Let me start out by saying that this post is not for beginners. If you’ve been training for less than two years most of what’s written below will not apply. As a newbie you need to learn proper technique and stick to the basics. Once you’ve built your foundation and packed on your first 15-20 pounds a plateau is sure to rear it’s ugly head at some point.
So if that’s where you’re at right now and are wondering why you’re not gaining any muscle read on and hopefully you’ll find some useful info to get you growing again.
You’re Still Doing 5×5
A beginner plan like a 5×5 set up is awesome. For beginners. But once you’re no longer a beginner you’ll burn out on that after a while. There are no championship lifters or bodybuilders who follow such a plan. It’s good to take you from point A to point B, to enforce proper technique and to keep training volume manageable for a newbie who usually doesn’t have the best work capacity.
Once you’ve milked your newbie gains dry 5×5 and other beginner type programs will start to become more and more useless. For one thing, you can’t do nothing but big barbell lifts all week long. Secondly, you’ll need some more variety and rep work to keep progressing and remain healthy and injury free.
You’re Not Getting a Pump
Getting a pump doesn’t matter when you’re a beginner. That’s actually the last thing you should be worrying about. So you can do a 5×5 workout and be fine.
A pump is not necessary for muscle growth during the first year of training… Personally I always like to attain a sound pump, with one proviso. I like to arrive at it via quality sets… – Vince Gironda, The Iron Guru
But cellular swelling and the act of accumulating fatigue is a very important aspect of muscle growth for everyone beyond the newbie phase. That means you need to some higher rep sets (8+) or rest less between sets or both. But do it with high quality, heavy sets like The Iron Guru advised. Just doing sets of 25 reps with light weights ain’t gonna cut it.
The biggest problem you need to worry about is not getting a pump when you are doing both of those things. If you’re doing multiple sets of eight with a minute rest between and hardly getting a pump something is seriously wrong and needs to be addressed.
I’d look toward your hydration, sodium intake, increase your carbs, especially around training and make sure you’re sleeping properly. When you can’t get a pump something is wrong and needs to be fixed ASAP.
Then you know something’s wrong.
Which leads me into the next mistake…
You’re Just Hoisting Weight & Not Maximizing Tension
Everybody wants to lift the heaviest weights possible. So they often do more on each set than they can handle and end up using less than perfect form. That’s fine for some people but too many others only feel exercises in their knees, hips, lower back, elbows and shoulders instead of where they’re actually supposed to feel it… the belly of the muscle.
I can’t tell you how many guys I work with who never feel their lats or their pecs or their glutes or whatever simply because they are just heaving weight. All the stress is in their joints and connective tissue. Instead of building the size they hoped for they end up with shitty physiques and shoulder injuries.
When I have them lighten the load a bit and focus on keeping the tension on the muscle they’re supposed to be training, instead of just mindlessly heaving away they actually start to get a pump and grow.
Heavy low repetition work performed with plentiful rest between sets is not the way to gain quality size. Divorce yourself from this type of notion and any preoccupation with handling continual maximum weights, be it in singles or low repetitions where weight and not work is the motivator. -
You’re Resting too Long Between Sets
Shorter rest periods have always been positively correlated with muscle growth. That’s why big guys always recommend an average of a minute or so between assistance exercises. If you’re working up to a heavy, top end set of a squat, deadlift or press variation you can rest a bit longer.
But on stuff like dumbbell presses, rows and glute ham raises you shouldn’t be sitting around chatting and texting between sets. Somewhere between 45 and 90 seconds rest should be plenty. That will do more for body composition changes and hypertrophy than rest periods of 3-5 minutes.
You’re Not Changing Your Program Frequently Enough
As a newbie you should stick with the same program for quite some time. But as a more advanced lifter you need more frequent changes.
The first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, always said that the variety was the key to muscle growth and also the key to staying healthy. I agree wholeheartedly.
When you’re advanced the concept of progressive overload, which is critically important during your first couple years of training, no longer holds water.
As Louie Simmons has said a thousand times before, it will actually destroy you. So you need variety. That’s why many top powerlifters, including all the Westside guys, rotate exercises weekly. It allows you still train hard without burning out and it keeps you healthier.
The reason it keeps you healthier is because it eliminates the repetitive stress. When you swing a tennis racquet or golf club over and over you can develop tendon issues.
Everyone’s heard of tennis elbow, of course. Well, what do you think happens when you press a barbell, that weighs a hell of a lot more than a tennis racquet, in the same plane over and over again? You get hurt, that’s what.
I haven’t done the exact same workout twice in a row in years. I have all my advanced guys make some changes to their programs a minimum of every two weeks.
The key is to have some rhyme or reason to the changes and to keep track of things over time.
That’s what we do in The Renegade Inner Circle. The workouts I write for you guy have some kind of small changes each week that ensure your health and long term progress.
And I’m there, along with the rest of the Renegade Coaching Team to answer all of your questions along the way.
Click HERE to join us and break on through to the other side.