April 20, 2020

Why You’re Not Gaining Muscle: A 5 Step Checklist

by ironparadisefitness

If You’re Frustrated With Not Gaining Muscle, Despite Your Hard Effort Both In And Out Of The Gym, You’ll Want To Read This Article 

Not gaining muscle can be one of the most frustrating feelings in the world.

You sweat, grind, and push yourself to the limit in the gym, in return for mediocre gains. But you can’t seem on put your finger on why?

You followed the training programme to the letter and you’re eating healthy food. So what’s going wrong? Why are you not gaining muscle?

Firstly, don’t panic. The fact you’re going to the gym, working out, and putting the effort in, is the initial step many people fail to take. But what we need to do is channel your effort in the right direction. To get you on the gain train and travelling full-steam ahead to Gainsville.

Luckily, you’ve come to the right place, because this is my specialty. Think of me as the Obi Wan to your Luke, or the Gandalf to your Frodo. I’m the guide and this article is your roadmap.

In this article, you’ll discover why you’re not gaining muscle. More importantly, you’ll learn the 5 simple things you need to focus on. Follow the advice in this article and you’ll:

  • Optimise your nutrition, helping you maximise your efforts in the gym.
  • Adjust the focus of your training so you’re building the most amount of muscle possible.
  • Recognise and address the lifestyle factors currently preventing you from building muscle.

So, if you’re sick and tired of not gaining muscle, read on. Because things are about to change.

And if you’d prefer to listen to the audio version of “Why You’re Not Gaining Muscle”, click the play button below.

The “Not Gaining Muscle” Checklist: Calories

Not Gaining Muscle Iron Paradise Fitness

Like all good voyages of discovery, you need to start back at square one. For you, that’s calories.

Despite what many people will tell you, you CAN build muscle in a calorie deficit and at calorie maintenance. You don’t HAVE to be in a calorie surplus. But if you’re not gaining muscle, it could be a sign that a small surplus is the most optimal way for you to make gains.

You see, as you become more well-trained, the likelihood of you building muscle in a deficit diminishes. The stimulus required for you to build muscle is unlikely to be reached with energy levels of a wet sock. Potentially, your hormone levels could be sub-optimal too, which affects the muscle building process.

So, if you’re not building muscle, make sure you’re in a consistent energy surplus (about 5-10% above maintenance). And if you need help understanding what your target should be, use my free online calorie and macro calculator.

Track your weight over time and aim for 0.5-1kg of total body weight gain per month. Do that, and you’re in the right ball park for gaining muscle.


The “Not Gaining Muscle” Checklist: Protein Frequency

Not Gaining Muscle Iron Paradise Fitness

Next, protein.

Arguably, protein is the most important aspect of your nutrition when it comes to putting on mass. And if you’re not gaining muscle, then it’s an obvious aspect of your diet to get right.

Regular protein feedings throughout the day help to maximise Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS, the building of muscle tissue), as well as minimise Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB).

No doubt you have a protein target, which you aim to hit each day (c.1.8-2g/kg in most cases). If you don’t, use the free calculator I mentioned previously to understand the optimal amount of protein for your goal. Dividing this protein number into 4-6 servings per day, will help optimise your nutrition and provide the best possible opportunity for your muscles to adapt and grow.

And if this sounds daunting and confusing, use this infographic to help put the theory into practice.

Protein Feeding Strategy Iron Paradise Fitness

For more nutrition and training infographics like this one, follow the Iron Paradise Fitness Instagram account (@iron_paradise_fitness), here.

If you’re still not gaining muscle after addressing both calories and protein, it’s time to delve into your training.


The “Not Gaining Muscle” Checklist: Training Volume And Intensity

Not Gaining Muscle Iron Paradise Fitness

When it comes to building muscle, training is the most important component of the process.

“So why wasn’t it top of the list, Simon?”

Good question. The reason training appears 3rd on the list is because most beginners and intermediates can build muscle with the worst training programme in the world, given enough effort. Therefore, nutrition is typically the biggest issue.

That aside, training remains a VERY important factor in why you’re not building muscle. After all, just because you might be able to build muscle with a half-assed training programme, doesn’t mean you should. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to spend time grinding away in the gym, I want it to be worthwhile!

So to get your training on track, start with the basics. Progressive Overload, ie the incremental increase of mechanical muscular tension, over time.

“Huh? What the fuck does that mean?”

Practical Strategies For Progressive Overload

If the last sentence left you scratching your head, let’s look at the practical things you can focus on that will help you achieve Progressive Overload heaven.

  • Improve Form: The better you become at performing an exercise, the more you’ll make your muscles work.
  • Increase Weight: Aim to add more weight to your lifts over the long-term. But make sure you maintain form in the process.
  • One More Rep: Track your workouts and refer back to them every time you train. The aim is always to try and do more more rep than last time.
  • More Sets: A simple way to increase training volume is to do more sets. 10-20 per muscle group is a broad target to aim for.

In relation to training volume, it may be beneficial to periodise this set volume over the course of 12 weeks to help manage fatigue. For example, start with 10 sets in week one and progress to 20 over the course of the training block.

And if you want more detail on training volume, watch this interview with Mike Israetel.



The “Not Gaining Muscle” Checklist: Patience

Not Gaining Muscle Iron Paradise Fitness

I’m calling it now! You’re an impatient MOFO. Is it really the case you’re not building muscle, or are you simply not letting time take its effect?

And you’re not alone. We all want to build as much muscle as possible, as quickly as possible. No man or woman walking the Earth ever wants to build muscle in the slowest possible time, right? But setting your expectations is important.

Building muscle takes time. It’s an almost painfully slow process that takes years, which is why learning to enjoy the process is so important. Because if you don’t love training, digging your eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, quickly becomes a more alluring alternative.

So, with that said, let’s set your expectations for what the next 12 months has in store.

How Much Muscle Can You Gain In A Year?

Lyle McDonald has developed guidelines for determining your rate of muscle growth, based on the years of training under your belt.

  • 1 Year Of Proper Training = 20-25 lbs of lean muscle per year
  • 2 Years Of Proper Training = 10-12 lbs of lean muscle per year
  • 3 Years Of Proper Training = 5-6 lbs of lean muscle per year
  • 4+ Years Of Proper Training = 2-3 lbs of lean muscle per year (not worth calculating)

The important thing to note here is that the estimations are based on the number of years of proper training AND nutrition. So, throwing a few weights around, attending a few body pump classes, and being lax with your nutrition, doesn’t count.

In fact, if this is you, class yourself as newbie when using the calculator.

The “How Much Muscle Can I Gain In A Year?” Calculator:

Using Lyle’s guidelines, here’s a simple calculator you can use to set your expectations for the next 12 months.

And if you HAVE been managing your training and nutrition properly for a number of years, the news is bleak. In fact, I’ve not even included you in the calculations, because your rate of muscle gain is almost immeasurable.

You might not be gaining muscle because you’ve hit your genetic ceiling (read more about that here).


The “Not Gaining Muscle” Checklist: Lifestyle And Nutrition

Not Gaining Muscle Iron Paradise Fitness

Lastly on your “not gaining muscle” checklist are the aspects of your lifestyle and nutrition you might consider ‘incidental’. However, they have more impact on your ability to increase muscle mass than you realise.

If You’re Not Gaining Muscle, Optimise Your Sleep Routine

For example, sleep is often neglected. Often considered an after thought in your fast-paced hectic lifestyle, it’s just something that happens at the end of the day. But consciously thinking about optimising your sleep routine could have multiple benefits, including improved recovery, trainability, and mood.

Think about it logically. If you’re constantly tired and sleep-deprived, how effective is your training? Answer. Not very. So address your sleep by following these 6 simple steps:

  • Reduce alcohol and stimulants, particularly when close to bedtime.
  • Turn off phones, laptops, and other electronics at least 60 minutes before sleeping.
  • Find a way to switch off and relax, ie read a book or take a bath.
  • Take care of your sleep environment. Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and designed for sleep only (plus a little sex from time-to-time).
  • Set a routine and stick to it. Define what time you’ll go to bed and wake up each day. This can help your natural body clock get into a rhythm.
  • Exercise regularly. Although, I assume you’re doing this already.

For more detail on optimising sleep, read this article.

Still Not Gaining Muscle? Are You Taking The Right Supplements?

Supplements might have been higher up on your priority list, but the sad truth is they offer minimal benefit. Investing in testosterone boosters and pre-workouts, designed to turn you into a muscle-bound raging primate, are likely doing very little to turn your muscle-building fortunes around.

But, IF (and I mean IF) you have everything on this checklist nailed to perfection, supplements might be the next port of call.

Starting with creatine. Creatine is one of the most researched supplements in sports science. And it works. So if your goal is to build muscle and increase strength, TAKE IT. 5g post-workout is ideal. Here’s more information on creatine if you want to delve into the research and get answers to the most common questions.

Next, caffeine. Taking caffeine can help boost training performance by increasing alertness and reducing RPE (Rate Of Perceived Exertion). 2-6mg pre-workout should have you fired up and ready to go. But beware of your habitual caffeine intake and when you take it. Too much caffeine will blunt its effects and also cause you to become an anxious, jittery mess. Also, a boat-load of caffeine in the evening (if that’s when you train) will impact sleep and be counter-productive.

For more info on the benefits caffeine for building muscle, go here.


The Bottom Line On Why You’re Not Gaining Muscle

The root cause of why you’re not gaining muscle lies in one (or more) of these 3 things. Nutrition, training, and mindset. Addressing each one of these systematically will help transform your progress and put you on the right path to building muscle.

Allow me to reiterate, building muscle is hard. It requires consistent effort over a long period of time. And unless you want to take some under-the-counter chemical enhancements, you need to accept that fact.

However, there are things you can do to make sure you’re progressing as fast as possible, and not wallowing in muscle-building mediocrity.

First, tackle your nutrition. Aim for a consistent energy surplus with regular protein servings throughout the day.

Then, consistently follow a high-quality training programme with a focus on exercise execution and progressive overload.

Lastly, adopt a mindset of patience and dedication. Remind yourself that you are in this for the long haul and there’s no quick fix.

If you apply these principles, not gaining muscle will be a thing of the past. And the body you’ve been striving for will soon become a reality.

Go forth my Fitness Frodo and may the gains be with you, always.



Here’s What To Do If You Want To Build The Most Muscle Possible Over The Next 12 Months

Online Coaching Iron Paradise Fitness

After reading this article, you might be excited at the prospect of transforming your physique. And to do that, you need training, nutrition, and mindset to be aligned.

Through my online coaching programme, The Lean Life Method, I’ll help you lose fat, build muscle, and build the body you’ve been striving for. Ultimately, taking the guesswork out of training and nutrition so you can live a leaner, healthier life for good. 

With The Lean Life Method, you’ll learn a simple, stress-free way to lose fat, build muscle, and feel more confident and healthy than ever before, without torturing yourself in the gym, avoiding wine and pizza, or killing your social life in the process.

And I understand the fact you’re unsure about coaching. After all, you’ve spent thousands on pills, powders, and programmes that delivered nothing. So what’s different about me?

The simple truth is this… I get results and I’ll teach you everything you need to know so you can maintain those results.  So answer me this.

  • How much precious time are you spending trying to figure out what’s right, instead of making progress?
  • Are you sick and tired of never seeing the results your hard effort deserves?
  • How much stress and frustration is your lack of progress adding to your life?

lack of clarity might be holding you back from living the leaner, healthier life you deserve.

Schedule A Consultation Call

Click here find out more about the results, people just like you are getting with the programme. And if you feel like my personal 1:1 support and coaching could bridge the gap between where your are now and what you’re trying to achieve, schedule a free consultation call. But don’t worry, there’s no hard sell. It’s an opportunity to find out if we’re a good fit to work together.

So, if you’re even the slightest bit interested, click here for more information.

But for now, all I’ll say is, keep living the Lean Life. And I’ll see you soon.


build muscle, gains, hypertrophy, resistance training, workout

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