitimate to what they’re saying and worth exploring.
There’s more reasons further than the eye can see for why some guys pack on muscle and others don’t. (Yes, there’s more than just genetics all you self proclaimed hardgainers.)
Knowing these five will swing the odds heavily in your favor …regardless of genetics.
Here they are, in no order of importance:
1. There is a Training Variable Domino Effect
We’re clear on the fact that every workout program has these four primary variables present: intensity, volume, frequency, and load. Then we have detail oriented variables such as rep speed, rep and set variations, equipment, and rest periods.
What’s not always clear is the immediate impact that putting your focus on one (or a few) has on the rest.
Through my first thirteen years of my weight training the focus had been on completing a certain (high) volume of work. When I made a shift to focusing on intensity of effort a funny thing happened …I couldn’t handle as much volume. At least not long term.
I tried, but soon realized that if I wanted to keep my focus on training with the highest intensity possible for each exercise, doing more sets per exercise would cut into my performance.
When my focus shifted to an increase in frequency I couldn’t maintain the same high intensity, training to muscular failure and beyond workouts, for more than 2-4 consecutive weeks.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, rather the cumulative stress was resulting in a drop in performance because my body didn’t have time to overcompensate. We’ve all experienced this on some level.
Have you ever been forced to take a week off from training only to come back stronger?
The reason why is because your body had the opportunity to systemically recover from the cumulative stress.
Why does this matter?
Your Long Term Success in Building Muscle is Directly Proportional to Your Ability to Manage Your Overall Training Demands by Managing Exercise Variables.
When you adjust or change one variable it causes a domino effect. Think about going from your typical straight sets to adding two forced reps at the end of each set.
After one or two sets the load you can handle on each consecutive set will likely be much less than usual. It’s also likely that you won’t maintain the same level of intensity throughout the workout as you normally do.
This could be good, this could be bad.
Whether you get a hypertrophy response depends if the training demands from making this change are appropriate, relative to your needs at that time. And if they’re balanced with enough recovery time to allow for overcompensation.
The point is, whenever we adjust training variables we have to take notice of how it effects the others and our intended outcome.
2. You Have to Change Your Approach and Innovate Your Training
Let me start by saying that the following suggestion does come with a caveat. If you’re relatively new to weight training there’s no need to make frequent or dramatic changes to your training.
Depending on your responsiveness it can take 6-12 months before you start seeing diminished returns from a single or double progression approach (ie. increasing weight and/or reps).
When the time does come..
Relying on What Got You to Where You Are Won’t Get You to Where You Want to Go.
This is when periodic changes in your training demands through new and unique ways of training is most beneficial.
Sometimes the innovative thing to do is to train LESS. Not just for recovery to but to desensitize yourself to the current demands and then come back with a fury.
3. You Need to Stop Listening Everyone Else and Listen to Yourself
I hear my parents words echoing in my head, “Just because your friends would jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you should.”
I get it.
Problem is, I’m more likely to be the first to jump.
But there’s a lot of truth in the message they were trying to convey. How many of us in pursuit of the perfect program have jumped from one expert or champions routine to another?
Only to be disappointed that we didn’t get the result promised.
I should have cannonball delts and powerful pecs by now!
The times I’ve made by best progress were when I followed my intuition.
No one knows you better than you know yourself.
An outside objective point of view is important but even I’ve been proved wrong by clients who told me they felt like they needed a little bit of ‘X’ and when added into the mix (or taken out) it worked.
If you have any appreciable time training under your belt and you’re observant you don’t need to put your faith in the next guys program. Put it in yourself! If you’re intuition was wrong see #2.
4. Your Nutrition Can Not be Based on “What you think”
Having personally trained hundreds of people the most common answer I get when I ask someone how much protein they’re taking in is, “I think I get enough”.
I think I get enough, is not an amount.
(And I really wish people would stop referring to peanut butter as one of their primary sources of protein.)
When you don’t know how much carbs, fat, protein and calories you consume it’s nearly impossible to determine how much you need …or don’t need.
If your goal is to build muscle you need a certain amount of protein based on your lean body mass, body type, and activity level to optimize protein synthesis.
You also need a certain amount of carbs to supply energy for your hard workouts. For most people ketogenic diets are not ideal for muscle building building since protein will first be converted to glycogen to supply your energy needs.
We’re better served taking in enough carbs to satisfy our energy needs so the protein we do consume can do it’s primary job of repairing and building muscle tissue.
Track what you’re taking in so you, your trainer, coach or nutritionist, can make informed decisions based on what you know, not what you think.
5. Look at the Whole and Just the Parts
All of this muscle building stuff would be a heck of a lot easier if we lived in a vacuum (not the Hoover kind). But we don’t. We live in a dynamic world where our environment and our body is constantly changing.
Not too long ago my wife took me hang gliding for my birthday. She knows I love heights which is why the birthday before that was spent sky diving, and I went two other times before that.
The view from 13,500 ft. is like nothing else. You can see so much more than you can on the ground.
Our training isn’t much different. Week in and week out we’re on the ground level.
It’s Easy to Miss What’s Happening or What Has Happened Until We Take a Step Back.
Only then do we see the sum of all the parts.
Workouts are only a piece of what defines our outcome. It’s a big piece, but still just a single factor in whether or not we are building muscle, maintaining, or regressing.
Nutrition, lifestyle, age, experience, stress, rest and yes, genetics all play a role in the effectiveness of your training and muscle hypertrophy. The more you can control the controllable components the greater your likelihood for success.