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Muscle Growth, Hardgainers

Why Can't I Put on Muscle?

By Joe Talarico on Jun 28, 2023 9:00:00 AM
5 Minutes Reading Time

Some of us will feel like we are doing everything right and still can’t see progress. We are working hard in the gym, eating all the right foods, and checking off all the boxes. Why aren’t I seeing any progress? Today, I’d like to go over what may be preventing you from seeing the gains you were expecting. 

Not Enough Calories

The first place to start is calories. You can have the perfect program specifically tailored to your needs. If you aren’t eating enough calories, you aren’t going to see any growth. Our body needs fuel to be bigger and better than we were before. This is even MORE true with muscle. Muscle is calorically expensive to have. It’s also not easy to put on (unlike fat). It needs the right stimulus and the right amount of protein.

Make sure you are hitting 1g/lb of bodyweight. I choose 1g because most people struggle to hit it and end up falling just shy which will still put us in an optimal range so I’d rather you overshoot than under. Make sure to fuel yourself with carbs pre and post workout. Carbs are an excellent fuel source for the gym and allow us to push ourselves harder as they are the easiest access of fuel in short bursts of energy. You should gradually see the scale go up over time (1-2 lbs a month minimum). If you don’t see this rate of change, slowly increase the calories by 200 a day and reassess.

No Progressive Overload

Just because you are working hard in the gym doesn’t mean you are doing it right. I can easily grab a 10lb dumbbell and lift till my face is blue. That won’t stimulate muscle growth. Neither will running on the treadmill for an hour, or doing a cardio circuit with kettlebells.  

Our muscles need a strong signal to grow. This means the weight needs to be progressively more and more challenging in order to elicit the kind of growth you want. This can come in the form of adding 5 lbs or doing 1 more rep. The goal is consistently overloading week over week over a long enough timeline. Just doing that for 2-3 months isn’t enough. If you want to put on serious muscle, you need to continually lift heavier weight for more reps. Just make sure to stay 1-2 reps shy of failure so you don’t overtax your nervous system and can't recover.


Another issue common among lifters is that they aren’t as consistent as they realize. They might go 5 days one week, 3 the next, and 1 the next. Just as you need to be progressively overloading, you need a consistent schedule. How can you perform better week to week if every workout is different? How can you track that you are getting better if you skipped a day? What gets measured gets improved. We need to choose a frequency we know we can hit consistently. I’d rather see you go to the gym two times a week for 6 months than on and off 5 times a week for 6 months.

This also goes for sleep. Sleep quality matters. Research shows when we get 5 hours or less consistently, we are more likely to gain fat. We also significantly hamper our ability to recover. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep allows our body to repair the muscle tissue so it grows back bigger and stronger.

Minimum Effective Dose Challenge

Instead of trying to do the MOST, let’s see instead if we can get the most out of the least effort. Try going to the gym only 2-3 days a week. Do a full body workout so that even if you miss a day, you haven’t neglected an entire body part. Choose a weight you can do for 6-10 reps on a given muscle, and each week either do 1 more rep or 5 lbs more than the week before. Couple this with a caloric surplus eating 1g protein per pound and I guarantee you’ll start to see some changes.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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