FIX these mistakes and build some MUSCLE!

Posted: June 26, 2015 in Intermediate Training
Tags: , , , ,

You’re no stranger to the gym and by no means a newbie. You’ve been at it for a while. You’ve learned good form on basic moves such as the Squat, Overhead Press, Bench Press and Deadlift. You know you need to train hard and heavy on basic, compound movements in order to gain strength and build muscle as fast as possible.

You know all of this, and you’ve been hitting the gym 4-5 times a week yet… you still look the same.

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?  I know, all too well, my friend.

So, what’s the answer?  What do you need to do to start packing on some serious muscle mass?

Well, you could flip through the bodybuilding magazines and find the latest, “greatest” supplement. You know, the ad for Super Maxx Jacked Extreme Bull Testicle Formula 9000 that claims to provide you with massive gains in only 4 weeks? It even has the token “before and after” of some dude who supposedly went from soft and flabby to big and ripped (and somehow, tan) in only a month. It shows you all these super important and impressive “scientific” results from clinical trials and how the stuff is proven to have “superacceleratedhypertrophic-rapidinsulinIGFHG2growthlikefactors”.

What the fuck?

Nah… Best to stay away from anything that makes these kinds of claims. Save your hundred bucks or, invest it wisely on things that actually work, like a quality protein powder, creatine and a good multivitamin.

Hmmm… Well, maybe you could get on the internet and read the forums to find the ultimate training program that will finally kick start muscle growth. You’d probably find a group of dudes talking about the new Max Mayhem Muscle Program where you’re supposed to do 10 sets of 9 exercises for 1 muscle group in a single training session.

But, remember, if you don’t need someone to carry you out of the gym, drive you home, wipe your ass, bathe you and spoon feed you… you didn’t do it right. Gotta work harder!

But wait… there’s another group of guys talking about Big Joe’s Epic Efficiency Program that claims you only need to do 1 set of 1 exercise every 5th day, but the set has to last until you puke. Tons of guys have tried it and it is THE way to get jacked.

Shit…. Who’s right? Which program should you follow?

Do yourself a HUGE favor. Stay off the forums or, if you are going to read them, take what’s said with a grain of salt and use common sense when you decide which training methods to put your effort into. There definitely are a lot of effective programs and ways to train. And, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of guys, and gals, out there with extensive knowledge on effective training techniques. But, there is also a TON of “bro-science” backed by speculation, hype, misunderstanding, and straight up bullshit.

So, basically, you’re just screwed, right?  Well… maybe not…

About 4-5 months ago this very scenario happened to me. I was hitting the gym consistently and training my ass off but I just wasn’t making any progress. I had plateaued.

I for one don’t like pouring my heart and soul into something, working hard for results and not getting what I’m after. So I decided to find the problem, look for the answers and take action to make things change!

Your success or failure has nothing to do with anyone else, any outside circumstances or anything that is not YOU.”

-Chris McCombs-

The first place I started was my diet. I recommend that anyone who is struggling to gain muscle and/or lose fat start here as well. Roughly 70-80% of your results come directly from how you eat.

I don’t always do this, though I really should, but I kept a food journal for several days. I simply wrote down everything that I ate. After looking at my diet I realized that, although it needed some improvements, it was pretty sound. The biggest issue was that I wasn’t getting enough protein, which is really unusual for me.

I bumped up my protein intake, started cooking more meals in bulk to be prepared ahead of time and I started planning all of my meals for the day, the evening before, by writing exactly what I was going to eat (including protein shakes) and when, in a notebook.

Once my diet was squared away I decided to take a closer look at my training. I ALWAYS keep a detailed journal of my workouts, recording the exercises, sets, reps, weights, rest times, split… everything, and this is a perfect example of why you should too. I was able to sit down and look through my journal to see exactly how I had been training. If I would have tried to recall all of that from memory, there’s no way I would have had an accurate account.

Through reviewing my journal there were some things I noticed and I had a hunch that I found the problem. Here’s the first issue preventing me from the gains I was looking for:

I had let way too many isolation movements creep into my routine.

I was basically violating the rules of “Muscle Building 101” by putting too much effort into moves like Cable Crossovers, Preacher Curls and Lateral Raises instead of focusing on big compound movements that allow me to move a lot of weight and train multiple muscle groups at once.

So, I decided to go back to the basics with some hardcore training using the exercises that produce strength and muscle growth. I put myself on a steady diet of Bench Presses, Squats, Deadlifts, Rows, Overhead Presses, Chin-ups, Pull-ups and Shrugs… the shit that produces real results! I stuck to these basic, result producing movements, and their variations, such as Inclines Presses, Dumbbells, etc.

