“No Gainer”: 5 Reasons You’re Not Building Muscle

Not building muscle and frustrated? Consider yourself a hardgainer, or even worse – a no gainer? If so then you probably won’t believe the following statement:

Muscle building is a simple process.

I have no reason to lie to you. I’m not trying to sell you an e-book, a bunch of supplements, secrets or training services. Before you click away, please give me 5 minutes and hear me out.

Ever wonder why every workout system seems to work? (But none of them seem to work for you) The answer is very simple…there are factors that impact success that transcend workout routines. There are principles and common practices that, when applied, will help you build muscle with virtually any workout system.

Without further ado, here they are…

5 Reasons You’re Not Building Muscle

You’re Not Getting Stronger

To build a quality amount of muscle mass you have to get a lot stronger than you are now. Pushing yourself for more weight on the bar is known as progression. If progressing isn’t your constant goal and passion, you are wasting sets, period.

Understand this point clearly…anyone who has added a substantial amount of muscle mass has dramatically improved their overall strength. You certainly do not have to get as strong as an elite powerlifter to get big, but you do have to get a lot stronger than you are now.

Improving your bench press from 95 pounds for reps to 165 pounds for reps simply isn’t going to turn you into a mass monster. You might add a little muscle mass, but let’s be real…a 165 pound bench press really isn’t that strong. Certainly not strong enough to help you build 17 inch arms.

Mediocre strength increases create mediocre physiques. End of story. If you really want a muscular body, focus on getting your bench press to 300 pounds as quickly as possible in common muscle building rep ranges (5-12 reps per set).

You Have Low Standards

90% of men on any lifting forum are making very little progress, even if they are lifting consistently. If you take a peek at their training logs, you will generally find numbers in the following ranges:

  • Bench Press – 135 to 205 pounds for reps.
  • Barbell Rows – 95 to 185 pounds for reps.
  • Overhead Barbell Press – 95 to 135 pounds for reps.
  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows – 40 to 70 pounds for reps.
  • Dips – Not used, or barely able to perform any reps.
  • Pull Ups – Generally not used; replaced with lat pull downs.
  • Squats – 135 to 225 pounds for reps.
  • Deadlifts – 135 to 315 pounds for reps.

I give you credit for improving your strength to these levels, and for remaining consistent with your training. Unfortunately these numbers aren’t going to cut it if sheer muscle size is the goal.

It’s time to raise the bar and set higher standards. The following goals can be achieved by most everyone who touches the iron. They may only take 3 years to achieve, or they may take 6 years, but they should (and can) be achieved.

Understand that these goals are not magic. Some individuals will hit them with little effort, and may require more size to make muscle gains. With that said, if you are the average weak “no gainer”, hitting these numbers while sticking to a muscle building eating plan will pack on plenty of muscle mass.

  • Bench Press – 300 pounds.
  • Barbell Rows – 275 pounds for reps.
  • Overhead Barbell Press – 175 to 200 pounds.
  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows – 120 pounds for reps.
  • Dips – 15-20 per set for multiple sets.
  • Pull Ups – 15-20 per set for multiple sets.
  • Squats – 400 pounds.
  • Deadlifts – 465 to 500 pounds.

Most of these numbers are considered “advanced” ranges for weight classes around 160 to 250 pounds, as outlined by Lon Kilgore (co-author of Starting Strength). Think of it this way, to build an advanced amount of muscle mass do your best to build your strength levels to “advanced.”

You Miss Too Many Workouts

This should be an obvious reason why muscle isn’t being built, but sadly many overlook it. Realistically you can’t expect to make consistent gains if you keep missing workouts. Missed workouts kill progress, can mess up your split, and usually turn into a bad habit.

If you’re having trouble sticking to your split perhaps you’re trying to workout too many times per week. Did you know you can make quality gains on only 2-3 workouts per week? Yes you can. If your workout split is bloated, and you keep missing workouts, time to streamline and cut a few training days. This will only help.

Many guys miss workouts because they are lazy, unmotivated, full of excuses or value partying or video games more than they do lifting.

Ever read a log of an excuse maker? One week they miss a workout because they “are so darn busy with such and such.” The next week they are tired and dodn’t feel like working out, and the following week they have an “off” workout and decide a week-long “deload” is in order.

When you start doing the math you realize these guys rarely lift consistently. They have mastered the art of excuse making, and are only fooling themselves.

Listen, there’ s nothing wrong with having a social life or being busy. Bills don’t pay themselves, and women are…well, women. But at some point you need to take a good, long look in the mirror and admit you’re simply not committed to the muscle building lifestyle. Yes, I said LIFESTYLE.

Muscle building is not a hobby. Muscle building is a way of life. If you analyze the habits of successful lifters, you will find that they don’t half-ass things. They have sold out to lifting.

