A Top Trainer Explains 5 Mistakes That Might Be Holding Back Your Gains

Emily Shiffer
·4 min read

Kinesiologist Jeremy Ethier, fitness trainer, and founder of Built with Science,
has a few simple questions for you about your training. They all boil down to one: Do you train consistently, but struggle to see any results? If your is 'yes', then his latest YouTube video might be worth watching for some tips to fix your hardgainer problem.

If you've been training consistently but fail to see those gains, Ethier suggests that you might be making one or more of five common mistakes. These problems can be corrected so you can finally see your hard work paying off.

Mistake 1: Not Training With Enough Effort

According to Ethier, research implies it's not necessary to train to absolute failure every set, but you do need to get close to it for real results.

"This means that during each of your sets, you need to push hard enough such that you’re at least 1 to 3 reps short of the point where you could not possibly do 1 more rep with proper form," says Ethier.

Instead of doing this, Ethier says most people are either one, don't push hard enough during a set to reach this 1-3 rep short of failure zone, or two overestimate how close they are to reaching this zone. They think that they just did a set with only 1 rep left in the tank before they reached failure, but in reality could have done 5 more if they really pushed themselves.

"This requires you to push past the point where your mind is telling you to stop, but it's necessary to stimulate the growth of more muscle," says Ethier.

Mistake 2: Not Training With Intensity

In this case, intensity means lifting with enough weight.

"For a long time it was believed that the most muscle was built in the 'hypertrophy rep range' of 6 to 12 repetitions. This concept has since been disproven many times, and it appears that similar muscle can be built across a wide range of repetitions," says Ethier.

He adds that hypertrophy is likely impaired when training with loads lighter than around 20 to 40 percent of your maximal strength for an exercise, or 1 rep max.

Instead, if you can perform more than 30 repetitions with a given load (even if it is to failure) you likely need to increase the weight to drop the reps or else you will be leaving gains on the table.

Mistake 3: Not Overloading Enough

Simply put, what was once hard enough to help you build muscle mass when you started working out will likely not be hard enough later.

"The easiest and most straightforward way to make sure you continue to push yourself is to periodically try and increase the weight of an exercise. For example, if you used 30 pounds last week and performed 10 reps, try to use 35 pounds this week and perform 10 reps," says Ethier.

According to Ethier, this strategy works well for new lifters. And for more advanced individuals, a more likely scenario is to try and increase the number of reps. For example, try using a weight that you can use to perform 3 sets of 10 reps. The following week, try to do another rep on the first set. And the week after that, do another rep on the first two sets. And finally, add an extra rep on all three sets, increasing until you get up to 12 reps per set. Once you reach that milestone, increase your weight and start the process all over again.

Mistake 4: Not Properly Executing

"Many make the mistake of trying to do too much too soon and sacrificing good technique to use more weight or add another rep. Thus, explaining why there’s no muscle growth in a month (or months)," says Ethier. "You could be 'artificially' getting stronger and improving your sets and reps every week, but compensating by using more momentum or shortening the range of motion."

This may mean needing to reduce the weight you've been using to achieve perfect form. To check this, Ethier suggests filming yourself using your 'lightest' weight and again when you're repping to failure with your heaviest set. Your form should look exactly the same throughout. If it doesn't, you may need to lighten your load.

Mistake 5: Not Training With Proper Volume

According to Ethier, the training volume you need to grow the fastest is highly variable, and what will be enough for one person to grow may not be enough for someone else.

"Based on current research, it appears as though at least 10 sets per muscle group per week is a rough estimate of where to start, but once again. If you find yourself in a place where you need to increase volume, then a good rule of thumb is to increase whatever you are currently doing by 20 to 30 percent to stimulate more growth," says Ethier.

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