The Reason You Struggle with Muscle & Strength Development

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not your genetics.

Granted, we all weren’t born with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Serena Williams’ muscular potential. But most of us weren’t born looking like Woody Allen or Kate Moss either. So there’s hope!

When it comes to maximizing your muscular and strength potential, more is in our control than out of it. The reason why we struggle even when we’re doing mostly everything right is...

Your body’s best asset—its ability to adapt—is its worst enemy.

Packing on and maintaining muscle is a metabolic nightmare. It takes a lot of energy. Energy your body prefers to preserve when given the option.

When your body adapts to any activity it’s looking for the path of least resistance. Or in this situation the path of fewest metabolic demands.

Generally speaking this inherent survival mechanism is good thing. Scratch that...a great thing! Except when the adaptation we make is not the one we want.

Instead of building muscle to get stronger your body would rather get better at lifting weights. Through a coordinated effort between several muscles groups and shifting forces you can lift more weight for longer without having to build muscle. Despite your opposition, the choice, as far as your body is concerned, is simple.


How to combat this undesirable adaptation.
1. Increase your training demands with INTENSITY

Of all the factors that comprise your training demands none is arguably more important than intensity. How hard you work (at anything) is almost always the deciding factor in how successful you are. To change your muscles you must constantly challenge them with work which pushes their current limits.
2. Be intentional with your training VOLUME

Training volume (how many sets and reps performed in a workout) can either help or hinder you. There is a lower and upper limit to how much volume is necessary. When you’re near or below the lower limit you severely handicap your strength and muscle development capabilities. When you’re over your upper limit you’re likely to suffer from diminishing returns. In this instance more isn’t better—more just makes it tougher to recover and increases your risk of overuse injuries.

3. FREQUENCY controls the fate of your workouts
Exercising often is a good thing until it becomes a bad thing. Here’s what I mean. Exercise is a stress. Sure it has a positive physical and mental impact but exercise is a negative stress on your body too. The fundamental theory of exercise is that we adapt to this negative stress by developing larger, stronger, more functional muscles. But this adaption only occurs as you recover from the workout(s). Training frequency is the most central piece of exercise recovery. It can hold your results hostage or set them free. The key is balancing training frequency so that you are working your muscles often enough so that they need to adapt to the constant stressor. And to not work them so often that they never fully recover and adapt.

4. Disrupt adaptation with VARIATION

Aside from intensity, volume, and frequency, other components such as weight load, speed of movement, repetition and set variables each contribute to your overall demands. The more demanding and unusual your workouts the greater your likelihood of circumventing unwanted adaptation. It doesn’t require doing ridiculously weird and unnecessary exercises, but instead making calculating changes to keep your muscles from getting complacent.