You’re going to the gym, you’re training regularly, and maybe you’ve seen some gains in your muscles, but you aren’t seeing the overall progress that you’d like. This is a story I hear from people all the time, and at different stages of their journey with fitness. Why aren’t you building muscle as fast as you’d like?
Building muscle is a goal many of my listeners have, but there are some common mistakes I see people making over and over. Today, I’m discussing some common pitfalls when it comes to building muscle so you can start seeing the kind of progress that you desire.
Tune in this week to discover the common muscle-building mistakes that are stopping you from getting the most out of your strength training. I’m giving you practical workout tips backed by scientific data that will help you get the most out of your strength training, and show you visible results faster than what you’re doing right now.
Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.
What You Will Discover:
- Common mistakes you need to avoid when you start strength training.
- What progressive overload is and why it matters.
- Why you don’t even need to lift weights to start building muscle.
- The role consistency plays in building muscle.
- How long I suggest is the bare minimum time you need to stick with a program to start seeing results.
- The problem with overtraining and doing too many moves in a single workout.
- 5 foundational movements that will help you hit every muscle group.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
Full Episode Transcript:
You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #68. If you want to build muscle, train smarter, not harder, by avoiding these common pitfalls.
Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.
Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, today we’re talking about common pitfalls you might encounter while trying to build muscle. So many of you have told me that you want to build muscle. You’re going to the gym, you’re strength training regularly, and maybe you’ve seen some gains in your muscle, but you just aren’t seeing the overall progress that you’d like.
There are some fairly common, repeatable reasons for that, which I’ve seen over and over again. So, I’m going to go through these today, and pick apart some of the most common reasons you aren’t building muscle as fast as you’d like. Know that there are many more than what I’m going to hit on today, but these are the big ones that I see repeatedly.
My goal in this episode is to help you think about your approach to strength training. So, as you listen, consider what you are doing that might be hindering your progress towards building the physique you want. And, think about how you can incorporate some of these suggestions into your next strength training session. Okay?
Before we jump into that, I just want to say another quick thank you for sending me your feedback and written reviews of the podcast. I just read one from Mbh711. The title was, “Don’t let the title scare you away.” Mbh is a grandmother of three, and said she’s not strong yet but she’s working on it.
She said, “Carrie will guide you to look at things differently. Stay in the game and just do something are my new go to phrases.” To that, I say a Hell Yes! and a big thank you to Mbh711 for writing those super kind words.
I know this podcast is called Strong as a Working Mom, and one of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve created more and more episodes is that the messages apply really to anyone. I have a special bent towards working professional mothers, largely because I am one, and I wanted to create a resource for women who might not be taking the best care of themselves because they’re too busy taking care of everything and everyone around them.
But I realized more and more that this applies to more than moms. The concepts I cover here are relevant to pretty much everyone. I appreciate that not everyone listening is a working mom. So, thank you. If you haven’t yet, please submit a review of the podcast so I can get these tools to anyone who needs them. Thanks.
So, let’s go. Let’s get to it. The first pitfall that’s keeping you from building muscle is not aiming for progressive overload. I know I’ve mentioned this concept multiple times already on the podcast, and it applies again here, but I’ll keep it simple.
Progressive overload is really the foundational principle of strength training. It’s a fairly simple concept. In order to build muscle, you have to subject that muscle to an increased stress over time. The most fun way to do that is by increasing your resistance or bumping up your weight. What that means is grabbing the 20-pound dumbbells, instead of the 15s, for your biceps curls, as an example.
There are other ways to lift for progressive overload, though. You can increase the number of sets, or increase the number of reps of an exercise. So, instead of doing three sets of eight biceps curls, you do three sets of 10, or four sets of eight, in order to increase the total volume of the stress applied to your muscles.
You can also decrease your rest time. I’m going to talk about that in just a few minutes, because this can also work against you depending on how little rest you give yourself.
You can also increase the frequency of your training sessions. Though again, there is a sweet spot here so that you’re not overdoing it and overtraining. But all of these are ways to increase the stress on your muscles so that you’re lifting for progressive overload.
For most people, increasing your weight, number of sets, or number of reps, will be the three most practical ways to do this. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, in whatever way you choose to lift for progressive overload, maintaining proper form is a must.
