What I’m about to talk about isn’t ground breaking or new. In fact, other coaches and trainers have probably covered the topics I’m going to cover in this post already this year. However, I get questions from guys (and gals) every week at the gym or through email so I thought it warranted to discuss some simple reasons why hypertrophy gains aren’t coming for the majority of those asking the questions. It could be because of programming, it could be nutrition and it could be both. Here are some simple reminders of why you’re still not growing.
And just so we aren’t completely negative about the whole deal, I’ll throw in some tips on how to right the ship!
1) You’re Majoring in the Minors: Every day I see hundreds of delt raises, bicep curls and tricep kick backs at the gym. It is a rare occasion that I see any deadlifting, squatting or overhead pressing going on. This is a phenomenon regularly proclaimed as majoring in the minors. Rather than putting the majority of one’s work in squatting, deadlifting or doing other awesome exercises, time is spent curling or doing other equally unimpressive exercises. Granted, there is a time and a place for single joint exercises but your body cares much less about a bicep curl than it does a heavy squat or deadlift.
Tip: If you want to see continuted hypertrophy gains put your time in in the squat rack and pull heavy barbells off of the ground. Make either your squat or your deadlift a priority and train to make your number on that lift beastly. Do the same with either the standing overhead press, bench or bent row.
2) You Aren’t Training Hard Enough: I know this might seem like a repeat majoring in the minors, but you could be doing all the right movments and just not busting your ass with them. Deadlifting 185 for sets of 5 for a year and a half straight isn’t going to get you bigger or stronger, it will make you weaker. It takes planning and continual progression with intensity and volume to create muscle gains, so don’t be afraid to put more weight on the bar!
Tip: If you want to be (and look like) a beast you have to train like one! Along with training to make your numbers beastly on a couple of the big lifts, program in some strong man circuits, barbell complexes, prowler and sled work or some farmer’s walk variations. Not only will using one or a combination of those techniques improve your conditioning, they also keep your body under tension for an extended period of time which will help you grow!
3) You’re Training Randomly: Without focusing in on a goal and having a program designed to reach your goal is training randomly. We’ve all been there at some point. I can remember in my early high school years heading to the YMCA and picking what 8 chest exercises I wanted to do every Monday. Not only is going 8 exercises to target the chest in one day ridiculous, it was also done without any kind of goal directed plan. Surprisingly enough, my sensational chest-filled Mondays didn’t help me to get bigger or stronger. However, when I started training for football and listening to people that knew more than I did I got bigger and stronger. There was a plan and a progression in place.
Tip: If you aren’t great at manipulating training variables to reach your goals, go to someone that is and have them write your program. If you can’t afford to hire a coach, go buy a great training book and follow the program. My suggestions are Maximum Strength by Eric Cressey or the 5/3/1 manual by Jim Wendler or Accelerated Muscular Development from Smitty of Diesel Strength and Conditioning.
4) Doing too Many Things at Once: Multi-tasking has become common place in our society, but having the ability to do 5 things at once doesn’t apply to training. Sure, you can get bigger, stronger and faster all at the same time but you can train for all three of those things by just doing a few interrelated movements. Thinking that it is possible to get bigger, stronger, more cut and completely overhaul body composition at the same time is just silly. So, if you are hitting 5 hours of cardio per week on top of 5 hours of lifting you are pulling yourself in two completely opposite directions. Not only will you be in a caloric deficit rather than a caloric surplus (which is necessary to gain size), you’ll be confusing the hell out of your body and it will tell you to go screw yourself. You won’t get bigger or stronger and your body composition will most likely suck. If you are getting bigger, then decide you are getting bigger! Stick to the weight room!
Tip: If you have to condition, keep it anaerobic. Either hit some of the complexes that I described above or sprint a few times a week with around 85% recovery. If it is really hard to for you to put on mass forget the conditioning.
5) Not Eating Enough!: About 3 times per week I have a guy tell me that he eats a lot and he isn’t sure why he isn’t making gains. Of course, my follow up question is, ‘well, what does a normal day of eating look like for you?” A sample answer goes something like, “Well, I mean, I eat a lot dude. Like, this morning I had 2 eggs and a banana then I had a snack at like 10, and that was yogurt and blueberries. For lunch I had a chicken salad with light dressing and I am having steak tips and grilled asparagus for supper.” Of course, I am polite because I’m not a complete jack ass, so I come up with a non-abrasive way to tell him that he is not eating enough. Usually something like, ‘Yea, that’s definitely not enough. You shouldn’t follow your girlfriend’s diet.’ I guess I don’t always pull off being polite. Anyway, it takes a lot of calories to grow so eat more!
Tip: If you aren’t sure how to keep track of the calories you are taking in and how to determine your needs, check out Shelby Starnes Macronutrient Guidebook. It has a great plan for carb cycling for mass gain.
6) Replacing Food with Supplements: Yes, this definitely follows along the same path as not eating enough, but a lot of guys think that supplements count as food so this has to be addressed. A protein shake does not count as a meal, it is not real food. Supplements are designed to, well, supplement your diet so use them for their purpose! A lot of guys claim that a time crunch is their reason for turning to supplements instead of proper food. Let’s cover how to avoid that in the tip.
Tip: Cook in advance. Take one day and cook all the meals you will need fo the week then throw them in the fridge or freezer and heat them up as needed. Your reliance on supplements as a “meal” will be eliminated and you can use your protein shakes for their designed purpose. By the way, if you haven’t checked out Grecian Ideal Nutrition yet you are behind the game. They have great products and they won’t make you smash your piggy bank or ask your mom for a loan to afford them. Their whey is top notch.
If you want to grow you will need to plan how you are going to lift heavy weights and eat a lot of food. It takes thought and a lot of ball-busting effort, but that is what it takes to get where you want to be.