7 Reasons You Can’t Build Muscle

It’s cold outside.

Which makes this the perfect time of year to pack on muscle, if that’s your thing.


Well, generally the winter months host fewer shirtless shenanigans.

Generally, I said.


What’s that?

Oh, you HAVE been trying to gain weight? But you can’t seem to get any bigger?

Well, here is why:


1) You Have A Big EGO

What’s the first thing you do upon entering the gym?

Well, duh. Bench press, as much weight as possible, til’ failure and not a rep short.

I mean, I get it. If you didn’t do this, how would everyone else in the gym know that you are strong?

Look, you HAVE to set your ego aside.

Building muscle is not about lifting as much weight as possible every set. I know, I know, that doesn’t make any sense. But total volume, tempo, time under tension and rest intervals are all incredibly important for hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Now, before I catch too much hate, lets step back.

Yes, strength and hypertrophy are obviously correlated. If you follow a strength training program, and the weight on the bar is increasing, you are going to add muscle mass.

Further, strength specific training should indeed be incorporated in great muscle building programming.

But hypertrophy requires a slightly different strategy.

Without going on too drastic a tangent, here is a brief summary on how the two differ:


  • Rest Time: 2-5 minutes between sets
  • Rep Scheme: 1-5 reps/set
  • Tempo: Get that weight up!


  • Rest Time: 30-90 seconds between sets
  • Rep Scheme: 6-12 reps/set — occasional 15-18 reps/set and rare 20-25 reps/set.
  • Tempo: Varying the number of seconds you spend in the eccentric and concentric portions of a lift, as well as controlling pauses at the top and bottom of an exercise, can elicit great results.


2) No Sleep

We get it — you, Wiz Khalifa, and 50 Cent are taking over the world, one all-nighter at a time.

But that doesn’t bode well for building muscle.

3 Steps: Train, eat, recover.

If we neglect even one of these three, we sacrifice progress.

Why, you ask?

Well, for one, Growth Hormone is produced during deep sleep. Yeah, that same shizz that juice-heads inject in their veins – our bodies produce it during sleepy-time. However, GH is only produced during the deep stages of sleep. That means that even if you are laying in bed 7-8 hours per night, but waking up constantly, your body isn’t producing much GH. Focus on sleep quality.

Further, getting less than 6 hours of sleep for just two weeks has been shown to decrease Testosterone by 15%.

And don’t forget that stress hormone, Cortisol, that the body produces like crazy during sleep deprivation.

These guys are bulkin’ strong

Aim for a minimum of six quality hours per night to keep everything running smoothly.


3) You Have No Plan For Rest Times

Now, for fat loss, traditional strength training is great. Take a few minutes between sets, and really give it hell for a few reps at a time. That is the best way to retain muscle in a calorie deficit.

BUT, if you want to pack on muscle, you need to be keeping precise rest times.

Bring a stopwatch, or use the stopwatch on your phone. Gazing off at the clock won’t to work; you start to think, “Is my next set at the 12 or the 6?” And next thing we know, you have procrastinated an extra minute of rest.

Stick to the rest intervals noted in point #1, and be disciplined. Results shall follow.



4) Skipping Mobility Work, Warm Up or Both

Oh, you don’t foam roll? You don’t stretch? You don’t warm-up?

Unless you are a genetic freak, you aren’t going to stay healthy long enough to add muscle. Spend 10 minutes before each workout getting warm.

You can find 5 good mobility exercises in this post.


5) Your Training Lacks Real Intensity and Focus

Scan the floor of a commercial gym, and you immediately know who isn’t building muscle.

Are they watching TV?  No muscle.

Are they reading a book or cosmo? No muscle.

Are they scrolling twitter or checking in on facebook? No muscle.

Is this your view of the weight room? Uh oh, you’re screwed.

You need to train with intensity if you want to build muscle.

Now, this doesn’t mean training to failure on every set. But it does require going hard: limited rest times, reasonably high volume, and the intangible and immeasurable X-factor — genuine focus on every rep of every set.

