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17 Reasons You're Not Getting Swole

You just lift things up and put them down...right?

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So you've made it to the gym and you're hype AF to build some muscle but...you have nothing to show for your work so far.

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Or maybe you've only seen slight results, like a small cut near your triceps, or marginally better-defined quads. Surely you should have more to show for all those hours you've been putting in at the gym, right? So WTF is the deal?

If you're stuck wondering why you're not growing muscle at a faster pace, you're probably not alone. It's actually pretty complicated, and the reasons vary from one person to another. BUT, to give you a little more insight into what you might be doing wrong, BuzzFeed Health spoke to certified strength coaches Mike Donavanik of MikeDFitness, and Jason Walsh, founder of Rise Nation, as well as registered dietitian Lauren Ott. Here are some ways you might be sabotaging your own progress.

1. You don't warm up before exercising.

Caity Arthur / BuzzFeed News

Picture this: You just got to the gym after a long day at work, where you were sitting at a desk the entire time. You're glad to be out of work and now you're pumped — you're ready to work out your arms and legs, so you get right into it. The thing is your body can't just go from zero to 60 that fast — it needs to be warmed up, Donavanik and Walsh told BuzzFeed Health.

Dynamic warmups will get your blood flowing, which gives you a better chance at growing your muscles. "A lot of times, you're going to lift heavier weights to build strength, but that's a major stress on the whole system," Walsh says. "So we want to make sure those muscles are awake, active, and working."

Look here for more info on dynamic warmups, and why you shouldn't just be stretching.

2. You do almost all isolation movements — like calf raises and bicep curls — when you should be challenging several muscles with compound movements.

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Once you've gotten your warmup out of the way, both coaches suggest bodyweight workouts that'll activate more than just one muscle group. Squats, lunges, pushups, and bear crawls are all ways to start, they said. These types of workout will further stimulate growth by prepping your muscles for heavier weights, while also reducing your risk of injury, says Walsh.

Learn more about compound moves and lifts here.

3. Your weights are too light, or the rep scheme you use doesn't promote growth.

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If you can lift a weight for more than 15 reps then it’s too light. This will build muscular endurance but not strength, Donavanik says. “You want something that’s going to push and challenge you.”

There are lots of ways to format your workout, but Donavanik suggests increasing the weight a bit while decreasing reps with each set — starting, for example, with a weight that you can lift relatively easily for about 10 to 12 reps. “It’s a good pump to get the muscles going, to get blood-flow, to get warmed up," he says. Follow that up with eight to ten reps with a weight that's a bit heavier, then six to eight reps with a weight a little heavier than that, and so on. While the amount by which you up the weight each time will depend on your own body and abilities, Donavanik says that the final one to three reps should always be challenging.

If you’re somewhat new to working out, Donavanik's format will give you an idea of where you max out and what your limits are. After a month or two of getting to know your limits, you can move on to other formats, like four sets of eight reps, or five sets of six reps. You’ll know it’s time to increase the weight once the last couple of sets become easier. “There’s a lot of variation with reps and sets, not one strict regimen,” he says.

4. You overlook good form because you just wanna get the workout over with.

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What's the point of it all if you're not actually targeting or stimulating the muscles that you're trying to work out? Good form ensures that you're activating the right muscles and reduces your risk of getting injured, Donavanik says. And it involves going through the full range of motion and taking your time — you don't want to let the weights speed up the movement — so that you actually feel a pump in the muscles you're targeting.

The key is to get this down in your first set because, as you move through the workout and add on weight, the struggle will cause you to lose some of that form, says Donavanik. "But if you’re better able to activate that right from the get go, the better off you’ll be because it’ll carry on throughout the rest of the sets."

5. You lift heavier than you're actually capable of doing with good form.

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Going beast-mode on some heavy weights may sound like a good idea for building muscle fast, but going too heavy can be a recipe for disaster. Not only do you lose the aforementioned form with heavier weights, but you also open yourself up to getting injured, Donavanik says. You need a foundation to lift heavy. "If you don't have the strength in your muscles, your joints, your tendons, and your ligaments, something in that chain is going to break."

6. You go HAM on cardio (and actually need to chill a bit).

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Simply put, you don't need cardio to gain muscle. In fact, after a certain point, your body will start breaking down muscle to create glucose, the body's fuel, so that you can keep that cardio workout going, Walsh says. And that's sorta counterproductive for your muscle-building goals.

But this doesn't mean you can't do any cardio ever. Light cardio will keep your heart healthy and build cardiovascular endurance, Donavanik says. If your body-composition goals include losing some visible fat, paying closer attention to your diet (more on nutrition shortly) and doing a few cardio sessions a week will help.

Here's some advice on how to lose body fat.

7. You're not working out consistently.

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When you're inconsistent with your workouts, you're not going to make the progress you want. Donavanik says it can take as little as a week or two for your fitness levels to drop off. "I get that it's hard for people to start to get to the gym and make it a habit, but once it's a habit, it usually stays a habit because you can't deny how much better you, your body, and your brain feel when you're working out regularly."

8. You're consuming too much protein.

"A lot of people think the more protein the better, because everyone hears protein equals muscle, and overconsuming protein is a big thing that I think a lot of my clients, especially the muscle-building ones do," Ott told BuzzFeed Health. "I think what people fail to recognize is that excess protein is not going to turn into excess muscle, it's going to turn into fat." After all, excess protein is still extra calories — and if you're eating more calories than you need you will gain weight. The average person only needs between one and one and a half grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, she says. Whole foods are the best way to get it, since there will be other nutrients in the food as well. "I think supplements is a place where people tend to go overboard. Really the max I would want to see anyone taking protein is two grams per kilo, and to get that you'd almost have to be doing supplements." Of course, active vegetarians and vegans might need to rely on supplements for protein needs.You can learn more about protein right here.
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"A lot of people think the more protein the better, because everyone hears protein equals muscle, and overconsuming protein is a big thing that I think a lot of my clients, especially the muscle-building ones do," Ott told BuzzFeed Health. "I think what people fail to recognize is that excess protein is not going to turn into excess muscle, it's going to turn into fat." After all, excess protein is still extra calories — and if you're eating more calories than you need you will gain weight.

The average person only needs between one and one and a half grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, she says. Whole foods are the best way to get it, since there will be other nutrients in the food as well. "I think supplements is a place where people tend to go overboard. Really the max I would want to see anyone taking protein is two grams per kilo, and to get that you'd almost have to be doing supplements." Of course, active vegetarians and vegans might need to rely on supplements for protein needs.

You can learn more about protein right here.

9. And maybe too many carbs.

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While you might have heard that carbs are a necessary part of bulking up, they're actually not as crucial as you might think. "I don't think we need as many carbs as we thought we did for muscle building," Ott says, "but I think that you absolutely do need some amount of carbs because cutting them out can start to affect your immune system and inflammation, which can hinder muscle growth."

So, while 50% of your caloric intake might not need to be carbs, it should still be around 30% to 40%, she says. "They're going to help your body absorb that protein."

Wanna know more about carbs? Check this out.

10. But not enough fats.

Just like protein and carbs, fats are an essential component of muscle growth — especially omega-3 fatty acids, Ott says. You can find them in different types of fish and olive oil. According to Ott, they're anti-inflammatory, and might even help the body build lean muscle. "Fatty acids also fuel our energy and create hormones, in particular estrogen and testosterone, which can also help with muscle-building. So you want to balance all of your macronutrients, not just carbs and protein."You can read more about fats and how to eat them here.
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Just like protein and carbs, fats are an essential component of muscle growth — especially omega-3 fatty acids, Ott says. You can find them in different types of fish and olive oil. According to Ott, they're anti-inflammatory, and might even help the body build lean muscle. "Fatty acids also fuel our energy and create hormones, in particular estrogen and testosterone, which can also help with muscle-building. So you want to balance all of your macronutrients, not just carbs and protein."

You can read more about fats and how to eat them here.

11. You're not getting the right balance of calories, which should be just a little more than you'd usually need.

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The ~perfect~ amount of calories will be different for everyone, since it depends on the amount of exercise you do, how intense it is, and a range of other factors involving a person's own body. But the average person should be getting about 200 extra calories in their diet if they want to build muscle, Ott says, because not eating enough could have the opposite effect.

"If you're cutting back too much on calories, you'll actually start to lose muscle," she says. So it's kind of a balance between eating enough calories to sustain muscle-building, but not so many that you gain possibly unwanted fat.

And just a reminder: You need the right nutrition to build muscle every day and not just on days you went to the gym, so follow the "plate method" for as many meals as possible. A standard dinner plate should be about one-quarter lean protein, one-quarter complex or whole-grain carbs, and one-half non-starchy vegetables, Ott says.

12. You're not drinking as much water as you should be.

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Water is important in general, but when it comes to working out it may be the difference between a productive visit to the gym and an unproductive one. "Dehydration is the number one cause of fatigue," Ott says. "So making sure you're hydrated during and after a workout will affect your energy, which in turn affects how productive your workouts are."

Muscle is composed mostly of water, "so it just kind of makes sense," Walsh says. After all, how are you going to build muscle if you don't have one of its main components flowing generously through your body?

13. You're using crappy supplements or not using them correctly.

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Aside from giving you more protein than you actually need, Ott says that a lot of protein supplements have way too much sugar in them — a detriment to your gains. Ideally, you want a protein powder that has about two grams of sugar per serving, or a protein bar that has a max of about six to seven grams of sugar per serving.

If you need supplements to get the recommended amount of protein per day and you're not allergic to milk, Ott says that whey protein is the way to go after a workout, since the body absorbs it pretty quickly. If you want to supply your muscles with more protein while you sleep, she says casein is a better choice, since you will absorb it slowly over the course of the night. If you're allergic to milk, you're better off avoiding these and sticking to pea-and-rice proteins.

14. You're not getting enough sleep.

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People sleep (pun intended) on how beneficial a good night's rest can be to muscle recovery, especially when you're putting your body through super-intense workouts, Donavanik says. It's when your cortisol (stress hormone) levels drop, allowing for the production of testosterone and other growth hormones, Walsh says. "Your body gets to homeostasis, where it undergoes all the repair it needs, and that's what stimulates muscle growth," says Donavanik.

15. You're not foam rolling, or doing anything else to massage your sore muscles.

Sure, stretching after a workout might help loosen you up and reduce soreness, but going the extra mile by foam rolling (or getting a massage) will move your recovery along at a faster pace. And the faster you feel less constricted by sore muscles, the faster you can get back to the gym. "It's kind of like a poor man's massage. It's gonna help flush the muscles, remove lactic acid, and help realign muscle fibers," says Walsh. "Using the foam roller after a workout is going to keep the muscle looking like filet mignon instead of beef jerky."
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Sure, stretching after a workout might help loosen you up and reduce soreness, but going the extra mile by foam rolling (or getting a massage) will move your recovery along at a faster pace. And the faster you feel less constricted by sore muscles, the faster you can get back to the gym. "It's kind of like a poor man's massage. It's gonna help flush the muscles, remove lactic acid, and help realign muscle fibers," says Walsh. "Using the foam roller after a workout is going to keep the muscle looking like filet mignon instead of beef jerky."

16. You don't have a workout plan that involves working out different muscle groups on different days.

If you've ever been so sore from a workout that you decided to skip the gym the next day, we definitely hear that. But if you're looking to build muscle, you should be going to the gym about four days a week. Choosing not to go could slow down your recovery, Donavanik says, noting that you need to keep moving to flush out toxins like lactic acid, and get blood flowing back into your muscles. One way to do this without tiring yourself out or overworking your muscles is to work on different muscle groups on different days. "So let's say that on Monday you do the upper body, on Tuesday work your lower body," he says. Even if you really do feel like a break from lifting is necessary, you can at least do some light cardio. "You'll still get blood flow, you'll get your heart rate up, and you'll get yourself moving — so you'll repair muscle faster than if you just sat down and did nothing."
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If you've ever been so sore from a workout that you decided to skip the gym the next day, we definitely hear that. But if you're looking to build muscle, you should be going to the gym about four days a week. Choosing not to go could slow down your recovery, Donavanik says, noting that you need to keep moving to flush out toxins like lactic acid, and get blood flowing back into your muscles.

One way to do this without tiring yourself out or overworking your muscles is to work on different muscle groups on different days. "So let's say that on Monday you do the upper body, on Tuesday work your lower body," he says. Even if you really do feel like a break from lifting is necessary, you can at least do some light cardio. "You'll still get blood flow, you'll get your heart rate up, and you'll get yourself moving — so you'll repair muscle faster than if you just sat down and did nothing."

17. And you expect quick results.

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Patience and dedication are key when you're trying to build muscle, Donavanik says. Misconceptions come from every direction, from friends to fitness magazines and other media. But the reality is that building muscle correctly and sustainably takes time. "You hear about actors looking to get a role, and they pack on pounds of muscle in a couple of months — that's not real. Your body isn't meant to handle that. It bounces back," he says.

Similarly, Donavanik says that the 12-week plans you see in magazines probably won't make you look like Wolverine, because everyone has different body types and metabolisms. Instead, you should just take bits and pieces from the plans, like specific workouts or techniques.

"There are different methods and you just have to figure out what works best for your body," Walsh says. "Consistency and creating an environment for that muscle to grow are key."

Now get out there and build that muscle. OH YEAHHH!

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