Couple quick questions.
Are you satisfied with how much muscle you’ve built?
If not… do you know what to do? I mean the basics: Eat 1g of protein per pound bodyweight, get into a calorie surplus, lift weights, and sleep. That kind of thing. Know them inside and out? Rad.
But if you know the basics and you’re not satisfied with what you’ve built so far, what’s going on?
How is it possible to not be where you want to be when you know everything?
I’m not asking these questions to be mean, or a downer. I’m asking because I really want to see you reach your potential.
I’m asking because I want to see if I can wake you up. Is it possible that there’s a gap between intellectual knowing something and actually doing it?
Before we go any further, if you don’t know the basics, that’s totally okay. Maybe it’s better than okay because you’re still uncorrupted with years of bro-myths 🙂
We’d love to see you join the Bony to Beastly program if you want a step-by-step evidence-based system for skinny guys. If you’re not ready to join just yet, check out our free article on how to build muscle if you’re skinny.
Below we’ve highlighted 4 common “doing” issues with some specific action steps to help you get out of your rut. Even if you’re already doing well, you might find a way to improve what you’re doing a bit.
I Know Everything About Building Muscle, It’s Just Not Working For Some Reason
Workout-Collecting-Carl knows exactly how to build muscle. Of course he does. He’s been reading about it for years, listening to podcasts with the top bodybuilders, and subscribing to hundreds of muscle-building YouTube channels.
Workout-Collecting-Carl tells his buddies how to build muscle. He tells them how they shouldn’t be squatting on bosu balls because the core is activated in a far more practical way with regular squats.
He tells them how they can perfectly incorporate supersets into their routine to help out lagging body parts (the pump, baby—it works by causing metabolic stress).
He tells them what supplements they need to take to boost their muscle growth by 33% (citrulline malate is doing real well in recent studies, you know).
Secretly Workout-Collecting-Carl must know there’s something wrong because he isn’t building muscle. But across every article he’s read, every PubMed abstract he skimmed, and every interview he watched, they tell him the same basics he already knows. Eat lots of food and lift heavy. Right?
Workout-Collecting-Carl may even come across Bony to Beastly. He’s so close to actually figuring it all out. He sees our no-hassle 180-day guarantee and buys it on a whim. He bypasses the Quick-Start Guide and skips right to the workouts. There’s some weird stuff in there, but he spots some familiar lifts. “Yep. Just like everything else,” he tells himself. He opts for the refund since there’s no point paying for something he already knows. He doesn’t gain a single pound that year.
Don’t be like Workout-Collecting-Carl.
If you’re brand new to lifting, even the crappiest of all programs will work for a bit. Sure, you may end up with T-Rex proportions (huge legs and small arms) with a traditional 5×5 program, you may end up with some nagging injuries from jumping into overhead presses on day 1, or you may only build 1 pound of muscle and 3 pounds of fat. But still, you’ll build some muscle.
But a few pounds later and you’re stuck. Suddenly things are getting complicated. If you aren’t gaining weight, perhaps you’re missing something on the nutrition side.
Or if you’re gaining weight but it’s all fat, maybe it’s a nutrition issue, or maybe it’s that half-haphazard workout you cobbled together from T-Nation, Bodybuilding.com, and that YouTuber guy with the waxed chest.
There are nuances to programming workouts that aren’t always visible. Things like exercise progression, volume, intensity, lifting for neurological or hypertrophic gains, how compound and isolation lifts can synergize, using active insufficiency and passive tension for extra stimulus, periodization, etc. Not all workouts are equal when it comes to building new muscle.
Is it possible that lifting heavy just doesn’t cut it when it comes to your goal of gaining lots of muscle size, hitting your aesthetic goals, keeping your body injury-free, and feeling as supple as a Grizzly?
Or maybe the intensity advice you got from the bodybuilder just doesn’t work when you add that to your powerlifting program.