Do whatever it takes to be intense — whether it’s the Taylor Swift Red album or this bad-ass song.

Personally, I often go to a pretty dark place mentally to prepare for a set. Not only does it help me release a lot of the bad stuff, which does wonders for mental health, but it provides the fuel necessary to lift heavier weight for more reps than I otherwise could.


6) No H20

Water transports nutrients around your body, like, from your mouth to your muscles. Your level of hydration also impacts the efficiency with which you break down and absorb nutrients from food – and, of course, how they are used to build muscle.

Plus, if you are reading this, water is free and accessible for you.

So you have no excuse to be dehydrated, ever. Unless it’s following a night of tipping back beers.


7) You Don’t Eat

Yep, we saved the most obvious and most true for last.

There are two types of under-eaters.

Under-eater #1: “I eat SO MUCH, but I can’t gain weight!”

Sorry man, but you gotta eat more.

Keep a food journal for 3 days, write down everything you eat and add up the calories.

99% of the time, you just need more food.

Under-eater #2: “But, if I bulk what will happen to my abs?”

You, my friend, need to just get over yourself.

Sometimes you sacrifice a bit of definition to build muscle.

I know, intentionally masking your beautiful six-pack in favor of a calorie surplus may cause you to freak out on day 11 of the bulk and start another phase of fat loss. Just breathe. Rest assured, no one else cares about your abs.

Plus it’s winter – so, Bulk City.

Practical tips: Estimate your maintenance, eat a 500 calorie surplus, monitor your bodyweight and increase calories every few weeks if the scale isn’t moving.



Flip the script on these 7 hang-ups and you will be on your way to muscle building.

You won’t be shirtless for another 5 months – the time is now.

Plus, it’s Christmas, so go eat your face off.


Alright, I want to hear from you!  Personally, what is YOUR biggest muscle building challenge?

Comments for This Entry

  • Eferreaene

    I can't access to a gym right now, so I've been working out with pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups... and I've noticed a bit of progress, but not too much for the time I've been training. Let's say I can make 3 sets of 6 pull-ups, to progress, do I need to make 7 reps the next week? Or should I go to the Time under Tension route and make them slower each time? Why nobody talked about that things in P.E. class O_o?

    December 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      So, pushups and pull/chin-ups are some of the best bodyweight exercises you can do, that's a good start. Pull up progression is interesting. At 3x6, yes, you should try to progress by increasing to 7 reps per set. The thing is, people often stall out on pull ups at a certain point. There are ways to spark progress in this case -- the one I like best is negatives. Start with a bench under the bar and begin the rep with your chin over the pull up bar. Just perform the eccentric portion of the move, but go down very slowly (4-6 seconds per rep). After a few days of negatives, you will likely be able to do more reps.

      December 25, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Reply to this comment

  • fayaz ali

    How to gain weight without gym and eating food? Because i don't have time to go gym and i am not interested in eating food

    June 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Reply to this comment

  • jeremy

    I just wanted to know how to work on Cardio without being to run everyday or go to the gym because of my work schedule? And can shadow boxing take a toll? *** Antispam disabled. Check access key in CleanTalk plugin options. Request number 9bb891775591421af475b72f16ed3c50. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    August 30, 2014 at 2:39 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lisa

    This was awesome! Great information here, thanks Mike. Loved the baby and dog pic, so cute. :)

    April 11, 2016 at 11:27 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Beth Hein

    I started strength training 2 years ago - improved quick & started competing in powerlifting competitions & set some records - it was super awesome. I have an injury that is keeping me from lifting right now but I am continuing with body weight exercises & then added boxing as something new to learn. I ended up with about 10 extra lbs of fat & I'm not sure what I should be doing nutritionally - I kind of kept eating like when I was lifting trying to maintain muscle & now I'm not sure if I should base my calorie reduction on what I was eating or what iifym calculates & should I include the calories burned from boxing in my calculations.

    May 13, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Cliff Thomas

    Great article, Mike. I think that bad dietary habits are the most common reasons why you can't gain muscle.

    November 13, 2019 at 2:37 pm | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment