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7 Reasons You’re Not Making Gains

August 12, 2019

heavy seated shoulder press

Have you been hitting the gym religiously but frustrated by not making gains

You’re training hard and eating, but your muscles just aren’t growing. I know, it sucks…I’ve been there too.

In this post, I’m going to share 6 reasons why you may not packing on more muscle.  I’m also going to give you some simple, practical methods to change that.

So go make a protein shake and get your gym bag ready. Because after you finish reading this, you’ll wanna go to the gym and train! 

1 – Focusing on the Wrong Exercises

why you're not making gains

This first mistake is one I made in my early years of training. If you want to build that thick, dense muscle mass, you can’t be fooling around with the cable machines and fancy exercises you see online or in bodybuilding magazines.

Rather, you’ve got to go after those exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck. What are these exercises?

Chances are you’re doing bench press on a regular basis (who doesn’t?). But if you’re to not doing exercises like squats, deadlifts, and barbell rows (also called bent-over rows) each week, you’re missing out on some serious gains.

Why are these compound exercises so important for making gains? There are a few reasons…

  • Compound exercises work your largest muscles, contributing to more mass
  • They also recruit several other muscles for support, making you stronger overall
  • Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bent-over rows take more effort than any other exercise, helping you build defined muscle (aka quality mass)

*Some may argue that last point, but just film yourself doing a heavy set of deadlifts – you’ll see muscles popping out you didn’t know you had!

So make sure you’re starting your workouts with a compound exercise…

  • Chest Daystart with bench press
  • Leg Daystart with squats or deadlifts
  • Back Daystart with barbell rows or deadlifts

Then you can move on to the other exercises that target the muscle more directly.

2 – Not Focusing Enough on Legs

focus on legs for mass gains

How many days a week do you train upper body? If I had to guess, 3-4 days a week, right?

Now, how many times a week do you train legs?

This conversation is about to get a little uncomfortable! You see, legs will indeed make or break a physique. If you have a massive upper body but sticks for legs, that’s just not going to look right. 

Here’s the problem – Your legs are going to make up a ‘huge’ (no pun intended!) portion of your overall muscle mass. In fact, most people could stop training upper body for several weeks and just focus on legs, and they would make tremendous gains. 

*The same goes for strength. If you can bench press more than you can squat, that’s just sad!

Consider focusing more on legs for mass gains. And try training them twice a week instead of just once.

In fact, I have an entire post you’ll find extremely helpful that gives you the road map to training legs twice a week. You can read more here: Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Build Bigger Legs

3 – Emphasizing Chest Over Back

row as much as you bench press

Remember when I said above how sad it is if you can bench press more than you squat? The same goes for rows.

Now I’ll pose the question: Can you row as much as you can bench?

If the answer is no, then let this section be a challenge for you! Your new goal is to barbell row more than you can bench press.

The reason behind this is because your chest is a much smaller muscle than your back. Yet so many focus on their chest more than back. You far greater potential for building overall mass with having a huge back as opposed to a big chest.

Far too many bodybuilders and weightlifters put too much emphasis on their chest that their back muscles are taking a ‘back seat.’ Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, choose to create a proportioned physique

If you’re serious about building a bigger and stronger back and rowing more than you can bench press, then read my post: Can You Train Chest and Back Together?

4 – Neglecting Recovery

If there’s one sure way to not gain muscle, it’s by neglecting proper recovery. Your muscles do not grow while you’re training them in the gym.

They grow when your home, resting, drinking a protein shake, watching Netflix, and sleeping (mainly sleeping!).

Since it’s the most important, let’s focus on sleep. The reason why sleep is so critical is because that’s when our natural levels of hormones can be boosted (testosterone and growth hormone). 

This is triggered when we’re in our deep sleep (REM). And this is the time our body can repair and rebuild muscle tissue.

Here are some practical sleep methods for bodybuilders and weightlifters:

  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to that (ex: bedtime at 10 PM, wake up at 5:30 AM)
  • Play around with this schedule for a couple of weeks to determine how much sleep you need (you don’t want too little, and you don’t want too much)
  • Take a ZMA supplement or drink a cup of herbal tea (obviously non-caffeinated) about an hour before bed
  • Do some form of stretching or Yoga before bed
  • Read something ‘light’ before bed
  • Don’t check social media or get involved with anything that’s going to press your emotional buttons before bed

These are all things that will calm you and relax your mind so that you can fall asleep faster. 

