How to Build More Muscle

7 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Here are seven common mistakes we all make either from time to time or on an ongoing basis that prevent us from getting as huge as we want to be.

You think you’re doing everything right, so why aren’t you growing? You might come up with some possible reasons to explain your stagnation. It’s because you’re not taking the right supplements, or enough of them. Maybe you’ve reached your genetic limit, and this is as big as you’re ever going to get. Excuses are like assholes, meaning we all have them. But what if you could be making gains right now if you made some adjustments and did things differently? In most cases, we unknowingly become our own worst enemies when it comes to building muscle. Here are seven common mistakes we all make either from time to time or on an ongoing basis that prevent us from getting as huge as we want to be.

Lifting Weights Instead of Training the Muscle

I had to lead with this one because if there is any factor that prevents more muscle from being built than anything else, it’s this. And I know exactly how rampant this mindset is because I have Instagram on my phone. Social media has added a new level of incentive for gym rats everywhere to show off with one-rep max lifts, often with spotters doing half the work and the ROM being a half-rep at best. I’m not judging, because I was “that guy” in my 20s too. We just didn’t have camera phones and social media to show the world what studs we were. We had to settle for putting on a show merely for whoever happened to be in the gym at the time, and hope they were all paying attention so they could recognize our magnificence. But if you follow a good amount of fit folks on IG like I do, you’re inundated daily with max deadlifts, squats and bench presses – though deadlifts seem to be the lift of choice. Testing your limits and striving for new personal records is exciting and can help drive motivation to be sure, but muscle growth is a direct result of putting the muscle under tension long enough to incur damage of the fibers at the cellular level. The fibers rebuild thicker, and that’s how bigger muscles are made. If the muscle is only under tension for a split second, as is the case with an explosive single rep, the chain of events that leads to muscle growth is never set off. Why do you think there are so many guys out there right now who are pulling double-bodyweight and up deadlifts, yet have very little back development? There are just as many people squatting and leg pressing big weights with upper bodies that could sue their lower bodies for lack of support. You can deadlift or squat 500 pounds? That’s great, if you can get 10 reps with it. If much of your training revolves around working up to a one-rep max like a powerlifter, don’t be surprised if you don’t have much muscle to show for your efforts. Do some freaking reps and work the muscle!


It doesn’t take more than a rudimentary understanding of the skeletal muscle system and the functions of the various muscle groups to understand how difficult it truly is to isolate most areas. You can’t train chest without involving the anterior deltoids and triceps. Shoulders also involve the triceps as well as the trapezius. When you work the lats, there is always ancillary work for the posterior delts, trapezius, and of course the biceps. Deadlifts for the back are a tricky proposition, as you’ll also be stimulating the spinal erectors of the lower back, biceps, rear delts, traps, quads and hams. All this matters because if you aren’t meticulous about how you set up your training, you will inadvertently wind up sabotaging the recovery of muscles you just trained by working them again too soon. Squats and deadlifts are two exercises that must be separated by at least 72 hours for full recovery of overlapping areas. This brief list should give you an idea of what muscle groups must not be trained on consecutive days. That means that any of these on the same line should never be trained either the day before or after any of the others.

Chest, shoulders, triceps

Back, traps, rear delts, biceps

Quads, hams (all compound movements for legs involve both)

One simple solution that most trainers are reluctant to implement is to follow the old-school split of push/pull/legs. In that, you consolidate all pushing muscles, as in chest, front and side deltoids, and triceps, into one workout, have a pull day for back, rear delts and biceps, and train legs all in one shot on a third training day. To make it work, you can’t do 20 sets for each muscle group. You’ll need to be more selective with exercises too, though you can rotate different exercises from workout to workout to get a variety of angles. You can certainly arrange your training split in a more traditional one- or two-body part per workout manner, but it will take more planning and thought to avoid overlap that could kill your recovery and thus screw you out of gains.

Not Enough Days Off

Some lifters are like the Bizarro version of most “regular” people. They have a tough time finding the motivation to get to the gym and will avoid working out much of the time. Just about any excuse will suffice for them. “I’m tired, I have too much work, I have a cold, the kids are being pains in my ass, there’s too much traffic.” We’re so in love with training and improving our bodies that only very serious illness, injury, or extremely demanding responsibilities to school/work/family can keep us away from our iron haven. If you’re like me, you hate taking days off. Training is our favorite part of the day. It’s our happy place, our sanctuary in the chaos of life. Nothing beats challenging our muscles with weights and getting that nice, full pump. The irony is that many of us love training too much, to the point where we ignore the need for rest and recovery. Deep down, you know that muscle isn’t built in the gym. We stimulate muscle growth in the gym, but it’s our nutrition and rest that allow that growth to take place. Take either of those factors out of the equation, and you don’t grow no matter how hard you push yourself in the gym.

We’re aware that individual muscle groups need at least a few days to recover, so we typically are smart enough not to train them every day. What we forget in all this is that all intense training puts a high demand on our CNS, or central nervous system. Just because you trained chest yesterday and you worked back today doesn’t mean you didn’t stress your CNS both days. Train six days in a row, even if they are all different muscles and you were careful to avoid overlap, and you’ve beaten the shit out of your CNS. Can some people train six or even seven days a week with weights and make gains? Very few can, and you’re probably not one of them. A young man with a strong athletic background, using steroids, eating six meals every day and sleeping 10 or more hours a day can gain on that taxing regimen. If you’re a little older, drug-free, and don’t have the luxury of eating and sleeping to your heart’s content, I strongly suggest you never train more than three days in a row with weights before taking a day off. Two days might even be the limit for some of you, especially if you have a physically or mentally demanding job and don’t always get even eight hours of sleep.