If you’re lifting with poor form, you’re not going to build muscle. Instead, you’re building bad habits and you’re setting yourself up to get hurt. What all this means is that if you’re not pushing yourself and if you’re not challenging your muscles by going heavy, or by increasing your volume of training over time, you’re going to plateau. You aren’t going to see any change in your muscle.
I use this example all the time. Doing the same three sets of 10 chest presses with the same 20-pound dumbbells for the last two plus years, that’s not going to get you progressive overload. That’s not going to help you build muscle.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to kill yourself every time you go to lift weights. But if you want to see progress, you have to go hard and continually challenge yourself.
To take this just a little farther, because some of you have asked, if you are just starting out, your body weight is good enough. Some of you have asked, “If you don’t belong to a gym, or if you don’t have weights, can you start with your body weight?” The answer is yes, you absolutely can.
However, that being said, if you want to put on serious, legit muscle, you are eventually going to need to increase your resistance. So, the next step from here would be things like tubes and loops. Tubes and loops, like stuff that you can get on Amazon, are an easy, relatively inexpensive way to add resistance to your workout.
But again, that will only take you so far. Eventually, you’re going to need heavier weight in order to continue building muscle. You’re likely going to need access to heavy dumbbells and/or a barbell and plates if you want to continue building muscle.
So, the key here is that in order to build muscle you have to continually challenge yourself and aim for progressive overload. Lift heavy stuff, and aim to beat your own personal best regularly. Okay?
All right, next. Another reason you may not be building muscle is that you are constantly changing up your routine. If you’re not following any sort of structured weight training program, you’re probably going to struggle putting on muscle.
One of the most common things I see is that someone will program hop. She’ll do a program, she found from an Instagram influencer, for three weeks. Then she’ll get bored and do a few Peloton workouts here and there. Then she’ll do a couple of workout classes at the YMCA with her friend. But there’s no structure to her plan.
So, while it is certainly fun to change things up, if you do that too often, you run the risk of losing out on muscle. If you’re going to follow a dedicated strength training program, find a program that works for your life and schedule, and then stick with it for long enough to see true progress.
What I find is that often, when you’re starting a new exercise program, it can take a few weeks to really get into it. You have to determine your starting weights, how much rest time you need in order to feel good during your sets, and feel out the moves to know whether you are doing them with proper form. All of those things take time.
Then, once you get comfortable with the rhythm of your workout, then you can start to push things a little. You can add a few extra reps onto the end of your last set of rows. Or you can take the next heavier dumbbell for your last set and see what you can do. Then you can come back to that heavier dumbbell again next week, when you do your rows, and see how it feels then. But all of these things take time.
It’s hard to lift for progressive overload and build muscle when you’re constantly changing up your workouts. If you’re wondering about muscle confusion, to date, there is no solid body of evidence that supports frequently changing your workout in order to bolster muscle growth.
The proposed idea behind muscle confusion is that confused muscles, exposed to constantly changing workouts, will grow bigger and stronger than muscles exposed to a consistent routine. But muscle confusion, to this point, is another bro-science term that you might hear in bodybuilding circles. But as of now, it is not rooted in science.
You don’t need to confuse your muscles with a new routine every few days. If the literature changes on this, I will certainly update. But for now, muscle confusion is not a widely accepted phenomenon. Okay?
So, rather than constantly changing from one program to the next, choose a program that meets your needs. You can do a two-day program. You do a five-day program. As long as it’s hitting up all the major muscle groups, you’re good. Whatever cadence or rhythm you decide, stick with it.
And, commit to it for at least a couple of weeks, at minimum four weeks.
I’ll be the first to say there is no science to back this one up, okay? There’s no evidence to support this. This is coming from my experience training people. Four weeks is the bare minimum amount of time I would want you working a program, for all the reasons I just mentioned.
You need time to get into a rhythm, and then more time to amp up the intensity, and it’s hard to do that in four weeks. Something like 6-12 weeks would give you a solid amount of time to get really good at a lifting program, and then you go and shake it up. But you don’t have to worry about confusing your muscles. Okay?
If you’re getting bored, then yes, change it. I don’t want you bored to tears on week 10 of your program to the point that you don’t do it. But at the same time, constantly changing up your program is not going to get you the physique results you want.
All right next, so I lumped these together because it’s two opposite ends of the same extreme. You can be hurting your progress toward building muscle if you overtrain and try to hit every single fiber of every single muscle group in a workout.