Once I knew my plan of attack on exercise selection I had to fix my next mistake:

• I was training in a fairly high rep range, around 10-12 reps, almost always.

I noticed that over the previous 2-3 months I hardly every switched up my rep range and never really trained at a higher intensity with heavier weights. I decided to start consistently training at around 5-6 reps, usually never going any higher than 8, and sometimes as low as 3-4. I know that a key component of getting bigger is getting stronger. So, I set out to not only put on more size but to get stronger as quickly as I could by increasing my training loads (weights) as often as possible. Even if it was only a 5 lb. jump, I wanted to use more weight every time I stepped foot in the gym.

There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength.”

-Henry Rollins-

Now that I had my rep range all sorted out I noticed another area that needed some improvement:

• I had somehow started using what closely resembled the type of body part split you’d find in the muscle magazines. This is NOT the best way for a natural, intermediate lifter to train. Basically, I was hitting one muscle group per session, two at the most, and training each body part only once about every 6-8 days.

Scientific evidence, the opinions of most intelligent strength and conditioning coaches and real world proof, from real natural bodybuilders, shows that, for an intermediate (which is about 95-99% of us), the ideal “split” is one that allows you to train each muscle group about twice a week. To put it another way, I wasn’t training each muscle group often enough to stimulate increases in size and strength at an optimal rate.

I did some research and came across a training split that would allow me to hit each muscle group with the right frequency. Specifically the split is Push/Pull/Legs. Basically it’s broken down like this:

Day 1 Push: Includes ‘pushing’ movements such as Bench Presses, Overhead Presses and Triceps work.

Day 2 Pull: Includes ‘pulling’ movements such as Deadlift, Rows, Chin-ups, Pull-ups, Shrugs, Curls

Day 3 Off

Day 4 Legs: Plain and simple, in my opinion, Legs = SQUATS! But I also include some Leg Presses, Stiff Leg Deadlifts (for hamstrings), and some type of movement for Calves.

Day 5 & 6 Off

Day 7 Push

And so on, and so forth…

I also train my abs (directly and indirectly) anywhere from 5-7 days a week, using both, bodyweight movements and exercises where resistance is added.

The last mistake I realized I had been making is actually the most crucial mistake of all. It’s one that I can’t believe I allowed myself to make and, when I realized it, I could have kicked myself right in the ass!

• Specifically I had been failing to consistently OVERLOAD my muscles. Looking at my training journal I noticed that for over a month I was using the same weight, for the same reps in almost every damn exercise!


Out of all the mistakes I had made this was most likely THE killer of my results. It was my fucking kryptonite. It is for every ‘would be’ Superman out there.

No matter what training program you decide to follow, what exercises you do, what rep range you train in or what split you use, if you do not consistently and effectively OVERLOAD your muscles you will not get any bigger or stronger, period, with a capital fucking P.E.R.I.O.D.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth stating again right here, there are 3 ways to overload your muscles:

  1. Use more weight on any given exercise. This has to be done with good form or, at best, you won’t get the results you’re looking for and, at worst, you could end up getting hurt.
  2. Use the same weight for more reps.  However, since getting stronger is a key component of muscle growth you probably shouldn’t stay at the same weight until you can knock out 20 reps. I’d recommend going no higher than 12 reps before you increase the weight you use. I personally find it most effective to train in a rep range of anywhere from 5-8 reps. And, what’s most effective for you personally may vary depending on the muscle group you’re training. My bi’s, tri’s and shoulders seem to respond best to 10-12 reps and my legs, chest and back grow more with heavier weight and lower reps. The best thing to do is vary your rep ranges and see what works best for you.
  3. Take less rest between sets.  Personally, if I’m training hard and heavy with low reps, I like to take my time between sets. I’ll usually rest anywhere from 2-3 minutes between sets and sometimes as high 5 minutes, especially when I’m doing Squats. But, at times, cutting your rest period down to 45 seconds, and even as low as 30 seconds, is a great way to challenge the hell out of your body and it even has a nice fat burning effect. You could also occasionally perform some super sets, drop sets, and things like that, where you take no rest. Just don’t get too carried away with these and do them too often.

If you’re able to combine a few of these techniques you’ll very effectively overload your muscles. If you can use more weight for more reps, that right there is technically known as “The Shit”, my friend. You’re on your way to some serious gains. And, if you can use more weight, for more reps AND take less rest between sets… well then you are officially a bad mother fucker in my book.

