For those of us who train in the gym multiple days a week we are always trying to make sure we maximize the effort we put into those hours spent working out. Most people spending the time hitting the iron are working on some sort of muscle growth whether they are dieting and fighting to hold onto muscle or in a muscle building phase striving to maximize their potential. It could be working hard to achieve a desired look, or might be to maximize strength or performance. There are common mistakes I see as a diet coach that people make consistently that could make a big difference in the levels they achieve. Here’s a list of 5 common mistakes for muscle growth and how to correct them.
1. Training Body Parts Once a Week
One of the biggest downfalls to training body parts once a week is the fact that a lot of growth is left on the table. When you work out protein synthesis (muscle growth) is activated and elevated and the body signals a period of growth to repair and build new muscle. This process typically lasts anywhere from 2-3 days, and the more advanced of an athlete you are the shorter that window becomes and the more frequent a muscle group can be trained. However, regardless of training status, regardless of the amount of volume you do for the day, after 3 days protein synthesis is back to baseline and growth for that muscle group is done. You can train 100 sets or 10 sets for chest on Monday, by Thursday the muscle is completely done growing.
Another disadvantage to training once a week revolves around the principle of practice. Weight training is a skill and the more you do movements the better you get at them. For those working on building strength such as in the squat, bench, or deadlift there will be big advantages to training those lifts multiple times a week. Think about shooting free throws- to get better at shooting free throws you practice and do them more often. If you start out shooting 100 free throws a week on Mondays the best approach would be to spread that amount out into multiple days to get better at shooting them. Maybe 20-30 free throws 5 days a week. Weight training is the same way, but monitoring how hard you push is key so you don’t tax your CNS too much and start to over-reach. If you want to improve your bench, training it once a week is putting you at a disadvantage compared to training it twice a week.
Here is an example of my favorite workout to recommend for people starting out training body parts twice a week- the Push/Pull/Legs workout split. (Push is chest, shoulders, triceps. Pull is back and biceps. Legs consist of quads, hamstrings, abs and calves) Here is the typical set up along with what I have found as optimal of sets to start with.
Mon: Push (hypertrophy, 8-12 and 15-20 reps, 9 total sets per body part)
Tues: Pull (heavy, 6-8 reps, 9 total sets per body part)
Wed: Legs (hypertrophy, 8-12 and 15-20 reps, 9 total sets per body part)
Thur: Push (heavy, 6-8 reps, 9 total sets per body part)
Frid: Pull (hypertrophy, 8-12 and 15-20 reps, 9 total sets per body part)
Sat: Legs (heavy, 6-8 reps, 9 total sets per body part)
Notice on this split I have heavy days and hypertrophy days listed so all rep ranges are hit each week.
An example of a push workout with 9 total sets could look like this: Chest- bench x 3 sets, incline dbell press x 3 sets, pec fly x 3 sets. Shoulders- overhead press x 3 sets, side raises x 3 sets, face pulls x 3 sets. Triceps- rope extensions x 3 sets, dips x 3 sets, underhand cable pushdowns x 3 sets. 9 total sets for each body part.
At the end of the day the science and research supports training body parts more frequently each week versus once a week for maximizing muscle hypertrophy and strength. While I love science I am the type of person who has to apply it before I come to conclusions. I can say without a doubt over the last decade working with bodybuilders, powerlifters, and gym goers looking to maximize their physiques that training more frequently has shown to be superior by FAR. The key to it all when hitting more frequent training is to make sure to not train with a ton of volume and too many sets or you can start to really feels the CNS starting to get suppressed and training suffering. I would start with the recommended total sets above and if you can move up from there go for it. If you are looking to add more muscle I am confident moving from once a week to twice a week body part training will get you there much faster.
2. Not Using Creatine Monohydrate
There are so many supplements on the market these days that most people have no idea where to start. Walk into any supplement store and you will see every “magic” supplement under the sun ranging from $15 to $100 in price with some claiming to be the holy-grail to muscle growth. Besides whey protein I believe the number one product for the money in regards to muscle gain, strength, and performance is creatine monohydrate. No other supplement has been researched and studied more than creatine.
Creatine is found in small amounts in animal foods we eat, such as red meat, and can also be made in the liver and kidneys from amino acids. While a lot of the creatine found in food is destroyed during the process of cooking it’s needed in supplemental form to receive the full benefits.
For those that aren’t familiar with what it is or how it works worry about bad side effects. There is really no harm or anything to worry about, it’s a natural substance in the body that is found inside our muscle. It’s not a foreign substance, it’s not a steroid, it’s not something that is going to cause bad side effects like acne or deepening of the voice like a lot of people think that aren’t familiar with the product.
Creatine works as a cell volumizer- meaning it pulls water and electrolytes inside the muscle cells to create a fuller, stronger muscle. When people hear creatine makes you hold water, it certainly does, right where you want it inside the muscle tissue. The fuller a muscle cell is, the stronger it is. Creatine also works by increasing protein synthesis and in turn yields more muscle growth, strength and better performance.
Two other benefits supplementing with creatine gives are increased brain function (especially in the elderly) and more energy during training due to resynthesis of ATP and the ability to push harder and longer through the workout.
