7 Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle (And What You Can Do To Fix That)

Find me a meathead who doesn’t want to build more muscle, burn fat, and unleash an aesthetic physique, and I’ll show you a liar.
Even if you think that your driving force comes from wanting to improve your health, feel more confident, or simply build the habit of exercising, I can all but guarantee that at the root of that desire, is an innate desire to look sexy as fuck.


Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Yet, hitting the gym in and of itself isn’t necessarily enough to see the results you want.

Sure, you’ll see some results initially, you’ll start to feel more comfortable in the gym, and things will slowly move in the direction you want them to.

This is great, until the results stop coming.

Plateaus and stagnation happen to all of us, and trust me, there’s little more frustrating than putting in sweat equity day after day, to see no changes in the mirror or in how you feel.

Behold, the 7 reasons you aren’t building the muscle you want.

#1. If you can’t feel the muscle you’re trying to build, it ain’t gonna grow.

Developing and nurturing the mental connection you share with each muscle on your body is crucial to long-term muscular growth. There’s a reason why Arnold and his crew of meatheads placed emphasis on “feeling the muscle” and chasing the pump on each rep of every set.

Man, it’s really quite simple.

You can’t grow that which you can’t feel.


If you struggle to feel a muscle working, drop the weights by 20%, slow down your reps, and focus on using nothing but your muscle tissue to move the weight. No “help” from your joints, no body language, no nothing. This will be hard, frustrating, and take a toll on your ego at first.

It’ll be well worth it when you start to grow, though.

#2. Training a muscle once per week is a surefire way to stay small.

A question I’ve been receiving a lot is something to the tune of:

“I have 18 inch arms right now, and I’m trying to get to 20, but it’s just not happening. Any tips?”

Now, I recognize that you would probably kill for 18 inch arms to start with (hell, so would I). But, I’m using an extreme example so I can hammer this home for you.

No matter what stage of the physique development game you’re at, you’re going to hit plateaus, and have to find a way to work around it.

One of the simplest ways to kickstart new growth and hammer through a plateau?

Double up on the frequency of the muscle group in question.

In the case of the above example, said meathead was training arms twice per week. Now he’s training them four times per week.

While it’s still early days and far too soon to claim that he’ll hit his goal of 20 inch arms, there’s little doubt in my mind that he will after 3 months of training arms four times per week.

#3. You can’t chase growth year round.

I get it.

We all want to be bigger, stronger, faster, more powerful, and we want it to be so, yesterday.

That being the case, it only seems natural to work directly towards that goal day in and day out, right?


Regardless of what you’re trying to achieve, you cannot drive there in a straight path, and achieve it by sheer force of will. Alas, that’s not how our bodies work.

Since we’re talking about growth, I can all but promise that you’ll get where you want to be more quickly by taking periods to mini-diet, bring your body fat back down, restore insulin sensitivity, and give your body a break from having to deal with a surplus of calories.

Because, you can only push so hard for so long before your body balks, and stops responding. Learning to work with, and not against your body’s biofeedback is one of the best things you can do for your physique aspirations.

Being able to assess your body’s biofeedback, progress, and make decisions based upon those metrics will be a huge turning point in the progress of your physique.

When you’re able to put yourself through periods of fat loss and maintenance on your quest for growth, you’ll set yourself up for greater, continuous gains.

#4. There are no “bad” exercises. Only ones that do or do not align with your goal.

The amount of articles floating around the internet that rag on exercises such as leg extensions, front raises, bicep curls, and the like are utterly atrocious. They’re totally missing the forest for the trees, and teaching people to demonize exercises that may in fact be quite conducive to their individual goals.

Stop. Example time.

Personally, I’m a full-blown meathead, and competitive bodybuilder. In the context of my own training, power-based athletic exercises such as hang cleans, clean and jerks, and snatches are very rarely going to be seen in any of my programs, because they don’t lend themselves well to muscular growth.

But, that doesn’t make them a bad exercise.

It simply means that they don’t align with my goal of optimally developing my physique.

Trust me. Provided you’ve got no wonky knee issues and you want bigger wheels, leg extensions are going to help your cause.


On the surface, the exercise below looks rather dangerous, and pointless. But, it aligns with my goal of not using a ton of weight to stimulate my chest, and achieve a deep stretch.


#5. There’s more than one way to achieve progressive overload than by simply adding more weight to the bar.

Progressive overload is often talked about as a means of progression in the gym, and rightfully so.

Often, progressive overload through adding more weight to the bar is what most talk about or implement. Which isn’t wrong by any means. But, there are many other ways to achieve the overload effect, and all should have a place in your program.

You can achieve progressive overload through:

1. More sets with the same weight
2. More reps with the same weight
3. Decreasing your rest times
4. Use intensity techniques (drop sets, isometric holds, partial reps, etc)
5. Implementing super, tri, and giant sets into your session to increase training density

…and the list goes on.

You don’t have to use them all, but I strongly suggest achieving overload through more than what’s on the bar.

#6. There’s more to building muscle than sets and reps.

Piggybacking off the topic of progressive overload, there’s also more to hypertrophy than simplistic reps and sets.

Truth be told, you have countless tools at your disposal. This is one of the main reasons I’m always befuddled when someone complains about being “bored” in the gym. There are so many ways you can inject variety into your sessions, provided you’re willing to get a little creative.

You have:

1. Tempo manipulation (slow eccentrics, paused reps, etc)
2. Altering strength curves (cable side laterals feel much different then DB side laterals)
3. Adjusting your angles (instead of flat DB pressing, press from a 20 degree angle)
4. Equipment selection (you don’t always have to use a barbell for effective back squats, some of my greatest leg gains came from swapping hack squats for back squats in every session)
5. Intensity techniques (drop sets, isometric holds, partial reps, etc)

…And once more, the list goes on.

Similar to chasing progressive overload, you don’t need to throw all the above at yourself at once, but you’ll benefit from greatly from picking 1-3 and implementing them for the next three months.

The video below is a great example of using additional quarter reps to level up your training intensity.


#7. In the context of physique training, periodization is overrated.

While not as prevalent as it once was, there’s a lot of banter around the importance of having a periodized training plan.

This is great for strength athletes, powerlifters, and olympic lifters.

Since you’re reading an article about getting jacked, I doubt you fall into the above categories.

In the context of physique development, it’s great to have a plan to get to where you want to be in three, six, or 12 months, but there are so many variables that lie outside of your control.

You never know when you’re going to get sick, go travelling, run your body down, or have to deal with an injury. All of which will throw a wrench into the best laid plans. Not mention that hitting specific numbers each week simply doesn’t have much importance in the physique game.

By all means, have a loose plan for you training over the next few months. But, be willing (and ready) to flex and adapt that plan if need be.

The final reps.

At the end of the day, building muscle, burning fat, and developing your physique ain’t checkers. It’s a long, long chess game, that requires patience, discipline, and a willingness to stretch yourself.

Truth be told, isn’t that where much of the fun lies?

Either way, the 7 ideas above will have you busting through plateaus, and pushing the needle forward once more.

Now go forth, and train hard.

About the Author

alex-mullanAlex is a short shorts enthusiast, espresso fiend, and an unapologetic meathead. When he's not training legs or learning how to better serve his clients, he can be found exploring how to write more better, perfect his risotto recipe, or pull the perfect shot of espresso. Alex has polled 19 of the top muscle building minds for their best training tips, and gathered them into one convenient guide. Click through here to grab your copy of the prestigious Hypertrophy Handbook (it's free).