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6 Common Mistakes When Trying to Build Muscle

It can be frustrating when you see minimal or no gains after putting in hours each week at the gym or with your home workout. Here are some of the more common mistakes that could be preventing you from building lean muscle and what you can try instead.

1. Avoiding Leg Day

Let’s start with the most common mistake. Focusing wholly on your upper body may cause you to end up out of proportion, but more likely than not, this won’t be the case – you won’t be able to build the upper body muscle to begin with. Having strong legs allows you to support a bulkier upper body, making it easier to build muscle. Many compound leg exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, are also better at increasing testosterone, which helps when developing muscles elsewhere.

A study from the University of Texas found that “performing squats synthesizes more testosterone and growth hormone than a similar session using the leg press.” Although the test subjects lifted more weight on the leg press, their exhaustion was 42 percent higher after doing squats.

2. Neglecting Blood Sugar Spikes

Consuming too many sugary energy drinks, chocolate milkshakes or even some protein bars, could be taking away your ability to gain muscle. While they may give you the energy and protein necessary to build muscle mass, the excess sugar, in turn, could be inhibiting your ability to take in muscle-building amino acids. Look out for low-sugar drinks and snacks that will still give you the protein but could spike blood sugar. Keep in mind, men should consume no more than 38 grams a day and women 25 grams a day of added sugar. Research has shown that a whey protein drink post workout can help with maintaining blood sugar levels throughout the day.

3. Consuming un-Healthy Calories

When trying to build muscle, you do need to consume additional calories. However, it’s important to eat the right types of calories. Highly processed foods such as ice cream, pizza, pies and sweets will increase both waist line and body fat levels. Instead, get your calories in more healthy ways like eating plenty of fish, chicken, rice, potatoes and vegetables.

4. Mis-using Supplements

Some people can go overboard when taking supplements like creatine or fish oil. Using these, for prolong periods of time, instead of eating a healthy diet may cause problems. There are others who take the wrong kind of supplements (i.e. performance enhancing drugs like steroids). Steroids are notoriously common amongst some gym-goers but as most know, they can run all kinds of other health concerns. You’ll bulk up faster, sure, but you can also damage your body in the process, causing severe long-term health issues.

5. Doing Too Much Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise, is extremely beneficial, but, should be held to a minimum during a bulking phase. This is because it steals the calories needed for repairing muscle tissue, converting the calories instead into fuel for aerobic exercise. Try limiting your cardio to twenty minutes, three times a week and see if this has any impact. A few short, HIIT sessions could also work well.

6. “Lazy” Exercise Form & Technique

Proper exercise form helps reduce the risk of injury. It also enables you to move efficiently during the exercise. Technique is the way or style with which you perform a specific exercise and defines what primary muscles you want to train. Each strength training exercise requires its own specific form and technique. For example, proper deadlift form, requires keeping your legs about hip-width apart, not arching (flexing) your back, tucking your chin, etc. These types of coaching cues help get the most out of each set and individual repetition. In turn, it may help build muscle more effectively, while protecting your spine and hips in the process. Finally, make sure you’re using the right technique with each exercise. Otherwise, you could minimize the effect of each workout session, rather than maximize it, which is what ultimately helps the rate in which muscle mass is developed.


Shaner, A.A., Vingren, J.L., Hatfield, D.L. et al. The acute hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2014, 28, 4, 1032–1040.

Stay Strong Together

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