Why Aren’t I Getting Any Bigger?

Updated January 6, 2014

By John Christy.

Ah, the grand old question of them all. I know I’ve heard it a thousand times. Well, let me give you the reasons why.

1. Your eating is lousy.

I know, I know, “you eat all the time”, “you eat like a horse”, “I eat a ton – I just have a fast metabolism”, “I just burn everything off”. Yada, yada, yada. As your coach, my response would be “No you don’t or you would be bigger”. How to eat to get big is really very easy. Doing it, at least at first, is not so easy. Let’s get something straight right away. If you are training properly, which we will get into in a moment, and you are not gaining at least (at least!) two pounds per month, you are not “eating like a horse”. And I assure you it has less to do with a “fast metabolism”, than it has to do with you really not knowing how much you’re eating, or just being plain old not motivated.

I would call you lazy, but if you are training hard you’re certainly not lazy. So, the first thing you need to do is to quit fooling yourself into thinking that you “eat a ton”. Let’s really find out how much you’re eating. Write down everything you eat for a day. Get a calorie counter and count the calories – don’t count the junk food. I’ve worked with countless trainees who assure me they are getting 4000 calories or more and when we go to figure it up it turns out to be more in the 2500 range – far from what a horse eats. Then we need to take a look at how much protein you’re getting. If you’re not getting at least one pound per pound of bodyweight then you need to pick it up! The next thing that we would need to address is if you are following what I call the “Three-hour rule”. The Three-hour rule is simply that you need to be eating no later than three hours after the completion of your last “feeding”.

For example; if you complete breakfast at 6:30am, you need to be eating by 9:30am. If the 9:30 “snack” is completed by 9:45 then lunch has to be going in by 12:45pm. And so on and so forth for the rest of the day. The reason for this is to prevent the body from going into a catabolic state in which it starts to shutdown your body’s ability to utilize its own fat stores for energy, and instead utilizes protein. Well, this is bad for someone who is trying to gain muscle because instead of building new muscle as a result of yesterday’s workout, your body is actually “consuming” it for fuel. Doesn’t sound to good does it? What I just described is an oversimplification but I hope it paints a good picture for you. So, if you’re one of these trainees who, in reality, eats more like a mouse, gets most of his 2000 calories from anything other than protein, and eats only three “square meals” per day (every five hours or so), then you need to get to work to make some changes.

Now, I would not recommend you to go out and consume 5000 calories on day one. All this will do is make you sick and most of the food will end up in the toilet – via one pathway or another. So, just start off following the Three-hour rule without trying to push for maximum consumption at each feed. In essence just make sure to get all your “feedings” in. Keep the meals small so that your body has a chance to develop the ability to process them. Once you are getting all the feedings in (everyday) then it is time to slowly increase the volume of each feeding. You must increase slowly but consistently – the same thing that you should be doing with the weights. For example, add one egg to the two that you are already consuming for breakfast (I don’t have the time to get into the cholesterol consumption issue here, but if you are concerned eat only half the yolks), and stay with that for several days until your body gets accustomed to that increase. Do this to every feeding. You could also utilize milk to make your progressive increases – just add a little more too each feeding.

Guys, it’s not complicated stuff, just too hard for most people who don’t really want to improve to do it. For the ones that really want to get stronger and bigger, it’ll be no problem. And they will be the ones who are thirty pounds bigger by the end of the year. Either you want it or you don’t – decide! If you are trying to get as big as possible you should be up to 5000 calories within a couple of months.

One of the greatest ways to increase your caloric intake, and it has been around for a long time, is to ingest a weight-gain drink before going to bed. “Blender bombs” (as they are commonly referred to) are one of the great old-time methods for getting in those growth promoting calories. I can’t tell you how many men (and women) have packed on pounds of muscle utilizing this under my tutelage. Blender bombs are easy to make, they’re cheap, and they taste great. All you do is put two to three cups of milk in a blender, add a couple of cups of protein powder, some fruit and maybe some ice cream, blend it up and slowly drink for the next twenty to thirty minutes. If you try and drink it fast all it will do is make you sick, and again, end up in the toilet one way or another.

Now, don’t think that you need to run out and buy the latest high-tech protein powder for 50 bucks or more. An alternative is to get some non-fat dry milk powder and use that as your protein powder. It costs about five to six bucks for a big box, and it’s made of a good quality protein source – milk protein! If you want to spend some money on a commercially available powder get one that has protein as its only ingredient with the possible exception of some flavoring. Don’t get fooled (and pay for) some high-tech sounding ingredients. All the hyped “metabolic this-and-that” doesn’t do anything, so don’t waste your money. Back to the flavoring issue for a moment, I suggest that you get a powder that is unflavored, or vanilla flavored, so that you can flavor it the way you want to. If you get some exotic flavor, you’re stuck with that flavor till the can runs out. With unflavored, or vanilla you can change it up all the time.

Okay, now I need to touch on, what could be a rather large subject due to the conditioning methods of the clever “marketers” out there. The subject is putting on some bodyfat while gaining a ton of muscle. All the popular bodybuilding mags, have done a tremendous job of conditioning you to believe that you can gain 50 pounds of muscle and lose fat and look just like one of the steroid freaks in their magazine. Well, they’re lying. Can you put on 30 to 50 pounds in a year? Yes. Will it all be muscle? No. ”So John, how much will be fat?” It depends on several factors; if your weight-training program is stimulating muscular growth, how dedicated you are to an aerobic program, how skinny you are when you started, and genetics. I don’t want to turn a trainee into a fat slob and I never recommend anything that could make someone unhealthy. I want to do just the opposite. If you follow the aerobic recommendations that I have written about in the past, you will minimize fat gain while putting on tons of muscle – which actually improves your bodyfat percentage – will dramatically improve your cardiorespiratory condition, and should improve your blood lipid profile. If you have concerns about this approach negatively affecting your blood chemistry – see your doctor and get some blood work done at the start and throughout the gaining process.

In a perfect world, it would be great if you didn’t have to gain any fat – but if you’re really trying to pack on the muscle as fast as possible there is just no way around it. I have to go back for a moment and say a little more about gaining some fat around the waistline. You know, it always makes me chuckle when I consult with a trainee who is incredibly skinny, has little muscle mass to speak of, and wants to gain as much muscle as possible then says, “ but I don’t want to get fat”. It makes me realize how bad things are out there. I’m talking about the lack of true, honest instruction. I’ve worked with so many trainees who are so misled, that they have wasted years of effort, trying to get big, but trying to also maintain a sub twelve percent (many sub eight percent) bodyfat that they never get anywhere because they’re bodies are never getting the nutrients necessary to pack on the muscle. So, here’s the bottom line: If you want to be 200 (or even 230 to 250 depending on height) pounds of “ripped” muscle. Then you better go to work on getting the muscle first (while getting in great shape, and keeping fat gain to a minimum), by spending the next three to five years getting your weight up to 230 pounds or more, and then concentrating on dropping the bodyfat. You may actually have to do this several times before arriving at 200 pounds “ripped”. The other thing I want you to realize is that it is a lot easier from a metabolic standpoint to lose fat than it is for the body to gain muscle. Simply put – losing fat is easy, gaining muscle is hard.

2. Your training program is lousy.

For you trainees that have been ‘sort-of’ trying to follow one of the many good programs that were presented in Hardgainer, or that you found on Cyberpump, or even one of my programs, all I can say is quit messing around and ruining them! Many trainees are hybridizing them. What I mean by this is that you’re trying to keep-in some unproductive training methods or exercises.

One of the unproductive methods that I’m referring too is that you are still trying to train too frequently. For example: trying to train four days per week, doing legs two days per week and upper body two days per week. This is just too much for many trainees. Another thing I hear about is trying to perform one of my recommended two times per week programs three times per week. It won’t work!

Another one is where a trainee is actually training properly on his legs, but keeps hitting his pecs with two or three exercises, two to three sets per exercise, every workout. As far as exercises go, dump the flyes as your pec exercise, and learn to bench press properly. I can hear you now, “but I don’t feel the bench in my pecs and flyes make them real sore”. Yea, but I’m confident that the 25-pound dumbbells that you are waving around aren’t making your pecs big and they’re probably why your shoulder hurts. Once again, learn to bench press properly.

Dump the laterals raises, and concentrate on shoulder presses. Quit “pre-exhausting” your quads with leg extensions and then performing leg pressing with “little-girl” weights – just because they give you a great “burn” and squatting hurts your back. Let me assure you that the only thing that is going to give you big legs is utilizing big weights (which have NOTHING to do with the “burn”). And if you don’t have a diagnosed back condition, then your back hurts because it’s weak, your abs are weak, and your obliques are weak. So, learn how to squat properly and also strengthen your back, abs and obliques (get your hamstrings flexible too). I think you get the point.

Most trainees change general program formats too frequently – even if it is going from one good program to another. It’s okay to experiment with different approaches, but you are using this (switching programs) as a method to avoid what the problem is with the first program in the first place! For example: after going strong for three months on a good, basic single progression program which utilizes Micro-loading, your ability to add weight – even in the proper amounts – stops. So, the first things you think is that you’ve plateaued or the program doesn’t work for you, and you switch to a ‘HIT’ based program.

The new program starts to work awhile (three months again), gains stop (about where they did before – so you’re not any stronger now after six months of training), and once again you switch to something else. Guys, the problem isn’t with the program, it’s with something that you’re doing – or not doing – outside of the program. For instance, instead of changing programs, make sure that you’re eating right. Make sure that you’re attacking the program instead of just “cruising”. Quit ‘shooting the bull’ with your training partner and make a pact that you’re going to concentrate on putting out maximum effort on every set – and to stay focused on the workout throughout the entire session. I’ve helped many trainees continue to make progress without changing anything but their effort and concentration level during each set.

Changing exercises too frequently can also cause problems. The need for variety via the use of different exercises in a program can be important. But it is certainly not necessary very often for the beginner to intermediate trainee. Variety should be introduced into their programs via adjustments in loading parameters – changes in set and rep goals. But this is a far cry from what I’ve seen. What usually happens is that the moment a trainee gets “bored” with their program (because it isn’t producing the results they expected), they figure a change of exercises will get them gaining again – and usually it does – for a little while because they get motivated to train harder and with more focus then they were on their last program.

But then it’s right back to the same cycle: limited (if any) progress, boredom, changing the program, limited progress, boredom, changing the program, etc, etc, etc. Because the problem was not with the program in the first place, but with the person performing it – they either weren’t focused while training, or they weren’t doing the things outside of the gym that are absolutely necessary to continued progress. I’ve had trainees who have utilized virtually the same program of exercises (with changes only in set and rep protocols) for several years who end up putting on 50 to 100 pounds of weight, squat and deadlift double (even two and a half times) bodyweight for reps, bench one and one half times bodyweight for reps, and get accused of steroid use. Do you know why these trainees didn’t get bored? Progress. Progress kills boredom. If you are doing everything right outside of the gym, your program is sound and your approach to your program is sound, you will make continual progress for a long stretch of time. And I assure you that if you are making progress week in and week out you will not get bored.

3. Your technique stinks

Clean up your technique. This will improve your leverage making you capable of hoisting heavier loads of iron – eventually. But you’ll need the guts and the foresight to cut the weights back a little at first till you re-learn to perform each movement correctly. Once you do your gains will soar and it will also help that shoulder, elbow or knee to stop hurting from the abuse they’ve taken from your poor technique.

4. Get some rest

Cut the TV a little earlier at night and get to bed. Enough said.

5. Train harder

Are you really giving it all you’ve got? Or are you so focused on everything else (technique, breathing, “the feel of the movement”, etc) – even if it is stuff you need to focus on – that you forget to push or pull on that bar as hard as you can? You must concentrate on using great technique, but maximum effort always has to be there.

In Conclusion

Knowing what to do is easy. Developing the discipline necessary to do it is the hard part. I have the utmost confidence that you can develop great strength and a physique that you can be proud of if you’ll just develop the discipline to stay focused on all the basics inside the gym and out. If you do this – and you must if you are to succeed – I’m sure the question will change to “ I wonder how much bigger I can get?”

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