gaining muscle

6 Reasons You’re Not Gaining Muscle (And What to Do About It)

You’ve been trying to build muscle for a while. You’re using a combination of resistance bands, bodyweight, and weights. Yet, your expected muscle gains just aren’t happening.

“Why am I not building or gaining muscle?”

Our guess is that you’re making one or more of the 6 most common muscle building mistakes. Don’t worry, though – you’re in good company.

Millions of frustrated muscle builders the world over are not gaining muscle and are in the same boat. If you’re ready to stop spinning your wheels and start building some real muscle, you need to address each of our muscle mass roadblocks, so you can start seeing some results for your hard work.

Muscle Roadblock #1: Overtraining

When you begin your workout, your mission is clear; train the target muscle group to the point where it is totally annihilated, i.e. you have worked it to the point of both positive and negative muscular failure. That is the point that you need to stop.

So, how long should it take you to train a muscle group to positive and negative failure? Around 20-30 minutes if you are operating at the needed level of intensity on major body parts like the chest and another 15-20 minutes for a smaller body part like the triceps. That means that your workout should take no more than 50 minutes maximum.

Yet, most guys are training far longer than 50 minutes. They are normally doing way too many sets and exercises. As a beginner (1st six months), you should be doing whole body workouts with just 5 exercises (3 sets each), twice a week. That’s 15 sets, which you should complete within around 50 minutes. When you move to split routine training, you should hit each body part just once per week.

Muscle Roadblock #2: Lack of Intensity

Along with doing too many exercises, most people don’t train hard enough on them. If they did, they wouldn’t be able to do so much. It’s the difference between sprinting and jogging. Not that you want to rush through your exercises, but you want to have the same intensity level as a sprinter.

Attack every exercise as if it were the most important set of your life. Learn to use techniques that will make the exercise more intense such as forced reps, slow negatives and drop sets. Have a goal in your mind as to how many reps you will achieve, making sure that it is more than you managed last time you did the exercise.

Muscle Roadblock #3: Too Much Rest Between Sets

The amount of time that you rest between each set of every exercise is a critical factor in your muscle building success. When you perform a set, you are causing stress to the muscle. That is what you want. In fact, you want that stress to build from one set to the next. The cumulative stress will lead to minor tears in the muscle tissue. When you provide the proper nutrition after your workout, the muscle will grow back a little bit bigger and stronger.

However, when you rest too long between sets, the cumulative effect of increasing muscle stress is negated. It will never get past the level you achieve on that first set. What you want is a stair step of intensity from set to set, not a static level.

The answer?

Do not pull out your smart phone between sets. Look at the clock – and stick to it. Keep your rest to between 45-60 seconds, unless you are training for pure mass with compound moves like heavy squats, in which case you should give yourself two minutes of rest between each set.

You should also isometrically stretch the working muscle group between sets.

Muscle Roadblock #4: Not Enough Sleep

You don’t build muscle in the gym. On the contrary, you are tearing muscle down, creating micro tears in the fiber as mentioned in Roadblock #3. It is the feeding and the recuperation of the muscle cell that allows it to grow back bigger than it was in the first place.

Even if you are giving the needed nutrition to the muscle cell, it will not grow unless it gets the rest and recuperation that it demands. And when does the bulk of this recuperation take place?

When you’re sleeping.

Not only is that when you are able to repair your cells, but is also when the two most important muscle building hormones, testosterone and human growth hormone, reach peak levels. So, if you are not getting at least 7 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night, you are robbing yourself of your muscle building potential.

Muscle Roadblock #5: Lack of Mental Focus

If you are going to train with the type of intensity identified in Roadblock #2, you need to develop mental toughness. That means getting dialed in on your workout.

It actually starts the night before. If you are going to exercise at 6:30 am, when you’re lying in bed the evening before, you should be thinking about the coming morning’s workout. Visualize yourself doing the exercises, lifting the weight that you want to lift and hitting a new max rep count with that weight. Drift off to sleep knowing exactly what you will do in that gym the next day.

Jump out of bed the next day with excitement, knowing that you are going to smash your workout. As you head out the door, your mental intensity level should be at about 7 out of 10. Driving to the gym, see yourself successfully completing your max lifts again, and dial it up to a 9. Then, as you emerge through the gym doors you should be raring to attack the weights at a 10.

Develop this type of mental focus and every workout will be the best workout of your life.

Muscle Roadblock #6: Lack of Form

Lack of proper exercise form will stop your muscle gains dead in its tracks. You need to isolate the working muscle when you re training. However, when you form is sloppy, you’ll be using other muscles to get the weight up.

This often involves swinging with the hips to build momentum. You do not want to do this. Often the problem is that the weight is just too heavy. The ego causes us to focus on weight lifted rather than on our exercise form – this is a mistake!

Drop back the resistance and focus on isolating squeezing and contracting the working muscle and your gains will come a whole lot quicker. 

The concept of time under tension relates to how long you keep the target muscle group stressed during your set. The longer you can do this, the more trauma you’ll cause to the muscle cell (that’s a good thing). Most guys don’t do so for nearly long enough. Yet, there are ways to increase your time under tension. Let’s look at two of the best:

Eccentric Training

Eccentric training refers to the lowering or negative part of a repetition. In the case of barbell curls, this is the part when you are lowering the bar. There are a lot of studies that have confirmed that this part of the rep is actually more advantageous to muscle growth that the positive or lifting part.

To take advantage of eccentric training, and to increase your time under tension, simply lower the weight at a slower pace than you lift it. It should take 1-2 seconds to lift the weight. By concentrating on the negative, you can take 4 seconds to lower it. This is exceedingly difficult because you are fighting the force of gravity. But it is also very effective.

Training this way will force you to lower the weight that you are using. That doesn’t matter. You’ve already know that it’s not the weight that counts, but how hard the target muscle is being worked, right?

Drop Sets

A drop set is an old-school intensity enhancer that allows you to extend a set beyond the point of positive muscle failure by going through a series of weight reductions. Let’s say that you are doing the standing alternate dumbbell curl. Stand in front of the dumbbell rack, where the weights are lined up in weight order.

Grab the heaviest weight that you can do 6 strict reps with. Perform your reps then immediately place the weights back on the rack. Now grab the next pair of dumbbells down in weight and do another six strict reps. Continue going down the rack, pumping out six reps each time. Do this until there are no weights left to pick up!


Over the next two weeks, put the suggestions in place that we’ve provided and you will, one by one, eliminate the roadblocks that are preventing you from building muscle. You’ll then be free to unleash your real muscle building potential!

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