Why are my muscles not growing?

By: Dan Carpenter

Muscle growth is a common objective in training programs. So if you’re not getting the results you’re looking for it can be frustrating, and confusing. We’ve put together some of the most common questions we’re asked about muscle mass, and why it might not be increasing. 

Why your muscles might not be growing, or growing at different rates


People often don’t see growth in specific areas because they simply don’t give them enough time, attention, volume, or progressive overload. For example, it’s common to track and progress your squat, deadlift and bench press (in terms of 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 as much as everything else and they are genuinely “hard to grow” muscles, dedicated a bit more time, attention and volume to them.


Include them within isolation finishers at the end of your usual normal session, or train them in a separate session (increasing your training frequency). As a rule of thumb, smaller muscle groups tend to respond better to higher rep range “pump work” (12-20 for example).

Why has growth stopped/plateaued in certain muscle groups (calves, pecs, hamstrings)?


There are many reasons for a plateau in your gym progress (including muscle growth). For example; 

  1. Nutrition – Not enough calories and/or protein. 
  2. Training – No progressive overload (undertraining), training not tracked or well programmed, doing too much volume without adequate recovery (overtraining).
  3. Recovery – Signs of under-recovery include; sleeping less than 6 hours, bad sleep quality, life stress worse than normal, aches and pains, feeling constantly run down and fatigued. 
  4. Mindset – lacking consistency, changing programs too often, not trusting the process.

Why do I feel stronger, but not look any bigger?


Strength gains don’t necessarily equate to muscle gains. Improvements in strength can occur independently of muscle growth. This usually occurs due to neuromuscular adaptations, whereby you “unlock” more of the potential force that your muscles are able to produce. For example, you can increase the ability of individual muscles to create contractile force, as well as become more proficient and efficient at a given strength movement via optimal biomechanics and better coordination amongst muscle groups.


Strength training needs to be coupled with adequate training volume (and frequency), as well as calorie and protein intake in order for muscles to grow. 

For example, performing 10-15 working sets in the 6-20 rep range, per muscle group, per week (spread out between 2 sessions) is a good start.


What is a “pump”, is it good for muscle growth and 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” which has been shown to induce a more permanent muscle-building response.


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 above maintenance (200-500kcal/day) and protein intake should be 1.5-2g per kg of body weight (or 2-3g per kg of lean mass). Creatine monohydrate (approx 5g/day), caffeine (200-400mg pre-workout) and Beta-Alanine (4 to 6 g daily in divided doses of 2 g or less) have been well documented to support strength and muscle gains. 


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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