7 Things Stopping You From Building Lean Muscle

Step #1 to build lean muscle: follow Arnold and EAT!

Below are 7 things that were holding me back from building lean muscle. Are you making any of these same mistakes in your training? If so, have a look at the presentation at the bottom and see how I eventually turned things around.

1. Burning muscle, not building it

You’re doing a few things that actually burn muscle, rather than build it. I was performing far too many reps to build muscle. Too many reps = muscle used as energy. Working out with no fuel also means muscle being used as fuel.

You can combat both by shortening both the duration and frequency of your training sessions, but upping the intensity. Also, have a good pre-workout meal about an hour before you train filled with ‘good carbs’, good fats, and lean protein. I also have gatorade and protein towards the end of a workout. Then get a post workout shake in within 15 minutes of finishing your session that has a 2:1 carbs to protein ratio. This will give your muscles the fuel they need to begin repairing.

2. Fear

This goes hand in hand with #1, but I see a lot of skinny guys on treadmills. The thing is, most of them want to add muscle, but they’re terrified of getting fat. So they balance out their weight training with cardio – usually running – ending up with a 1:1 cardio:weight training ratio. I’m not saying don’t do any cardio, but don’t let it hold you back.

If you have a hard time gaining weight, you shouldn’t be scared of getting fat. Eat a lot of food, lift a lot of weight, and apply the steps in this article to your routine. If you do this you’ll be successful.

3. Not enough variation

You need variation in reps, sets, tempo of the lifts and in the weight you’re lifting. You should be adding weight to each lift on a weekly basis in order to prevent plateaus.

Plateaus are the killer. I’ve heard so many stories and received a ton of emails from guys who had minimal gains that have dissipated. When I ask them how long they’ve been on the same split, the usual answer is “I don’t know. For a while though.”

Change things up. If you get a program – here’s a GREAT one :) – it should have variations every 3-4 weeks which will help you avoid the dreaded plateau and keep your gains skyrocketing.

4. Not enough food

You NEED to eat a ton of food. Stuff your face with everything in sight. Don’t bother counting calories. Just eat a shit load of food. Have a lot of protein with each meal (1.25-1.5x bodyweight/daily), lot’s of quality carbs, and yes, a lot of fat as well. Fat is important, when our bodies process fats our testosterone levels rise, which means faster muscle tissue recovery, which means more muscle.

Eat a lot of food = put on a lot of muscle. If you don’t, you won’t.

5. You’re in the gym way too often

Our bodies need more time to recover than we realize. And it’s pretty hard to stay out of the gym, I’ll admit that. For some of us it’s like a drug. That feeling we get from working out. We feel healthy, we get that runner’s high and the blood pumping through our muscles feels f*@!& awesome.

But if you find it hard to put on lean mass, you have to resist going to the gym any more than 4 times a week. Anything above 4 days a week is overkill. If you’re just starting out, just trying to pack on those first 10 pounds on, I’d suggest going even as little as 2-3 days a week for the first 2-3 weeks.

Recovery is where the work we have done in the gym is allowed to payoff. If you aren’t letting our muscles recover, we won’t build as much muscle as we’re capable of.

6. Too many shakes, not enough food

If you have time, have food. If you’re in a rush, grab a shake. Food will give your the roughage and the nutrients you need to recover and put on lean muscle mass. Shakes are great for when we need something quick, like the 15-minute period after an intense workout when our bodies are craving nutrients having just been put through hell.

That is the only time during the day where I have a shake – unless I’m in a rush. If you are short on time, by all means dump some protein powder into some organic whole milk, or even chocolate milk and create whatever concoction you please.

7. Stopping short on the reps

You’re getting to about 8 reps and stopping, when you could have got to 10 or even 11. If your program calls for a rep count, you should be failing at the rep number or 1 or 2 reps short. Getting to that rep count with ease and dropping the weight just won’t cut it.

You’ll hear different theories from different people. Some will say that lifting to failure every time in the gym is too much, others will say its exactly right. But studies have showing that the ‘magic’ happens in those last couple of reps, including the failure rep (failure within proper form, not failure to the point of bad for which leads to injury).

As long as you’re allowing your body enough time to recover, performing exercises to form failure is what you need.



What on this list is holding you back from building lean muscle?

Here’s a presentation that helped me learn from my mistakes and pack on 32 lbs of lean muscle in just 32 weeks.

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  • Joe

    Point 5 is the standout for me. Too much quantity in the gym and not enough quality. If you're training hard, anymore than 3-4 days in the gym isn't productive.

    What's holding me back? Point 4, not enough food. I'm working on it!

    Great post again Chad.

    • Chad Howse

      Joe – not enough food is one of the tougher ones. We don't actually realize how much we should be eating.

      My advice: start out with the milk. Get whole, unpasturized milk. Start by drinking a litre each day, then get all the way up to a gallon daily.

      Good luck! If you need a hand let me know.

      – Chad

  • MARK

    Hey Chad,

    Realistically how bad is peanut butter for you. I hear a lof of different things good/bad..I eat all natural peanut butter all the time..I have been for about 3 years.

    For lunch peanut butter non whole wheat bread.


    • Chad Howse

      Hey Mark,

      If you're trying to put on lean mass peanut butter can be a friend because of the density of calories. And that's what it is, just a calorie thing for the most part.

      A better alternative is almond butter (monounsaturated fat).

      Also, make sure you're having whole wheat bread, not white flour. And have a source of protein with each meal as well.

      Hope this helped,

      – Chad

  • George Knight

    It is great article, Is protein powder really necessary? A gallon milk every day? You cannot be serious.

    • Chad Howse

      Thanks George,

      Neither are necessary – but they'll help for sure. One of the greatest mis-understandings of gaining lean muscle mass is exactly just how much we have to eat. You truly have to eat a crap load of food, sometimes the math doesn't add up and we need even more than we think.

      This is where the milk comes in – you'll get a ton of calories (whole milk), a lot of nutrients including protein and so forth.

      Protein powder comes in because it's just faster and easier to prepare than a full meal right after a workout.

  • Persian Chris

    What do you think about having Crunchy Organic Unsalted Peanut Butter up to 2 TBSP a day and 1 TBSP of Organic Crunchy Almond Butter (Both bought at Trader Joe's) for breakfast?

    I workout at 5PM monday-friday and will have one TBSP of peanut butter around 4pm, along with my other good carbs… For breakfast (7AM), I'll have 1 TBSP of Almond Butter as my body is in a catabolic state.. But now as I'm trying to gain lean mass and keep my six pack, I'd like to throw in one more TBSP of peanut butter around 1PM (Lunch)…

    Having too high of a Omega6:Omega3 ratio can be bad as the required ratio is about 2:1 or 3:1 and most foods have a 10:1 or 20:1!! So really, overloading on "Peanut Butter" can be bad….

    • Chad Howse

      I really like going with high fats in the morning and low carbs. More and more studies are coming out saying that our fat cells are more receptive to insulin spikes in the morning, meaning low carbs and low dairy products in the am can help us with this. But we still need to keep the fats high in order to maintain muscle (but also elevate testosterone levels).

      So peanut butter's a great alternative, just don't slab it all over some high carb bread.

  • Clay

    I'll have to agree on these except on number 7, stopping short on the reps. I think reps does not matter in the long run but the intensity of your lift, this is the theory behind 5×5 programs. But, as you said, different people have a different take when it comes to training till failure. Just do what works for you, we all have different genetics, so if lifting till failure gives you lean muscle then do so, but if staying on a systematic number of reps will give you the results you want then stick to it. the secret though would still be on the intensity of your lift, just increase it each week/workout and I'll assure you you'll experience failure and you'll build muscle. But then, just be systematic.

  • http://Website Daire burke

    Hi im 5’5 wit a thin body athletic arms , nd a very fat bloated looking belly , i have started the gym but in the program i was give there was no sit ups ect, do i need to do sit ups in order get rid of this fuel tank!????? Also i eat well, but i dont know what to eat and when , where can i get free advice on a diet plan or is this posable , even just a template i can work from??

    • Chad Howse

      Sign up to the site at the top of this page on the right-hand side. I'll give you 2 free workouts when you sign up. Let me know if you need help once you've entered your email address in there.

      See you soon.

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