“I can’t build muscle. Why not?”

“I can’t build muscle no matter what I do. Am I a zero-gainer?”

I’ve counseled many bodybuilders who told me that they couldn’t build muscle no matter what they did. But when I discovered precisely what they had been doing, the conclusion was always the same.

In almost all instances, bodybuilders who have great difficulty building muscle are simply not training and recuperating properly. They invariably have badly designed training routines, use incorrect exercise technique, train too much, don’t train with sufficient effort, don’t eat well enough, and don’t sleep well enough. But some bodybuilders don’t train with sufficient volume or frequency; and just a few others may actually train too hard.

Of course, genetics play a huge role in an individual’s potential for muscle growth, but no matter how normal or even less-than-normal you may think your genetics are for bodybuilding, you can still build a lot of muscle provided that you set about the task properly.

But knowing the general format of “training and recuperating properly” is only the start. You also need to know how to fine-tune that general format to suit you and your particular situation (age, current development, any physical limitations, available equipment, goals, and so on), and then implement it properly.

Most struggling bodybuilders don’t know enough about the general format of “training and recuperating properly.” But of those who do know enough, most don’t know how to fine-tune it to suit their particular situation. And of those who know what to do on paper, many don’t implement it properly in practice.

You need to be properly informed, in detail, of what to do, and be persistent with applying it in practice. Then you won’t be saying that you can’t build muscle.

 

“Do you recommend wrist straps and hooks, as grip aids?”

No. These are best avoided or else you may become dependent on them for some exercises. Instead, invest the time and effort needed to build a grip to hold the bar with no assistance other than the use of lifters’ chalk.

Using straps and hooks to attach yourself to bigger weights than you could otherwise handle, can be dangerous. There’s a risk of injury because of a large weight increase without the necessary strength having been built up in the involved joints and connective tissue. For example, you need extra strength in your wrists, elbows and shoulders when performing the deadlift and pulldown with substantially more weight. If you add 50 pounds and 20 pounds respectively in one jump each (because you’re going to use wrist straps or hooks), you’re asking for injury. Never impose a sudden big increase in load.

 

“What should I eat for breakfast? How about cereal?”

Breakfast cereal is a common choice, together with something rich in protein, but most ready-made cereals are loaded with sugar and should be avoided. Some contain four or five different types of sugars — which may include sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and brown sugar. And many cereals are loaded with hydrogenated oil, which also should be avoided.

Avoid sham cereals like those. Instead, look for ones that are low in sugar, but high in fibre, and made with natural ingredients. Be informed and discerning — read nutrition labels.

I recommend oatmeal (or porridge). Make it from scratch, from pure oats  but the thick, chunky flakes, not the powdered form. Avoid ready-made porridge mixes that have sugar and other rubbish mixed in. Mix the pure oats with about three times the quantity of water, a sprinkle of salt, a little ground spice, and then bring to the boil and simmer for at least 10 minutes. Then stir in a little butter and a spoonful of pure honey or maple syrup. That, along with two or three soft-boiled eggs or a piece of cheese, and a spoonful of flaxseed oil, is a simple but tasty and nutritious breakfast. It’s been my staple for decades.

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