8 Reasons Your Muscles Are NOT Growing (Science-Based)
Check out my client Alex’s transformation where he gained a whole bunch of muscle
Muscle…It’s definitely not easy to build especially after you’re no longer a beginner so you might be working out hard and you’re eating right,
but no matter how hard you try your muscles are still not growing. This is a common problem faced by many guys that workout a lot,
but hardly experience any results even if their workouts are already challenging. And really it comes down to 8 key reasons why you’re trying so hard but not seeing much growth.
1.Starting first with a very common training mistake and that’s Not Training Each Muscle Often Enough.
A survey of 127 competitive male bodybuilders found that more than two-thirds of them trained each muscle group only once per week. (19)
This is what’s known as a bro split where you work pretty much one muscle per day and it allows you to really focus on that muscle and break it down for an incredible pump. But is that optimal? Well, the answer is no, as shown by multiple studies. (20)
Specifically in one of these study’s researchers observed the difference in the rate of muscle growth between training a muscle once or three times per week with a similar total training volume between both groups.
And the results showed that those who trained each muscle three times per week gained much more muscle than those who trained each muscle less often.
In another study, participants either performed all their weekly exercise volume in one giant full-body workout or they spread out the same training volume so they did the same amount of sets and reps,
but they divided that volume into three smaller full-body sessions. And Once again, those who trained more often gained significantly more muscle.
The once-a-week subjects increased their lean body mass by 1%. While those that trained each muscle three times per week gained 8 percent.
And like I said many other studies also show similar results.(24) One reason why it’s better to train each muscle more often than once a week is that if you do a ton of sets and reps all within one day you’ll inevitably have lower quality sets.
After you’ve done a few heavy sets for a specific muscle, the amount of force you’ll be able to produce during later sets will decrease significantly.
On the other hand, if you spread that volume out over the week, you’ll be able to perform better for each set because you’ll be less fatigued.
Another reason why it’s better to train your muscles at least 2 times a week is that protein synthesis generally only stays elevated levels for up to about 72 hours after a workout.(25)
So, if you’re training each muscle only once every seven days, you’ll only trigger growth for up to 72 hours that week and during the other 96 hours of the week, you would miss out on gains.
2.Now another not so commonly known reason, why you’re not building muscle, is that You’re Not Consuming Enough Cholesterol.
That’s right Not consuming enough cholesterol can definitely slow your gains. A 12-week long strength training study found a linear dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol intake and lean body mass gains or in other words muscle growth(27).
This means that the more cholesterol they consumed, the more muscle they gained. In another study,
researchers compared a high cholesterol diet of 800 milligrams per day to a low cholesterol diet of fewer than 200 milligrams per day(28)
And the high cholesterol group had almost three times higher muscle protein synthesis rate for 22 hours after intense resistance training than the low cholesterol group.
This showed that the higher cholesterol diet was beneficial for muscle growth. The researchers concluded that cholesterol may aid muscle growth by helping your body cope with inflammatory responses, and enhancing cellular communication.
Now, this is all of course within good reason, there are good sources of cholesterol and there are also bad sources of cholesterol so make sure that you stick to eating enough healthy sources of fat to optimize muscle growth.
3.Moving on we have the next very common mistake that will prevent you from building muscle and that’s not focusing on getting stronger.
The most important training principle for gaining muscle is that you must expose your muscles to a level of stimulus that they’re not yet accustomed to.
This is known as progressive overload and while there are many ways to do this the most effective way is by lifting heavier weights over time and that’s because there’s a very close relationship between strength and size.
For example, one study that I’ve talked about before looked at the correlation between chest size and one rep max strength on the bench press and the results showed that the more weight the participants could bench-press The more mass they had on their pecs (1).
And this isn’t the only study that showed these kinds of results. For example, in Olympic weightlifters, there’s an extremely tight relationship between fat-free mass or in other words muscle mass and performance (2).
And in powerlifters, the relationship is even stronger, with an 86 to 95 percent correlation between a lifter’s muscle mass and their strength and performance in the key power lifts like squats, deadlifts, and bench press. (3)
So that’s almost a 100 percent correlation, which would mean muscle mass and strength are essentially the same.
The bottom line is that if you want to gain muscle, your main focus during your workouts should be on getting stronger. If you do this, you will gain muscle over time.
4.The next reason why you’re not gaining muscle is that you’re not doing enough training volume.
Now there are many ways you can describe training volume, but the most useful way is as “set volume,” which refers to the number of sets you do per muscle group.
If you’re not gaining muscle, it may be because you’re not doing enough training volume since there’s a clear dose-response relationship between training volume and muscle growth.
