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Why are my muscles not growing?

By: Dan Carpenter

Muscle growth is a common goal amongst a lot of our clients. We understand the frustration of not being able to gain muscle and, even worse, not knowing why! 

 

There are endless articles and forums online that address this topic, but we find they tend to fuss over minutiae, such as supplementation, genetics, nutrition timing and minor training variables, adding unnecessary complexity and confusion. The simple “foundation stones” of muscle growth are often overlooked in favour of more interesting, but relatively inconsequential details.

 

So we decided to answer some of the most common questions we’re asked about muscle growth whilst sticking to the first principles of muscle hypertrophy. 

Why has muscle growth stopped/plateaued?

 

There are many reasons for a plateau in muscle growth, but here are the most common ones we see;

 

  1. Nutrition – The body only gains muscle if it has enough resources to do so. Calories provide the energy that is required to fuel muscle growth, proteins are the building blocks needed to create new muscle and carbohydrates will support your performance in the gym. So under-eating (especially calories and protein) will stop muscle growth in its tracks. 
  2. Exercise / Training – Resistance exercise provides the stimulus that kicks muscle growth into action. This stimulus needs to exceed a certain threshold to take place (this threshold gets higher the more your train). Progressive overload is therefore crucial for gains, so if your training isn’t structured and tracked, it’s difficult to know whether an adequate stimulus is consistently applied. 
  3. Recovery – Muscle growth occurs when recovering from resistance exercise. Poor sleep, high chronic stress levels and overtraining can all hinder the body’s ability to recover and grow.  
  4. Mindset – Growing muscle takes a certain commitment to consistency and a long term outlook. As a rule of thumb, any training/nutrition program needs at least 3 months of progressive, consistent effort to see whether it works or not. So stick to the plan, trust the process and be patient. 

 

Why are certain muscle groups lagging behind?

 

People often don’t see growth in certain muscle groups because they simply don’t give them enough time, attention, volume, or progressive overload. It’s common to track and apply progressive overload to your squats, deadlifts and bench presses (load, sets and reps), but are you doing the same for quad extensions, calf raises and pec flys?

 

Have a look at your current training program and see how often you train the specific areas you want to develop. If you are training and tracking them, but they are being particularly stubborn, dedicated a bit more time and volume to them. Include them in finishers at the end of your usual session, or dedicate an extra session to them if necessary.

 

I’m getting stronger, but my muscles aren’t growing?

 

Strength gains don’t necessarily equate to muscle gains (although they are correlated pretty tightly). Neuromuscular, motor-pattern and technique adaptations can contribute to strength gains, independent of muscle growth.

 

Resistance training needs to provide adequate training volume and frequency to cause a growth response. For example, performing 10-15 working sets in the 6-20 rep range, per muscle group, per week (spread out between 2 sessions a week) is a good start.

 

Beyond this, address nutrition, recovery and mindset factors if muscle growth isn’t occurring.

 

What is a “pump”? Is it good for muscle growth? How do I achieve it?

 

A pump is when muscles become temporarily engorged with fluids, causing them to swell and increase in size. During repeated muscular contractions, the veins are unable to pump blood out of the muscle at a fast enough rate, causing a shift in fluid mechanics which end up with the muscle cells filling with plasma.

 

Although a pump is temporary, it is an indication of “metabolic stress” (an accumulation of lactate, phosphate inorganic (Pi) and ions of hydrogen (H+) in response to exercise] which has been shown to induce a muscle-building response (1).

 

Usually lowering the weight so that you can increase the reps (12-20 reps, approximating failure) and reducing rest times are all ways to induce a pump. We would recommend doing “pump work” or “finishers” at the end of your workout. 

 

What nutrition strategy will support muscle growth?

 

Calorie intake should be 300-500kcal/day above maintenance (2), and protein intake should be 1.5-2g per kg of body weight (or 2-3g per kg of lean mass), spread evenly (20-50g doses) throughout the day (3).

 

Other supplements that may help enhance resistance training performance and muscle growth;

 

  1. Creatine monohydrate, approx 3-5g/day (4)
  2. Caffeine, approx 3-9mg/kg, pre-workout (5)
  3. Beta-Alanine, 4 to 6 g daily (6)

 

If you’ve hit a wall, or want to take your training to the next level our expert trainers are here. Our London Mayfair gym space and training methods are proven to give exceptional results. If you’re interested in learning how our training program could help you, read our four pillars of training ebook for free.

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