So, once I had effectively pulled my head from my ass, and incorporated a training plan that didn’t violate several key muscle building principles, I set out for the gym with a vengeance.

Within a couple of weeks my strength started shooting through the damn roof. Within a couple of months the results I achieved were spectacular. I mean, it was night and day from where I was previously. In fact, I had friends and family accusing me of taking steroids, which I didn’t mind a bit.

IMO, when you’re truly natural, and you’ve got people saying you’re juicing, you’re doing something really right!

Besides, I know the muscle and strength I’ve built has been earned through blood, sweat and tears and an intelligent approach to training.

So what does all this mean for you and how can it help YOU?

I’m not conceited enough to think that everyone, or anyone, gives two shits about my training program. But, I’m telling you now, I’ve made more gains in the past 6-8 weeks than I had in the previous 4-5 months and it came from making a few simple adjustments. Keep in mind, the adjustments were simple but the work I put in (and I’m still putting in) was anything but easy. My training sessions became much more intense. But, they were a helluva lot more fun and, the best thing is, they produced RESULTS!!!

In the past two months I went from 238 lbs. to 220 lbs. while dramatically increasing my muscle size and I’ve made jumps of 30 lbs. or more on major lifts like the Bench Press, Deadlift and Squat. The sweet ass cherry on top is, it’s summertime and this boy right here as some abs to show off. 😉

I’m not saying this stuff to brag (well… maybe I am, a little) but to show you what to look for if you’re not getting the results you want out of your training. If you’ve been hitting the gym hard, and don’t seem to be making any progress, chances are you’re making one, or all, of the same mistakes I was.

Take a good look at your diet and make sure you’re getting the quality, nutritious calories and protein your body needs to fuel muscle growth. Look at your training and make sure you’re not putting too much time and effort into isolation movements. If so, start focusing on the basic compound exercises that build size and strength quickly. And, whatever you do, make sure you’re pushing yourself harder and further, by overloading your muscles, every time you step foot in the gym.

Doing the small, but very important, things right virtually guarantees you’ll get the results, and body, that you’ve been working so hard for. No Super Maxx Jacked Accelerated What the Fuck required. 😉

Until Next Time,

Michael Wheeler

P.S. If you have any muscle building tips we’d love to hear about em’ below! Are you getting the results you want? What’s been working for you?

P.S.S. I’ve included an example of one of my ‘Push’ day training sessions below. I don’t always use the exact same exercises (in fact, I switch it up pretty often) but this should give you a good idea of how I’ve trained.

20-30o Incline Dumbbell Press
Warm-up Sets
(1) 45 lbs. x 15 reps
(2) 65 lbs. x 10 reps
(3) 80 lbs. x 5-6 reps
(4) 115 lbs. x 2-3 reps (I often like to pick a weight that’s 10-15 lbs. over the weight I plan to do my work sets with and do a couple of reps with it. It prepares me mentally and physically for the hard work sets and, it makes my training weight feel a little lighter because I’ve went above it already.)

Work Sets
(1) 105 lbs. x 5-8 reps
(2) 105 lbs. x 5-8 reps
(3) 105 lbs. x 5-8 reps
(4) 95 lbs. x 8-15 reps (Heavy Pump Set)

Once I can get 8 reps on every set, I increase the weight to 110 lbs. the next training session. Same on the last set; once I can get around 12-15 reps, I increase the weight.

Overhead Press

Warm-up Sets
(1) 45 lb. bar x 10-15 reps
(2) 95 lbs. x 10 reps

Work Sets
(1) 135 lbs. x 8-10 reps
(2) 135 lbs. x 8-10 reps
(3) 135 lbs. x 8-10 reps

Again, if I hit 10 reps on all 3 sets, I’d increase the weight to 140 lbs. the next session. If not; say I did 10, 8 and 7 on my three work sets, I’d stay at 135 lbs. and push hard the next session to get more reps. The next time I’d probably hit 10, 10, 8 and even though the weight wasn’t increased, I still overloaded my muscles because I did more reps. Once I hit 10 on all 3 sets, I’d jump up in weight the following session.

Close Grip Bench Press

Warm-up Sets (Not too much warm up needed. After everything else tri’s are pretty warm. This is mostly just to get the “feel” of the movement I’m preparing to do.)
(1) 135 lbs. x 6-8 reps

Work Sets (Reverse Pyramid)
(1) 205 lbs. x 8 reps
(2) 195 lbs. x 10 reps
(3) 185 lbs. x 12 reps

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