Are you tirelessly working out and not noticing that you’re not feeling strong? Do you read all the latest fitness articles telling you how to get stronger and build muscle mass but don’t see the results? Are you sick of feeling like you wasting your time at the gym? There are 4 reasons you’re not getting strong, and the ways to fix them so you gain muscle mass.
Fitness secrets to gain muscle mass
There are many confusing articles and people telling you what’s the best way to get stronger, gain muscle, or my favorite, get ripped! The truth is, it’s actually a simple equation that most people aren’t getting right.
As a Certified Personal Trainer in Kansas City, I ask my clients at CORE Strong KC these four questions.
- How often do you work out?
- How hard are you working out?
- What’s in your diet?
- How much sleep do you get?
How often should I work out to get strong?
Your frequency of how often your working out and what you’re working out can make one of the biggest impacts overall!
For example, if you currently exercise 2-3 times per week and each time you do a different type of workout you’re probably not noticing improved strength. Muscles need to undergo a challenge in order to break down and grow. If you’re not properly challenging the muscles you want to strengthen, like your biceps, then you’re not going to gain actual muscle fiber.
So, increase how many times you work out. If you exercise 5-7 days a week, alternating body parts that you focus on, then you’ll notice significant gains in your strength.
How hard do I have to work out to build muscle?
The second question is how hard are you working out?
Your intensity GREATLY affects your outcomes when it comes to strength gains! If you show up to a class and put forth minimal effort and then pat yourself on the back for showing up, then congrats you made it to class. That is better than nothing, BUT if you want to get something out of those workouts FASTER check your intensity level.
Let’s say for instance that you are in a class where you work for 45-seconds and then rest for 20-seconds. The only reason you should stop before the timer goes off at 45-seconds is if you’re pushing yourself so hard that your body simply can’t make it. Eventually, you will make it.
Far too often, people listen to the negative thoughts in their head and give up before the timer goes off. Exercise can become a head game. It’s as much of a mental exercise as the physical exercise you’re performing. If you’re giving up, try these motivational tips to keep going and to push a little harder.
Be mindful of your breath, and listen to your body. If you’re having trouble breathing properly, try these breathing exercises.
Focus on the effort you put into the exercise and make it HARD.
Physical changes happen when you do something the same way but continually challenge yourself to do MORE or BETTER. Increase the intensity level and stick it out to the end.
To improve your strength, give one more rep even after the bell goes off or show up to the gym one extra time per week.
Upper body exercises to build muscle faster
If you’d like to improve your muscle mass in your upper body so you feel stronger, try this simple workout.
- TRX Chest Press (Under Anchor)
- Overhead Kettlebell Press
Perform each exercise for 45 seconds and then take 30 seconds rest. Repeat for 7 rounds.
This is a form of metabolic stress muscular adaption. That’s when you achieve muscle growth through multiple reps and rounds rather than using heavier weight with fewer reps.
Another form of muscular adaption is Time Under Tension (TUT). With this type of strength training, you don’t focus on increasing the weight.
Your focus is on how long your muscle is under tension during a set. Again, it’s about intensity. How long are you pushing your muscle to the max?
Focus on controlling the eccentric and concentric phases of the exercise or the lengthening and shortening of your muscle. Concentric shortens your muscle like doing a bicep curl. The bending of the elbow is the concentric phase of the exercise. Eccentric is the contraction that lengthens your muscle. For example, straightening your elbow.
Most exercises focus on working the muscle rather than returning back to your starting point. With TUT, focus on both parts of the exercise. It’ll help you build muscle mass faster so you feel stronger.
TUT usually applies to lifting weights but is extremely effective in bodyweight exercises to increase muscular size (hypertrophy) and strength. For example, slowly lower a weight down for 10 seconds and then lift it back up for 10 seconds as well.
Going slow on both ends, you’ll probably only be able to do 8-10 reps MAX if you have the correct weight or angle with your bodyweight like TRX Training. Taking 30-90 second rest periods between sets.
Whatever training method you prefer just make sure you judge your starting point correctly. Don’t start to heavy or too intense because you’re just risking injury, but DO consistently push YOURSELF.
It’s not always the job of the instructor or certified personal trainer to tell you to get out of your head and put more effort into YOUR workout. You’d be surprised of what your actually capable of if you just try!
Nutrition guidelines for a healthy diet
If you’re not getting stronger, look at what’s in your diet. This is probably the most important question to ask yourself if you’re not seeing the workout results you’d like. There are many facts that can contribute to muscular strength and growth but none more important than diet.
Eating the right amount of protein, carbs and fats are essential for providing the right building blocks for skeletal muscle mass.
I don’t believe in counting calories or macro as a sustainable way to live but it might be important for a short time to gain insight to your general dietary needs.
How much protein do I need to build muscle?
Many people overeat or consume protein thinking more is better. That’s not the case. If you consume too much protein, your body will store it or pass it through the gut. So, how much protein do you need to build muscle?