So, as an example, you do five different exercises in the same workout to hit your booty. Now granted, your gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body, but you don’t need five exercise to hit every fiber of your booty. Okay?
I am a huge proponent of a well-balanced workout that includes large compound moves that involve multiple joints, mixed with accessory moves consisting of single joint exercises. And, there is a sweet spot.
Unless you’re training for a stage, and you’re prepping for a bodybuilding show, you probably don’t need to do five different variations of hip thrusts, plus Donkey Kicks, with your foot turned at three different angles, all in a single workout. That’s overtraining. You’ll stall your progress and it’s a great way to set yourself up for injury.
At the same time, don’t ignore entire muscle groups either. Give every muscle group some love, okay? Runners, I’m looking at you. I’m saying that because I was there. In medical school, and I’m embarrassed to say this, I don’t think I got under a barbell once to squat. I had decided in my head that since I was a runner, and I did loads of mileage to train for road races, I didn’t need to train my legs.
Hear me now, I was wrong. Runners, you need to lift your legs. Cyclists, lift your legs. Speed walkers, lift your legs. Pickleball players, you too, lift your legs. If you want to build muscle, if you want to get better at whatever cardio or sport you do, don’t ignore your legs.
The cardio training is awesome, and if you do hill work to add resistance, that is most definitely something. But running, even on hills, is just not the same as getting under a barbell and squatting some heavy iron. Running does not eliminate the need for deadlifts. Okay?
By the same token, don’t forget your upper body. It’s nice to have strong legs, but having a balanced physique, consisting of strong legs and a strong upper body, is even better. Don’t neglect any muscle groups.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, if you do no other exercises to strength train, do these five and you’ll hit most every major muscle group. Those five foundational movements are squats, deadlifts, chest press or bench press, rows or pull ups, and overhead shoulder presses; those five.
Stick with the basics. They are essential, they are functional, and mimic the motions you do in everyday life. They’ve been around forever for a reason, because they work.
All right, next. The next thing that’s getting you tripped up while trying to build muscle is an overemphasis on the non-essential factors, things like how much you sweat. Don’t get so bogged down on needing to sweat while you’re strength training that you sacrifice building muscle. The goal of your strength training session, if you want to progressively build muscle, is not to walk out drenched.
I’m not going to lie, there are days, especially leg day, where I finished my workout kind of sweaty. Walking lunges will do it for me every time. And pull ups, I will most definitely be shiny by the time I finish pull ups.
That being said, I don’t make it my goal to finish my weightlifting workout drenched. I’m not trying to finish my strength training session soaked. Sweating does not automatically indicate an effective strength training workout. That’s really important to understand. The burn you feel after lifting is a different kind of burn than what you feel after an intense cardio workout.
At the same time, I’m also not aiming to finish my strength training session having sustained a super high heart rate throughout. I don’t want my heart rate through the roof the entire time I’m lifting weights. That’s not the goal at all.
If you go by the American Heart Association recommendations, you want to aim for a heart rate that is 50-70% of your maximum heart rate if you’re doing moderate physical activity. Aim for a heart rate that’s 70-85% of your max for vigorous physical activity.
If you are new to strength training, start on the lower end and you can aim to slowly increase it over time. But I’m not looking for you to sustain 85% of your max heart rate for the duration of your strength training session. That is not going to help you build muscle in the long term, and that is a cardio workout. That’s like going for a hard run, not doing bench presses and deadlifts.
So, I would aim for more of an average of 50-70% of your max heart rate. The quick and dirty way to know your max heart rate, is to subtract your age from 220. For me, I’m 45, the max heart rate is 220 – 45, or 175. If I want to aim for 50% of my target heart rate during my strength training session, that would be an average heart rate of 88. We haven’t had any math in podcast in a while, so there it is. Alright? Sweet.
With that being said, your heart rate will go up while you lift weights. When you’re squatting, and the barbell is loaded and you sit into a squat, your heart rate is going to go up. When you pull yourself up into a pull up and your back muscles are shaking, your heart rate is going to go up.
But a sustained, super high heart rate is not the ultimate goal of a strength training session if you’re trying to build muscle. That is not an indicator of a good strength training workout. Again, I’m not saying that this should be a cakewalk for you. If you’ve been around here and have listened to this podcast for a while you know that I’m an advocate for going hard and lifting heavy when you lift weights.
But don’t treat your lifting session as a cardio session. Okay? They are not one and the same. They’re different. If your goal is to build a muscle, you’re going to need to slow it down a little and not treat your strength training session in the same way you would your run or your session on the elliptical or the Stairmaster.
I know that can be a challenge for some of you who feel that if it’s not a HIIT session, where you leave a sweaty mess, it doesn’t count. But let me shout it from the rooftops, your strength training session still counts, okay? It most definitely counts.
While we’re here, let’s also talk about soreness for a minute, because this is another thing that trips so many of you up. Many of you have told me that it’s not a good workout unless you’re sore the next day. That is just not true. You do not have to be so sore that you can’t sit on the toilet the next day to know you had a good leg workout. But some of you are constantly chasing that soreness when you don’t need to.
That soreness I’m talking about is super common, and its fancy name is “delayed onset muscle soreness,” or DOMs, for short. While it has a fancy name, all it really is, is a delayed soreness that happens after a workout. It is not the pain that you feel during or immediately after workout. Okay? Delayed onset muscle soreness is a pain you feel the day after a challenging leg workout.
It’s that awareness of every muscle in your chest and shoulders the day after you increased your weight on the bench press. It usually starts anywhere from 12-24 hours after your workout, and it’s normal. But do not let that soreness be the benchmark that determines whether or not your workout was effective.
There is no definitive science on this, but if you’re never sore it may be an indicator that you’re not pushing it hard enough during your workouts. If you’re always sore, you may be going too hard, too often, and not giving your muscles adequate time to recover.
But don’t think that if you’re not sore, it wasn’t a good workout. You’re still building muscle, even if you walk away from your workout without soreness. What matters more is if you’re challenging yourself, and you don’t need soreness to tell you that.
Your body has an amazing ability to adapt to the stress of exercise. When I say that, I’m referring to exercise as a good stress. Over time, things that once made you super sore, like lunges or running uphill, if you stay consistent with them, you’ll notice that they don’t make you as sore as they used to. Or you may not notice soreness at all anymore.
I think of ‘day after’ soreness as a reminder that you did something new. Either you did a new exercise that you haven’t done in a long, long time. Or you applied a newer, larger stress to your muscles, like what you do when you increase your weight. But soreness is not the primary goal, building muscle is. And, they are not one and the same.
Next, you may be getting tripped up trying to build muscle if you operate under the assumption that more is better. This can play out in a number of different ways. First, you may think that your workout needs to include 12 different exercises, but it doesn’t. Your leg day does not need to consist of 12 different exercises in order to be effective.
The training volume you aim for will largely depend on your starting level of fitness. If you’re new to strength training, 1-3 sets of 8-10 reps, of five different exercises, may be sufficient to get you started toward building muscle.
Then, as you get comfortable with strength training, and as you start to build muscle, you may find that you need to increase the training volume and increase the sets, the reps, or both, in order to continue building muscle. But don’t get trapped into thinking you have to be at the gym for 1 ½ hours doing 12 different exercises in order for the workout to be effective. More is not more, here.
You also may get tripped up into thinking you have to hit every muscle group multiple times a week. So, as far as how many times to lift, you do not have to lift every muscle group twice in a week in order to see gains. Okay?
While you can certainly aim to lift every muscle group twice, you can also lift each muscle group once per week, and when you go, you go hard. There is no one right way to do this. No matter what any influencer says there is no one right way to go about this.
I had one person reach out and ask if she should do booty exercises four days a week. Sure, you absolutely can. But it’s unnecessary, and I don’t recommend it unless you’re following a fancy bodybuilding plan written by an experienced bodybuilding coach and you’re planning to step on stage. Or if you have hours on end to spend at the gym. Otherwise, it’s excessive. More is more, but it does not mean that more is better.
Overtraining muscle groups will not speed up your progress. In fact, it can do the opposite, and not only stall your progress but you also run the risk of setting yourself up for injury. I’m using myself as an example here, but some of my best leg workouts have been when I lift my legs once per week, doing a total of five exercises; barbell squats, deadlifts, walking lunges, hip thrusts, Bulgarian split squats. That is not a ton of exercises.
