10 Reasons Why You Will Never Build (Much) Muscle

M&S Writers
Written By: M&S Writers
September 8th, 2014
Updated: June 13th, 2020
137K Reads
10 Reasons Why You Will Never Build (Much) Muscle
You can learn a lot about how not to build muscle by paying close attention in any gym. This list not only states the most common mistakes, but how to fix them as well.

This year I made the move across country and could no longer train at my home gym. During this time I bounced around from commercial gym to commercial gym, training in Louisiana, South Carolina and everywhere in between.

Over the course of the last 12 months I've learned a few things about modern training habits. There are certain programming tendencies that gym rats gravitate towards; tendencies that are far from optimal and are usually a good indication that progress won't be happening.

If you're one of "these guys"; a trainee who has made little progress and is making one (or more) of the mistakes featured in this article, it's time to change. Do you really want to build as much muscle and strength as possible? Or would you prefer to remain in the land of mediocre gains?

That's the question. What's your answer?

Dismiss the advice in this article and you are closing the door on gains. It's time to stop being a pretender and start reaping some benefits from your efforts in the gym.

The following list is in no particular order.

#1 - Your Primary Shoulder Exercise is Smith Machine Overhead Presses

I'm leading off this list with Smith machine overheads. When it comes to shoulder training this movement is a gym rat staple. It's rare to find a barbell or dumbbell shoulder movement being used to attack the delts.

Smith machine overhead presses are probably the most shoulder-torturing exercise I've tried during my 28 years of lifting. And when I say torturing, I don't mean it in a good way. Most experienced strength trainers I've talked to agree with this assessment.

If you want to strain or injure your shoulders this exercise is a good place to start. By removing the natural lifting plane and replacing it with a completely vertical plane, you are placing additional strain upon the shoulders, joints and stabilizer muscles.

Setting this danger factor aside, Smith machine presses are simply a cop-out; a half-hearted effort to train the shoulders. There are plenty of other shoulder exercises that are better (and safer). Think I'm being too harsh? Why is it ok to hit the chest with a barbell exercise but not the shoulders?

Growth Tip - Stop taking the easy way out and replace the Smith machine overhead press with a dumbbell or barbell overhead press variation. There are plenty to choose from.

Smith Machine Overhead Press

Smith machine presses are simply a cop-out; a half-hearted effort to train the shoulders. There are plenty of other shoulder exercises that are better.

#2 - Your Barbell Squats Look More Like WTF Squats

Although I am starting to see more and more lifters doing deep squats, most movements performed in the squat rack look more like WTF squats. Half squats, quarter squats, knees-in squats to a high bench; you name it I've seen it over the course of the previous year.

Despite the insane amount of squat form information on Muscle & Strength, Youtube and the rest of the Internet, this movement continues to be slaughtered and mangled by lifters from sea to shining sea. Not only that, but the amount of weight being used is pathetically weak.

135 pound half squats performed with your knees in are not only a huge waste of time, but they will also hammer the living snot out of your knees. I've never seen developed quad mass on a lifter using this style of squatting and I never will. Why bother using an exercise that isn't going to yield results?

Let it be known that half squats place MORE stress on the knees than deep squats. Because you are not hitting proper depth, the hamstrings are under-utilized. This imbalances the squat, placing more strain on the anterior muscles. The result? Unwanted stress upon the knee.

So there you have it. Light weight half squats yield little muscle mass and are horrible for your knees. Ready to set this movement aside yet? I hope so.

Growth Tip - Hit Youtube and learn how to squat properly. Practice your squat form with a moderate weight, and slowly progress as you feel more confident with your form.

#3 - Are You Really Still Doing Front Lateral Raises?

Yes, this is a serious question. You just performed 20 sets of bench presses so why in the heck are you hammering your front delts with more work?

Your front delts are worked hard enough when pressing. In fact, the bench press alone is such a potent front delt builder that many seasoned bodybuilders I know talk about having over-developed front delts.

Not only is direct front delt work rarely needed, but it also can contribute to shoulder issues. Most gym bros are already over-training the chest and front delts while under-working the shoulders and back. This creates a shoulder girdle imbalance.

When you create a strength and muscle imbalance in the upper body like this, you are setting yourself up for shoulder and joint issues.

Growth Tip - Instead of doing front raises, target your rear delts with extra work. Try using face pulls, bent over reverse flyes or reverse pec dec.

#4 - Two Hour Training Sessions But Your Strength Levels Suck

Living in the gym isn't going to help you if your strength levels suck. There I said it. Intervention over.

