If you’re feeling dissatisfied because you’re not seeing results from your workouts, kinesiologist, fitness trainer, and founder of Built with Science Jeremy Ethier knows the feeling. He also knows there could be three major “gain killers” that might be the reason you see no muscle growth from your training.
“Observing no muscle growth after your workout is a sign that you could be doing something wrong,” says Ethier. “Overall, if you’re going to spend time and effort doing your workouts, it would be in your best interest to ensure that you’re getting the most out of it.”
Here are the three things that Ethier says might be killing your gains.
Gain Killer 1: No Long Term Plan (HADD)
“One of the most common gain killers I see is called ‘HADD’: ‘Hypertrophic Attention Deficit Disorder.’ People who have ‘HADD’ switch up their exercises too often and have no long-term focus,” he says.
According to Ethier, guys who do the same boring exercises over and over, do them well, and experience strength gains build more muscle than guys who ‘switch it up’ for whatever reason. And here’s why.
“It’s well known that new exercises cause the most muscle damage, but after a while, you adapt and less damage occurs. So while you may feel a lot more soreness from these ‘random workouts’, they actually don’t provide as much growth as sticking to the same set exercises and focusing on progressing those with more weight and/or reps over time,” says Ethier.
To avoid this, he advises that you keep up with an exercise consistently for at least two to three weeks before you can start to really get the best growth possible out of it.
To avoid losing track of your progress, Ethier suggests that you should be recording the exercise, sets, reps, and weight that you are using, noting your effort on each set and the settings that you are using on a machine or cable or any modifications you may have made.
“This allows you to determine if you actually made progress or no, and also serves as a plan of attack for your next workout,” says Ethier. “Track your progress and track it properly.”
Gain Killer 2: Junk Volume
According to Ethier, ‘Junk Volume’ is defined as doing more sets than you should do in a single session, rather than doing just enough to maximize growth.
“Most people are unaware that you only have a certain number of productive sets that you can do in a single session,” says Ethier. “Sets above this threshold seems to increase damage and lengthen recovery.”
So what’s your limit? He states that based on the current evidence, as long as sets are being performed to or near failure it seems that the limit is around 10 sets per muscle per workout. And while it’s highly variable, if you greatly exceed this theoretical limit by regularly doing 15 to 20-plus sets for a muscle group in one session, then you are probably doing more harm than good.
“A practical solution is to distribute that volume into more than one session per week,” says Ethier. “Instead of doing 18 sets of chest in a single workouts, split it up and do nine sets in one workout and 9 sets in another. Or split up the 18 sets into six sets during three workouts.”
Gain Killer 3: Redundant Exercises
“If you only have a certain amount of productive sets you can do per workout, then you want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck out of these sets,” says Ethier.
For example, take these two sample chest workouts. In workout A you do three sets of bench press, flat dumbbell press, and a flat machine press. In workout B you do three sets of bench press, three sets of an incline dumbbell press, and three sets of a cable fly. Which one do you think would be a better use of nine sets?
Well, if you look at workout A, you are actually performing pretty much the same one exercise for all nine sets. Whereas in workout B, you’re working several different parts of the chest with exercises that have varied angles and different resistance profiles. So for the same amount of work, you’d be able to provide much more stimulus to your chest with workout B, and as a result get more gains out of those nine sets. Meaning, that for your overall workout routine, just think carefully about the chosen exercises you’re using for each muscle.
“Make sure you include exercises that are biomechanically different and challenge the muscle at different angles and ranges of motion,” says Ethier. “By doing so, you’ll be able to get more stimulus and more gains for the same amount of work.”
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