But I do anywhere from 3-5 sets of eight to 12 reps of these, and I go heavy. You don’t need 10 exercises to build strong legs. You need a solid core of foundational moves with an appropriate volume. Notice that these exercises are big, compound moves that call in multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. That’s exactly the idea. It’s not a ton of exercises, because you don’t need a ton of exercises to get the job done and build muscle. Okay?
While I’m talking about this more, let’s get into supersets and combination moves. I will be the first to admit that I like supersets because they’re time efficient. Superset just means you do one exercise, like pull ups, and then as soon as you’re done with the pull ups, you do a second move, like biceps curls. Then you rest for one minute to a minute and a half, and then you repeat that superset.
So, you do another set of pull ups, and then you go right into another set of bicep curls, and you rest. While these are great addition to your workout, and I use supersets all the time, you have to be cautious. Because if you superset everything you run the risk of running out of gas, and not having the reserve left to get through the exercises with your best form.
You might also find that it’s harder to get a new personal best when you’re going back and forth, trying to go heavy on two exercises, as opposed to just one at a time. So, what I would offer you is this, do your big moves as straight sets. Meaning, as an example, on leg day, if you’re really focusing on squats, do all of your sets of squats first. Don’t add in another exercise between your sets, and instead just focus on going hard on your squats.
Then you might even do that for your next exercise, if it’s a big move like deadlifts. Then you do all of your deadlifts, and you don’t superset those. Then, after you’ve gone hard on straight sets of squats, and straight sets of deadlifts, then you move on to accessory exercises, and you can superset those.
The idea here is that I want you feeling fresh for the big compound moves so that you get the biggest return on your investment. Okay? I want you to have adequate rest between your sets so that every time you go to squat, your legs feel more or less fresh, and you can go hard. Save your supersets for the single joint accessory exercises, like calf raises and leg curls.
The same concept applies for combination moves. Combination moves are things like a deadlift to overhead shoulder press. Or a row combined with triceps extension. Those are exercises where you’re combining two moves into one big move. Those are fun to do at times, however, if those combination moves make up the majority of your workout you may sacrifice building muscle. You’ll be able to lift a lot more weight in a deadlift alone, than if you were to do a deadlift straight into a shoulder press. Okay?
When you combine moves, especially if you’re combining an upper body and a lower body move, you’re going to be limited to the maximum weight you can lift on your upper body. What this means is that in the example of the deadlift to shoulder press, you’re going to end up lifting lighter weight on your deadlift so you can then get that weight over your head for the shoulder press. Then you sacrifice lifting heavier on your deadlift, which is not ideal.
Again, this is not to say, don’t ever do combination moves. But they should not make up the majority of your workouts if your goal is to build muscle. Break up the moves and work on straight up deadlifts. Work on straight up shoulder presses. Again, more is not always better.
Next, you may be shooting yourself in the foot, and stalling your progress, if you’re not getting enough rest. Again, this plays out in a number of ways: Not enough rest between your sets. Not enough rest between your training sessions, Not enough sleep in general.
First, for any of you speed lifters out there, slow down. If you’re taking 30 seconds or less between your sets, you are likely not resting enough. Here’s what this tells me, if you’re lifting a certain weight, and you’re able to bust out all of your sets and reps with 30 seconds or less of rest, that tells me you could be going heavier; plain and simple.
If you were able to perform all of your sets and reps with no issues and 30 seconds of rest, try increasing your weight and slow down. Remember, in order to build muscle, you need to go heavy. When you lift heavy weight, that’s a stress to your muscle. If you want to be able to get through all three sets of 10 reps with a heavy weight, you need time for your muscles to rest.
The exception to this is if you’re training for muscular endurance. Then, yes, that is a time when cutting your rest to 30 to 60 seconds is appropriate. When I say muscular endurance, I mean your muscle’s ability to exert force over a prolonged period of time, for things like running or holding a plank.
If you’re very deconditioned, and you’re looking to increase your endurance, then a training regimen of higher reps with fewer sets and shorter rest makes sense. But beyond building endurance, if your focus is on building muscle, you want to increase your rest time.
How long? Ideally you would give yourself anywhere from 1-2 minutes of rest between sets, when you’re training for size and aiming to build muscle. So, if you’re going for a one rep max and you’re going to failure, then you need even more rest, like 3-5 minutes.
But from a size standpoint, if you’re looking to build muscle, slow down and aim for one to one and a half minutes, or even two minutes if you can handle it. That may feel like an eternity to you if you’re used to 30 seconds, but here’s the thing, if you’re going heavy and pushing the envelope, you will welcome that two minutes so you can approach each set feeling fresh, and you will build more muscle on top of it.
The idea here is both, quantity and quality. Okay? You want both. As for time between strength training workouts, ideally, you want to give at least 48 hours, but more like 72, before lifting the same muscle group. This gives your muscles adequate time to repair and recover.
All this means is that you have to be thoughtful and plan ahead for your week, to the extent possible, so that you give your muscles adequate rest time between workouts.
It means, if you’re going to do two lower body workouts in a week, do one on Monday and the other on Wednesday, at the earliest. Think about it, you don’t get strong during your weight training session, you get stronger after. You are ripping up your muscles when you do a strength training workout. You’re creating micro tears in your muscles, and then your body goes and repairs them so that they’re stronger and bigger for your next workout.
That process takes time. You’ll know it, because if you try to lift the same muscle group too soon, you’ll feel it. You may not be able to lift as much as you did before. You may feel tired. You may feel like the same weight you were able to do easily a few days ago, now feels like lead. That’s information.
That’s your body telling you something. It’s telling you to dial it back so you don’t injure yourself. So, listen to your body. Strength training is really great for your body, but so is rest. There’s a delicate balance of both to be found here. So, give your body time to recover between your workouts. And of course, do not forget about sleep, okay?
You could be doing everything “right” at the gym, but skimp on sleep and your muscles will feel it. Your body does its best work while you’re sleeping. There’s research to back this up. People who do not get enough sleep, as in less than six hours, do not build as much muscle or have the same muscular strength as people who sleep at least seven hours a night.
Sleep is when growth hormone is released from your pituitary gland in larger concentrations than during the daytime. Growth hormone promotes skeletal muscle growth and muscle protein synthesis. I’m getting nerdy here, but all of this is to say, you need sleep in order to build muscle.
This is just straight up biology. You need real, solid sleep. If you’re doing everything right, but you’re not getting adequate sleep, you’re not going to see the muscular gains you want. Okay?
I also want to address another thing that I get asked about commonly, and that is your strength training classes, things like BodyPump or Orangetheory. These are excellent exercise classes, and if you have a good instructor, he or she should ensure that you’re learning proper form and execution of the exercises.
That being said, these classes will help you build muscle to a degree, but they are not the same as getting under a barbell and loading it with plates and squatting in the squat rack. It is not the same as a standard barbell bench press. Okay?
Sometimes these classes are built on a set-and-rep scheme, which is more of an endurance-based style of training. Additionally, the rest time may be limited in order to keep to the confines of the class length, and you may be rushing to change your weight plates. So, while the classes are most definitely good, and we’ll get you started building muscle, you may find that there are limitations to the amount of muscle you can put on in these types of classes.
Remember the things we talked about already; progressive overload, sticking to the basics, more is not always more, and having adequate rest between sets. All of these things are important for building muscle, and you may have a harder time getting all of these conditions met during your exercise class.
So, hear me now and let me make it loud and clear, I am not knocking your BodyPump or your Orangetheory class, or any other exercise class for that matter. I used to teach TRX classes at my YMCA. You can most definitely get a solid workout from these types of classes.
But my point in bringing this up is that you may find there is a limit to the amount of muscle you can build by solely relying on these classes. They can be part of a balanced muscle building program. But you may find that you need a more traditional strength training session, that offers a slower pace and more rest time, if your muscle growth is stalling from the classes alone.
The last reason you may not be building muscle the way you want is because you’re not eating properly to fuel the muscle building process. I don’t think I could get through an episode about building muscle without mentioning nutrition. So, here it is.
I’m looking back on my bodybuilding days, and really, when I think of building muscle, I think of it as an experimentation of finding the right combination of strength training plus nutrition, in order to build your physique. Really, that’s it.
I was a natural bodybuilder. There were no performance enhancing drugs, that is not for me. Instead, it really was about manipulating training and nutrition to create the physique I was aiming for. So, I know you may not be looking to step on a stage, but regardless, what you eat matters if your goal is to build muscle.
