If you've ever watched a hamster on a wheel, you've seen a perfect corollary to many a bodybuilder's predicament. That is, an endless burst of energy, leading nowhere.
So many of us settle for no results from what are often prodigious efforts. We strive, we strain, we lift, we eat and sleep and wake up the next day to do it all again. And despite that, the body we see in the mirror remains unchanged.
What' going on? It's time to step off that wheel and finally see a positive physical reaction to your actions. With that in mind, following are five of the most common reasons you're not growing, and how to reverse course.
1. You're lifting too light.
If you've been working out consistently for any longer than three months, congratulations: You're not a beginner anymore. But that also means you need to approach each set like an intermediate or advanced level bodybuilder.
That means your sets don't end when you simply reach a predetermined number of reps. No, they end when you physically cannot continue.
What do we mean? Say you're in the midst of a set of seated dumbbell presses. The program you're following recommends 10 reps -- but you reach 10 rather easily. In fact, had you continued, you could've gotten 12, 15, even more reps, before you reached momentary muscle failure, the point where you cannot complete another full rep with good form (i.e., without employing some sort of cheating maneuver to push it up).
The answer isn't necessarily extending your sets to marathon length to find that failure point. The problem, in fact, began before you started the set, when you were choosing your dumbbells at the weight rack: You went too light.
Ideally, when you're following some sort of bodybuilding program that calls for anywhere from 6 to 12 reps in a set, the goal is to use a weight that causes failure on your part right around that target. Each workout, you stick with that weight (here's where a training log helps), knowing that once you master that weight and can do more reps than called for with ease, it's time to bump it up. That's progressive resistance -- you're progressively getting stronger and challenging yourself to your limits each time you hit the gym.
2. You're not going to the gym often enough.
Someone who goes to the gym two or three times a week is doing a good thing for their health and body. But if serious muscle mass gains or getting into ripped, lean condition is your ultimate aim, two to three times a week will leave you short of the finish line.
For you, weight training needs to be a four- and five-times-per-week commitment, with even a sixth for additional cardio if you're striving to be shredded. The human body seeks homeostasis, and will fight stubbornly against extreme changes in muscle size or dropping to extreme low levels of fat. You have to fight back.
To achieve those targets, then, requires a daily dedication to the cause. Every single day needs to revolve around the goals -- no, not working out 24/7 (see the next reason), but constant mindfulness of what you're doing, whether it's training, stretching, resting, eating or supplementation.
Pros and high-level amateurs aren't letting anything fall through the cracks. They need to be constantly meticulous about their lifestyle. And yes, to build a physique anywhere near the level of what you see in magazines and on competitive stages, you need to be vigilant about every piece of the puzzle.
To that end, structure your days around the goal at hand. Don't miss workouts. Make sure your training split covers all aspects of your physique (see No. 4 for a sample). Train hard for 60 to 90 minutes each workout. Eat a clean diet rich in protein in line with your muscle gain or fat loss goal (which is actually one of the biggest reasons people don't reach their goals, i.e. nutritional deficiencies).
Also, take every advantage of supplementation you can, including protein powders, protein bars, BCAAs, nitric oxide and other preworkout products, vitamins and minerals, and thermogenics, among others, researching on ProSource.net for your particular needs. And get a full 8-9 hours of sleep per night, limiting other daily activities as well if you're a hardgainer in search of more size.
3. You're going to the gym too much.
There's a flip side to the point we just made. And that is, overtraining and obsession. It's a fine line you must walk between doing enough to dramatically alter your physique, and doing too much, allowing it to become an all-consuming, self-defeating fixation. That's not healthy, mentally or physically.
When it comes to the gym, overtraining is a very real phenomenon, marked by constant fatigue, aches and pains that don't diminish between workouts, difficulty sleeping, elevated resting heart rate, irritability and even depression. It arises when exercise intensity or duration exceeds the ability of your body to recover at rest. And it happens when you go to the gym too much for too long. In this case, quantity is a detriment -- if working out with weights five times a week is good, seven is definitely not better.
Watch yourself for signs of overtraining, and if you do exhibit signs, you need to back off. You may even find your job and the rest of your life is so hectic, you can't train five times a week as suggested. That's okay -- back off to four. Listening to the signs exhibited by your body and health is much more important.
4. You're too focused on the easy body parts -- hello, chest and arms -- and neglecting the more challenging ones.
Does your back workout give you a moment of fear and trepidation before you begin? Does your leg day make you want to throw up about halfway through? If not, you may have a serious problem.
Despite what they may tell you in the magazines, packing on bodybuilder-size mass ain't easy, and it doesn't come quickly. It's a tough, difficult slog, that takes years of concentration and dedication, and when it comes to training, you can't cut corners.
That means doing the thankless body parts, the ones with dense, thick, stubborn muscle that requires regular all-out assaults to grow. You need to be squatting ... heavy. You need to be rowing ...heavy. You need to be deadlifting ... heavy. And just as often, if not more, than you're hitting the beach muscles.
To help, here's a training split that prioritizes the most challenging muscle groups while helping you touch on everything every seven days:
Day Body Part(s) Trained
Thighs, Calves, Abs
Thursday Chest, Traps, Abs
Friday Shoulders, Triceps, Forearms
(if attempting to lose body fat)
Another option, which splits your thighs into two separate days, a smart strategy if they're a lagging body part for you:
Day Body Part(s) Trained
Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Friday Back, Traps, Biceps, Forearms
5. You're not measuring progress, and making changes when needed.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." It's a famous quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, although that's the subject of some debate. Who actually said it? Who knows! What's not in doubt is it's absolutely on target.
When it comes to training, eating and supplementing, if you're not writing it down, the efforts in large part may be going to waste. You need to put yourself in the role of scientist, and not only keep data, but analyze it, comparing your actions to your results as far as gains and losses in weight and circumference measurements for your arms, legs, back/chest and waist.
What can you do with that information? React. If you're not seeing the desired results, you can start to pinpoint the reason by adjusting the variables on the lifting and eating front. And don't be afraid to make errors along the way, it's an inherent part of the bodybuilding journey. As Einstein did once say, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."