10 Reasons You’re NOT Gaining Muscle or Getting Stonger


As I "get older" and time seems to be going way too fast, I have been thinking about time, training, life and a slew of other things.

This whole life thing goes way too fast. Every year I get older, I quickly do the math and have a memory from age 6 of what seemed like yesterday.

You must make it ALL count. Life is too short to walk around weak and with a laundry list of excuses.

Bill Starr has a GREAT book call The Strongest Shall Survive. The title alone hits home, it can be updated to The Strongest Shall THRIVE!

I thought about the age old adage of "Fail to plan and you plan to fail". So simple yet so true. 

What are your goals for this quarter? This year? The next 5 years? How do you measure your achievements or do you just go through life, day by day?

I thought about the athletes I train and seriously thought about the state of men today where being strong and capable is becoming the rarity, not the norm (that's an entirely separate article). I know this will offend many but it's an unfortunate truth. I hear men 40 & older and plenty of young adults in their 20s telling me ALL of their excuses as to why they can't get stronger or bigger.

Of course, I don't have the time, I'm too tired, I used to be like you, it's too far away, it's too expensive....

Keep the negativity to yourself. Keep your excuses to yourself. I don't want to hear about it. It's ALL BS.

When I planned out my current training block, I looked at everything I was doing in the gym and with regards to nutrition. ALL BASICS. Nothing fancy. Nothing "futuristic". I'll steer clear of the fads and gimmicks and so should you.

But, even with all the information out there and my constant commitment to putting information out there (Several Thousand YouTube Videos) and countless articles since 2002, etc. I still see people making the SAME mistakes over and over again in their quest to pack on more muscle, size and strength.

Or, maybe they're NOT on a quest?

Maybe they're just killing time, going through the motions.....

There is no sense in wasting time if your goals are greater strength and more muscle mass.

If you're going to train, then have a purpose, a goal. You're either getting better or you're getting worse.

Men have a duty and obligation to be STRONG.

Here's a list of 10 Mistakes that you Must avoid if your goal is to destroy plateaus.....

1) Not Training for Strength - If you're only training for the pump and avoiding lifting heavy then you're not gonna be much bigger than the local fitness model. Men need to lift heavy. Strength is relative but your goal is to keep getting stronger. You can't fake strong so hit those heavy weights in the 3 - 6 rep range. If you're advanced you can work singles and doubles properly.

2) Not Using Free Weights - I thought this was a no brainer but I've got Coaches telling me they've got smith machines at their gym, parents telling me their son has a bad back so their current trainer has them squatting on a smith machine, etc.

Using free weights forces your body to work smarter AND harder if performed / coached properly. Using smith machines and other machines that balance the weight for you and don't require stabilizers will increase your chances of injury when it's actually time to perform. The majority of your training should be free weights and calisthenics.

Some cables and machines are good for supplemental work but they should NOT take up the majority of your training.

"I've got a Bad back and bad knees" and all the other excuses are just that, excuses for not learning how to move properly on your own. Get off the machines and become a machine yourself.

3) Full Body VS Body Part Split Workouts - They ALL work. I've used them all before and still use them to this day. If you're complicating the fact of full body or split body workouts instead of getting in there and attacking workouts you're wasting time and energy. The ticket is the exercises you implement and how you eat.

Many of The Golden Era Greats used full body workouts.

They would squat, press, row and performed chins and dips. Nothing fancy but they worked HARD on these basics.

4) Overuse of Isolation Exercises - Following up from mistake # 3, if you are wasting time and effort on endless isolation exercises you are simply NOT going to get jacked. Trust me, I did all this when I was a teenager thanks to being brainwashed by FLEX Magazine as a youngster. Weighing 150 lbs and doing side raises, leg extensions and the pec deck have NO place in being the majority of your training.

5) Focusing on Getting Ripped - I heard a nutritionist telling high school athletes to drink skim milk, take the skin off their chicken, eat ONLY egg whites and throw away the yolk she said and so forth.

Once upon a time an 88 lb weakling. Eat Big & Lift Heavy!
Once upon a time an 88 lb weakling, now 140 lbs. Eat Big & Lift Heavy!

REALLY? These skinny high school kids need to be on a low fat diet? Even as I creep in on age 40, I am eating a balance of protein, carbs and healthy fats. Skin stays ON my chicken, I never drink skim milk and neither should you.

