Weight Lifting

Why Most Men Fail At Building Muscle

Time and time again I coach men who believe they need to go hard or go home. If they aren't dying or taking every set to failure then they aren't making progress. It is the old adage they got from high school coaches, and their parents but it is time for it to hit the hay. 

Fact: You don’t always have to train balls-to-the-wall to see results. 

When I was in college I was subscribed to Flex magazine and Muscular Development. I still have them all boxed up and I even framed some of my favorite covers and placed them in the basement. I recall countless articles urging lifters to take every set to failure. Some of my favorite bodybuilders used to say they took every set to failure. In fact, various high intensity training (HIT) articles claim that the last rep of the set was the only rep that mattered. Stopping short would only maintain size and strength. But when you take it to that last grueling rep you would cause the body to make adaptations. Which meant the body would accommodate those adaptations by gaining muscle and improve strength. 

Guess what? I've had many conversations with professional bodybuilders and that is not how they train. 

Since the 90's several peer-reviewed studies emerged showing that training to failure was not mandatory for results, nor was it better than stopping shy of failure.

This is where the general public can learn from powerlifters. Powerlifting programs take advantage of lighter loads and reduced efforts in order to allow for high training volumes and frequencies. Not every single set is taken to failure. This means that they have found ways to get more quality sets in a workout and do similar exercises more than once per week. 

There are times where a set can be taken to failure. There is a major difference in taking a set of bicep curls to failure versus a set of heavy squats. It takes most lifters many years to understand how to regulate their effort and manage their fatigue. I've seen many men never get it. They get injured and blame it on something else. It's an old high school injury that flared up. No, it was plain stupidity in thinking that you should try for a new one rep max. Once lifters reach this level of mastery, training tends reach new levels and gains are made. 

You don’t have to train balls-to-the-wall every session. You don’t even need to go all out every single week to make progress. You’ll likely experience better results by performing a considerable amount of training in the 70-85% range of your one rep max and keep some reps in the tank.

Please don’t just stubbornly grind through an exercise if it doesn’t feel right. This rarely leads to good outcomes. Strength training isn’t rocket science, but it’s not linear either. Due to the various nature of human physiology we can't completely predict the response all the time. Even when all the variables are controlled. That is why having someone educated helps. 

You must pay attention to biofeedback and experiment to figure out what works best for your body. You must adhere to a proper routine to give yourself the best chance of succeeding and making progress. Don't fail at making wise decisions during the other 23 hours when you’re not in the gym.

2 Muscle Building Mistakes Men Make

This one is definitely for the men but much of the information stands true for both males and females. 

When I look back on the thousands of conversations that I have had with men regarding their current health and fitness routines I have concluded one thing; they are all experts and I'm not. 

It is as if the countless hours of study, degrees, certifications, and my personal 15+ years of weight training is null and void. 

Thankfully my father taught me some valuable lessons when dealing with people. Listen twice as much as you talk was one of them. He used to always say we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. 

At some point I eventually penetrate the thick skull, years of misinformation, and the ego driven know it all guy that has a degree from the Muscle & Fitness magazine. Working cattle all my life has graced me with a never ending amount of patience.

The same 2 principles seem to haunt most men when it comes to building muscle. So I'm going to share them with you so you are ahead of the game. Thank me later. 

1. You Perform the Same Exercises Every Time You Train

Most people have the 'list' of exercises that are staples in their routine. It's human nature to want to stick within your comfort zone so I totally understand. You can't miss bench press Monday right? 

It is okay to have movements that you feel that you respond best to. But you have to understand that muscles become accustomed to the continual use of the same movements. This will make them increasingly resistant to trauma. Why would you want the time that you spend in the gym to work against you? The goal is to create metabolic stress to the muscle so your body undergoes the remodeling process continually.

You should always utilize a variety of exercises over the course of whatever training cycle you are on. Switching angles, planes of movement, and even your hand and foot spacing plays a huge role in your muscle building efforts. There is no hard rule on how often you should be changing exercises though. I tend to stand by the general guideline to make some sort of routine changes at least on a monthly basis. 

Remember that your muscles are some greedy monsters and in order to keep them happy you must give them variety. 

2. You Believe that You Should Train In the Same Rep Range All The Time

This argument runs crazy in the fitness industry. For the longest people would always say that muscle growth is maximized in the moderate rep ranges (6-12 reps per set). That argument has some research to back it up but it is far from being indisputable. Even if it were 100% true that still would not mean that you should only train in that rep range. 

Let's break it down. 

Training in lower rep ranges (1-5 reps per set) maximizes strength increases for sure. Being in this rep range at times will help you use heavier weights during those moderate rep range training days. Training in low rep ranges at times translates to being able to create better muscular tension which will give you better growth. 