The dosing on creatine can be all over the board, but research shows that 5 grams taken around the workout is sufficient. Whether taken before, during or after the workout doesn’t seem to make a difference. I am not a fan of loading phases for days, I have seen too many people struggle with the water weight gain from loading 20 grams a day for a week or even have some stomach discomfort. 5 grams daily is an amount that works well and doesn’t cause the issues that loading can cause.
It doesn’t matter if you are female or male, creatine works the same way for everyone despite gender differences. All my female athletes use creatine to help them achieve their goals.
You can typically find a good micronized creatine monohydrate powder for under $20, such as 1st Phorm’s creatine product.
3. Doing the Same Training Routine For Too Long
One of the most common mistakes I see when a potential client approaches me to help them put on muscle is the fact that they have been doing the same training routine for far too long. They do what has worked for them from the beginning, they do what they are comfortable with, they do what they know. The problem here is that your body is an amazing machine and adapts far quicker than people realize.
While someone new to the gym can benefit from the basic program of hitting body parts once a week and doing everything in the 8-12 rep ranges, the more trained an individual becomes the harder it is to put on muscle. Sticking to the same training routine that yielded results in the beginning won’t show the same results a couple of years down the road. I know too many people that train the same way for 5 years and after a couple years don’t look any different.
It’s important to change it up and make sure to include different cycles in the training program such as adjusting volume and frequency, and also implementing over-reaching and deload periods. Every training program should have goals and direction to take you from start to finish, and then it’s time to begin again with new goals. An example of a common goal within a training cylce may be to increase poundage lifted on certain exercises such as the squat, bench and deadlift. To get from A to B we need directions, and it’s the same way with muscle growth. It’s like driving to Florida- we wouldn’t just jump in the car and start driving right? No, we would have detailed directions on how to get there, where to stop, how much longer we have, etc. The same applies to training, we shouldn’t just blindly hit the gym and train without any sort of direction or purpose. To maximize muscle growth we need to be detailed and have a plan.
4. Getting Advice From the Biggest Guy In The Gym
Another thing to think about when it comes to training is who to take advice from. If you want to build a bigger chest, the last person you should be asking advice from is the guy in the gym with the biggest, best looking chest. Usually when you approach this person and ask the secret to building such a monumental chest the answer is simply “I stick to the basics and train chest once a week”. I know back in my 20’s this would make me second guess everything I knew- was I training too much, where the basic lifts all I needed, what am I doing wrong, etc. We all have a body part that responds and grows much faster than the other muscle groups and is a standout body part. A good friend of mine has the biggest set of calves you will see on a guy in the gym and people ask him all the time what he does for them. His response? He trains them maybe once a year!
The best person to get advice from would be the person who had a weaker body part such as a small chest and who has worked hard to bring that up to be a stand out body part. Typically when you ask a person like this what the secret is they will say “I started training multiple rep ranges while hitting my chest more times during the week than my other body parts”. The response they give will show they had to put in the extra effort to make the muscle grow along with learning what needed to be done to get the best results. I am not saying that people who just train body parts once a week aren’t putting in the work to learn and maximize their training- I am saying that to get good advice it’s always best to find out who had to take their training to the next level by applying different approaches and learning how to maximize their potential.
5. Not Getting Enough Protein
You can go to any gym in the world and meet people who have been training for years yet they still look the same. Their training might be on point, but something is holding them back from putting on the muscle they are working so hard to try and put on. One of the biggest set-backs I find with new clients that come to me is that they are not eating enough protein to support muscle growth, or in some cases not enough to even recover.
If you are training in the gym 4 or more days a week I consider you an athlete. It doesn’t matter if you compete in a sport or event, training that often and working to improve your physical fitness in my opinion classifies you as an athlete and as athletes you need way more protein than the general population to support muscle recovery and ultimately growth.
The normal recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein for anyone over 18 years old is .8 grams per kg of bodyweight. Simply put that translates out to about 80 grams of protein for a 220 pound person, which is very low for someone hitting the gym multiple days a week.
The amount myself and other diet coaches have found to work very well for athletes is simply taking in 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight you weigh. So for a 220 pound person make that would be 220 grams of protein a day. While protein intake isn’t necessarily based on bodyweight, it’s related more to lean body mass/muscle tissue. The only time I don’t recommend 1 gram per pound is if someone is obese since body fat doesn’t mean protein levels need to be higher to support fat mass. For example, if a 300 pound obese female that has 150 pounds of lean mass I like to recommend anywhere from 1 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of lean mass, leaning more towards 1.25 grams per pound if they have been training for a couple of years or more. This set up would yield between 150-185 grams of protein for a 300 pound obese female.
I hope you as the reader can recognize these common mistakes and use them to maximize your training, muscle growth and recovery. We spend so many hours and years in the gym, we definitely want to cover all the bases when it comes to getting the most out of our efforts.
– John Gorman, MA, CPT, is a well-respected contest prep coach/nutritionist and the owner of Team Gorman LLC. John is also a published author, public speaker, co-owner of The Physique Summit Conference, and proud member of the 1st Phorm Phamily. His work centers on helping athletes achieve their maximum potential in various sports such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, crossfit, along with high school and college level athletics. You can follow him on Instagram @team_gorman , on Periscope @teamgorman , or facebook.com/teamgorman
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