"Beast mode" without progressive overload is simply bro mode. Regardless of the training system you are using, if you aren't pushing for progressive overload in some form or fashion your workout is simply a calorie burning activity. And probably a joint destroying activity as well.

If working hard and staying weak is your idea of a good workout, welcome to the land of no gains. Burning calories is not the same thing as building muscle.

To get as big as possible you need to constantly challenge yourself in the gym. The best way to do so is by pushing for more weight on the barbell, dumbbell or machine.

Why do you think so many gym-bros remain small? Obvious answer is obvious,

Growth Tip - Try to maximize each set. Push each set for as many reps as possible, stopping only if your form starts to deteriorate or if you think you might fail on the next rep.

Lat Pull Down

Back exercises should be performed using the arms as hooks only. Concentrate on driving your elbows back instead of pulling with your hands.

#5 - You Call That a Hamstring Workout?

If the average gym rat performs any direct hamstring work at all, it's usually unchallenging and ineffective.

The best way to kick off a quality hamstring growth session is with a tag team of deep squats and leg presses. After this point, there are several top notch hamstring exercises to choose from. I recommend:

  • Leg Curls
  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts
  • Reverse Hack Squats
  • Wide Stance Good Mornings
  • Glute Ham Raises

While I see about 25% of lifters working legs, I rarely see them challenging their hamstrings. Usually they perform half squats or Smith squats followed by light and ineffective leg presses. This "quad work" is usually capped off with weak and pointless calf work.

"Leg day" over. So pointless, so few gains.

Growth Tip - Try the simple combination of stiff leg dumbbell deadlifts and leg curls. If stiff leg deadlifts are not to your liking, use reverse hack squats.

#6 - "Arm-Centric" Lat Pull Downs Are Not a Potent Back Builder

Lat pull downs can be a good back-building exercise. Lat pull downs done improperly are simply another arm-centric movement that won't yield much in the way of back size and strength.

Back exercises should be performed using the arms as hooks only. Concentrate on driving your elbows back instead of pulling with your hands. This will minimize bicep involvement while allowing you to move more weight, build a bigger back and get a better lat contraction.

Most lifters stick to lat pull downs as their primary back building exercise. It's also not unusual to see trainees performing several pull down variations; possibly V-bar pull downs or behind the neck pull downs. Heavy rows and deadlifts are typically no where to be found. Combine this weak back training approach with a poor shoulder workout (see above), and you have a completely unbalanced upper body that lacks power and aesthetics.

Growth Tip - A good back workout features at minimum a row and pull down variation (or pull ups). Make sure you concentrate on explosively driving your elbows back, regardless of the variation used.

#7 - Forearm/Grip Work When Your Back/Shrug/Deadlift Strength Sucks

Let's get real here for a moment. If you're training your forearms and grip strength but have never performed a deadlift, heavy barbell shrug or barbell row, you're living in a fantasy world.

The base for any serious forearm size and grip strength training should be exercises of this nature. Then and only then, if your forearms remain weak and/or undersized, should you add in direct forearm work. Even then, this forearm work should be challenging and not simply 20 pound wrist curls over a bench.

Here's something you may not know. Grip strength is tied in with back strength. If your back is weak, the brain will send a signal for you to release a weight because imminent danger is lurking around the corner.

So, if you want more grip strength the best place to start is by building as much back strength as possible. This will not only make it less likely that your brain will cry uncle, but you will also be strong as a bear and building intense forearm size and grip strength due to the sheer intensity of the barbell work being used.

Growth Tip - If you are using rows, shrugs and deadlifts but still have stubborn forearms, try heavy wrist rollers and barbell static holds. Both of these exercises are highly effective and take only minutes to perform.

Bench Press

Your front delts are worked hard enough when pressing. In fact, the bench press alone is such a potent front delt builder.

#8 - Mind Muscle Connection 20 Pound Grunting and Screaming Curls

If you have small arms, the combination of a moderately light weight and the mind muscle connection isn't going to do you much good. You need heavy ass weight, also known as progressive overload.

To begin with, the biceps are a minor muscle group. If you aren't challenging them then how can you expect to make gains? No, I am not talking about cheat curls here. I am talking about using strict form with a focus on hammering out each set for as many reps as possible, adding weight when you can.

Every bro loves to curl. Let's be honest, we all want huge arms. There is nothing wrong with the mind muscle connection. But if the mind muscle connection is not tag-teamed with progressive overload it's simply another exercise in futility.

You can scream and grunt all you want. You can "feel the burn" and push for a pump without building much muscle. Don't be a one trick pony. Get your pump and mind muscle connection on while making your biceps stronger.

