6 Muscle-Building Mistakes

You Thought You Knew

Bodybuilding is largely a game of trial and error. The steps we must take to build a physique covered with shredded and proportionate muscle are many and varied and, as such, the mistakes we are likely to make along the way are equally great in number. With training, nutrition, supplementation, and recovery factors forming the basis of any good bodybuilding plan of attack, and with a great many individual requirements to be considered concerning each of these categories, the training newcomer faces the daunting task of bring all aspects together to produce the results they desire.

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Now, couple the above with any adjustments that must be made as we become more gym savvy and our bodies begin to adapt to our training and eating strategies, and long-term bodybuilding progress can be fraught with frustration. The intention of this article is to save you much trial and error, to make the process of gaining muscle and losing fat an easier proposition. Rather than learning from your mistakes (which can take much time and effort), learn from those featured below to achieve quality gains, faster.

Mistake 1: impatience

A big mistake that is made by prospective bodybuilding champions eager for maximum gains in the fastest possible timeframe is to assume that they can reach their full muscle building potential before they have put in sufficient time and effort. It just doesn’t work like this. Even the phenomenally gifted physique champions who routinely populate pro bodybuilding stages around the world have had to work many years, in some cases decades, before reaching such lofty heights of physical excellence. Some, despite their diligence in the gym, are still yet to fully maximize their size-building capabilities. Yet they do not quit. They continue, committed to the task of training, eating, resting and repeating this process indefinitely, with consideration to any necessary modifications to be made along the way. They acknowledge the fact that there are no shortcuts to bodybuilding excellence. And so must you.

While muscle is a most adaptive tissue, capable of continuously regenerating provided we address all relevant training factors, the major aim of the human organism is survival above all else.

Requiring great metabolic demands from the body and drawing significantly from all available energy resources, any muscle mass beyond that needed to enable the completion of our daily tasks is viewed as extremely costly from a biological standpoint. As a species we are simply not programmed to carry over 200 pounds of grainy, shredded muscle. Thus, to build, and maintain, such size takes tremendous discipline in the gym and at the dinner table. Therefore, as bodybuilders we must be committed to experiencing small gains on a consistent basis. As soon as we take our foot off the gas and become complacent in our training efforts, our muscle reserves are likely to become depleted. So be content with any gain, however large or small. Be patient and consistently focused on your mission and the results you are training for will come.

Mistake 2: low protein consumption

Preached often by trainers, writers, and elite-level-bodybuilders is the unquestioned requirement for serious bodybuilders to maintain an optimum nitrogen balance through optimal protein consumption. Regular feedings of between 30-40 grams of high biological value proteins spaced throughout the day at 2-3 hourly intervals (to where 1.5-2 grams-of-protein-per-pound-of-bodyweight is achieved daily) is one of the most important of the non-negotiable bodybuilding laws, so much so that the protein supplement industry has become overwhelmingly lucrative for the many companies who supply the most convenient form of this key building macronutrient.

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However, despite the importance of getting enough proteins from a wide range of foods to supply the amino acids needed to facilitate the rebuilding and development of new muscle fibers, many aspiring physique champions fall way short of the mark with their protein intake. Whether due to a poor estimation of our protein requirements or through sheer laziness, many of us, upon reviewing the protein composition of our diets, might be surprised to learn that we are simply not getting enough on a consistent enough basis.

Forget the notion that our protein needs can be fulfilled with a regular diet. While certain health writers may pontificate on the dangers of too much protein and the “excessive amounts” the average person consumes daily, it must be remembered that with the muscle damage incurred through your brutally hard training sessions and the recovery needed not only to repair these muscle fibers but to grow them larger than ever, you will need every gram of protein you can get as per your individual protein requirements. Without sufficient protein in our systems, our body may, in an effort to compensate, leach it from our muscle tissues. To ensure this does not happen to you, do not make the mistake of missing a scheduled high protein meal.

Mistake 3: poundage before technique

Without devaluing the importance of hoisting heavy poundages en route to massive muscle gains, there are several major considerations that must be applied before we run the risk of developing a potentially progress-stalling lift-heavy-at-all-costs mentality. Muscles require ample signaling to respond to the heavy iron we lift; it is not nearly enough to get the weights up without injuring ourselves, irrespective of how much stress we feel this places on our muscles and how drained we are afterward. No, to fully recruit a maximum number of muscle fibers to signal as much muscle hypertrophy as we can, we must be in control of all poundages lifted, at all times.

Hypertrophy Zone

Provided continuous mechanical tension (which can be defined as the amount of force that is placed on our muscles as their myosin and actin filaments work to contract against the weights we lift) is maintained on all working muscles from extension to complete contraction for a sufficiently long period, we may lift as heavy as we can. This is to be encouraged as greater muscle microtrauma will invariably result from heavy weights lifted with proper form. Correct mechanical tension so disturbs the integrity of skeletal muscle that hypertrophy-inducing molecular and cellular responses in myofibers and satellite cells will occur each time we complete an all-out set encompassing such form.

Another point worth noting here is the role the mTOR pathway (an intracellular pathway which, in its role as a key regulator of muscle protein synthesis, contributes to hypertrophic muscle growth) has on muscle gains via optimal mechanical tension. The more tension we place our muscles under, which also includes the time under tension (TUT) we subject them to, the greater the mTOR stimulation; the more mTOR stimulation we can achieve, the more protein synthesis that occurs.

So if you find you cannot perform an exercise properly, your back arches, you lose control of the bar, or you cannot complete an entire set without the help of a spotter, chances are you are lifting too heavy and your muscles are not getting the proper tension they require for superior muscle growth.