High rep sets (15+ reps per set) will help you increase your lactate threshold. Why would you want to delay lactic acid build up? If you build this up then you will have the ability to keep a lid on fatigue when training in those moderate rep ranges. This will also increase the time you have the muscle under tension which is important in the growth process as well. So you get double the benefit. Who doesn’t want more bang for their buck.

So stop with I’m doing the 5 by 5 to pack on size and then high reps to get cut program.

Bottom line is muscular development can continue to happen when you use a full spectrum of rep ranges. Your program should include both low reps, moderate, and high repetitions. 

Building muscle is harder than following some program you saw in a magazine or some viral Facebook trend. I’m tired of seeing men train year after year in the gym only to never see the gains they are looking for. Hopefully some of these tactics are already being used in your current program and if they aren’t then start as soon as possible. 

Can Fat Be Turned Into Muscle?

This question is more common than you may believe: Can you turn body fat into muscle? The answer is simple. No.

You can work to burn fat and replace it with muscle. But we can't turn body fat into rock solid muscle. You need to understand how resistance exercise leads to building muscle to grasp what I mean. 

Let’s take weight training as an example. Lifting a weight increases muscle mass by first damaging muscle on a cellular level. The process then activates a ton of signals in the muscle that tell your body to turn the proteins you eat into new muscle tissue as a repair mechanism. That mechanism is what’s known as muscle protein synthesis. 

Having enough protein in your diet will help you build new tissue. The other nutrients like carbohydrates and fats are generally used as energy to fuel exercise.  

It’s important to understand this process since energy status is related to fat stores in your body.

Weightlifting can indirectly decrease fat stores. Body fat fuels both the muscle-building process and acts as an energy source for the exercise that is needed to damage muscle. 

You can't turn fat into muscle.
You can't turn muscle into fat. 

They are completely different on a structural level. 

Muscle is made up of amino acids and fat does not contain any amino acids on a structural level. 

The vast majority of muscle built is from dietary protein intake.

In summary, lifting weights can both build muscle and help with fat loss. They are two separate results and not one being the result of another.

Yoga & Pilates vs Strength Training

Yoga and Pilates are great forms of exercise that have many health benefits. I've practiced both throughout my career in health and fitness. I'm not going to attack either of those methodologies because I see value in both. But way too often I hear terrible claims and marketing ploys that mislead people. 

"Yoga gives you long lean muscles."

"Pilates will lengthen your muscles and give you that tone you want."

I feel as if people have the notion that Yoga and Pilates do something special to your muscles compared to plain old resistance training. It's as if Yoga and Pilates gives the physique of a dancer and resistance training gives the physique of a bulky bodybuilder. But the truth is these claims are false. 

In order for you to understand that those claims are false I have to explain a little anatomy and physiology. But in its simplest form because I don't want to bore you. 

Muscles have a fixed origin and insertion. In other words, they start somewhere and end somewhere else. Aside from surgery, these attachment points cannot change. 

It would seem that basic static stretching would be the best way to lengthen muscles. Yet, this is not the case. Stretching will indeed help you achieve greater joint range of motion, but it does not do so by actually lengthening the muscle. It works by decreasing the brain’s perception of a threat and “releasing the brakes,” so you can stretch a muscle further than normal. Stretching works on the nervous system to increase “stretch-tolerance.”

Common sense would say that the more intense the exercise, the greater its effect on total body fat loss. This is true. Higher intensity exercise is more effective at reducing total body fat compared to lower intensity exercise. The purpose of Yoga and Pilates is not to exert the greatest amount of effort or burn the highest number of calories possible during the session. Both combine exercises and poses with other tactics aimed at centering the body and improving mental state. Some of which include breathing, meditation, and flow. Yoga and Pilates sessions can indeed be intense. But if your approach is to exhaust yourself then you’re missing the point. When lifting weights you can crank up the intensity as high as tolerable, which lead to greater caloric expenditure and fat burning long term.

Progressive resistance training does a better job of promoting lean muscle than Yoga or Pilates. Over time this will lead to greater changes in body composition. Thus, resistance training is better suited for leaning out the body and reducing body fat stores than Yoga or Pilates.

You do not have to choose between resistance training, Yoga, or Pilates. If you enjoy all of them, you can do all three throughout the week. Yoga and Pilates are effective forms of exercise with many positive attributes with regards to health. If you desire long, lean muscles, lifting weights in the gym will get you there faster than Yoga or Pilates. Yoga and Pilates will build muscle and reduce fat, but they won’t do it as efficiently as resistance training. It’s time we put an end to misleading marketing tactics and stick to the science.

Weppler, C. H. (2010, March). Increasing Muscle Extensibility: A Matter of Increasing Length or Modifying Sensation? Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association. Retrieved from http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/90/3/438.long