I have created podcasts on this topic before, and if you want more detailed information about this checkout Episode 33, where I get into more specifics. But for today’s purposes, I’m going to zone in on protein because quite frankly, that is where most people fall short. For most people, increasing protein is a challenge.
It’s really, really easy for most people to get in plenty of carbs and fat, but it takes some forethought and intentional planning to take an adequate protein to build muscle. As for what’s considered adequate protein intake, many studies are starting to agree that the long held standard RDA suggestion for protein intake of .3gm/pound per day is insufficient to build muscle.
Instead, many experts suggest a range of .7gm-1gm of protein per pound, per day, as long as you have healthy, normally functioning kidneys. Some studies even suggest that a protein intake of as much as 1½ gm/pound is beneficial in order to build muscle or maintain it, if you’re eating in a calorie deficit to lose weight.
That means if you weigh 150 pounds, you’re taking in 225 grams of protein, which is a lot. I generally don’t aim for anyone to do that from the get-go. I would simply ask you to look at what you’re currently doing, and if you’re not getting in at least .7gm/pound, I would start by aiming for that. Again, for 150-pound person, that would be 105 grams of protein in a day.
While you may be thinking there’s no way you could eat that much protein, you absolutely can. It requires planning for sure, but it’s absolutely possible. Okay? What I want to make clear here is that there’s a difference between eating adequate protein to live and support your body’s processes, versus eating adequate protein to support building muscle.
These are different goals. Because of this, those of you wanting to build muscle will want to be eating more than what the RDA suggests. The point in sharing all of this, is to highlight that, yes, strength training in the form of lifting heavy stuff is essential to building muscle. But that’s only half the story, you have to eat in order to fuel your muscles. And, if you’re not taking an adequate protein, you may find it really challenging to put on the muscle you want.
Think of eating properly as the complement of the work you’re doing in the weight room, okay? It’s really synergistic; to build muscle, lift heavy stuff, and eat to fuel your muscles. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.
There it is, we just went over loads of ways you might be tripping yourself up as you lift weights to build muscle. To review, you may not be making progress and building muscle if you’re not aiming for progressive overload. Or if you’re mixing up your workouts too much. There is no muscle confusion needed. We’re not sticking with a program for long enough to see progressive overload.
Or if you’re doing too many exercises to hit every muscle from every angle. Or skipping whole muscle groups altogether, like legs, because you run or cycle. Or if you place too much focus on sweating, your heart rate, feeling annihilated, or soreness, as indicators of an effective workout.
Or if you think that ‘more is better.’ Either in the total number of exercises you do, or in the number of days you work certain muscle groups. No one needs to lift her booty muscles four days a week, okay? Or if you’re not getting enough rest, either between your sets, between your workouts, or skimping out on sleep. Or if you’re relying on your strength training classes alone. Or if you’re not eating to fuel your muscles.
If you are a regular gym goer, and you are having trouble putting on muscle, ask yourself if any of these apply. If you’re new to the gym, or you are ready to get started, and you want to know how to approach building muscle, I hope this will help you avoid common pitfalls.
Either way, while I know I just went through a fairly long list of things that might be tripping you up, my ultimate point here is that building muscle should not and does not have to be complicated. It’s very easy to get caught up in the science and the pseudoscience, and the influencers and the supplements and all the extraneous stuff.
It’s easy to get confused because of all of the information and misinformation out there. But if you know me, I like to keep it simple. That being said, here is my very simple approach to building muscle:
Lift weights, with a structured lifting routine that works for your schedule, and hits every major muscle group, at least once a week. Stick with it for at least four weeks, but ideally, more like 6 to 12. When you lift, go hard. Don’t kill yourself, but challenge yourself and aim for progressive overload.
Pay attention to your protein and aim for, at minimum, .7gm/pound. But ideally, more like 1gm/pound if you’ve got healthy kidneys.
Or if you want to really boil it down; two steps: Lift Heavy stuff, eat to support your muscles. I really like simple. Building muscle can be simple. Easy, no. But simple, yes. If you want help with this, let’s talk. Getting strong and eating healthy does not have to be complicated.
Let’s get your thinking on board, so we can optimize your eating and moving to get you strong inside and out. This is what you’ll get when you coach with me. Check out my website. Go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact and let’s get started.
Thank you again for hanging out with me, and I’ll catch you again next week.
If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. Share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.
This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. You know making that change starts with how you think, and that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.
Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.
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