Have you been training consistently and eating right, but aren’t putting on muscle and losing fat as you’d expect?
Troubleshooting training can be hard to do on your own. That’s why we put together this list that identifies some of the most common but completely avoidable, mistakes people make when trying to put on muscle and get lean.
Use this list to solve training errors for efficient, visible results.
Mistake #1: Doing Random Workouts
Doing random workouts may be a result of being passionate about fitness and wanting to try everything from kettlebells to Olympic lifting to high-intensity training with a BOSU ball.
Or maybe you have workout ADD and when a program doesn’t pay off overnight, you bag it for something new. Whatever the reason, consistency is the answer.
You need a program that is designed in 3 to 6 week phases (depending on how frequently you train and how long you’ve been working out). It should progressively increase in the amount of weight you lift.
There ARE many effective programs out there, but if you’re goal is to get lean and put on muscle, you’ll do so MOST efficiently by lifting weights and including some strongman exercises like sled training in your workouts.
This approach allows you to use the biggest bang for your buck multi-joint exercises that successfully train the entire body for both aesthetics and functional strength. It transfers easily to sports, helps you prevent injury, and strengthens connective tissue for healthier joints, tendons, and flexibility.
There’s no drawback to a properly executed and CONSISTENT strength program.
Mistake #2: Not Getting Strong
Lifting light weights with too many reps tends to be an error made by novice lifters rather than hardcore trainees. However, with the rise in popularity of high-intensity training and fat loss workouts, more and more people seem to be neglecting to include a heavy training phase to maintain strength and hit those high threshold motor units in the muscles.
You see, if you always train with moderately heavy weights in the 65 to 80 percent range with 8 or more reps, you’re leaving a whole bunch of muscle that is literally not getting trained.
Within a muscle, you have many different motor units (a motor unit is a neuron in your brain and a group of muscle fibers that it activates), which are recruited in an orderly fashion depending on how much weight you’re lifting.
The heavier the weight, the more motor units will be called into play so that more muscle gets trained—which is absolutely critical if you’re trying to optimize your body composition by putting on muscle.
Include 3-week intensification phases in your training so that you lift no more than 5 reps and let the reps dictate the load. This means that if you’re squatting in the 3 to 5 rep range, you should be using a weight that allows you to do at least 3 reps, but has you reaching near failure on the fifth rep.
If you can do 6 or more legit reps, you need to up your weight.
Mistake #3: Not Putting in the Volume
At the end of the day, a high volume is what makes body composition programs effective. Being strong comes into play because it allows volume to work its power to get you shredded.
But knowing that volume is the be-all, end-all isn’t all that helpful if you don’t know the nitty gritty of how to put it in practice. That’s were the three factors that influence muscle building and fat loss come in:
#1. Mechanical tension
When your muscles contract they produce tension. When you are repping out with a heavy weight, large amounts of tension are repeatedly produced, activating genetic pathways that produce tissue growth. Over time, muscles grow larger and stronger.
#2. Muscle damage
Training to failure or doing eccentric-enhanced training cause muscle damage, or small disruptions in the muscle fibers that have to be repaired. The repair process leads to the production of growth factors that stimulate muscle growth. In addition, the muscle cells swell with liquid, which enhances protein synthesis and leads muscles to grow larger.
#3. Metabolic stress
When the body uses energy anaerobically (without oxygen, such as when you do intense training with short rest), it releases a bunch of metabolites, such as lactate and hydrogen ions and cytokines.
Fat burning hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone are also released. This is a killer combination that triggers muscle development and fat loss.
Train with heavy weights (65 to 80 percent of your max, working in the 8 to 14 rep range).
Use more sets (4 to 8), and short rest (less than 60 seconds).
Train to failure or near failure.
As you advance, use, eccentric-enhanced lifts by using a longer “down” tempo or training heavy negatives.
Try complex training in which you do a heavy strength exercise like a squat or bench press that is superset with a ballistic exercise such as a squat jump or clapping push-ups.
Mistake #4: Being Insulin Resistant
The more sensitive your cells are to insulin, the easier it will be to increase muscle and lose body fat, especially if you pay attention to your nutrition.
Insulin is a very anabolic hormone, and it will drive nutrients into muscle cells, whereas in an insulin resistant state you are much more likely to store the food you eat as fat.