It is recommended that an active individual eat 1.5 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, how much protein do you need to eat? Divide your body weight by 2.2 to get your body weight in kilograms.
For instance, a 150-pound active individual would need a minimum of 102 grams of protein to build skeletal muscle mass.
150 / 2.2 = 68kg so 68kg x 1.5 = 102
Here are some common protein counts:
4oz of Chicken = 25 grams
¼ cup quinoa = 5.5 grams
¼ of almonds = 8 grams
How many carbohydrates do I need?
When you’re looking at your diet, also consider how many carbohydrates you eat. Most of us probably consume enough carbs or too many!
The recommended intake of carbohydrates to support healthy skeletal muscle mass is 5-6 grams per kilogram of body weight.
So, a 150-pound person needs 340 grams of carbs a day.
150/2.2=68 so 68×5=340
If you look at your diet you’re probably already there if not over. Over-consumption of carbohydrates is one of the major contributing factors in the obesity epidemic today because of its abundance and availability.
To figure out how many carbs you’re consuming here’s just a simple example of some protein counts:
¼ cup of oats = 15 grams
¼ cup of rice = 35 grams
1 slice of pizza = 36 grams
Slice of wheat bread = 12 grams
1 slice of gluten free bread = 11 grams
As you can see the carb count on the majority of some staple foods is much higher than most protein counts in most of our typical foods. So, it is much easier to overeat carbs. That causes excess weight gain and covers up the muscle you may have built with your workouts.
How much fat should I eat per day?
We all need fat. It’s essential for many roles in our body, especially brain function. But, how much fat should you eat per day?
Skeletal muscle mass is only made up of 8% fatty acids. It’s recommended that 15% of your daily calories should come from fats, (if 2,000 daily cal. per day (2,000 x .15 = 300)), but there a major difference in fats.
Mono and poly saturated fats should be the majority of the fat consumed focusing on Omega 3 for reducing inflammation and promoting tissue repair in muscles after workouts. Avoid added saturated fats as they promote elevated levels of cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
Healthy sources of fats include:
1 avocado = 29 grams or 322 calories
3 oz piece of salmon = 11 grams or 177 calories
1 slice of bacon = 3 grams or 43 calories
1 tbsp of coconut oil = 14 grams or 117 calories
Making sure that you’re getting in good quality fats is crucial. Avoiding fatty, fried foods will help you reduce your intake of saturated fats.
Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are all essential nutrients. Excess or deficiencies of any of these could be problematic so seeking professional guidance from a certified personal trainer, dietitian or your doctor should be considered.
Why sleep effects muscle mass
Let say that you EAT correctly, workout with the correct INTENSITY, and workout ENOUGH but you still aren’t seeing gains in your strength. Then, more than likely it’s your lack of QUALITY deep sleep that is keeping you from those muscle gains.
The final question is how much QUALITY sleep are getting per night?
Getting an adequate amount of sleep is crucial for your muscles to repair themselves. Your body releases the growth hormone only during your deep REM sleep cycle.
Is 6 hours of sleep enough to build muscle? What about 7 or 8 hours?
It’s tough to get enough sleep. The Centers for Disease Control or CDC recommend the average adult get 7 or more hours of sleep a night.
If you don’t feel rested when you wake up, repeatedly wake up during the night, or snore you may have a sleep issue. Many fitness devices make it easy to track your sleep patterns.
Things you can start doing to help you get better, more quality sleep:
- Create a routine before you go to bed. Your body will start to get the clue and start shutting down.
- Don’t look at your cell phone before bed.
It not only stimulates you when you’re trying to go to bed because you’re checking work emails, social media, and watching shows but the color of the screen is a problem too. The blue light that a cellphone emits, makes your brain think it’s daytime. It suppresses melatonin which is the hormone you need to fall asleep.
- Cut back on sugar in the evening. Sugar creates energy, which causes heat. If you’re hot it’s hard to sleep and let your brain calm down from the sugar.
- Drink a “Bed Time” or “Relax” tea before bed. Some herbal teas are filled with herbs to help relax your mind and body.
If you really want to get serious about your efforts in the gym then you need to get serious about the quality, not just the amount, of sleep.
How to get stronger
If you want to see a change in your body strength, focus on these 5 things during and after your strength training exercises.
The strength transformation only happens if you’re focusing on what happens in the gym, in the kitchen, in your head, and in your bedroom.
These are the 5 keys to getting stronger.
- Push yourself
- Eat tight
- Positive mindset
- Quality sleep
If you need help with consistency and motivation, check out these tips so you don’t give up and you keep pushing yourself.
It doesn’t matter how hard you exercise, if your diet is a problem, you probably won’t lose weight or at least the amount you want. So, if your diet is a mess, this is why you should just stop working out.
If you’re lacking in one area, you’re probably not seeing the results you want.
Strength and muscle gain aren’t something that should happen quickly to be able to sustain a healthy workout regiment. So be patient and you’ll be rewarded by feeling stronger than ever.