5 – Maxing Out Every Set

don't max out on every set

I’ll always encourage lifting heavyweights. It’s one of the keys to making serious muscle gains. Without heavyweights, you’ll only get so far. 

However, I’ve seen many people head straight to the bench press and max out on every set. This is not a good formula for muscle size. Your muscles need a certain amount of volume to grow. 

There are two easy ways for you to ensure you get enough volume (sets and reps) to grow:

  1. Work up to a heavyweight by starting lighter with more reps, and work your way up to a couple of heavy sets towards the end
  2. After your main compound exercise, make sure you pump out more sets and reps with isolation exercises (ones that target the muscle)

Remember, showing up to the gym to attempt to show off doesn’t build muscle. Nor does boosting ego. Heavyweights with a mix of volume is what will make you pack on mass.

So yes, lift hard and heavy, but don’t forget that you need volume, and don’t max out every set. Save that for a Saturday with your buddies, or any non-training day.

I have an interesting article for you to read later on rep ranges, and what truly works best for building more muscle (the answer may surprise you!): High Reps vs Low Reps: Best Rep Range for Muscle Size

6 – Imbalanced Nutrition

Vegan Thai curry with tofu homemade meal

You don’t have to be a certified nutritionist to know that if you don’t consume enough calories, you simply will not pack on muscle mass. But you actually have to take it a step further and make sure you’re consuming the right types of calories.

The ‘just eat bro’ philosophy doesn’t work for quality gains (there are some exceptions for hardgainers). To really pack on true muscle, you need a balance of both macro and micronutrients.

Simply put, you need: 

  • Quality protein
  • Complex carbs (simple carbs post-workout)
  • Healthy fats

Protein will help you build muscle and recover from your workouts. Having some simple carbs post-workout will replenish glycogen levels, where complex carbs will be used for energy.

Consuming healthy fats can help protect your joints and there are many additional benefits.

If you need help with meal planning, definitely check out the post below that caters to your goals:

Meal Plans for Mass Gains
Meal Plans for Getting Shredded

So the bottom line is yes, make sure you eat enough to make gains, but also make sure you’re getting enough quality nutrients.

7 – Not Changing Your Workout Routine

Are you doing everything right but still not making gains? This is a common problem and that’s simply because the workout program you’re currently doing may have run its course. 

In other words, your muscles have adapted to the same workouts and are no longer responding.

This doesn’t mean you have to change up your entire routine. I’m not saying leave your bodybuilding workouts behind and go join a CrossFit gym or anything dramatic like that. Just a few subtle changes are oftentimes all you need.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Change up the days for each muscle
  • Add drop sets or rest-pause sets at the end of your workouts (you can read about more techniques to increase intensity here)
  • Change up the order of exercises
  • Add more overall reps
  • Train agonist and antagonist muscles together (ex: check and back)

**I have an entire post dedicated to helping you determine when it’s time to change up your workouts, and exactly how to go about it here: How to Know When to Change Up Your Workouts

Putting It All Together For Gains

Building muscle isn’t rocket science. But you do have to follow certain rules if you want to make the most out of your time in the gym and pack on mass.

If you neglect these rules, you’re missing out on gains. And I don’t want that for anyone. So here’s everything in a snapshot, putting it all together so you can start making serious gains:

  • Make sure you’re starting your workouts with heavy compound exercises that build the most muscle
  • Never, ever skip leg day (in fact, try training legs twice a week)
  • Work your back just as hard, if not harder than your chest
  • Set a sleep schedule and do what is needed to rest your mind before bedtime
  • Leave your ego at the door (don’t max out every set)
  • Get plenty of quality protein, carbs, and fats
  • Change up your workout routine

**If you’re ready to commit to an intense 12-week training program, start one of my premium programs today:

Hardcore Muscle Building Program
Lean Muscle Building Program

Train with Passion,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!