4 Reasons You’re Struggling to Build Muscle

Funny retro nerd flexing his muscle isolated on white background


Tackling one of my favourite topics here I must note that this post is written assuming that you are consistent with your training. Sticking to a program trumps all of these reasons so if you’re struggling to build muscle and not actually training step 1 would obviously be to GET YO ASS IN THE GYM.

1) Your Doing Mainly Circuit Based Conditioning Type Training 

We have had a huge influx of guys joining Lord of The Rig after doing other forms of group fitness that is predominantly circuit based or conditioning type training – the endless jump squats, split jumps, box jumps, burpees… well, you get the picture. It usually takes them about 6 months or so to realize that this type of training is not getting them to where they want to be. This is not an attempt to rag on this style of training as it can be an extremely useful tool for fat loss when programmed correctly so that people aren’t giving their joints a pounding every day for the sake of making them feel tired which often leads to all sorts of overuse injuries. Coaches should try to make you BETTER… not TIRED.  Generally if someone just wants to lose a bit of weight simply moving more a couple times a week and staying injury free is obviously very beneficial. These sessions are awesome for fat loss as they can really increase your total daily energy expenditure putting you in what is called an energy DEFICIT (burning more energy than you consume). This deficit is where we want to spend most of our time when dropping body fat. If muscle building is your goal you need to work on creating an energy SURPLUS majority of the time (consuming more energy than you burn).

The weights used during most of these circuit training sessions are generally far too small to elicit any sort of training response for muscle growth and there is very little if any focus on progressive overload (more on that in the next point). Basically going around in circles doing the same 45s on 15s off with slightly varied exercises is going to be nowhere near as affective as heading to the gym and working your way through some compound movements lifting with intensity picking up some heavy shit. If you are currently doing circuit training and you are not nailing the final two points in this blog which are more nutrition focused – you may end up losing weight but also a lot of muscle which can create the dreaded skinny fat look.


2) PROGRESSive Overload

Progressive overload has it’s name for a reason but seems like a long forgotten art for the average punter training in a commercial gym. The type lacking in this technique is the guy you see in the gym day in day out doing the same exercises lifting the same weights and guess what… he looks exactly the same as he did years ago. Hey don’t get me wrong if he is happy to just maintain and just wants to get to the gym to work up a sweat good on him – but this blog post is written to help you see progress not on how to stay exactly where you have been for the past 5 years. The old Albert Einstein quote could come in handy here… ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results’

To put it as simple as possible every time you do a session you should aim to either 1) lift more weight than you did last time and/or  2) lift more reps than last time. This is going to be an extremely useful method for those who are new to training and they will generally see some rapid gains in strength. The more dedicated tin shifters will still see a benefit from progressive overload but may need more advanced techniques to continually progress. 

A basic example of progressive overload would be if Johny goes to the gym on Monday for his chest day (after all – Monday is international chest day) and he pumps out 3×10 at 50kgs then when he goes to the gym for the following ICD (International Chest Day) he should aim to either hit 3×10 at 55kg (a 5kg increase on last workout) or 3 x11 or 12 reps at 50kgs (increasing the amount of repetitions by one or two compared to the last workout). It would be very useful to go out and get yourself some sort of training log so you can track your progress.

carbs growth chart

3) Not Enough Protein

Almost every coaches first port of call when looking at a clients nutrition. Protein intake along with resistance training are the two main drivers we need to take care of when aiming to build muscle mass. Most of the recent protein research is showing that aiming for roughly 2g per kilogram of bodyweight is a safe bet for most people. This means that if I am 80kg then I should be looking for roughly 160g of protein per day. Downloading a free app called ‘MyFitness Pal’ can be a very useful way to get a rough idea of how much protein you’re eating throughout the day and I recommend it to all of my new clientele.

Protein timing can play a role but first nail your TOTAL DAILY INTAKE before worrying this. In regards to protein timing you could aim to get anywhere between 4 and 6 seperate feedings a day. I feel 4 is much more realistic for most people so say I would split my 160g of protein from the previous example (total daily protein intake) and divide it by 4 that would give me 40g of protein across 4 seperate feedings throughout the day. Very doable for most especially as you can include a post workout shake in one of those feedings as it is a very fast and affective way to get in a protein hit.

If you want to delve a little deeper on why protein plays such an important role with nutrition success check out this short blog post from a mentor of mine:



Mr Mackey doesn’t like carbs. Mr Mackey is also stick figure thin with biceps like an HB pencil so go figure. Carbs are not evil. They are far from it. It can be hard to convince many people because of ideas they’ve built up in their head from the media that carbohydrates make you fat. Sometimes it’s easier to blame something or someone else as opposed to taking responsibility for how much food you put in your mouth.  Once these people have taken my word for it we have seen some of the best transformations that my gym has produced while having happier clients because let’s face it who doesn’t enjoy eating sweet sweet carbs?

Why do carbs help you ask? Apart from being delicious AF carbs are the bodies ideal source of fuel and can help you train at greater intensity. Being anti-catabolic is another carb claim to fame which simply means carbs help prevent muscle breakdown.

Carb tolerance can vary from person to person so you may need to play around with it. Those with a lower body fat percentage struggling to build muscle will generally be more tolerant to a higher carb intake. Those with a higher body fat percentage will do better on lower carb until they get their body fat percentage down. Timing of carbs for muscle growth would best be done by including them in your pre and post workout meal. Remember this is not a hall pass to munch down on burgers and fries after every workout. Carbs are usually the macrounutrient that people find the easiest to overeat so monitor your intake and note changes in your body.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I provide a couple more tips for muscle growth from my experience learning under one of the top coaches in the world which you can read about here. Creating a ‘mind muscle connection’ and being able to drop your ego (and the weight) to work the desired muscle will also play a crucial role. This is something I see about 80% of people struggling with in the gym.

Carbs are bad Mkay

In summary: