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Mistake #1. Not Contracting the Muscle Properly

Picture the scene, a guy in a gym trying to dumbbell curl 20kg weights. He is rocking back and forth, using his momentum to throw the weight up and then letting the weight swing back down to the starting position. Yeah his biceps are doing the work, but they are only lifting a fraction of the weight, the rest of his body is performing the rest.

To properly work a muscle you need to concentrate on performing the concentric contraction and eccentric contractions properly. Using the bicep curl as an example, curling the weight slowly using just your arm and then squeezing the muscle at the top is a true concentric contraction.

Lowering the weight slowly and allowing your muscle to stretch out in the eccentric part of the movement is actually even more important! The eccentric part of the movement is actually where the greater hypertrophic response is created.

Use a weight that you can both concentrically and eccentrically contract properly and you will get the most muscle growth possible from this.

Mistake #2. Not Consuming Enough Protein

Muscle Protein Synthesis is the process where protein is used to repair and rebuild muscle fibres after exercise. Performing any contraction will cause muscle damage, otherwise known as the breakdown of muscle fibres. Repairing this with protein increases the cross-section of the fibres and the strength.

Bottom Line: The more exercise you perform, the more protein you require in your diet, with athletes requiring twice as much protein as sedentary individuals. Making sure that your protein is spread out evenly throughout the day is another important consideration, as studies have shown that this is also beneficial to muscle protein synthesis.

Mistake #3. Not Getting Enough Sleep

Increasing sleep has been shown to positively affect athletic performance, whether that performance is a team sport or gym training. It is important to show that the study referenced was on the effect of extra sleep on performance, so more than regular sleep. The benefits of sleep extend to not just performance, but also hormonal responses. Extra sleep has been shown to boost levels of Growth Hormone (which is responsible for increasing muscle) and bad sleep has been shown to lower levels of Testosterone.

Bottom Line: If you are training properly, then you will require additional sleep to recover from the exercise and for your muscles to grow. Make sure you are getting closer to eight or nine hours per night compared to five or six.

Mistake #4. Not Training Often Enough

You're probably not too surprised by that information, but think about how often people follow the arms day, leg day, chest day routine. Doing so leads to them only training one muscle group per week, whilst a full body or push/pull routine would lead to them training their muscles twice per week.

Bottom Line: A review of current research by Schoenfeld, Ogborn, and Krieger (2016) found that training muscle groups twice per week was superior to once per week in terms of hypertrophy (muscles increasing in size).

Mistake #5. Getting the Weights Wrong

As mentioned in mistake #1, not performing the contraction properly during an exercise will limit muscle growth. This either happens because you don't know how to perform the exercise correctly, or because you are using too heavy a weight. Once a weight is too heavy for the muscles to complete their job they will either fail or the person lifting will use momentum or other muscles to assist. Lower the weight to avoid this happening.

Conversely, another problem that many lifters experience is using too light a weight. When you perform an exercise such as a bench press and manage to get 10 reps out at 80kg without failure it would be fair to say that you can manage that weight.

Bottom Line: The next time you lift you should be trying to beat that record (without compromising your form of course), and the next time, and the time after that. You need to be constantly pushing yourself because your muscles will only grow in response to being overloaded - to being pushed further than they have before. Fail to do this, and you will again be limiting your muscle growth potential.

Mistake #6 Overly Relying on Machine Weights

Free weights have been shown to provoke a greater hormonal response than machine weights, with both Human Growth Hormone and Testosterone levels increasing significantly. Studies have also shown that more muscle fibres are stimulated by free weight exercises compared to machine weights. So performing more free weight exercises will definitely lead to greater muscle growth than machine weights.

Bottom Line: There are many advantages to using machine weights, particularly when you are in a busy or limited gym. But, it must be said that when it comes to free weights versus machines, free weights will always come out on top.


So there you have it, six common mistakes that gym goers make which will limit their muscle growth potential. Perform exercises properly, push yourself in the gym, eat more protein, sleep more, and try to use free-weights more often than machine weights, and you should see a marked increase in muscle Hypertrophy. Above all else, be consistent. Giving up early is the number one cause for people failing to increase the size and strength of their muscles.

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Written by Matthew Smith , BSc Sports Science Degree (2010) from London Metropolitan University | REPS lvl. 3 (2010) | BTEC Sports Science (2006)
Matthew Smith is a Personal Trainer at LA Fitness Marylebone based in Harrow, London. He has been coaching for six years and loves to write helpful and effective fitness articles.

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