This doesn’t mean they eat, sleep and drink bodybuilding. It simply means they take the commitment seriously, realizing what it takes to see results. They rarely miss workouts or schedule meals.

You don’t have to live in the gym to build muscle. But you do need to stop making excuses and stop missing workouts.

You Aren’t Eating Enough Food

It never fails. Whenever an article advises lifters to eat more food, some inexperienced trainee takes this as meaning “you must gain 50 pounds of fat to build muscle.” Not true.

To build muscle you need (at minimum):

  1. Calories. Enough additional calories to gain some weight each month.
  2. Protein. Around 180 to 225 grams of protein per day, give or take. Protein helps you to build and repair muscle tissue.
  3. Healthy Fats. A minimum of 20% of your daily calories from healthy fats. This may need to go as high as 40% is you have a very fast metabolism and require 3500-4000 calories or more per day to gain consistent weight.

A true beginner can gain 12-16 pounds of muscle mass their first year of hard weight training. If you are underweight, this number can be even higher.

To have a quality shot at reaching these first year goals you should eat about 500 more calories per day than it takes to maintain your bodyweight. This additional amount of food isn’t going to make you fat unless you are training like a wet noodle and not focused on getting stronger.

If you peek into a muscle building forum, you will notice that a high percentage of men are bulking and gaining only excess fat from their bulks. Because of this, other lifters start to fear the process of muscle building, and assume that bulking always results in extra fat gain.

For the most part, here’s what’s happening…

Lifter A finishes a two month cut where he successfully lose 35 pounds. He currently stands around 5’10”, 162 pounds and is skinny fat, and decides to “bulk.” After calculating a requirement of 3500 calories per day, Lifter A immediately ceases his cut, which was 2200 calories per day, and starts gobbling more food.

During the first week he is eating more carbs, consuming more sodium, and producing more waste. Because of these reasons, his body sponges up a lot of excess water. Lifter A steps on the scale after 2 weeks to find that he’s already at 175 pounds.

He is shocked and frustrated. His belly is slightly distended from food bloat, and after staring at a flat stomach for the last month, he “feels” fat. Despite this, Lifter A chugs onward…

Over the next 2 months he continues to chow down and gain weight, but there is a problem. Lifter A is not focusing all his energy and drive on progression of strength. Instead, he is trying to “workout hard”, adding super sets here, rest pause sets there, but never trying to aggressively push his strength numbers up.

Lifter A is not challenging his body enough with progression of weight, and therefore finds himself gaining mostly fat. After this 2 month period he is up to 187 pounds and is starting to look chubby in the mirror.

Instead of analyzing his weight gain and cutting back the calories slightly (he is gaining weight FAR too rapidly), Lifter A grows frustrated and starts to binge eat and drink alcohol a little too much. By the end of month 4 he is at a weight of 206 pounds and looks horrible. He has gained little to no appreciable amount of muscle because:

  1. He wasn’t focused on progression of weight.
  2. He didn’t make adjustments to his bulk after week 2 to slow the rate of weight gain to a reasonable number.
You DO need to eat more when trying to build muscle, but you must learn to make adjustments. After weeks 1 and 2, if you’re gaining more than 2 pounds a month, you’re entering the danger zone and should drop calories by 300 per day and test this level for a while.
Remember, a bulk without a focus on progression of weight is simply a fat gain plan. Gain weight in a controlled manner.

You Are Swapping In Easier Exercises

Ask yourself this:

Am I using  the most intense, tried and test and effective muscle building exercises, or am I making excuses and substituting in easier exercises?

Some of the best exercises for muscle building are squats, deadlifts, barbell and dumbbell rows, overhead barbell and dumbbell presses, dips, pullups, bench press and the power clean. Unfortunately far too many lifters skip a lot of these exercises and opt for easier choices such as the leg press, moderately light stiff leg deadlifts, cable rows, lat pull downs, flyes, laterals, machine overhead press, leg extensions. etc.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with many of these exercises, going “easier” can be a cancer. Easier exercises are often compounded with the use of advanced training techniques such as drop sets, super sets, etc, which use or require lighter weight.

If you are continually trying to find more comfortable exercise choices, then you’re on the wrong path. The body responds to challenges and overload. The easier “you go” the less you grow.


Building muscle is a simple process. To reach your goals you need to:

  1. Stop missing workouts.
  2. Get a lot stronger than you are now.
  3. Set higher standards.
  4. Eat enough food so you can grow.
  5. Stop taking the easy way out.

If you apply these principles you can make quality gains on just about any workout program. Understand, this does not mean we are encouraging you to use random, inefficient workout routines. Far from it. Choose reputable programs that are tried and tested.

Steve Shaw
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