How to Gain Muscle: 5 Killer Mistakes You Must Avoid

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

You want to know how to gain muscle? Sick of being skinny and weak?

Then start eliminating these five mistakes and you’ll be on your way.

1) Training Too Often

In order to grow you must provide your body with the optimal stimulus and then back off and allow it time to rest and recover. Without ample rest time you will never grow to your maximal potential. For this reason I recommend that most average, busy, drug-free guys don’t do more than three big weight-training workouts per week. You can do some easier stuff on the other days, but three big days is a good starting point for most people.

2) Training Strictly For the Pump

Far too often I see skinny guys in the gym pumping away 10-15 rep sets with weights lighter than my grandmother would use. Yes, high volume training leads to a great pump but a great pump does not always lead to muscle growth; especially when you’re weak.

You can get a pump by treading water for a few minutes but everyone knows that won’t turn you into a mass monster any time soon. Chasing the pump should only be a small concern in your workout; after you have gotten your more productive heavy lifting out of the way.

At the end of the day you have to get stronger. Everything else pales in comparison.

Once you get strong, after a few years of training properly, you can worry about pump work.

3) Not Cycling Your Training Intensity

Overzealous skinny guys love to work themselves into the ground. They figure the harder they work the quicker the gains will come. The problem is that when you constantly train with balls-to-the-wall intensity you will eventually burn out, you get injured or your immune system goes and you get sick. All of this will obviously slow down the rate at which you gain muscle.

If you want to make long lasting gains you have to back off once in a while and give your body a break. After a period of reduced intensity you can ramp back up again and repeat the cycle. I recommend no more than 8-12 weeks of balls out training followed by a 1-2 week deloading period.

If you’re over 35 and/or have been training for a while you may be better off limiting your high intensity training to 6-8 weeks and following it up with a deload.

4) Using the Wrong Exercise Order

One thing that is often overlooked by those interested in gaining muscle is exercise order. You should usually start your workouts with the most neurologically demanding exercise.

So if you are doing a clean or any other form of explosive lift or jump this exercise would usually come before squats or chin ups… but not always.

If you are not doing explosive lifts or speed work, the biggest compound exercise should usually come first. Therefore a squat would usually come before a split squat.

Also, the heaviest, lowest rep sets should be done early in the workout and the higher rep work should be done at the end.

So basically it goes:

    • Speed work
    • Maximal strength work
    • Pump/ assistance work

There are exceptions to this rule and times when breaking it could actually be quite beneficial but for the most part his is how you should plan your training for your first few years.

When you get more advanced you can get great results by putting your speed work later in the session. I learned this from my friend, NCAA & NFL strength coach, Joe Kenn, many years ago and use it with my more advanced guys.

As you get stronger you may also want to consider doing some moderate rep work first on a safer exercise before preceding into your heavy barbell work. So something like doing glute ham raises and rows before deadlifts. This ensures that you are fully warmed up and prepared for the heavy lifting to come.

Beginners, however should stick with the order listed above.

5) Not Using a Training Journal

If you want to get bigger and stronger you absolutely must record each and every workout you do in some type of notebook or training journal. That gives you a goal and something to beat at your next workout. And the one after that, and the one after that.

There is no way anyone (unless you have a photographic memory) can remember all of the details of every workout they do. So without a record of it you are just guessing and never know if you are doing more or less than the previous workout.

And if you want to get bigger and stronger you had better be doing more; be it weight, sets or reps. Progressive overload is the key to size and strength gains.