9 Workout Mistakes That Limit Muscle Growth Potential

Brad Borland
Written By: Brad Borland
November 12th, 2015
Updated: June 13th, 2020
29K Reads
9 Workout Mistakes That Limit Muscle Growth Potential
If you stop seeing results, it's time to examine your current lifting routine. Look for these 9 signs that your workout is limiting your muscle growth.

You go through your workouts day after day training with intensity, focus, and drive. And yet, muscle growth eludes you.

What’s going on?

Have you reached your genetic potential? Are you burnt-out? Or are you just doing it wrong?

It may be time to admit your current program to the operating table to be dissected, examined, and fixed. You may be harboring some vital mistakes that will, once fixed, propel your physique to the next level.

Let’s operate.

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1. You Don't Have Goals

What goal have you set out to accomplish? What are your short term and long term aspirations? Without a clear vision of what you are trying to do in the gym, it’s rather difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve much at all.

Just as important is the question: What does the end result look/feel like? Do you have these answers? Lacking goals will slow and even stall progress in the gym. It will surely prevent you from giving everything you have to each workout, meal plan, and adhering to scheduled rest.

Fix it: Start with why. Why are you getting up every day to go lift heavy things in an attempt to reshape your body? Is it a contest of some sort? Is it a special event like a wedding, anniversary or reunion? Whatever the goal write it down (on actual paper) and pin it somewhere you can see it every day; in your car, on the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, wherever.

Just be sure it’s unavoidable because it will be a constant reminder of why you do this whole fitness thing in the first place. It’s also okay to have more general goals such as to be healthier or more mobile as well – as long as you define it.

2. You Lack Focus

Along with goals comes the ability for you to focus. Getting off work or school, driving to the gym and haphazardly going through the motions isn’t the road to your best physique possible.

Furthermore, daydreaming during sets, taking too long of rest periods between sets and chatting up your buddy with no end in sight will not only waste time but zap your discipline and drive instantly. You may need an intervention on how to regain your focus and get back to why you are in the gym in the first place.

9 Workout Mistakes That Limit Muscle Growth: Lack of Focus

Fix it: Just as with goal setting, remind yourself the reason you are in the gym and sacrifice your time and effort for your physique goals. Focus on each set and treat them as separate individual events, set a time to complete each workout or each body part, or, if you have a training partner, tell them to make you accountable and time your rest periods. Stay with whatever plan you choose and if you fail to keep focused set up a consequence.

It could be small things such as you have to leave the gym early and miss some of your workout (if you didn’t complete it in time), you can’t have that cheat meal you were looking forward to, or you have to perform a difficult circuit of your least favorite exercises.

Related: How to Build Muscle: Training, Nutrition & Supplements

3. You are Power Lifting

How much ya bench? Who really cares unless you’re in the iron game just to get stronger? Remember, I am referring mainly to those who want to reshape their physique.

Going heavy is one thig – sure, strength is vital, makes you feel powerful and is needed when it comes to logging in your workouts for progression’s sake. But lifting heavy for the ego, lifting weights you have no business touching and risking injury is a whole other animal.

Yes, challenge yourself but lift within your means.

Fix it: Are you lifting for strength or for building your physique? The key is to first define your lifting goals and second to act on those goals appropriately and effectively. Have you ever seen a power lifter with a chiseled midsection or desirable leanness?

Lifting for muscle gain takes a more moderate approach with moderate weights fatiguing the muscle so it will grow larger while torching body fat. Sets of singles, doubles and triples are great for ego, but do little for aesthetics.

4. You are the Strongest Around

9 Workout Mistakes That Limit Muscle Growth: Trying to be the Alpha

Are you the “alpha” of your group? Do others around you praise your physique and revel in the progress you’ve made? Do you receive a fair share of compliments from onlookers? You might suffer from lack of motivation due to the absence of a challenge. Say what you will, training in an environment full of individuals stronger, bigger and leaner than you can be an advantage. It will make you strive to be better subconsciously.

Fix it: The first step is to try to find a training partner of equal or greater strength than you. Someone you know will push you beyond your limits, be consistent and help keep you accountable for your efforts. If that’s not possible then start to build on your own world; watch videos of others you aspire to be like, write down and set out new and challenging goals that are just outside of your grasp.

Build this whole new outlook on your own individual goals instead of constantly feeding off what others say. A little praise is great and incredibly motivating, but too much will leave you complacent.

5. You're Scared

Lifting heavy weight for a better physique is tough. At times you may find yourself gravitating to the exercises that are a bit easier and/or not as rough on your central nervous system. Moves like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups come to mind. You might be a bit apprehensive to get under a significant amount of weight on squats to face a 10, 12 or 20 rep set. Intimidating indeed.

Why do that when you can just jump on the leg press or any other lower body machine and rep-out not having to worry about balance and full-body effort?

Fix it: There’s an old saying that you should put enough weight on the bar to scare you a little. Now, this isn’t to say you need to adopt a power lifter mentality, but it does require you to face challenges (whatever they may be) head on. Take the leap and you will soon adapt to that new stress, build more strength and stamina, and only be better for it.

The big, compound, multi-joint exercises are still king. You need to make these challenges a regular part of training. You need to be a little scared in order to progress, but not so much that you avoid it all together.

6. No Consistency

9 Workout Mistakes That Limit Muscle Growth: Lack of Consistency

Do you find yourself catching a workout when you can? Are you a morning trainer finding it difficult to get up early enough so you miss a few workouts per week? In the evening do you sometimes just head home instead of the gym because you are just too tired or your friends call you up wanting to hang out? Inconsistency is the killer of progress.

Fix it: Committing to a set schedule isn’t easy. You may need to structure your morning or evening to ensure that you make it to the gym. Pack your gym bag the night before, take an afternoon snack with you so you aren’t starving, change clothes at work before you leave, and any other daily routine you can think of.

The important thing is that you make it more convenient ahead of time so staying consistent isn’t a chore.

Related: Progression 101: 8 Ways to Make Consistent Gains

7. Lacking Patience

Overnight successes don’t exist unless you’re a Silicon Valley tech start-up. Programs, routines, and the latest tricks promise everything fast. 2 weeks to washboard abs in as little as 5 minutes a day. Yes, you’ve heard the claims. Patience is lacking in today’s society and building muscle is a major victim.

Fix it: Consistency requires patience. Those who stay the course with their head down and focused will come out on top. Training when you’d rather go home and veg-out, finishing a workout when you’re tired, and going to the gym no matter how your day went will only make you stronger. Stay consistent even when you think you’re beating your head against the wall. Plateaus don’t last.

8. Shortchanging Form

Half rep squats don’t build muscle and neither do back-bending barbell curls. Sure, bad form lets you lift heavier, but you will only feed your ego and not your muscle. We all are most-likely guilty of bad form and technique somewhere within our program, so it goes without saying that everyone could benefit from taking a good, hard look at their form in any given workout.

9 Workout Mistakes That Limit Muscle Growth: Shortchanging Form

Fix it: Every now and then pick a day to dissect your form. Study how you currently lift on certain exercises. If you find a discrepancy then decrease the amount of weight you are using significantly and start over using near perfect textbook form. Going a step further, have a training partner close by to assess your form and technique. Don’t be offended by his/her critique. Take it as valuable advice to improve.

9. Avoiding Anything New

Yes, the tried and true exercises are king and will likely remain at the top of the food chain. Movements like bench presses and squats reign supreme for packing on muscle, but you may require change at some point in your lifting career. Whether from pure boredom, lack of results, or a change in program, trying new things isn’t a death sentence.

For example, your structure may not be all that suited to squat properly. You may benefit from more bodyweight exercises or you could be living in a hole and not try some of the new equipment and techniques available today.

Fix it: Whatever your reason, trying new things will inject some enthusiasm back into your program. Have you tried suspension band training? How about supersetting all your workouts? Or maybe performing some sled pushes and pulls after a hard leg session will do you some good. Whatever it is, be open-minded. It’s important to expand your comfort zone to keep progressing.

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Posted on: Wed, 01/06/2016 - 20:23

Insipring article...I have to admit that life does get in the way of my desire to lift. I am guilty of missing workouts..but I just read this and I just finished working out and it has reminded me of why I'm doing this in the first place...Being a tall skinny guy in my early 40s it's never too late to change yourself...thanks for the renewed motivation

Marty Hughes
Posted on: Wed, 12/09/2015 - 13:03

I think #8 Shortchanging Form is the most important step. I have this problem sometimes if my mind begins to wander or maybe I'm just not into working out that day. Both of these excuses will literally kill your workout. Focus is a real key to weightlifting success. If you think about it: Three times a week for one hour per session is not a lot. If you are serious about your exercise routine, you can sacrifice this much. In addition, I think it is better to skip a workout rather than to force yourself to exercise when you are not really into it that day as long as your attitude really does need an adjustment.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 11/12/2015 - 12:03

Are you guilty of any of these?

Posted on: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 08:56

Being the alpha of my group -
If being alpha means being the best at lifting stuff... and my group is the world... then yeah, guilty as charged.

Posted on: Mon, 11/16/2015 - 05:00

about all of them in some way or another.that is ok it gives me something to work on!