4 Reasons You’re Not Really Gaining Muscle

Man lifting weights at the gym.

Everyone has been there at some point or other. You put in all the time lifting at the gym, and you stick to a regimented diet plan that is optimized for muscle gains, and yet, no gains to be seen. But when you think you’re doing everything you should be to build muscle and have little muscle increase to actually show for it, the root of the problem might be one of these five muscle-building missteps that tend to be the biggest culprits in slow progress.

1. You’re not sleeping enough.

If you’re skimping on sleep – even if it’s to make time to hit the gym – you’re likely sabotaging your progress as far as building muscle goes. This is because during the deepest levels of sleep, the body releases human growth hormone, which aids in the growth of muscles. So naturally, if you’re never sleeping well enough to really get hours of good quality sleep, you are hindering your body’s ability to build up muscle. Not to mention, sleep can be restorative to your muscle tissue, immune system, and your organs, making it crucial to not just building muscle but keeping your body healthy enough to continue working towards your fitness goals.

2. You’re always lifting heavy.

The weight/muscle equation feels like it should be simple enough: heavier weights = more muscle, right? Well, not really. In fact, there have been a number of studies showing that a regimen higher reps with lighter weights tends to reap the same results as fewer reps with heavier weights, meaning that heavier isn’t always crucial to building muscle. But what’s even more interesting is that doing a series a high reps with light weights has also been found to increase protein synthesis over a 24-hour period more so than the inverse, meaning that the secret to building muscle may be to occasionally switch up your heavy lifting with some lighter loads. The real secret? Whatever route you’re going, always make sure you push yourself to your absolute limit, as that’s the only point at which you’ll see any real progress at all.

3. You’re not doing enough cardio.

Gone are the days when we were blinded by the misconception that cardio was all about weight loss and weight lifting was all about bulking up. In fact, just as weight lifting is important to dropping fat – more muscle means more fat burn in your system, guys – cardio can be crucial to building muscle. Studies have found that aerobic exercises like running and cycling can effectively increase muscle mass, at least in the legs, and lead to about the same growth as resistance training. The key to utilizing cardio to boost muscle gains, though, is to go hard – i.e. work up to about 80% of your max heart rate.

4. You’re not drinking enough water.

If you’re regularly working out, chances are you’re already drinking plenty of water. But in the (hopefully rare) instance that you’re letting yourself get dehydrated, it’s super important to drink up, since water is crucial to promoting muscle growth and recovery. Not only is dehydration sure to hold back your actual performance while working out, which means less progress as a result, but it also slows down essential muscle-building processes during and after your workout, such as post-sweat session muscle protein synthesis. To keep your body in prime muscle-building condition as you train and sweat on a regular basis, you’ll want to aim for about 4-7 liters of water a day, some of which will come from sources like fruits and vegetables.

About Tamara Rahoumi

Tamara Rahoumi is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. Her passion for wellness always has her researching the latest fitness trends, experimenting with recipes from superfood cookbooks, and working towards an overall healthier and happier lifestyle. In addition to reading her articles on The Path, you can follow her adventures on her lifestyle blog, The Curly Nomad.