100% Intensity All the Time

Go hard or go home, right? Not exactly. You would never assume you could drive a car with the pedal to the floor for an hour straight without damaging your engine, transmission, or other components of the vehicle. Yet it never occurs to us that it’s a bad idea to push our bodies with maximum intensity at every workout. I get it. I used to watch videos of champion bodybuilders all the time and strove to duplicate that level of maximum effort at every workout. In the process, I wrecked joints, wore out cartilage, and tore muscles. When you incur damage to your body, you simply can’t train properly anymore. There will be very productive exercises you simply won’t be able to do at all, and others you’re forced to go much lighter on. If you don’t think that will have a negative impact on your muscle gains, you’re in for a rude awakening when that day comes.

Even if you’re fortunate enough not to rack up a list of injuries, aches, and pains, we need to address the issue of recovery once more. Taking all your sets to failure and beyond at every workout will fry your CNS and flood your body with the catabolic hormone cortisol. A wiser tactic would be to either save only one set per exercise to take to failure or beyond, or to cycle in weeks of lower intensity training after every three to five weeks of going all-out. Many refer to these as “deloading weeks,” where you reduce the loads, the volume and the intensity. Psychologically, even the idea of this is terrifying to many of us. Train lighter? Don’t go to failure? What’s the point? The point is to take a small step back to allow yourself to continue making forward progress. I’m firmly convinced that if I had done this all along, I would have more muscle mass now, and far fewer injuries and damage to my joints and connective tissues. Don’t be stubborn like I was and pay a heavy toll! Either back off on your intensity for planned periods of time or take more breaks of five to seven days completely off training every couple of months.

Not Prioritizing Sleep

Ideally, we would all get at least eight hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep every night. I’m well aware that it’s not possible for all of you. Some of you work two jobs, or you work and go to school. Many of you have kids to care for, or maybe aging parents. Any number of life factors can get in the way of that magical eight-hour gold standard. As for taking naps, that’s neither possible nor practical for many of you either. But let’s put aside things that are out of your control. Are you trading sleep for hours watching Netflix, YouTube videos, or scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feed, liking and commenting? Time is the one thing we all have the same amount of every day, and anyone striving to build his or her physique to its full potential needs to make time for the sleep our bodies require to allow for the recovery and growth process to take place. If you’re not getting eight hours of sleep, take a brutally honest appraisal of how you’re spending those nighttime hours. If you’re sacrificing sleep for anything that’s not truly necessary, it’s time to reevaluate your priorities and see if you can indeed make more time for that critical rest. If you’re choosing Netflix binges or online porn over sleep, just know your gains will absolutely suffer.

Groundhog Day Workouts

How many times have you heard that adage, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” Our bodies are remarkably adaptive organisms. In the foundation years of our training, we can and should focus on the same basic free-weight movements and build our strength on them in the rep range of eight to 10. As time goes by, we do need to begin incorporating other exercises that stress different aspects of the muscle groups over others. It’s also valuable to rotate different movements so you’re not doing the same exact workout every time you walk in the gym. But we all develop affinities to certain exercises and perform them very often, if not at every session for that body part. Because we are human beings and we naturally fall into comfort zones, it’s commonplace to eventually perform the same workouts, even down to the weights, sets and reps, for years. You might argue, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I fully agree that if you do continue to experience results, tangible results in the form of larger muscles, then by all means keep on doing what you’ve been doing. But if you also follow the same routines today that you have for years, how has that been working out for you? It may never have even occurred to you to try anything different.

People ask me all the time to rate the effectiveness of this or that workout system, from DC Training, to FST-7, and many others. I tell them anything markedly different from what you’ve been doing will produce new results, because it’s a different form of stimulation from what your muscles are accustomed to. How long should you do that type of training? Easy! Until it stops working, in other words stimulating muscle gains. There are so many different exercises, pieces of equipment, rep tempos, rep ranges, and so on to manipulate that there is no excuse for sticking to the same old routine you’ve been following for as long as you can remember. Switch things up, and you are guaranteed to start gaining again.

Skipping Meals

I saved this one for last because I’ve known and spoken with far too many guys who had the training aspect of their program down and were getting adequate rest, yet where they fucked it all up was with their nutrition. They would eat like a serious weight trainer some of the time, or most of the time, putting away a quality meal every two to three waking hours. But they would slack at least a couple of days a week, usually on weekends. They would be out and about and forget to eat, or just get lazy and skip a meal or two on a given day. I get it. I’ve said many times that training is the fun part of bodybuilding; it’s the eating that’s work. You do have to treat your meals and nutrition like a job. People who are serious about adding muscle don’t eat for pleasure or mere survival as most people do. They eat more often, take in a lot more protein, and eat whether they feel like it or not. You might not think it’s a big deal to miss two to five meals a week. Those could add up to missing as many as 250 meals a year! Don’t tell me that wouldn’t have any impact on your gains. It sure as shit would! I don’t enjoy meal prepping (especially now that my wife stopped cooking for me a few years back), I don’t like having to bring meals everywhere with me if I’m not home, and I don’t even feel like eating much of the time. But I do it because that’s what needs to be done to fuel my body and give it what it needs to have good workouts, and then repair the muscle tissue so it can become larger over time. If you’re serious about reaching your full genetic potential, you have to take eating very seriously and do your best to never miss a meal.

Ron Harris

Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area., Instagram: ronharrismuscle

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