1. You're Not Overtraining, You're Under-Recovering
Consider what weight training does to your body. By lifting weights, you are tearing down your muscles, so you don't gain muscle simply by lifting weights. You see gains only when you help your muscles recover from the work you do in the gym. There are three main areas of recovery that everyone should be aiding to gain muscle
What you fuel your body with before and after your workouts will dictate how well you perform in the gym. If you eat like crap, you'll feel like crap. If you eat foods that provide your body with adequate amounts of nutrients, your muscles will recover from the weights and grow back fuller and stronger.
Mobility isn't just for people who do yoga. Everyone can benefit from having better mobility. If you lift weights and don't pay any attention to improving and maintaining your joint range of motion, you're setting yourself up for injury. Adding mobility work to your routine consistently will help your body recover from training and lead to improvements in overall strength, health, and muscle gain.
Everyone has different schedules, but you should try to get at least seven hours of quality sleep every night. If you go to the gym feeling tired and sleep deprived, you won't perform as well as you would if you'd had a full night's sleep. Lack of sleep will increase cortisol levels, which leads to more body fat and fewer muscle gains.
2. You're Focused On Testing Rather Than Building
A lot of people feel they have to lift as much weight as they can. They want to test how strong they are today, rather than working on building their strength. They put more weight on the bar than they can handle and end up missing a lot of reps and failing their set.
To do that, you need to consider volume in your training plan. Volume is the total amount of weight you lift over the course of a workout. It's a key factor in your progress and an excellent illustration of why pushing max weights doesn't always bring max gains.
3. You're Emphasizing Isolation Exercises Over Compound Lifts
There is definitely a time and place for isolation exercises. Everyone loves doing push-downs, bar curls, and lat pull-downs, and I'm no different. It's also true that a large portion of the gym population focuses heavily on isolation movements while neglecting the compound lifts. If your goal is to add muscle, think of your workout as a three-course meal. Your appetizer is the warm-up, your main course is the compound lifts, and dessert is the isolation exercises.
Compound lifts are multijoint exercises that incorporate more than one muscle group at a time. They include squats, presses, deadlifts, and pull-ups, just to name a few. Compound exercises not only add muscle but will make you stronger, and the stronger you are, the more muscle fibers you can engage. The more muscles you engage in a movement—whether it's a compound lift or an isolation move—the more weight you can handle, and the more weight you can handle, the more your muscles are going to grow.
You get stronger by putting your body in a position where it has to engage a maximal amount of muscle fibers in order to produce force to move an external load. If you focus purely on isolation movements, you are simply pumping blood. If you focus on lifting with big, compound movements, you engage more motor units, which leads to more strength, more muscle, and more gains.
4. You Don't Have Enough Variety In Your Routine
Exercise variety is a key factor in building muscle. Remember when you first started working out and felt really sore the next day? Your muscles weren't used to performing the new exercises and were adapting to them. Whether you are an experienced trainer or a beginner, your muscles respond to new movements.
Even so, the muscles get bored fast, so if you have been following the same routine with the same exercises, lifting the same weight, at the same intensity and can't remember the last time you've seen results, try adding some new exercises. That doesn't mean doing something completely random every other day, it means sprinkling new exercises throughout your program to challenge your muscles so they don't get bored.
If you always start leg day with squats, try doing hip thrusts or lunges first. If you always start chest day with bench presses, try doing an incline press first to create a new stimulus in the muscles.
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