Mistake 4: stopping short

The human muscular system is remarkably resilient and will quickly adapt to the trauma we inflict upon it in the gym. Provided we achieve adequate recovery and consume a nutritious diet,

our muscles can take a surprising amount of punishment and respond

by becoming larger and stronger in an effort to ward off further challenges to their structural integrity. Unfortunately, many of us have a tendency to hold back on our training intensity, as if working our muscles too hard may promote an irreversible degree of damage which we may not fully recover from. In addition to reducing their total training volume, such individuals may also quit each of their sets before they have fully recruited a maximum number of muscle fibers. Since it is the final few reps of a set that are the most growth provoking, such lifters are, in essence, stopping before they have even really begun.

Because of the limited time we have to train and the effort we do apply during our training sessions, it makes sense to maximize our time by going that little bit further in each workout. If pressed, most of us will discover that there is often more that can be done to increase our training intensity: if forced, we could almost always squeeze out an extra rep of two with good form.

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Aside from implementing various intensity methods, all great for accentuating the stress we may place on our muscles, truly effective workouts really come down to lifting the heaviest weights possible, maximizing muscular tension on each rep, and training to complete failure on all sets. If approached in such a way we need not spend one or more hours pounding away; in fact, our sessions may last no more than 45 minutes (should we average 10 reps per set, three sets per exercise, and three movements per muscle group).

Remember that all important regulator of muscle growth, the mTOR pathway? The harder we train, the greater the mTOR stimulation and the more protein synthesis we can expect. Bottom line: we must always be looking to increase our training intensity, a quality that may diminish the older we become.

Mistake 5: training stagnation

Just as not applying enough effort in our workouts may curtail our rate of muscle growth, completing the same workout over and over may lead to training stagnation and a diminishing of returns. Similarly, by not hitting each muscle group from enough angles we may limit its growth potential. One trick to countering the above is to determine a wide range of different movements which, through trial and error, you have found your muscles respond well to and incorporate a range of these for a certain number of weeks before switching to another selection. Keep 1-2 key exercises in each workout (for example squats and deadlifts, which few lifters can really go wrong with) and vary the others periodically. Likewise: alternate intensity methods such as rest/pause, descending sets, supersets, and partials from workout to workout. Keep training intensity the same throughout: ultra-high.

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Once our physique has reached a certain level, additional gains tend to come at a comparative snail’s pace; it is then we must become creative in our workout design to force further progress. Getting back to basics and drilling 2-3 heavy compound lifts for 6-8 reps per set per workout may, for a week or two, work well to promote fresh gains before we again switch it back up to incorporate a selection of single-joint movements with our favored mass builders. Experiment to find the training approach that works best for you, keep your muscles guessing and growing, but do not fall into the trap of following the same protocols week after week. To be constantly challenged is to grow. Whether such adaptation takes place in a psychological, social, emotional or physical sense, imposed conditions which signal change are needed for personal growth: in relation to training adaptation may mean the difference between stalling in your progress and advancing at an exponential rate.

Mistake 6: poor cardio planning

A most difficult balancing act for many bodybuilders involves achieving just enough cardio to gradually strip body fat while ensuring muscle depletion does not occur. Some try to overcome this dilemma by forgoing all aerobic activity, figuring that the extra rest will facilitate more muscle gains. Others aim to get as lean as possible through daily cardio training while hoping to retain as much muscle as they can. Both approaches are wrong.

As bodybuilders, cardio is important on many levels: it helps to keep fat down to boost testosterone production, improve health, and reveal hard-fought muscularity; assists with nutrient transportation into muscle cells through increased blood circulation; enhances waste product removal from muscle cells to speed their recovery; and boosts our psychological wellbeing and mental acuity so we may feel good and have more mental energy to train. Excessive cardio, however, may contribute to overtraining in that our muscles require extended periods of complete rest from all activity to fully heal. Too much aerobic work may also deplete muscle protein (especially pre contest when caloric intake is low; though primarily a fat burner, cardio may also target carbohydrates and proteins as additional fuel sources).

Progressive Giant Sets for Colossal Pumps

As with training volume, the exact amount of cardio needed to promote its desirable effects while avoiding its deleterious consequences can be determined only on an individual basis. No fewer than three, and no more than five, 45 minute steady-state cardio sessions per week when shredding is often quoted as being sufficient to burn fat while preserving muscle. For some, these sessions may need to be reduced to 30 minutes, while for others one hour will get the job done best. The key take home point here is that cardio must factor into your training plan. It is both valuable and necessary. Don’t become swayed by what others are doing. Find a cardio schedule that works best for you.

No backward steps

Even with the greatest of training advice, many of us will struggle to build our dream physique. Indeed, knowing what to do and applying these insights are two entirely separate matters and only the truly dedicated, those who are willing to persistently apply sound advice, will pass the test. In this article we have discussed the importance of nutrition-planning, and many an integral training factor. However, only consistency of effort will ensure that all you have learned above will help to produce the gains you seek.

In this article we have touched on some critical muscle-building mistakes that you will need to avoid to keep the gains coming. There are many others. Keep checking in with us at ALLMAX Nutrition as we continue to uncover the most commonly made training errors.

David Robson

A respected health and fitness writer, David has been published in industry publications such as Status Fitness Magazine, Muscle & Fitness and Bodybuilding.com. With 20 years in the personal training trenches, the insights he has gained through practical experience, alongside degrees in psychology and sports science, have enabled him to go beyond the surface to provide educational articles that have informed thousands of health and fitness devotees the world over. Contact David at: davidrobson19@hotmail.co.nz and at davidrobsonelite.com

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