This means that the more volume you do, the more you grow. We can see this in a meta-analysis that found that doing multiple sets per exercise led to 40 percent more muscle growth than doing only one set per exercise. (4)
The study also found that doing four to six sets per exercise was superior to two to three sets, and two to three sets were better than doing only one set. (5)
On top of that, a 2018 study compared the results of men that did either one, three, or five sets per exercise over the course of 8 weeks. (6)
This led to a total weekly number of sets per muscle group of six and nine seats for the one-set group, 18 and 27 sets for the three-set group,and 30 and 45 sets for the five-set group.
All sets were also taken to failure regardless of the group. And sure enough once again, there was a clear dose-response relationship that showed that higher training volumes led to significantly greater muscle growth.
The researchers concluded that “muscle hypertrophy follows a dose-response relationship, with increasingly greater gains achieved with higher training volumes.”(7)
Now, it’s important to note that more isn’t always better. If you don’t recover well from your workouts, you can start overreaching or even end up in an overtrained state,
which hurts your progress. However, it is beneficial to raise training volume slightly over time, especially if your progress has started to stall. As a rule of thumb,
if you recover well between your workouts but aren’t making any gains, try to slightly increase your training volume.
If after incorporating more sets you don’t notice any muscle growth and you find it much harder to recover fully between workouts,
then you can always reduce the total training volume back to where it was. But if you do make good progress and after a week or two of adapting you find that you’re recovering just fine between workouts,
then maintain your current training volume for some time and then continue trying to slightly increase it.
5.Another reason why you’re not growing is that you’re overdoing cardio.
A 2012 meta-analysis found that adding cardio to a resistance training routine reduced muscle growth effect size by 39 percent. (8)
Although it is important to note that most of this reduction in muscle growth affected the lower body, not the upper body.
But regardless the reason why cardio hurts muscle growth is that not only does it take away from your calorie surplus that you need to be in for muscle growth,
but it also reduces mTOR activity. mTOR is an enzyme that’s crucial for muscle growth. At the same time cardio also increases the catabolic enzyme AMPK which is very bad for muscle growth. (9)
On top of all of that, adding cardio to a resistance training plan can also reduce strength and performance.
That’s because cardio causes unfavorable muscle fiber changes, lowers muscle activation speed, and reduces your body’s glycogen levels.
As a result of all of this, you won’t be able to use the same amount of weight as you otherwise could, which means you can’t provide an optimal amount of stimulus on your muscles to get them to grow.
6.Now besides all these training mistakes that you might be making you’re probably making one or two diet mistakes as well, starting first with not being in a calorie surplus.
While you can build muscle in a calorie deficit in some scenarios mostly when you’re a beginner, if you want to optimize growth, you need to be in a calorie surplus.
Being in a surplus is beneficial because it triggers physiological changes that aid muscle growth. Examples of this include raising testosterone and IGF-1 levels while simultaneously lowering cortisol.
These changes to your hormones increase muscle protein synthesis while reducing muscle protein breakdown.
Which simply means that it stimulates muscle growth. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that a larger calorie surplus isn’t always better.
For example, a 12-week study compared to muscle and strength gains among athletes who ate either a small surplus or a much larger 600-calorie surplus. (10)
While both approaches caused the same amount of strength and growth, those who ate a small surplus packed on five times less fat than those who consumed an extra 600 calories. (11)
The point is that you only need a small calorie surplus to optimize muscle growth. Anything above that doesn’t seem to cause faster growth and instead causes excessive fat gain.
As a rule of thumb, a small calorie surplus of 4 to 8 percent above maintenance is great to stay lean while bulking.
7.Another diet-related reason why you’re not growing is that you’re not getting enough protein. As most of you already know protein is crucial for muscle growth.
That’s because the amino acids found in the food you eat end up being the building blocks of your muscles.
To be more specific, muscle growth occurs when more amino acids are built up within a muscle than the amount that gets broken down on a daily basis.
If that happens, your muscles are in a “positive amino acid turnover rate,” which leads to growth. However, to get your muscles into this state requires that you eat enough protein.
But how much exactly is enough? Well according to a 2018 meta-analysis, the answer is at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
This works out to about 0.73 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. (12) So, if you weigh 176 pounds that means you need to be getting at least 128 grams of protein per day.
that will allow you to maximize all the muscle-building benefits of protein. Even though you’re welcome to consume more than that if you want, it won’t have any added benefits.
8.Finally moving back to the quality of your workouts, another issue you might be running into is you’re not training through a full range of motion. Research shows you’ll get better gains if you train through a full Range of motion. For example, one study randomly divided seventeen male students into two groups.
Group number one did deep squats three times per week for twelve weeks. Group number two followed the same exact routine except they only squatted through a partial range of motion.
