5 Reasons You’re Not Making Gains in the Gym


*article originally published on LeanItUp.com


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When it comes to lifting, it seems like most people who’ve been lifting for any substantial amount of time don’t “look” like they’ve been lifting for that long. This could be in part due to a skewed perception of what are naturally achievable results, but more likely than not, it’s due to many years of sub-optimal practice.

We’re breaking down 5 of the most common beginner’s lifting mistakes so that you don’t have to suffer from the same pitfalls, and can get the most out of your training from the onset.

Lifting Mistake 1 — Inconsistency


Consistency is king, and likely one of the most important aspects of training and nutrition. Bottom line: if you “go hard” in the gym and eat well for 2 months, and then go on a hiatus for a month or two, you’ll end up back at square one.

This can be especially challenging when “life” gets in the way, but the payoff from staying consistent will yield huge dividends in the future. Keep in mind that this sort of thing happens to almost everyone. If you get out of your good routine for some reason, don’t beat yourself up. Pick yourself back up, get back at it, and don’t let it happen again.

Lifting Mistake 2 — Underestimating Nutrition, Overestimating Supplements


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Why am I not gaining muscle? Why haven’t I leaned out? Why haven’t I gotten any stronger? Most of the time the answer to those questions for a beginner has more to do with nutrition than the actual training regime.

Quite simply, if you’re not gaining size then you’re not eating enough, and if you’re not slimming down then you’re eating too much. Regardless of your goals you should be consuming an adequate amount of protein, which will tend to be somewhere between 0.8g/lb to 1g/lb of bodyweight.

On the note of supplements, many beginners get caught up in the marketing of the multibillion dollar supplement industry and wrongfully assume that by spending hundreds of dollars on supplements each month they will soon transform their physiques into the athletes on magazine covers (that are both hormonally enhanced and photoshopped). Too often, I see beginners far more concerned over the differences between different supplements, meanwhile they’re under eating both total calories and total protein.

Once you’re comfortable that your nutrition is in order and you’re interested in getting supplements that actually work, your best bet is to check out an unbiased source such as Examine.com.

Lifting Mistake 3 — Lack of Compound Movements


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As someone new to lifting, it’s quite tempting to walk into the gym and mimic the workout of someone you deem to have your goal physique. This pitfall can lead to a reliance on single joint movements such as bicep curls and leg extensions, as opposed to compound multi-joint movements.

Why should your training focus on compound movements such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press? The simple answer is that by using multiple joints in one movement you’re able to utilize more muscles. As a result of using more muscles, the loads you can handle are much greater, which can then apply a greater stimulus for muscle growth.

Another advantage of compound movements is they all require core stabilization. Every time you squat you’re not just engaging your legs and glutes, but also your abs and back musculature.

Lifting Mistake 4 — Program Jumping Too Often


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A very common beginner mistake is program jumping — essentially changing up your training routine too often. As a result of this, the trainee fails to achieve the results that come from accumulated work under similar conditions.

Obviously if you’ve been doing the same program for 3 months with no success, or you’ve tweaked a muscle and can no longer perform certain movements, then go ahead and change your program. The issue results when every two weeks you try out the latest routine that was posted online or recommended by a friend, without any consistency.

Yes, it is important to vary your workouts some, but for most beginners the issue isn’t a lack of variety, but too much variety. Results don’t come overnight. Be patient and give a training program at least 8-12 weeks before making adjustments.

Lifting Mistake 5 — Poor Form


It’s very easy to focus on increasing the amount of weight lifted, but too often we ignore one of the most important factors pertaining to long term success: form.

As weights get heavier, it’s nearly inevitable for your mechanics to break down as weaknesses become apparent. The first step to resolving form issues is recognizing that they exist in the first place. On that note, the most valuable thing to do is video record your lifts to watch out for any deviations in acceptable form.

Once you’ve recognized any issues, it’s time to address those issues. Often when working on form, it’s best to drop the weight and prioritize the development of proper motor patterns. Taking a few weeks to work on form can pay dividends, especially if you’re able to resolve an issue before it leads to injury and you’re out of lifting for several months.

Get out there, eat right, lift heavy, and the results will come.
  • Suat Kilic

    i’m not going to disagree with you about the superiority of compound movements because i remember some articles suggesting it’s better, but your reasoning is very hand wavy. sounds very brosciency to me. higher loads because you’re using more muscles ? well duh, but that doesn’t explain anything. just because you’re doing a compound exercise and therefore the weight is higher doesn’t mean the individual muscle group is getting any more stimulus. in fact, a lot of the times it’s less because one muscle becomes the rate limiting part of the movement. back your statements with actual science if you wan’t people to take you seriously.

    • I appreciate the critique. This article was meant to be a very brief, basic article. As you can see it was originally posted on LeanItUp.com which has a broader audience so I certainly agree that it is a gross oversimplification. This 2010 review article by Dr. Schoenfeld delves more deeply into the mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy: http://www.ucam.edu/sites/default/files/Oct_13/mechanisms_of_muscle_hypertrophy.pdf although suffice it to say that there are essential 3 mechanisms behind exercise-induced hypertrophy: 1) mechanical tension 2) muscle damage 3) metabolic stress. In this article I am alluding to #1 meaning there is greater mechanical tension on an individual muscle using compound movements thus providing greater stimulus. Regarding variables #2 and #3 both of those can be varied with both single joint and compound exercises. Be sure to stay stay tuned as I hope to create more content in the future that’s a bit more…science minded.

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