Beginners in the gym can expect to grow very quickly, as long as they show up consistently and train. However, the more advanced you become, the harder it gets to make further progress.
Training and eating the same way stop providing results at some point and most guys hit a wall.
No matter what they seem to do, they can’t gain muscle mass. Luckily, this problem is not that difficult to fix, but you first need to learn what’s causing it. We’ll look at the 5 most common reasons why you are not getting bigger:
1. You’re not eating enough
This is the most common reason why you might not be getting bigger. Most guys put a serious amount of effort in the gym, but not enough in their diet and that’s a problem. It’s always interesting to see someone who spends hundreds of hours in the gym, lifting hard, but don’t put any thoughts about what goes into his body.
You see, training is important. It provides the stimulus your body needs to repair and grow the muscles to be better able to handle the weights. But, nutrition is equally (if not more) as important, because it provides the body with the building blocks it needs.
Simply put, even if you’re doing everything right with your training, if you’re not supplying your body with enough calories, you won’t get bigger and stronger. That’s a fact.
2.You’re doing too much cardio
Next to not eating enough, doing too much cardio is the second biggest mistake holding most people back. Even if you are eating a good amount of food, you still might be holding yourself back by doing lots of cardio.
Cardio burns a lot of calories and doing too much of it or too often adds up and you end up with a caloric deficit.
Of course, cardio is awesome because it provides many health benefits:
- Improves memory and brain function
- Improves your good cholesterol
- Increases oxygen supply to your muscles
- Improves your mood and reduces risk of depression
- Helps you fall asleep faster
- Increases your energy
- Many others
I do recommend doing some cardio every week, but don’t go overboard with it. Not only does it burn calories but it can also interfere with your weight training and slow down your progress.
3. You’re not training with enough volume
Training volume refers to the amount of work you do within a given training session or week. The best way to track it is by multiplying weight lifted * repetitions done * sets done. For example:
Doing 4 sets of 8 repetitions on the squat with 225 lbs. Is 7200 lbs. of volume for that one exercise.
(225 * 8 (repetitions) = 1800 lbs. ; 1800 * 4 (sets) = 7200 lbs.)
If cardio is not the problem and you’re eating enough food, then you need to start looking into your training.
You see, not training with the appropriate volume will hinder your muscle-building progress. We’ll get into specifics of training below.
4. You’re not tracking your progress
Let me ask you something: If you’re not tracking your progress, how can you be sure that you’re not getting bigger?
The truth is, we see ourselves in the mirror every day and sometimes changes are hard to notice. But you could be making some progress over time and if someone who hasn’t seen you in a while makes a comment, don’t just write it off, because they are onto something.
5. You’re not sleeping enough
Eating, training, and tracking progress are all important, but if you’re not sleeping enough as you should, you are shooting yourself in the foot.
While sleeping, your body is rejuvenating itself. It’s repairing itself, refreshing your brain and producing important hormones such as HGH (Human growth hormone).
If you cut your body’s rest time, it doesn’t get the opportunity to fully repair your body and prepare you for the next day. From there, you start suffering both physically and mentally, your workouts take a hit and your progress slows down considerably.
How to gain muscle size fast
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the 5 things you need to do daily to ensure that you’re getting bigger and more muscular over time:
a) Eat enough calories and protein
As we already said, food provides your body with the building blocks it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. But how many calories should you eat?
First, you need to calculate your caloric needs and then you need to add a small caloric surplus to ensure growth. Here’s how to do it:
Calculate your BMR, using the below formula:
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 * weight in pounds) + (4.7 * height in inches) – (4.7 * age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 * weight in pounds) + (12.7 * height in inches) – (6.8 * age in years)
Alternative formula for kilos and centimeters:
Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 * weight in kilos) + (1.8 * height in cm) – (4.7 * age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 * weight in kilos) + (5 * height in cm) – (6.8 * age in years)
Let’s do an example calculation using the first formula:
26 years-old-guy, who weighs 182 pounds and is 6 feet (72 inches) tall.
BMR = 66 + (6.23 * 182) + (12.7 * 72) – (6.8 * 26)
BMR = 66 + 1133 + 914 – 177
BMR = 1936 calories.
This is roughly the number of calories your body burns every day just to keep you alive.
