Sure, you might feel accomplished by going to the gym. You put in your time, you put in the work. But where are the results?
Maybe you're coming back in from an injury, or you can't seem to grasp the new program you decided to try. Maybe this whole “fitness” thing is completely new to you.
Wherever you stand, know you are not the only one.
Many people spend their time at the gym with endless hours on the treadmill or taking selfies. They are passing time rather than using it.
Real gains come from specific goals.
Here are 5 reasons you are missing out on muscle mass.
1. Eat Right, Not “A Lot”
First things first – your body can only get so much work done in the time you spend training. No matter your workout routines or habits, we all have to eat.
Are you eating the right food in the right amount?
Food determines your daily energy, mood, and progress (or lack of). The number of the meals, time between meals, and breakdown of carbs, fats, and proteins each meal makes a big difference.
If you're looking for serious results, eating is no longer for hunger, it is now a tactic to reach your fitness goals.
Eat real protein and vitamins. Supplements and shakes help, but do not expect them to carry the weight – get it?
Understand your eating habits.
Many new weightlifters make the mistake of telling themselves, and others, they eat a lot. Eating “a lot” does not always equal eating right. Eating right is more than getting your fix of fruits and vegetables.
Make the necessary changes.
How often do you eat? How much protein are you intaking a day? How many calories?
It all adds up. For easy tracking anywhere, anytime, download an app to your phone and log everything.
This will help you see over time if you're fueling up rather than pigging out.
Another thing to consider with food is prepping and planning.
You make the time to go to the gym.
Focus on food, too.
Setting aside time each week to buy and prepare healthy, fresh foods sets you up for success.
2. Have a Plan
Now that food is out of the way, let's talk training for gains. Eating ensures your tank is full, but the moment you walk into the gym it starts to run out.
Every rep counts, and the order you do them in matters just as much if not more. Do your complex sets first, then isolate at the end of your workout. This will help put your energy in the right places throughout.
Stop wasting time. Don't check your phone or find a new song. Don't say hi to your friend or that person you've been wanting to hit on for weeks.
Your time to train is your daily opportunity to reach your goals, use it well. Try more supersets to cut rest time and distractions. Use the rests to re-focus or stretch a little. Your mind and body will thank you.
If you're the person that makes up your workout as you go, stop being that person.
Get serious about finding a plan and stick to it. Workout plans are available all over the internet, in your smartphone app store, and even from credible social media “fit fam” icons.
Choose one that aligns with the mass you want to build and how you want to build it.
Some routines will be as low-maintenance as 4 times a week over 8 weeks. Some will be as detailed as 6 times a week for 12 weeks. Each should have a description of sets and reps by workout and even supersets.
If you have been doing this for a while, you may wish to create your own plan. Periodized and non-periodized plans can help you set up your goals for weeks at a time.
No matter the plan, muscle mass does not happen right away. Track your progress with a log. There are also apps for this or do it old-school with a journal and pen.
Your log will hold you accountable and show progress over time. Make it your new favorite gym partner.
It's where you can see the real-life data instead of waiting to look in the mirror. It will also keep you from trying to remember your workout from last week. This provides a place to pick up where you left off.
3. Know Your Range
Your range of motion is crucial.
By now you hopefully decided to make the time to eat right and to find the best-fitting workout. Don't ruin your efforts by cheating your reps. Your muscle mass will reflect this.
If you have to sacrifice a couple pounds of weight to do it right, take the weight off.
Remember lifting is about muscle and strength, not ego. Better to perform well and advance over time than try to create shortcuts.
Those won't get you anywhere.
Using the right weight helps you focus on every part of a movement. Know the basics. Squat deep, bench with your butt to the bench and engage all parts of your dead-lift.
Be patient with yourself. Start where your strength and stamina are. Work with what you have to get to where you want to be.
Remember your log? This is why tracking is important. Recognizing improvements in strength is much more rewarding when you know it took patience to rack up more plates.
Performing the full range of motion also helps to prevent injury. Hello, healthy knees and protected joints. You will thank yourself in both the short and long-term.
Bottom line – the classic movements are classics for a reason, but they can't do their job if you aren't doing all yours.
4. Train Smart to get Muscle Mass
Range is understanding what you can lift and how you lift it. It's weight and form.
Training smart is the next step. It takes form and makes it intentional. It's linking mind to muscle in the moment and understanding different forms of recovery.
Your brain is your most powerful muscle. Mind to muscle contraction (MMC) is your active engagement in recruiting muscle fibers to contract. It's you telling the brain to rally little neuron troops in specific areas of the body.
For example, when performing a bench press you're targeting your chest. Biceps and triceps are working as well, but MMC isolates the chest. Using MMC to focus on your chest forces the target muscle to contract more, meaning it will work harder.
Maximum effort equals maximum results.
Recovery is part of the journey, too.
Recovery may be just as important to muscle mass as diet. Each happens outside of the gym, but in turn, plays a significant role in how your lifting goes.
For starters, take advantage of rest days. Relax your body and mind.
If you're particularly sore, try an active rest day. Move the body enough to increase blood flow without straining a muscle group. Active rest includes going for a short run, yoga, and hiking.
Do not skip your stretches. You strain your muscles when you lift, give them the necessary attention they need. That extra five or ten minutes before or after your workout will make a difference.
Many gyms have rollers available to anyone or a nearby trainer willing to lend a helping hand. Use them. Rollers are simple to work into your stretches and trainers can show you something you might not know.
Some gyms offer an option to grab a fresh protein shake on the way out. Pair this with supplements for on-the-go to see how your recovery time can improve.
5. Cut the Cardio
The last tip is the most simple, but still worth mentioning. Cut the cardio.
There is no need to over-work the same body whose muscles you are already actively breaking.
Cardio is mainly used to burn fat, but it can delay growing muscle mass.
The more cardio you do, the more you will have to eat. This keeps your protein intake in check by keeping it high enough to match calories burned.
The body conserves energy by breaking muscle mass, meaning you may already be counter-acting yourself. If you need to, work on getting tip number one under your belt first.
Then add more cardio as you wish, as it's still important to a healthy circulatory system and metabolism. The key to cardio is finding a balance, as are most methods in building muscle mass.
Remember to keep standard gym etiquette in mind in addition to these five tips for muscle mass. Rack your weights, wipe the bench, and please, don't be that guy grunting for the whole gym to hear.
The gym is your place to focus on your health muscle by muscle. Focus on that.
Further Reading: How To Gain Muscle: The Skinny's Man Guide