Skip to content

Why your muscle building plan doesn't work

Warum Dein Muskelaufbauplan nicht funktioniert

Do you build up too much fat during the mass-building phase? Or are you not gaining weight or muscle mass? Maximize your muscle gain with hard and intelligent training and the right diet.

Your muscle building phase is failing. You've spent weeks planning your workouts and calorie intake, asking questions on forums, but you run into one of the following problems:

  1. You're building too much fat. You don't seem to be putting on much muscle during your bulking phase, but you're putting on too much fat.
  2. You don't gain any weight at all. No matter what you do - the scales don't move. You still look in the mirror like you did at the beginning of the muscle-building phase.

What's going wrong? This is a good question with two simple answers: either you're not training hard and smart enough or you're not eating enough.

Reason #1 - You're not training hard and smart enough

The first reason your muscle building phase is failing is that you're not training hard and smart enough. Most people who go to the gym regularly train hard, but they don't train smart. They spend endless hours on the treadmill and sweat a lot while lifting weights. But while this is great for overall health, these workouts often lack the structure and focus necessary to build muscle and strength.

Building muscle requires adherence to certain key principles and the use of certain key practices so that you can see consistent gains. If these parameters are not adhered to, then your efforts in the gym will be wasted time. Your workouts will only result in the expenditure of energy and improvements to your body conditioning, while your extra calories will be used to build unwanted fat.

Let's look at some of the reasons why your training is suboptimal.

Poor exercise selection

Use the most effective exercises possible. Instead of trying to find an easier way to exercise, ask yourself if there is a more challenging exercise choice. Exercises are like tools. To build muscle in the most efficient way possible, you need to use the most effective tools in your toolbox. If you spend most of your training time focusing on low-quality exercises, your gains will slow down.

The following list includes the best muscle building exercises. Do you use exercises like these or do you use lighter alternatives?

  • Squats and front squats
  • Deadlifts and deadlifts with straight legs
  • Bench press and variations
  • Barbell and dumbbell rows
  • Overhead presses and variations
  • Dips
  • Pull-ups

When considering the use of certain exercises, remember the following rules. Remember that these rules are generalizations and not fixed commandments that must always be followed.

  1. Perform the most demanding exercises at the beginning of your training session when you still feel fresh and rested.
  2. Multi-joint exercises are generally a better choice than isolation exercises.
  3. When choosing machine, cable or isolation exercises, favor exercises that allow for the greatest future progression of training weight.
  4. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of dips and pull-ups.

Certain exercises do not allow for much progression or improvement. Think about this. How long will it take you to reach your maximum weight on side raises? Not very long unless you start faking it. How long will it take you to reach your maximum weight for push presses (standing barbell shoulder presses with momentum from the legs)? Probably years. So it should be obvious that push presses are a better exercise choice than side raises.

Are you continuously trying to increase your training weights?

Do you have a progression plan when it comes to training weight progression? Do you know what a progression is? If not, then there is a realistic chance that your muscle building phase will fail miserably.

Progression is the increase in training weight for an exercise over time. Progression is what makes you muscular and progression is also what makes you strong. It's the magic and the main reason so many approaches from Dogg Crapp to Wendler's 531 work. Without progression or consistent strength gains over the first few years of your training, you won't see much in the way of muscle gains.

This is not to say that you have to become a powerlifter. Of course you don't have to, but you do have to push yourself to do more every week. If you don't push yourself, your body will quickly adapt to your current training habits and your muscle gains will slow down or stop.

There are certainly other ways to make a training session harder without increasing the weights, but without increasing the weights used, these training tools will only have a limited effect. For example, if you have chosen to use supersets to intensify your muscle building efforts, then your body will most likely least for a few weeks. After this period, you will need to return to a weight progression so that the supersets continue to challenge your body.

The same applies to increases in training volume. Although 1 or 2 additional sets may force your body to respond to this, you will need to refocus on a progression of weights once your body has adapted to this increase in volume.

The bottom line is that there are many unique methods from rest-pause to increases in training volume that can help achieve muscle growth, but at a certain point all of these methods require weight progression to remain effective. You simply can't bench press 65 kilos year in, year out and use shock training tactics and expect to build substantial amounts of muscle mass as a result.

There are no weak bodybuilders. Even if bodybuilders don't train specifically for strength gains, strength gains are the primary, essential tool that drives gains in muscle mass.

Don't understand what such a progression might look like? Here's a simple progression rule for multi-joint exercises that any beginner can follow:

Push yourself to perform as many reps as you can on each set using good form. Stop the set when you feel you can no longer complete the next repetition. If you can do 10 repetitions in this set, increase the weight for this exercise in the next training session.