Unfortunately, most people have some degree of insulin resistance even if they’re not overweight. Plus, different tissues in the body have varying degrees of sensitivity to insulin, so even if you are fairly metabolically healthy, you may benefit from improving your insulin health.
Train your whole body, making sure you hit all muscle groups with multi-joint exercises. Exercise radically increases the muscles demand for glucose, forcing the tissue to get more responsive to insulin.
Modify how many carbs you eat. If you are sedentary, work out infrequently, are overweight, or have a higher carb diet and have never varied your carb intake, try a lower carb, higher protein diet.
Reduce inflammation in the body by making sure your digestion is like clockwork (eat probiotic foods, get plenty of fiber, get resistant starch) and eat a nutrient-rich diet by getting vegetables (especially dark green veggies) and lower carb fruits (berries) at every meal.
Mistake #5: Comparing Yourself to Others Instead of Pushing Yourself
It may be normal to compare yourself to those around you, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to do you any favors. Comparing yourself to others is likely to lower how you feel about yourself and make you feel constantly frustrated and unhappy with where you are and where you’re going.
It’s also a great way to self yourself short. It’s entirely possible that if you set goals, work toward them, and improve your habits, you’ll astound yourself with what you can become. If you don’t focus on competing with yourself you may literally never achieve all that you can.
The only way to make a change is to face up to who you are and what is limiting you. This allows you to stop making excuses or blaming others for your body and performance. It allows you to take full responsibility for where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be.
Then you can set goals and take action that solves your individual weaknesses. Don’t avoid the things you are bad at or need to work on.
Instead, identify the weak link to an exercise and train to improve that variable—and you use the BEST methods to get there by educating yourself about how the body works.
Mistake #6: Not Recovering Effectively
Many people think “recovery” means time off from training. In certain cases this may be true:
If you’ve done a killer muscle-damaging workout and can barely walk, you need time off from more heavy training. However, a conditioning workout that favors concentric muscle actions (for example, sled pushes or hill runs) will actually reduce soreness and accelerate your return to top form.
The point isn’t that recovery time isn’t important, but that you need to put in the hard work, and then use a more holistic approach to recovery. Many factors influence it: sleep, stress reduction, nutrition, and most interestingly, your beliefs.
Studies show that if you believe a “recovery” treatment works, whether it’s an ice bath, a massage, BCAAs, or a straight placebo, you are likely to recover faster than if you don’t have a recovery aid boosting your mental outlook. Cool, huh?
Start with sleep—focus more on whether you feel rested rather than exact numbers like 7 hours a night because you may need more if you’re working out hard.
Then look at your stress and whether you feel calm and purposeful rather than frazzled and aggravated. Try meditation, visualization, or deep breathing, while making sure you have “fun” time in your day.
Mistake #7: Doing Cardio for Calorie Burning
It’s common for people to use weight training for muscle building and cardio to burn calories to lose fat.
This is rarely the best way to do get results because cardio that is aerobic in nature activates different pathways in the cells than lifting weights, interfering with muscle growth.
People who lift weights and do endurance exercise simply don’t see the strength or muscle gains they’d expect.
Focus on getting in high-quality weight training and a few killer sprint interval workouts a week.
There are a gazillion ways to do interval training: sprints on a track, bike, or other machine if you can’t get outside; strongman exercises; stair or hill runs; or high-intensity lifting, among others.
Do your interval workout in a separate session from weights (do them on different days or one in the morning and one in the afternoon), and to keep interval sessions short (less than 30 minutes).
Mistake #8: Getting Sidetracked by Popular Myths
Unless you’re very experienced, it’s easy to get sidetracked by training and nutrition myths because they are everywhere.
Whether it’s something as general as thinking you need to spend lots of time training your abs for a six-pack or a fear of hurting your knees if you do full squats, all these myths will limit your results if you buy into them.
Nutrition myths may be even more harmful because at least with training, there’s a general consensus among exercise scientists about how to effectively put on muscle and get strong.
But with nutrition, scientists can’t agree on anything and even mainstream nutrition policy seems to flip flop every year, with experts telling us to eat one thing and then to totally not eat that thing the next year.
Finding reputable sources that you trust is the first step. You also want to question what you learn and make sure you actually understand the mechanisms behind different training and nutrition principles so that you can grow your knowledge progressively.
Finally, don’t get sidetracked by magazines, the media, or well-meaning friends who will chime in with their own load of unproven advice.