Updated: Mar 19
When I started my fitness journey, I was a skinny 23-year-old boy who knew absolutely nothing about weight-lifting. This was 10 years ago and the fitness industry wasn’t as big then, it was hard to come by good information for free over the internet.
I’m 6’1” and at the time I was around 170lbs.
Now I’m a 33-year-old man (I’ve grown a beard so I’m comfortable calling myself that) and weigh around 231lbs.
It took me 10 years to pack on 60lbs of (90%) muscle.
I wasted a lot of time. I didn’t know any better… but now I do.
Over the years, I have learned many lessons, tried millions of different diets, workouts and training methods. So let me share these lessons with you, in hopes they may save you a few years! These are the top 5 mistakes I made:
1. Not eating enough
It is as simple as that; start eating more high calorie, nutrient-dense food. As a hard-gainer, you are going to need about 20 Kcal per pound of body weight (right now at 230lbs I consume on average 4000 Kcal a day). If you're eating low-calorie foods, that's a lot of food to consume in a day. Foods I recommend are raw oatmeal, peanut butter, whole egg and dried fruit.
It's important to note that counting calories is not accurate (methods used to determine calories/nutrients have a +/-20% accuracy), though it is a great place to start from. If you're like I was, you'll soon realise that you are in fact a calorie balance, if not a deficit.
Step 1: Weigh yourself (weigh-ins need to be done at the same time and on the same weekday, I recommend Monday morning upon waking)
Step 2: Add 200 to 300 kcal to what you are currently eating
Step 3: Weigh yourself after a week
Step 4: If you have gained weight, keep on going until 2 or 3 consecutive weigh-ins show no changes!
Step 5: If you haven’t gained weight, add another 200 to 300 kcal to your day
.. and so on
If you feel like putting in a bit more work:
- Calculate your BMR (base metabolic rate calculator)
- Add 1000 kcal to whatever number comes up
- Stick to your daily calorie intake
- Keep track of weight fluctuation
Oh, almost forgot, there is one more super-easy way to fix this:
Get a bloody Personal Trainer!!!
They will prepare your meal plan, monitor your progress and adjust accordingly. Most importantly, they will educate you on making the right choices and share their knowledge with you.
2. Not tracking progress (or lack of)
Progressive overload is THE WAY to build muscles. Like Coach Greg says, TRAIN HARDER THAN LAST TIME (if you don’t know who I’m talking about look up Greg Doucette on Youtube, loads of good content on his channel).
But how are you going to know if you are progressing without tracking?
Go on Amazon, find a good workout planner and start writing those numbers down week in-week out (if you don’t like pen and paper there are a ton of free apps to do this).
And besides, 6 months from now you’ll be looking back and those number, be super pumped, hungry for more and feed of your results for extra motivation!
Photos, photos and more photos. Because you see yourself every day in the mirror you don’t notice how your body is changing. Consistently taking photos will help you notice those gains and maintain confidence in yourself and your training program.
Every 4 weeks take photos in 4 relaxed poses – Front, back, left side and right side. Try to always do them in the same spot and with similar lighting for better comparison.
Weight should be recorded every week too! Just use your phone notes app, we want to keep things simple here.
3. Training frequency and intensity too low
By now it has been proven over and over again that muscle groups should be trained multiple times a week.
When it comes to muscle mass, the saying “use it or lose it” applies perfectly. Studies show a decrease as soon as 72hours after working out a particular muscle group. This is mainly due to the body not expecting stimulus and focusing energy on other priorities.
It becomes clear why the “BRO split” has lost popularity over the year and has been replaced by Push/Pull or Push/Pull/Leg splits.
Intensity should also be a big priority in your training. Recently, terms like RIR (reps in reserve) or RPE (rate of perceived exertion) have become extremely popular and are thrown in every single workout program. Forget about all that, train heavy and train hard! Just make sure your final set of every exercise is done to absolute failure.
As you go along start implementing additional techniques such as rest-pause sets, drop sets, partial reps etc. Again, having a PT teaching about all this will benefit you immensely.
4. Not being consistent
And I don’t mean stick to your diet or don’t skip workouts, you already know that. I mean stick to your PLAN. Stop changing things around! We all search for instant gratification, we expect to walk into the gym throw few weights around, eat a couple of pounds of chicken and broccoli and turn into muscle monsters…That’s not the case.
If you designed your own plan, or purchased one online or found it for free on the web…just stick to it and results will come!
Ultimately when it comes to building muscles, even for hard-gainer, it comes down to 2 main factors:
So stop moving from one program to another, changing your routine every 4 weeks because you're afraid of adaption and blaming your genetic for the lack of progress.
I mean, if Doryan Yates won 6 consecutive Mr Olympia by following the same training program for years, you can easily build a few pounds of muscles.
5. Having the wrong expectations
This somehow brings us back to point 4. It is important to adjust your expectation from the get-go. Setting realistic goals is fundamental to keep you going. You don’t want to aim too low, but don’t want to be unrealistic either. At the begging of your journey, you need a few wins to build the confidence you can do it.
As a non enhanced athlete, you should probably expect to gain 1 to 2 kg a month at the most. But don’t expect this to be pure muscles, there will obviously be a little bit of fat and water weight in there.
Sure as a newbie you will see the difference in the mirror in no time. But then things will slow down and you’ll be tempted to speed things up…please don’t! (will talk about this some other times). Be patient, keep working hard and go back to point 1 to 4 if things stop going your way!
If you have read this article this far congratulation, is time for a bonus tip:
KEEP THINGS SIMPLE!!
Stop going down rabbit holes of studies, youtube influencers, experts advice etc etc etc.
Eat, train, sleep, repeat. That’s your magic formula right there!