By the way some people train and eat, you’d swear they were trying to lose muscle, not build it. But, hey, maybe that’s what they want, and if you want to join them you’re more than welcome to. So if you’re looking to lose some size—if you’re already so jacked that your biceps are tearing your sleeves, and your dream is to look skinny and weak—you can do what they do. Or maybe you’re doing it already and don’t even realize it.
The only way to find out for sure is by checking out my list of the 10 worst workout mistakes—things you do that sabotage your progress and cost you muscle.
1. YOU DON’T EAT ENOUGH (FOR FEAR OF GETTING FAT)
Yes, extra calories can sometimes mean extra belly fat, but if you’re lifting consistently and correctly, most of what you’re taking in should be converted to muscle. The truth is your muscles will never grow without a surplus of calories. For a lean guy looking to put on muscle mass, 2,000 calories a day won’t cut it. In fact, this kind of restricted diet is actually the ideal recipe for losing muscle tissue and sparing fat, as it causes the body to shift into starvation mode and shed calorie-consuming muscle. It also makes you store fat for emergency energy. And the less protein you eat, the less of a chance you give your muscles to recover after a workout. So instead, pay closer attention to how "clean" you eat. You already know what is junk and what is not.
2. YOU AMP UP YOUR CARDIO
There are three ways that cardio typically cancels out muscle gains: doing it too often, doing it for too long, or doing it on an empty stomach. In general, daily cardio sessions simply burn too many cumulative calories to allow you the surplus you need for muscle mass, and the same can be said for sessions that last 45 minutes or more. Work out in the morning before breakfast and you only compound the problem.
When you wake up, your body is already in a catabolic (muscle-burning) state, since a night’s sleep (time spent without eating) empties your tank. Working out immediately just reinforces this condition and costs you intensity, whether on the treadmill or with the weights. The end result: You burn muscle as fuel in place of calories you should have consumed at breakfast.
3. YOU WORK TO EXHAUSTION
If the biggest muscle-head in the gym has taught us anything, it’s that doing lots and lots of sets and reps to the point of total collapse (he can’t even muster his signature grunt!) is the best way to build muscle (WRONG!). However, more than 20 total sets per muscle group, or more than 15 reps per set, may leave your muscles swollen (hence the ego-enhancing “pump”), but it will be from inflammation, not actual muscle growth. Any weight that allows that much work is too light to cause substantial growth, and you’ll reap no lasting gains.
4. YOU FAVOUR BODY-PART WORKOUTS
Breaking your training down into chest days, back days, and arm days over. It works some muscles and neglects others. It’s an old-school way to train and it’s incredibly outdated. Most guys still do it, and many make gains for a while, but their progress eventually comes to a halt, usually due to injuries. Body-part routines also prevent your biggest muscles from ever learning to work together in the kinds of coordinated effort you need to lift really heavy weights—another major avenue for fast growth.
5. YOU SHUN WARM-UPS AND POST WORKOUT STRETCHING
You should spend a minimum of 5-15 minutes preparing your body for action. This means getting your heart rate up, warming up all the muscle groups and joints you're about to work with. Warming up plays a critical role in releasing synovial fluid that supports your joint when it is loaded and decreases inflammation and reduces the risk of injury. The key to this is don't stop until you break a sweat doing a very dynamic warm-up series.
As for stretching... Boring? Definitely. But stretching has been shown to speed up recovery and increase a muscle’s range of motion, making more room for muscle fibres to grow. Simply lifting weights will increase your risk for injury and severely limit your ability to move athletically (so no matter how big you are, you’ll probably be picked last for teams). Join a yoga class specializing in recovery-speeding Yin Yoga if you are new to this.
6.YOU ONLY EAT SPORADICALLY
It’s true: Eating infrequently is nearly as bad as not eating at all. When you go more than three hours without food, your metabolism slows significantly. When that happens, every time you do get a meal, there’s a good chance that a large percentage of it will be stored as fat. Why? Blame your body. Without food, it slips back into starvation mode and starts to think it needs to hold on to every calorie it can get.
7. YOU RARELY ALTER YOUR ROUTINE
Doing the exact same workout week after week will, at best, prevent new gains, and, at worst, lead to burnout. Failing to impose any new challenges on your muscles, such as by increasing the weight you use or the number of reps you perform, simply helps keep them the same size, whereas pushing yourself harder than you’re accustomed to will actually spur new muscle and strength.
8.YOU ONLY TRAIN WHAT YOU SEE IN THE MIRROR
Focusing your workouts on trophy muscles such as the pecs and biceps may be more fun, but it won’t do much for your overall development. Since 70% of your body’s total musculature is located in your legs and back, your main potential for muscle gains will remain untapped. Furthermore, this kind of training will leave you with muscle imbalances that lead to injury, and that can keep you out of the gym permanently. A balanced, full body program, such as my 6-Month Transformation Program, is best.
9. YOU DON’T TAKE CARE OF RECOVERY
You should pay close attention to your recovery plan post workout. You should be planning an easy to digest meal, smoothie, or shake that has a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. The one I drink is Vega Recovery Accelerator. This jumpstarts the recovery process, replenishing lost glycogen, and providing the nutrients your body requires to repair muscle and grow more of it. Skipping this and casually waiting an hour or more for your next meal is one of the worst mistakes you can make.
10. YOU DON’T GET ENOUGH REST
Sleep is when muscle repair happens, so getting six or fewer hours of shut-eye a night limits your body’s natural production of crucial muscle-building chemicals, such as growth hormone. Too much activity outside of your workouts, such as playing sports, all-night dance parties, and extra stress—all of which are permissible now and then, but dangerous in excess—also cut into muscle gains. And if you’ve been working out seven days a week, I’ve got another pleasant surprise for you: You’ll lose muscle for sure. Such a high frequency won’t allow for regeneration, and your efforts will be wasted. And no, it doesn’t matter if you’re training different muscle groups each day you still have the same central nervous system, and it still gets tired of having to deal with major physical exertion every day.