Health and Fitness

4 reasons why you’re not building muscle

Today I’m here to talk about muscle building – it’s my favourite topic so I thought, why aren’t I writing about this?!

Muscle building isn’t easy. The muscle you want to build doesn’t appear over night. It takes work, and a whole load of consistency. However, if you are being consistent with your workouts, but still not seeing your desired results – there are many reasons why this could be happening.

I just want to note first, that it’s very beneficial to initially have built a foundation of muscle/strength throughout your entire body (which will generally occur as a beginner when beginning to workout with weights). This will ensure that you are strong enough to start gaining mass and size. It’s best to do this by doing full body workouts if you are new to weight lifting. This can be done in the form of circuit training with weight or by performing body weight exercises. Again, the goal is gain some STRENGTH across the entirety of you body.

Building the additional muscle, size and strength, is where a lot of people often feel stuck. It’s likely that once you have began to gain an initial foundation of muscle and strength, you may hit it a plateau, and feel that you aren’t progressing anymore. I had this experience myself. But since overcoming this obstacle, I discovered what I wasn’t doing to build as much muscle as I could (this was primarily because I didn’t have access to a gym at the time, but also because I didn’t know)

So, I’m going to outline a few things you may NOT be doing, and are therefore experiencing very little, or no results or changes in your body on your quest to building muscle.


1. You’re not doing (enough) compound exercises

Compound exercises are KING of muscle size and strength. They utilise many different muscles throughout your body, as well as placing a lot more stress on your metabolism and nervous system. Instead of focusing primarily on isolation exercises (which target a specific muscle, i.e. bicep curls) consider making compound exercises the main focus of your workouts. Compound exercises include things such as:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead press
  • Barbell Row

By making these types of exercises the focal point to your workouts, it would be best for you to do them at the beginning of your workout when you have the most energy. PRIORITISE them. This is because they will work more muscle overall, making them considerably more efficient for your time and for your muscle building goals. They are going to contribute to the overall size and strength of your ENTIRE body.

Since compound exercises force the entire body to work systematically, they make it possible for you to lift a lot more weight. The more weight you use, and the more muscles you are using, means the more muscle you will build and develop overtime (if you are consistently doing them). However, with compound moves it is crucial that your form is correct. It’s important to practise and practise with a weight you CAN move before you start going a lot heavier. I have experienced injuries with exercises such as deadlifts because I went too heavy with incorrect form – so be smart about your training. KNOW when a weight is too heavy, or if you’re experiencing a lot of pain (especially in areas such as your lower back). Just stop, decrease the weight a little if necessary, and just try and try again.

Nevertheless, executing compound exercises forces your heart to work harder and therefore creates more stress on the metabolism, whilst using a considerable amount more energy. You will also be working large muscle groups such as the glutes, legs, back and chest, alongside the smaller muscles, which you may find will benefit your strength when doing isolation exercises too. Compound exercises are always going to be fundamental to any weight lifting/muscle building goal – so implement them!

2. You’re not eating enough

This is often perceived as the ‘scary’ part.


Maybe not.

I personally like to eat a lot – since I know it will contribute to my growth. However, I used to feel cautious about putting on too much fat, or getting fat, or losing my definition, or getting too BIG. But the truth is, is if you want to build muscle, your body requires an ample amount of fuel – not only to build, but also to sustain the muscle you already do have. You may not realise, but your muscle typically requires more energy to sustain than the storage of fat, and thus typically requires more calories. People with more muscle generally tend to have higher BMR’s (Basal Metabolic Rate), meaning the total number of calories the body requires to sustain and function (not including exercise itself) is higher. This is why diet and nutrition is such a crucial element to fitness and muscle building etc.  Not only does it matter WHAT you eat, but it is also necessary for you to be in a caloric surplus. A caloric surplus is where you’re consuming more food (aka calories) than you burn. This can be used to gain weight and grow muscle. However, peoples preferences on how much of a surplus they are in can differ a lot. There are people who ‘bulk’ and put on a lot of mass and size very quickly, or there are people who slowly and gradually keep increasing their calories the more they grow. This is entirely your choice, and whatever works for you is what you should do. You can also either track your calories, or go off what feels and looks right.

Like I previously mentioned, however, it is also necessary to take in to consideration what types of food you are eating, if you not only want to build muscle, but also want to feel good and be healthy.

Your diet should consist of lean protein (e.g. fish/chicken), carbohydrates (slow and fast release – e.g. rice/pasta or fruit, rice cakes), healthy fats (e.g. hummous/avocado), and vegetables (for nutrition). I think what you decide to eat really does contribute to your muscle building/fat storing abilities. Some people may prefer to eat in a surplus with highly processed foods high in sugar, saturated fats, salt and additives, and although you can still build muscle this way, you will be benefitting far more with a diet comprising mostly of wholesome foods and nutritious options. If you eat nothing but ‘junk’ then it is likely that you will feel this way too.

3. You’re not progressively increasing the weight

Another reason why people may feel they’ve hit a muscle building plateau, is because they’re still working out with the same weight. You may not notice, but your body adapts to the stress you place on it – and it can adapt quickly. If you have been using the same amount of weight for a long period of time, your body has probably already found a way to deal with the stress, adapted, and therefore has no need to grow anymore.

I understand that this can be difficult, however. I experienced this issue a lot whilst I was travelling for a few months. I brought along with me, two 6kg dumbbells (because that’s all I had and all I used at the time). I didn’t have access to a gym, and therefore all I could use was the 12kg I lugged around with me (crazy, I know). As you can imagine, I very quickly adapted to using this weight for every part of my body and began to show little or no change in my muscle size. At this point I was still a beginner, and although working out every day with just 12kg enabled me to build a strong foundation of muscle, I still couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with my lack of progress. (I eventually started using buckets full of tins of beans, water bottles AND the dumbells in the end until I came across a gym). But you know what I’m saying? Your muscles cannot grow larger if they have no reason to. Sure, using the same weight is definitely still beneficial to you – you’re working out after all! BUT, if your goal is to build muscle, and you have access to more weight, then by all means, move on and lift a little heavier!! Each time you hit a plateau, always consider the weight you’re using to see if you can go heavier. If you cannot, that’s fine too. It’s just about recognising when the weights you’re using really aren’t difficult anymore.

4. You’re not patient or consistent

So, lets put it this way – building muscle isn’t a quick process!

When you initially start weight lifting, you’ll probably notice a rapid change in your body, since it has never encountered the stress of you using weight before. It therefore quickly adapts and builds a little muscle so it can deal with the stress – hence your newly found definition. But, when you’re past that initial stage, your body slows down a little because you using weight is no longer random and different for your body. This is why it can take years to create dense muscles and the ‘perfect’ physique.

For this reason, some people may feel impatient and give up trying after a while of not seeing immediate results. However, what you’ve got to remember is that it’s your consistency and patience which goes a long way. If you set your heart on a goal (i.e. muscle size), then you’ve got to understand that the process will take time. As long as you’re persistently working out, eating well, and consistently progressing with weight as you develop, there is no reason why your goals won’t develop and appear.

I discovered this myself, and I am still discovering this. I used to think I’d never be able to build muscle. But I found with self belief, patience, and an imperishable level of tenacity, that you can build the body you desire (not that I’m there yet!!)

It’s a continuous process… an ongoing journey.

Never give up guys



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