Growth Tip - Save your pump work for the end of a biceps session. Begin with a quality bicep building exercise like dumbbell or barbell curls and push for progressive overload. Once these sets are done, get your pump on.

#9 - You Call That a Triceps Workout?

While everyone loves to hammer out reps on the bench press, the average triceps workout looks pathetic. The typical bro triceps session consists of light weight skullcrushers, cable triceps extensions and occasionally dumbbell kickbacks.

The triceps make up two-thirds of your arm size. They can take a lot of intensity and punishment, and for the most part recover rather quickly.

While the triceps are worked quite effectively when bench pressing, it's a wise idea to back up this pre-fatigue with some effective triceps-building exercises.

I recommend at least close grip bench presses and a heavy triceps extension movement like seated overhead two arm dumbbell extension. If you want to finish off with pump work using cable extensions or kickbacks, that's fine. Just make sure to challenge this beefy arm slab with heavy weight first.

Growth Tip - Don't forget that the long head of the triceps is a two joint muscle. When performing lying triceps extensions it's ok to let the EZ bar ride to the back of your head.

#10 - Calves Require Resistance Too

One of the most common complaints in the lifting realm is this: I can't seem to get my calves to grow no matter what I do. Unfortunately, this "no matter what I do" rarely involves an insatiable focus on getting the calves as strong as humanly possible.

Your calf muscles are built to take a pounding. They are a muscle group suited for repetitive training. Because of this, repetitive training in the gym often doesn't work very well.

I am not telling you to forsake high rep sets. Regardless of the rep scheme you are using, try pushing each set for more reps and adding weight when you can. If this sounds like a common theme in my articles, you are catching on (and probably making gains).

Can you really expect your calves to grow if you've been using the same weight for the last 3 years? No. This "punishment" isn't going to be enough to spur gains. Now if you get this same exercise up to 5 plates per side, the tides might actually turn and your small calves might morph into powerful bulls.

Growth Tip - If you're having trouble growing your calves you might need more than progressive overload. Try training your calves 2-3 times per week and watch them grow.

Posted on: Fri, 09/16/2022 - 17:07

Is Behind the neck lat pull down harmful?

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Posted on: Tue, 09/20/2022 - 16:29

Just like the behind the neck press, Shabahang. Not if you do it correctly.

Posted on: Wed, 09/21/2022 - 12:35

First thank you for your reply. Roger when I explore the net and search about harmfull bodybulding movements behind the nech lat pull down introduced as one of movements may cause injury and what I found is lat pull down hit the lats too and it doesn't "places the shoulder at a severe biomechanical disadvantage" as found on net.what's your idea? Is lat pull down superior to behind the neck lat pull down?

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Posted on: Sat, 09/24/2022 - 09:52

If you already have shoulder issues, then yes, the front lat pulldown is better. I can also tell you that many physical therapists don't like the behind the neck version because of the way it is performed by most people, with the jerking and swinging. In my opinion as a former trainer and someone who has recovered from a separated right shoulder, if you perform the behind the neck version slow with moderate weight and excellent form, it can be a great exercise for the lats because the load of the weight is coming down to the back. Ultimately, the exercise you're more comfortable with is the one that will help you. So, if you feel better doing the front version, do it. The reward for the behind the neck version isn't worth the risk if you don't feel comfortable. Hope this helps!

Posted on: Tue, 05/19/2015 - 08:21

I am too skinny been lifting since 2 week.i don't even see an inch of difference.suggest me how do i get bulked up

Posted on: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 12:13

I spent the last 5 months bulking up and now I am cutting weight. Since I don't want to lose my gains I have been lifting heavy still, but mixing in some cardio as well as making sure my diet is good. Do you recommend attempting progressive overload even when I'm cutting, or do you think that maintaining the weights I've built up to is good enough to maintain?

Posted on: Wed, 12/17/2014 - 08:32

Steve, where do you stand on high-rep squats? I've read that they are the secret to developing overall gains and also that legs generally respond better to higher reps anyway. Would appreciate your thoughts??

Posted on: Sun, 09/21/2014 - 12:55

Thanks for the great article.. I agree with you on issue nr 3. When I tell my pals why you hammer your front delts when you fried them already with bench press they just don´t lesson, and the sad thing is they want build a frisky and strong delts. Keep it up .
All the best

Posted on: Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:30

what advice have you got for the beginners i just started lifting again 2 weeks ago i am doing different execises each week and i dont want to kill myself over soreness or too much weight all i have to work with is dumbells is form more important than how much weight you can do start light and progress into heavy just looking for some advice and what is a good creatine muscle supplement

Posted on: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 07:30

Great article Steve,

i do 190 lbs squat with NO Deep squatting. do you advice me to lower the weight and do deep squat or keep the current progress



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Posted on: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 08:37

Definitely lower the weight and learn to squat. High squats provide no benefit and are more dangerous.

Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:42

Thanks for this information. I am 36 years old and 6'2" with 220 LBS right now. From last couple of weeks i am training and doing one muscle a day with SUNDAY being the rest day. I am hitting the Gym everyday and putting my 100% effort. These are some measurements that i have right now

Body Weight 222.4

Body Fat % 19.2

LBS of body fat 42.7008

Fat Free Mass 179.6992

I followed the BMR calculator on the site and my daily calorie intake comes to 3685. I am eating 6 meals a day and counting my calories in a spreadsheet. I am following 50% Carbs, 30% protein, 20% fat.

My question is that shall i go ahead and lose the weight first, let's say close to 200 LBS and then start eating more calories based on 200 LBS diet by adding 500 more calories to gain muscle mass
following above 50%/30%/20% routine that i am following?

OR i can keep eating 500+ calories on 222 LBS to gain muscle mass but what will happen to FAT % in my body?

Any help in directing me to right direction is appreciated?


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Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:53

My advice for anyone who is concerned about extra weight is to lose it first. Spend several months, get to 200 and go from there.

Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:02

Thanks Steve. Really appreciate that. It really means a lot for me.

So to reach to 200 LBS, i will be following 200LBS calorie calculation, correct? Carbs/Protein/Fat variation depend on High Carb or Low Carb day, correct?

I have set up some goals. First goal is to reach to 200 LBS mark. Right now i am doing 5 Day full intensity split with

Mon ->Legs (Low Carb day with 30% Carbs + 50% protein + 20%)

Tue -> Chest+Triceps+Abs (High Carb Day with 50% Carbs + 30% protein + 20%)

Wed -> Back+Lats+Cardio (High Carb Day 50% Carbs + 30% protein + 20%)

Thu -> Biceps+Abs (Low Carb day with 30% Carbs + 50% protein + 20%)

Fri -> Shoulder+Cardio (Low Carb day with 30% Carbs + 50% protein + 20%)

Sat/Sun -> REST with some CARDIO/Abs ((Low Carb rest days)

Is it a good routine to do? And how long i continue with this.



Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:17

Steve, love your articles and I'm currently doing your Wild 20 workout. I'm 6'4". Your point about grip training fits my squat and RDL dilemma-my lower back strength will not keep up. My squats are less than parallel due to repeated injuries from heavy and/or deep squats. Same problem for RDL'S. I can do 250 for sets of 10 but only feel it in my lower back. My hamstrings feel like they get a better workout if I drop the weight to 185. Any suggestions? Obviously I need to increase my lower back strength and I'm working on that.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:52

For RDLs I would drop the weight to 185 and do rest-pause work. Perform 4 sets with 30 seconds of rest between. Also, when lowering the bar stop when your back wants to round, then come back up. This will help some.

Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 08:01

I wish I could tattoo this on about 99% of peoples foreheads.

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Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 08:54

Amen to that.

Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 06:37

Hi Steve. Regarding grip strength, forearm size and deadlifts, rows etc.. Do you think using straps when training back is a good idea?

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Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 08:53

I do. I never let grip strength hinder back development. If I feel my grip is lagging, I would train back with straps then train grip.

Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 05:22

If you were into things other than lifting such as martial arts and had limited time to lift so had to pick anc choose, What would you pick as your exercises, for example 10 main compound exercises?

Posted on: Mon, 09/08/2014 - 22:54

This basically describes 75% of the ppl at my gym -,- to many ppl go for the biggest weight they can seee lift it 2 or 3 times with assitance and think there the biggest bloke there haha

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Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 08:52

And these 75% rarely catch on to what the 25% are doing to get results.

Posted on: Mon, 09/08/2014 - 21:50

Best set of tips ever! this is really an eye opener, thanks steve!

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Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 08:51

You're welcome. Stay strong!

Posted on: Mon, 09/08/2014 - 15:28

Top article Steve but i think this should of been called, 11 Reasons Why You Will Never Build (Much) Muscle.
#11 - Your not eating enough, eat more goddamn food.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 09/08/2014 - 15:42

Thanks Mickey, and you're dead on with point #11.

Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:22

If you were into things other than lifting such as martial arts and had limited time to lift so had to pick anc choose, What would you pick as your exercises, for example 10 main compound exercises?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 09/09/2014 - 08:50

You would use the best possible exercises and try to get strong on them. This will build muscle and strength. the other option is less effective exercises, but this really just turns into more of a calorie burning workout that yields sub-par results.

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