Now, to get our TDEE, we need to use the Harris-Benedict multiplier for the BMR value that we have. Here it is:
If you are sedentary (little to no exercise): BMR * 1.2
If you are lightly active (light exercise 1-3 times/week): BMR * 1.375
If you are moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 times/week): BMR * 1.55
If you are very active (hard exercise 6-7 times/week): BMR * 1.725
If you are extra active (very hard exercise & physical job): BMR * 1.9
Now, for the sake of our example, let’s assume that our guy from above is moderately active. So the calculation would go like this:
1936 calories (BMR) * 1.55 (moderately active) = 3000 calories TDEE.
This is roughly the number of calories you would need to eat every day to maintain your current weight.
Once you know your individual TDEE, a good rule of thumb is to put a 200 calorie surplus. For our example, that would be 3000 + 200 = 3200 calories per day.
Why exactly 200 calories?
- It takes roughly 2500 calories to build a pound of muscle (or roughly 5500 calories for a kilo).
- It takes roughly 3500 calories to burn or store a pound of fat (or roughly 7700 calories for a kilo)
If we assume that most people will gain muscle and fat at a 1 to 1 ratio, you should aim to gain 2 pounds of body weight per month and hope that half that is muscle. To do that, you’ll need roughly 6000 kcals (2500 for the pound of muscle, 3500 for the pound of fat) over maintenance for the month, or roughly 200 calories/day (6000/30=200).
Aside from the calorie need, you also need enough protein to support muscle growth. A good rule of thumb is to eat 0.8-1 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
In other words, if you currently weigh 170 pounds, eat between 136 and 170 grams of protein per day.
b) Train hard
Train hard is a bit vague, so let’s get into some specifics:
1) Train each muscle group 2 times per week
An overwhelming majority of the research out there supports the claims that training a muscle group more than once a week, provided adequate recovery, leads to more growth. So, if you were to train chest on Monday, it would be more beneficial to hit it again a few days later, rather than waiting a full 7 days before going at it again.
2) Train each muscle with at least 10 sets per week
Again, research is in support of training a muscle with more than 10 sets per week. 12 to 16 is probably the sweet spot for most people. Spread that number of sets across 2 or 3 sessions per week.
3) Include heavy compound lifts into your training
Start off your workouts with compound lifts such as the bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, and pull-up. Your priority should be to get stronger on these movements over time. Also, it will be much easier for you to track your progress on these movements compared to isolation exercises like a dumbbell curl or a lateral raise.
4) Do cardio sparingly and on separate days, if your schedule allows
Cardio provides many health benefits and everyone should do at least 30-40 minutes per week. With that said, I do recommend doing cardio on rest days (if your schedule allows), because there is lots of research suggesting that doing cardio before or after your strength training can interfere with your growth.
Also, don’t go overboard with it the amount of cardio you do, because there will come a point where it starts putting too much stress on your body and recovering becomes an issue.
5) Incorporate recovery or deload weeks
Simply put, a recovery week is a period of time where you don’t train at all. You’ve accumulated a lot of stress over the months of consistent training and such a week allows you to recover and get back to the gym stronger and more motivated to train.
A deload week is a period where you scale back your training with the same recovery goal in mind, but instead of not lifting at all for a week (a notion that sounds crazy to some), you still go to the gym but keep your workouts very light and unchallenging.
Which one you decide to do is up to you and your preferences.
As far as frequency of such a week, I recommend taking one after every 6-8 weeks of consistent, hard training at the gym.
6) Don’t push every set to failure, keep some repetitions in the tank
Pushing a set to failure has its benefits. It allows you to recruit a lot of muscle fibers and really push your body. But, if each set you do is taken to failure, that can lead to problems such as overtraining yourself.
Not only that but doing that also sabotages the amount of volume you can perform for the workout and training week.
If you push a set to failure, each one after that (for the same exercise and muscle groups involved) will suffer and that could hinder your long-term growth.
For example, if you push the first set of a bench press to failure and get 13 repetitions (where you should have stopped at 10), on the second set, you’ll likely get no more than 8 reps. Third set: 5 reps. Fourth set: 3-4 reps.
But if you were to manage your fatigue better and not push each set to failure, you could get 10 reps on all sets and do more total volume for that exercise. That would lead to more growth over time.
How well you recover from your training depends on a lot of different things and is very important for long-term progress.
Factors such as stress outside the gym, training age, how much training you’re doing, your genetics, capacity to do work, gender, and more all influence your ability to recover.
Aside from structuring your training in a smart way, not pushing sets to failure all the time, and not doing too much training volume, you should also make sure that you’re sleeping at least 7 hours every night.
All of these factors combined can be the difference between recovering well and making consistent progress and recovering poorly, overtraining yourself and potentially getting injured.