Should you use this approach and only this approach? Of course not. However, you need to push yourself. At some point after your first year of hard and focused training, you should get close to the weights listed below. If this is not the case, then it's time to get serious about progression. I've seen time and time again hard-training people reach these weights after just 12 months of training:

  • Bench press: 100 kilos
  • Squats: 150 kilos
  • Deadlift: 175 kilos

Stop looking for excuses

Are you looking for excuses? Minor injuries, aches and strains are part of training. Listen to your body and train around these injuries. Stop looking for any excuse to skip training. Be persistent and train even when you don't feel perfect. Want to know why? Here's the reason:

Because how you feel has nothing to do with how you perform.

Am I sure about this? Yes, 100%. I've been training for 25 years and I know the following to be true:

  1. I often have my best training sessions on days when I feel tired and unmotivated.
  2. 25% of my workouts are sub-optimal - no matter what approach I use or how great I feel.

The first point tells us this: Go train - no matter how you feel (apart from when you're really sick). The second point is also very important. How many times have you seen an exerciser do a de-load because they had a bad training session? I suspect more than once.

Don't schedule a de-load every time you've had a bad training session. That's a terrible habit. You will always have bad days - and in most cases for no apparent reason. Experienced exercisers will tell you that they always have great workouts the day after a bad session and vice versa. So just keep going.

Now that you're using better exercises, striving for progression and going to the gym consistently, let's look at the second possible reason your muscle building phase is failing.

Reason #2 - You're not eating enough

Maybe you're on the other side of the fence: You're training hard, but you can't seem to build muscle or strength. What could be the reason for this? My guess is that you're not eating enough. But, but, but...I eat enough! No, no, no, you're not. If you are training hard and your weight is still stagnating, then you need more food. If you weighed 68 kilos 6 months ago and still weigh 68 kilos today, then something is wrong.

The calorie calculator told me that I...

You often see that even experienced exercisers base their calorie needs on the output of a calorie calculator. The problem with this is that such a calculator encourages many of us to eat too little. Although a calorie calculator can provide a good starting point, it often tends to underestimate calorie needs for young, healthy men with a fast metabolism.

A skinny 18 year old man who weighs 68 kilos and is struggling to gain weight might get 2600 kcal as his daily calorie requirement from a calorie calculator. However, there is a good chance that this person might not be able to gain weight as long as he does not eat more than 3500 kcal per day.

The point is that you need to eat more if the weight on the scales doesn't change. It is quite possible for an exerciser to gain 15 pounds of muscle during their first year of training. While this buildup is not linear, these numbers suggest that a beginner should build about a pound of muscle per month during their first year of training.

I don't want to get fat

There is this nonsensical belief that building mass requires you to get fat. The reason many exercisers fail in their mass-building phase is because they don't train hard enough. If you train hard, you won't become a sumo wrestler if you eat a little more than normal. On the other hand, eating too little can substantially limit your progress. It's up to you...keep eating like a lean model and look like a lean model or eat a little more than normal and see better gains.

During my first 2 years of hard training I ate about 4000 to 5000 kcal per day and still stayed quite lean. My body fat percentage never exceeded 16 to 18%. Of course, I was only 18 years old at the time and had a fast metabolism, but I think you get my enough to make gains.

If 90% of your calories come from healthy, clean foods, then it's going to be hard to build substantial amounts of fat. In addition to this, you will never build significant amounts of muscle mass if you consider a six-pack that is no longer visible to be fat.

How should I build up?

How should you build up? There are many possible methods. Here are some popular options:

  • 3 large meals a day + 2 liters of milk per day (GOMAD (Gallon of milk per day).
  • Add 1000 kcal to what you normally eat per day (John Christy style of eating)
  • Eat 300 kcal more than you consume (clean mass building)
  • Eat 500 kcal more than you consume (more aggressive mass building)
  • Intermittent Fasting or Warrior Diet with appropriate calorie intake
  • Paleo diet with adequate calorie intake

Final thoughts

Working out hard can make up for a few poor dietary choices as long as your calorie intake is adequate. Whatever you do, you should work your butt off in the gym and get strong on the most impactful exercises. On the other hand, a perfect diet will never make up for bad workouts. If you're still doing squats at 100 kilos after 5 years of training, then there's a reason you haven't built up much muscle mass.

The point you should take to heart is this:

Train and eat smart. If you eat a lot but don't train hard, you will build fat. Extra calories without progressively more demanding workouts are simply extra calories. If you train smart but don't eat enough, you will make it harder for yourself to build muscle.

For those who train really hard in the gym, I recommend a more aggressive nutritional approach. You can always cut back on your diet if you need to.


Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss