Muscle Building Mistakes
Statistically, 80% of Americans who hold a gym membership don’t even use it* and if we look at where we might be going wrong when trying to build lean muscle mass, I would certainly throw this one on the list. It isn’t rocket science. If you aren’t hitting the gym, it can definitely present a challenge when trying to put on significant lean mass. Similarly, there are a few common mistakes I see gym members, clients, friends, and family making that can also affect muscle building. So let’s jump right into the nitty-gritty and talk about it!
ALWAYS TRAINING TO FAILURE
If you train to failure every time you work out, you are diminishing your muscle strength and energy at the start of each set. Research supports that there is a time and place for implementing failure into your programming and workouts for muscle building, and it is extremely important to limit failure training (i.e., forced reps, drop sets, missing your final rep, jeopardizing proper form, etc.) for a few different reasons.
First, training to failure doesn’t carry much benefit for hypertrophy when using heavy loads to make maximum strength gains. Why you ask? It’s just muscle-building science. This type of training relies on increasing motor unit recruitment, and motor unit recruitment is already full when using heavy loads. This also produces more muscular damage compared to non-failure training (and this doesn’t always mean more lean mass growth).
Second, the reps happening before the final few you have to grind out are equally as important. These reps are responsible for increasing neural activation and fatigue the muscle fibers. When looking at the big picture, compound lifts (i.e., squatting, bench press, bent-over rows, etc.) recruit more than one major muscle group and when working to failure you are actually short changing yourself because not all the muscles involved in the movement hit failure at the same time.
Third, training to failure creates high neural stress. This is the body’s method of reacting to conditions such as a threats, challenges, and physical or psychological barriers. Neural stress can negatively impact the remainder of your lift and those to follow with noted decrease in performance output.
Remember, build muscle smarter not harder!
REST + RECOVERY
Are you dedicated to slaving away in the gym for two or more hours a day, six days a week only to go home and get five or so hours of sleep each night? If you answered yes and think nothing of it, I have to break some news to you. Without adequate sleep, you are ultimately punishing your body and your hard muscle-building work. When you sleep, the body and brain repair, recharge, and recover. This is also the most optimal time for your muscles to grow!
Proper rest and recovery also promote general physical well-being by helping you maintain a healthy weight, decrease cortisol in your system, and balance hormone levels related to appetite.
To better understand what goes on when you close your eyes, The Sleep Matters Club has performed a number of studies* on what goes on during a full eight hours of rest. Let me summarize for you:
dozing off but easily woken
brain-wave patterns are associated with muscle memory and noting
movements learned throughout the day
light sleep, brain activity slows down
body relaxes in preparation for deep sleep
production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) begins
deep and restorative sleep
blood supply to the muscles increases; more HGH is released, helping the muscles recover and re-energize while improving immune function and metabolism
the most growth and repair happens during this stage—the body even releases the anti-inflammatory hormone prolactin, which aids joint recovery
REM phase, brain activity starts up again and dreaming occurs
muscles are supplied with extra oxygen to breakdown lactic acid
minor muscle tears are repaired
Now that’s something to think a little more on the next time you are assessing your muscle-building progress and workout/training program. Instead of looking for faults in what you are doing, reset your focus and look at what you are not. Start monitoring and logging your sleep patterns. This will give you a better idea of how much rest you average on a daily basis. If you are prioritizing your health through exercise and nutrition, then prioritizing your rest and recovery should not be neglected in turn.
STOP SKIPPING MEALS
Skipping meals is one of the most physically adverse choices you can make when trying to build and maintain lean muscle. The main fuel for the brain is glucose (a simple sugar that is an important energy source and component of carbs), and both the brain and body rely on receiving glucose in order to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Any time these levels drop there is an interruption in our ability to think straight and focus. When our brain and body lack a steady blood sugar and glucose intake, our entire system stops functioning at an optimal level. What’s worse is that low blood sugar is also known for heightening irritability and fatigue, causing the body and mind to feel stress so it produces cortisol (a stress-response hormone that is catabolic in nature).
More importantly, skipping meals means you aren’t receiving adequate protein, a key nutritional component for muscle building and bone health. When protein levels are too low for too long, our energy levels will plummet. And without steady energy, our muscle-building efforts to grow and maintain lean mass through exercise become difficult and exhausting.
Lastly, skipping meals is a major no-no for muscle building because of the increased risk for muscle loss. Now, skipping once or twice won’t cause any major loss, but with increased missed meals and prolonged periods of time between eating, the body can start to break down muscle, which causes weakness, an increased risk for injury, and a higher likelihood of storing body fat!