8 Muscle Building Mistakes Most People Make

1 Prioritising “the burn” over progressive overload

We’ve probably all heard it in the gym, or seen it in a movies. Someone yelling, “feel the burn,” as they rep out the 500th rep of the same exercise. There must be something to it, right? Wrong!

If you only ever go for “the burn,” or “the pump”, then you’re missing out and you’re missing the point. The burn is generally caused by a build up of lactic acid which your muscles fail to utilise as fuel for energy. What’s referred to as “the pump” is caused by blood being force fed into your hard working muscle to carry away all the waste by products. As the cells expand it reduces the flow of blood from leaving your muscles causing “blood pooling.”

The build up of lactic acid causes what’s known as “the anabolic cascade,” which is basically a potent mixture of growth hormones. However, if you repeatedly elevate lactate levels, it doesn’t necessarily translate into more muscle growth.

What to do instead

Instead of making the pump and the burn your main objective in a workout, focus on progressively overloading them in a more systematic way. For example, you could try to increase the load you’re using, increase the reps you perform from last time, increase the sets, increase the number of times you train each week, decrease the rest time between sets, change the angle, the amount of time under tension, the tempo and lots of other variables.

2 Overtraining

Lifting weights with the intention of building muscle is a lot different to other types of training such as circuits, bootcamp or bodypump. You might know someone who hits classes almost every day and hitting the same muscle groups every day.

Or you might know someone who spends 2 hours at the gym lifting, 6 days per week.

What many people don’t realise is that more work, more sets and more time at the gym doesn’t translate into more muscle. In fact, if you’re spending more than an hour at the gym, you’re potentially doing more harm than good. If you’re training heavy and with intensity you shouldn’t be spending more than an hour at a time at the gym lifting.

Over training can lead to impaired muscle growth, general fatigue, reduced levels of anabolic hormones, raised levels of catabolic hormones and even muscle loss!

What to do instead

Instead, keep your training sessions under an hour and maximise the intensity. Time your rest periods and be strict with them. Have a plan and don’t waste any time chatting to people. You can socialise later. If you do it right, you should be coming at between 45 minutes and an hour later feeling absolutely wrecked.

3 Choosing machines over free weights

Most of us want the most effective exercises and workouts. Why? Because we don’t want to waste our precious time. If you’re choosing machine weights over free weights you’re not making the best use of your time. It’s as simple as that.

Many various studies have shown that you can make much more progress by training with free weights such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands and even your own bodyweight than by using machines.

When you use machines you’re removing some crucial elements that you might not realise. For one thing, machines mean you don’t have to balance the weight yourself. When you cause your body to balance something, it builds stability which is crucial for staying injury free and also for building more muscle.

Most machines encourage an artificial range of motion and so your muscles aren’t worked at the right moments in the rep.

What to do instead

Take the time to learn correct technique and you’ll reap the rewards in the long run. You’ll build healthier joints, ligaments and tendons, as well as stronger muscles and bones.

4 Performing random workouts

I get it. Workouts can become boring. Change is important mentally as well as physically. But many people just go round the gym doing whatever they fancy with no real plan or purpose and then get frustrated that they aren’t seeing or feeling changes.

Unless you’re noting down your performances then you have no idea whether you’re progressing or going backwards. This is part of the reason why so many people give up on going to the gym altogether after a while, despite hitting it hard to begin with.

What to do instead

Have a plan. Even a bad plan is better than no plan. Be consistent with the exercises you choose. Perfect them. Add more weight, do more reps. The fundamentals should never change too much.

5 Going through the motions to tick a box

This is another major reason that many people never progress at the gym, get frustrated and never go back. If you aren’t hitting your workouts with intensity and purpose then you’re missing out. Building muscle isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen by accident (generally).

If you’re going to the gym as a social outing, good for you. But you’re not going to build any serious muscle. Telling your friends or checking yourself into the gym on social media isn’t going to cut it. When you’re training, you need to work hard if you’re serious about putting on muscle.

What to do instead

Dig in! It isn’t easy, but it is worth it. It is going to hurt. It is going to ache for a day or two after. Ignore your instincts which tell you to avoid pain at all costs. Embrace it. You’ll learn to love it. You’ll build mental toughness and fortitude you never though possible. Each extra rep, set, kilogram is another victory and a stepping stone in your progress.

6 Using too much weight

To be perfectly sexist in a politically correct world gone mad, guys tend to be much more prone to this one than ladies. As guys we love to ego lift. I truly believe that most guys require a personal trainer to hold them back from lifting too much weight and most girls require a personal trainer to coax (or trick) them into lifting more weight.

What often happens when you load too much weight is your form goes out the window. You use momentum instead of muscle. You bounce the weight instead of control it. You get away with it for a while and you tell your friends you benched 130kg, and you might even believe it yourself, for a while. Until you get injured or tear your rotator cuff.

What to do instead

If you can’t control the weight, don’t pick it up in the first place. Bouncing or smashing it off yourself of the ground is wasting your time and massively increases your potential for injury. Go slower, set your ego aside and think about the muscles you’re engaging. You might want to tell your mates your benched 130kg, but the bad news is when you’re injured, you can’t train. When you can’t train, you get weaker. When you get weaker, you lose your muscle and it can be a frustrating pathway back.

7 Not consuming enough calories

If you’re trying to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, you’ve got a very hard job on your hands. It is possible, especially for beginners, but it’s incredibly tricky.

What to do instead

If you’re serious about building more muscle tissue, you need to be consuming more calories than your body currently needs. If your body requires 2000 calories each day, you need to ensure you’re taking in slightly more than this.

8 Consuming the wrong type of calories

I used to work with a guy who was “bulking” for a bodybuilding competition. To be honest, he never did come off that bulking phase. He was using it as an excuse to overeat and indulge in unnecessary calories. He may well have put on extra muscle during this time, but it was minimal. Why?

Although he was getting more than enough calories in, they were the wrong type of calories. He was opting for doughnuts, biscuits, sweets, ice cream and chocolate – predominantly carbs and fats – and not the good kind. This led to excessive fat tissue gain rather than muscle he said he was aiming for.

What to do instead

Instead of binge eating anything and everything you want, and calling it “bulking,” aim to increase your protein intake across the day. Add more starchy carbohydrates as well to enhance your training performance and help you to recover better before your next session. As a general rule of thumb, aim for at least 1.5g of lean protein per kilo of your body weight.