(13) And the results showed that the deep squat group gained much more muscle on the quads. (14) In fact, as you can see in the image,
the shallow squatters even lost muscle at some quad sites, indicating that a full range of motion is by far superior. Other studies also show similar results. (15)
But you might be wondering what about going through a full range of motion helps you build more muscle? Well first of all it produces a higher level of muscle activation. (16)
The second thing is that different portions of a movement emphasize different parts of your muscle.
So you might miss out on stimulating all parts of a specific muscle if you go for partial reps. (17) On top of that,
overloading muscles in their stretched position, which is something that you do with full Range of motion exercises,
seems to be particularly important for muscle growth because it stimulates muscle hypertrophy by influencing the sarcomeres within your muscles in a way that increases a muscle’s length, allowing for greater muscle building potential. (18)
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My passion for fitness began when I was 14 years old. I naturally fell in love with training and haven’t stopped since. At 18 years I acquired my first personal training certification from ACE after which I opened my first of 3 transformation studios in 2011. I love to share my knowledge through personal training, my online courses, and youtube channel now with over 3,000,000 subscribers! I can happily say that we've helped over 15,000 people get in great shape over the years. I'm always here for my customers so if you need help don't hesitate to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope you guys enjoy the video! All 21 references with studies can be found below.
1. A survey of 127 competitive male bodybuilders found that more than two-thirds of them trained each muscle group only once per week https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22990567
2. Those who trained each muscle three times per week gained much more muscle than those who trained each muscle less often https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25932981
3. Many studies show that training each muscle more often than just once a week is much better for growth https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2000/08000/Comparison_of_1_Day_and_3_Days_Per_Week_of.6.aspx https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25932981 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885621/ https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Citation/2019/07001/High_Resistance_Training_Frequency_Enhances_Muscle.16.aspx https://github.com/linkel/Ligand/blob/master/content/Norwegian_High_Frequency_Programs.md.
4. Protein synthesis generally only stays elevated levels for up to about 72 hours after a workout See Fig 1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25739559
5. A 12 week long strength training study found a linear dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol intake and lean body mass gains See Fig 1A https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17921432
6. Researchers compared a high cholesterol diet of 800 milligrams per day to a low cholesterol diet of less than 200 milligrams per day. The high cholesterol group had almost a three times higher muscle protein synthesis rate for 22 hours after intense resistance training than the low cholesterol group. https://www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.25.1_supplement.lb563
7. The more weight the participants could bench-press The more mass they had on their pecs See Graph in Fig 1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24169471
8. There’s an extremely tight relationship between fat free mass or in other words muscle mass and performance https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jappl.2000.89.3.1061
9. In powerlifters, there’s a 86 to 95 percent correlation between a lifters muscle mass and their strength and performance in the key power lifts like squats, deadlifts, and bench press “Performance of the SQT, BP, and DL was strongly correlated with FFM and FFM relative to standing height (r=0.86 to 0.95, P≤0.001).” https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-001-0543-7
10. Doing multiple sets per exercise led to 40 percent more muscle growth than doing only one set per exercise See Fig 1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300012
11. Doing four to six sets per exercise was superior to two to three sets, and two to three sets were better than doing only one set. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300012
12. “Muscle hypertrophy follows a dose-response relationship, with increasingly greater gains achieved with higher training volumes.” sci-hub.tw/https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/01000/Resistance_Training_Volume_Enhances_Muscle.13.aspx 13. A 2012 meta-analysis found that adding cardio to a resistance training routine reduced muscle growth effect size by 39 percent See Graph https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22002517/
14. Cardio decreases Mtor and increases AMPK. This is a bad combo for muscle growth https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17095927 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11715023
15. Participants who ate a small surplus packed on five times less fat than those who consumed an extra 600 calories (larger surplus) See Figure 1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23679146
16. Ensure that you’re consuming at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.73grams per pound of body weight per day See Figure 5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28698222
17. Deep squats, as opposed to partial squats, led to much more muscle growth on the quads See Fig 4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23604798
18. Other studies also show similar results that a full range of motion is better for growth than partial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22027847 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23629583
19. Working through a full ROM produces a higher level of muscle activation https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/How-deep-should-you-squat-to-maximise-a-holistic-McMahon-Onambele-Pearson/8fe04cf33c093901e435d038a092d59d2cd6febc
20. You might miss out on stimulating all parts of a specific muscle if you go for partial reps https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23629583
21. Overloading muscles in their stretched position, which is something that you do with full Range of motion exercises, seems to be particularly important for muscle growth https://www.intechopen.com/books/electrodiagnosis-in-new-frontiers-of-clinical-research/how-deep-should-you-squat-to-maximise-a-holistic-training-response-electromyographic-energetic-cardi https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24662234