Here’s the harsh truth. Building muscle is hard.
Building muscle is hard for the genetically gifted. It’s even hard for people where their body is their livelihood—people like actors and fitness pros who can train all day and have a chef cook all their meals.
But, while building muscle is tough, it can be made manageable, repeatable, and even enjoyable if you have a Sherpa-like guide. Like climbing a large mountain with an expert who shows you exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and even why you’re doing it.
But building muscle gets stupidly difficult when you try and cut corners.
Action Steps To Fix This
- Get a professionally programmed workout and a nutrition plan that’s evidence-based. We like ours 😉 And if you love learning about this stuff, you can learn the nuances as you build muscle. It might take you a few years to hit your goals if you’re trying to build 50 pounds, and by the end you’ll, for real, know everything. Including how to apply theory to your real life.
- Stick with a great plan for at least a couple months to see the results. Switch too often and you’ll always just be getting neurological gains (practice, muscle recruitment) rather than pushing your body hard enough to actually require building muscle.
- Don’t mess with the plan. If you choose a good plan, all the puzzle pieces are designed to fit together. If you start merging multiple plans, you can break them.
- If you’re a DIYer, stop reading articles, of varying quality, and buy some exercise science textbooks and do some studying.
- Weigh yourself each week so you can see if you’re gaining the right amount of weight. If you aren’t, what you’re doing isn’t working.
I Know Everything About Building Muscle So I Can Just Go With The Flow
Free-Flowing-Fred already knows about counting calories and how you need to be in a calorie surplus to gain weight. He’s already gained a few pounds by tracking calories.
But he’s subconsciously tired of logging his meals into MyFitnessPal. So he’s decided to just feel it out.
He feels like he’s eating massive meals. After all, he’s eating beyond fullness. He’s taking weight-gainers and protein shakes too. He orders extra side dishes when he goes out for dinner. He’s crushing calories… in his head.
Objectively, this isn’t really true, though. At the end of the week he hasn’t gained any weight. He chalks it up to just water-weight fluctuations or some sort of unexplainable body quirk—that next week he’ll gain weight.
This is a classic skinny-guy slip-up. You know you need lots of protein and lots of calories, but you don’t track it.
Our bodies crave homeostasis. For every extra side dish that Free-Flowing-Fred ordered, it didn’t actually matter, as he subconsciously skimps on his breakfast the next morning. He tries his best, but his calories balance out.
Every body craves equilibrium. It wants energy balance. It neither wants to starve (eat too little) or get fat (eat too much).
Action Steps To Fix This
- Measuring is non-negotiable while changing your body. Change is hard. Measure your weight weekly. Track your calories daily, weekly, monthly. Track your protein too. There are incredible free tools available, like MyFitnessPal, that didn’t exist 10 years ago. (Members can check out our MyFitnessPal guide here.)
- Measure yourself with a tape measure monthly to make sure that you’re getting results in the right places.
- If you don’t want to measure, adjust your expectations knowing that you’re in a maintenance phase of your life.
I know Everything About Building Muscle But I’m Too Tired Or I Don’t Have Time
Too-Tired-Timmy spent years of late nights with blood-shot eyes researching how to build muscle. But he’s too tired to actually do it.
Everyone gets tired. At the end of the day, they feel sleepy and want to go to bed. This is true even if it was a day off and you feel like you did nothing.
You still built a lot of cells to regenerate organs, you spent a lot of blood sugar on thinking, you breathed a bunch, etc.
So the question is, how do we fit everything we want to do into the day? Too-Tired-Timmy only has about 30–60 minutes of low-key energy at the end of the day. That’s enough energy to browse the internet to learn about building muscle, but it’s not enough to do a high-energy workout.
So he kind of knows, in his head, what it takes to build muscle. But there’s a huge gap between knowing and doing. How can he fix this?
