It’s completely fine to make mistakes, we’re all humans after all.
What’s not OK, is to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Based on my own experience and experience from other people I’ve helped gain muscle mass, I came up with the following top 7 mistakes.
Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be experiencing amazing muscle gains.
Mistake #1: Not tracking the food intake
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. ~Peter Drucker
In my opinion, this is the most important thing you need to do when you’re trying to gain muscle mass, lose body fat or simply maintain your current levels. Ironically this aspect of fitness rarely gets any attention.
It’s true that calories in calories out model of thinking has it’s flaws, but if you want to gain muscle mass then it’s important that you take in more (quality) calories than you consume.
When eating clean food it’s pretty damn hard to eat enough food for a caloric surplus since clean foods make you feel full quicker. If, for example, you’re supposed to eat 250 grams of protein per day and you’re improvising your every meal for the sake of variety, then there’s a big chance that you won’t even come near the required 250 grams of protein. At least that was my experience.
When you’re past the beginner stage, you have to be increasingly more methodical in order to gain additional muscle mass.
The best way to track the amounts of food you eat is to use a tracking journal (physical or electronic). By using a simple online food diary like FitDay, it’s really easy to keep track of the amounts of food you eat. It takes me less than two minutes every day to log everything in.
With over countless foods already available, you can rest assured that no matter what you eat will already be in the database with all of the nutritional data. In case you can’t find a specific food item, FitDay allows you to add a custom food item.
At first it’ll seem a bit overwhelming to keep track of all the foods you eat but if you’re disciplined enough, and you’re eating the same foods every day then keeping track of the food intake will take you just a couple of seconds.
Mistake #2: Not eating enough food
This one is closely related to the first mistake and I’d say that this is the biggest sticking point for most people.
As mentioned before, if you’re not tracking the foods you eat there’s a big chance that you’re not going to eat enough food. If you’re undereating then you can forget about strength and brawn (unless you’re a beginner).
When you’re starting out you’re going to see progress no matter what. You can gain muscle mass by undereating and eating shit as long as you train with intensity.
Unfortunately for everybody, the beginner phase is over quickly. The body is fast to adapt to new stimuli and after a couple of weeks and maybe months of beginners gains, the progress in the gym suddenly comes to a halt.
Your ability to gain muscle mass from this moment on is greatly diminished, where every additional pound of muscle requires more and more effort.
The biggest reason why most people are not eating enough food is because they’re trying to eat different things every day. Their main concern is that if you eat the same stuff every day you’re going to be sick or something.
This is complete and utter bullshit if you ask me because when you think about it, the average western man or women predominantly eats the same stuff every day. If you’re eating six clean meals a day (every meal different) then you probably have more variety in your diet than the average Joe and Jane have in a week.
Eating the same foods every day will save you hours upon hours of food preparation and nerves. Eating the same foods doesn’t mean that your meals have to be boring, but quite the contrary. You’ll still be able to make delicious meals but they will take much less to prepare since you’ve streamlined the whole cooking process by cooking the same stuff every day.
This is what kills the enthusiasm for most people … food preparation. Nobody wants to spend their whole day in the kitchen cooking and thinking about what they’re going to eat tomorrow. Life is already complicated as it is, so why make it even more complicated?
Just eat the same meals every day. Easier to track and easier to stick with.
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Mistake #3: Not getting enough sleep
You gain muscle mass when you’re outside the gym.
Going to bed early is the biggest sticking point for me. Ironically it’s also the easiest one to address, but somehow I never get to sleep early.
Your body needs quality rest, especially if you’re involved in some sort of strenuous physical activity like weight training.
When you’re lifting heavy weights you make micro tears on your muscle fibers. If you ain’t getting enough sleep then your body is unable to repair these micro lesions and this in turn can lead to overtraining and serious injuries.
It’s all about the hormones.
Our sleep is divided into cycles which consist of non-REM and REM phases. It’s during our non-REM deep sleep phase that we get our biggest growth hormone spike. In short, HGH (human growth hormone) is an anabolic agent that promotes muscle recovery and muscle growth among other things.
So in order to gain muscle mass you want to make sure that you get the biggest possible release of growth hormone, every night. But how exactly can you do that?
Since our growth hormone is released during the deep sleep phase and the deepest sleep occurs around 2 am you want to make sure that you go to sleep in the early hours of the night. There is a greater amount of deep sleep earlier in the sleep cycle, while the proportion of REM sleep increases later in the sleep cycle and just before natural awakening.
During our restorative deep sleep phase, our blood pressure drops and our breathing becomes deeper and slower. With our brain taking a much needed time out from our daily preoccupations, there’s more blood available to flow into our muscles.
Increased nutrient-rich blood flow (if you have your diet in check) combined with high levels of growth hormone, will drastically improve your ability to gain muscle mass.
Lack of sleep and erratic sleeping schedule, on the other hand, can quickly decrease the amount of growth hormone that your pituitary gland secrets during your deep sleep. Growth hormone deficiency is associated with increased obesity, loss of muscle mass and reduced exercise capacity.
The biggest reason why I’m not going to sleep early is because I keep my laptop on after 8pm. In order to go to bed early (approx 10 pm) you want to make sure to turn off all of your electronic appliances like tv, laptops, smartphones, etc. a few hours before sleep time. In my case, I try to turn off my gadgets at around 8 pm and every time I do this, I go to sleep early with no problems.
It’s recommended that you get at least 8 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night. Sleep less than this and you’re compromising your progress in the gym. It’s possible to decrease the time you need to sleep in order to get fully rested by developing and sticking to a consistent sleeping schedule, but if gaining muscle mass is your goal, err on the side of 8 to 9 hours.
Here are some quick tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
- go to sleep early (10 pm is ideal)
- make sure your bedroom is completely dark
- use foam earplugs to eliminate the surrounding noise
- try to keep the room temperature at about 70°F
- read a boring book before bed time (fiction preferably)
Mistake #4: Not training hard enough
If you’re not scared of the weights you’re lifting then you’re not lifting heavy enough.
A lot of people think that in order to gain muscle mass, squatting or deadlifting 60 kg (135 lbs) for a few repetitions is enough. Boy are they wrong!I’ve spent months, lifting puny weights on all of of the major compound movements, and then was left wondering why I didn’t make any progress.
You should definitely use light weights when starting out so you can master the correct form of any given exercise, but once your form is good enough all of your efforts should be focused on lifting heavier and heavier weights.
Size follows strength.
So what exactly does hard training mean? Well, it’s simply training almost or to muscular failure by focusing on major compound movements like deadlift, squat, overhead press, weighted chins, etc. When you finish your last rep and you know that another rep isn’t possible to be executed with good form, then you’re training with the right intensity.
Especially in the beginning (beyond beginner’s stage) if you have all of the variables dialed in, your deadlift and squats should quickly surpass the 100 kg (220 lbs) mark.
Mistake #5: Spending too much time in the gym too often
This one relates to doing too many exercises in a single workout and repeating the same workout almost every day of the week.
There’s actually nothing wrong with spending a lot of time in the gym if you’re trying to make new friends or even meet a girlfriend who’s into healthy living but when you’re trying to gain muscle mass, try to make your training sessions as short as possible.
This means doing a routine that focuses on intensity and not on volume.
Remember that muscle grows when you’re resting, not when you’re training.
When trying to gain muscle mass, routines that emphasize on compound movements like deadlift, squat, overhead press, etc. are the way to go. Don’t be doing endless sets of preacher curls and triceps extensions since you’re not going to get big with complementary exercises.
Under no circumstance try to do routines you read in bodybuilding magazines since they are written for steroid gobbling genetic freaks.
Compound is the way to go.
By focusing on compound movements you’ll be able to finish your workouts in less than an hour and you’ll also save some money since you’ll be visiting the gym less frequently. A simple Push/Pull routine will do wonders for your size and strength if you’re training with intensity.
Remember, when trying to gain muscle mass, less is more.
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Mistake #6: Lifting with poor form
This is a killer, literally.
Doing compound movements like deadlifts or squats with improper form is a one way ticket to the hospital.
Sure there’s lots of wiggle room when you’re lifting light weights but as soon as you start lifting heavy, there’s absolutely no room for error.
In order to gain muscle mass your primary focus should be to increase the weight on the compound movements. Good technique will allow you to lift more weight and as you may probably know by now heavier weights = more muscle.
Focus on strength and the physique will follow.
In my specific case, I was able to quickly increase my deadlift poundage by 45 lbs after being stuck for months on the same weight. The only change I made to my deadlifting technique was to incorporate a more narrow stance, that’s it. Sometimes small changes can really make a big difference.
It’s really important that you have your lifting technique dialed in perfectly.
The video camera is your friend here. Try to record as much of your workout as you can in order to see your lifting form on all of the big exercises. Compare your videos to other instructional videos on YouTube and you’ll quickly see if your lifting technique needs more work before you move on to heavier weights.
Mistake #7: Stressing about non important stuff
Stress can play a major role in your ability to gain muscle mass. Making sure you deal with stress is not only good for your progress in the gym but also for your overall health.
As far as weightlifting stress is related, I’ve managed to identify two major sources, and these are:
- Improper goal setting and
- stressing over about other people’s physiques.
It’s really common for people who are starting out, to set their fitness goals really high and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when people want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but they are knowingly or unknowingly not willing to put in an ounce of effort required to reach their goals.
Their idea is that “If I go to the gym 5 times a week and lift weights for 3 hours, then I’ll look like a bodybuilder in a matter of weeks. Forget about nutrition!”. This kind of thinking is the reason why most people get frustrated and quit after a month or two of training.
In order to avoid this kind of stress, the thing is to set smart goals so you’re comfortable with the amount of effort you’ll have to put in. If you’re not willing to put the required amount of effort to reach your goals, then you’re not going to gain muscle mass.
The other big source of stress for those involved in weightlifting, is comparing their physiques to other’s more developed physiques.
This was my problem for a very long time.
We humans are 99.9% genetically the same. It’s those .1% percent that separates us from everybody else. This .1% also determines how much muscle we’ll carry in our lives and how quickly we can add it.
Since our ability to gain muscle mass is largely determined by our genes, which we don’t get to choose, obsessing about why other people are more developed than us is useless and highly counterproductive.
What helped me the most was to simply compare myself, to myself. Whenever I catch myself comparing my physique to other guys, I just remember how much I’ve improved over the last year (size and strength gains). This is usually enough to eliminate the stress. I might not be quite developed as some other guys yet, but the fact that I’m slowly reaching my fitness goals does the trick.
If this kind of thinking doesn’t help you either, then try to think that you’re the only natural guy on the planet and everybody else is on steroids. This will help you achieve peace of mind, guaranteed :)
There are many more mistakes people make while trying to gain muscle mass, but if you make sure you avoid the ones described above, you’ll be well on your way to amazing results.
Do you have another common mistake to share in case I forgot to mention it? If so, please tell me more about it in the comments section below.
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