You just lift things up and put them down…right?
So you've made it to the gym and you're hype AF to build some muscle but...you have nothing to show for your work so far.
Or maybe you've only seen slight results, like a small cut near your triceps, or marginally better-defined quads. Surely you should have more to show for all those hours you've been putting in at the gym, right? So WTF is the deal?
If you're stuck wondering why you're not growing muscle at a faster pace, you're probably not alone. It's actually pretty complicated, and the reasons vary from one person to another. BUT, to give you a little more insight into what you might be doing wrong, BuzzFeed Health spoke to certified strength coaches Mike Donavanik of MikeDFitness, and Jason Walsh, founder of Rise Nation, as well as registered dietitian Lauren Ott. Here are some ways you might be sabotaging your own progress.
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You don't warm up before exercising.
Picture this: You just got to the gym after a long day at work, where you were sitting at a desk the entire time. You're glad to be out of work and now you're pumped — you're ready to work out your arms and legs, so you get right into it. The thing is your body can't just go from zero to 60 that fast — it needs to be warmed up, Donavanik and Walsh told BuzzFeed Health.
Dynamic warmups will get your blood flowing, which gives you a better chance at growing your muscles. "A lot of times, you're going to lift heavier weights to build strength, but that's a major stress on the whole system," Walsh says. "So we want to make sure those muscles are awake, active, and working."
Look here for more info on dynamic warmups, and why you shouldn't just be stretching.
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You do almost all isolation movements — like calf raises and bicep curls — when you should be challenging several muscles with compound movements.
Once you've gotten your warmup out of the way, both coaches suggest bodyweight workouts that'll activate more than just one muscle group. Squats, lunges, pushups, and bear crawls are all ways to start, they said. These types of workout will further stimulate growth by prepping your muscles for heavier weights, while also reducing your risk of injury, says Walsh.
Learn more about compound moves and lifts here.
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Your weights are too light, or the rep scheme you use doesn't promote growth.
If you can lift a weight for more than 15 reps then it’s too light. This will build muscular endurance but not strength, Donavanik says. “You want something that’s going to push and challenge you.”
There are lots of ways to format your workout, but Donavanik suggests increasing the weight a bit while decreasing reps with each set — starting, for example, with a weight that you can lift relatively easily for about 10 to 12 reps. “It’s a good pump to get the muscles going, to get blood-flow, to get warmed up," he says. Follow that up with eight to ten reps with a weight that's a bit heavier, then six to eight reps with a weight a little heavier than that, and so on. While the amount by which you up the weight each time will depend on your own body and abilities, Donavanik says that the final one to three reps should always be challenging.
If you’re somewhat new to working out, Donavanik's format will give you an idea of where you max out and what your limits are. After a month or two of getting to know your limits, you can move on to other formats, like four sets of eight reps, or five sets of six reps. You’ll know it’s time to increase the weight once the last couple of sets become easier. “There’s a lot of variation with reps and sets, not one strict regimen,” he says.