Action Steps To Fix This
- Move weightlifting to the first thing in the morning, when you have your most energy and time. Stop browsing the internet at night and wake up one hour earlier and you’ll magically have the energy and time needed—after a coffee of course. Cook a bulk meal once a week on Sunday to make the nutrition side take less time, and require less daily effort.
- Cut out draining activities that aren’t family or work-related. Reading a book and taking a nap will give you energy. Scrolling through Facebook is a draining activity. It takes energy out of you and doesn’t return hardly anything of use… unless you’re expecting to be quizzed soon on your neighbour’s political opinions.
I know Everything About Building Muscle But I Can’t Make Myself Do It
Motivational-Michael is the guy who knows what to do, but he just can’t do it. He has plenty of time and energy. He may even be in college with access to a free gym and a cheap cafeteria. Yes, there’s some assignments due and some readings, maybe a party to attend, etc. But it’s not like he’s doing his medical residency, or has 3 kids to take care of after a long day of work.
Motivational-Michael spends a lot of time—or possibly not enough time—looking at Youtube video collages of shirtless teenagers transforming into men who now look like they could be his dad.
He knows the end goal he wants, but it’s actually doing the daily work that gets him. Daily calories, daily protein, the 3x a week workouts. Even getting to bed at a reasonably normal time is hard.
Working out doesn’t feel like fun to him, even though watching people work out is.
Motivational-Michael needs to realize that he’s a very capable person, but he’s also human. We’re designed to conserve energy. Working out and eating well is in his best interests for the long-term version of himself, but not the short-term.
A common metaphor for developing a new habit is like a space shuttle taking off. It requires a ton of fuel to overcome gravity and break through the atmosphere.
But once you’re free in space, it becomes very easy to stay there and continue to move forward with less resistance.
Action Steps To Fix This:
- You’re capable, so bet on yourself. Make a bet with a friend for $50 that you’ll do 11 out of 12 workouts in the next month, and hit your daily calories/protein for 30 days with 2 slip-ups allowed. If you lose, you’re out $50 and you get shamed. If you win, you keep your 50 bucks, and the 4–8 pounds you gained.
- If your motivation is already high enough to hit the gym, instead of using that motivation to go harder, take some time to streamline your gym efforts and routine to develop a manageable habit. When things get crazy, and they will, a simpler and more optimized routine will be much easier to keep up with.
- Set reminders on your calendar app for the next 2 months to pop up notices on workout days. Your attention will drift over time, and reminders can be a simple and effective nudge back to the right direction.
- Join a community like ours to find an accountability partner so that you can check in with each other. Weekly Skype calls or even just private messages does wonders. You can also create your own thread with what’s working and what’s not, and we can help coach you.
Whether you’re like Workout-Collecting-Carl, Free-Flowing-Fred, Too-Tired-Timmy, or Motivated-Michael… you need to give yourself a bit of grace.
Building muscle is tough. And as complicated as building muscle can get, it’s not enough to know—you need to do.
Beating yourself up in your head about why you suck, or why you’re lazy, or that you’re destined to be skinny forever doesn’t help you build muscle. It actually just pushes you down deeper which, believe it or not, negatively affects your workout adherence.
Here’s the re-cap:
- The nuances matter and building muscle is tough even for the genetically gifted. Don’t be too hard on yourself and get something professional programmed by an expert like us (The Bony to Beastly Program) to guarantee your success will match your efforts.
- Measuring your progress is non-negotiable. Again, building muscle is hard and requires attention and focus.
- Priorities matter, and improving yourself is draining but it’s not forever. Habits make things lower-energy so it’ll get easier as you keep it up. And you don’t need to build muscle as a marathon. You can sprint/rest/sprint/rest, etc. to make it more manageable.
- Reminders and accountability can be the extra fuel needed to break through gravity and coast with habits. Be bold and bet on yourself.
Will you challenge yourself and take action today? What was the single biggest takeaway you got from this article? Comment below about how you think you can switch up what you’re doing to get back on track.