I've gotten leaner AND added muscle by eating MORE of what's good for me, NOT less of it. Starve your body, skip meals, remove all fat from your diet and you'll be weak and frail. Eat plenty of healthy foods, lift hard and heavy and you'll lean out.

6) Avoiding Squats - There is something very special that happens to the body when you throw heavy weight on your back and perform deep squats.

Avoiding back squats and thinking the leg press or smith machine are a valid substitute is a myth. They are NOT the same. When you squat, squat deep. I don't care if you squat with or without a box. I use both and so do my athletes.

The excuse about "I have a bad back" is translated like this: Your back is weak and so are your legs and entire "core". Everything needs to get stronger and squats are the ticket.

Some people really just need to LIVE in the Squat rack!

7) Avoiding Ground Based Lifts - If your program revolves around seated and lying down exercises you're not working your body as a unit. Ground based lifts are the key to strength and size. Farmer walks, clean and press, squats, deadlifts. The basics will never stop working and your excuses for doing them will never be valid, either.


8) Eliminating Conditioning Work - Even if you're thin, it's fine to get out there 1 x or even 2 x week and bang out some hill sprints or to sprint with a sled or prowler. Being in shape is always good for the body.

Crush some sprints after your workout or on  separate day. If you're eating plenty of high quality foods, you will NOT get skinny or weak contrary to the people who say such nonsense yet don't actually train.

9) Being Too Arrogant - You've seen those guys before. They say the only way to train is with Kettlebells or only with sandbags or only with strongman.

They are too arrogant and close minded or perhaps they are too lazy to use various methods and various training tools. Lift hard, lift heavy, use proper technique and the results will come. If you're too arrogant to evolve and stay open minded on your training methods, your gains will come to a halt. I am a firm believer in NOT discriminating in ways to get stronger.

Strength doesn't care where you live, how much money you have in your bank account, the color of your skin or what you achieved "back in the day". Strength is EARNED. We're all equals once we enter the weight room. You Get What You Earn.

10) Excuses, Excuses, Excuses - There are way too many excuse makers out there.

For example, people will complain about what I JUST said. Seriously. They will complain that I called out the excuse makers. How many people are REALLY "too busy" or "too tired". Man UP and get to the gym lift something, even if it's your own bodyweight. You can do this in a garage with a pair of Gymnastics rings.

Get a stone or make a sandbag. Buy 1 used, heavy dumbbell off craigs list. There are people literally GIVING away their old weight sets.

It's so expensive it's free!

I always say this, meaning, hard work is FREE, but people don't want to do it because, well, it takes WORK!

I run 2 gyms, an online business, travel for speaking engagements, have 2 kids, a crazy dog, plus more and I STILL find time to train hard 3 - 5 x week. Sometimes it's at 5 AM but it is what it is, I want to make it happen while others make excuses.

"If it's important you will find the time,

If not, you will find an excuse."

Now is the time to make it happen. You need to rise above and Crush these 10 steps in your training.

If you know someone who is making ANY of the mistakes listed above, do your friend a solid and send them this article.

Live The Code 365,


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25 Responses

  1. All true. I was finding myself sometimes over-thinking about what food I’m taking in, to the point I was making it hard for myself to get all the necessary nutrients and calories, etc. You just need to eat relatively healthy, get your butt in the gym, and lift heavy + hard.

    1. keep it simple and clean!

  2. Great article! That is the kind of information that pushes me in a positive direction. Thanks for the info, Zach!

  3. Great article Zach. I’m almost 50 and can’t wait to get back to the heavy sh**! However, I did injure my back about a month ago doing H.Bag slams and straight into D.Lifts. Been doing your Body Weight Body Building for now. Hopefully, by Jan. 2014 I will be back lifting.

    Thanks for all your knowledge!

    1. Gary Larrison says:

      Darn straight Zach, you gotta live the code!
      I am 67 years old and still learning (went thru the USC cert two years ago and I am still jacked up from that….bottom line, make no excuses, give no excuses and train like you mean it.

      1. Gary I LOVE hearing from you and always think about you, brotha! I hope you had an AWESOME Thanksgiving, my man!!!

    2. Brian, learn movement properly, re-train your body and take Mobility seriously, get book: Supple Leopard

  4. So true, too many excuses out there! As I’ve said before my father is 67, works 3rd shift 60-70 hours a week doing hard manual labor and still gets to the gym. Always helps me get out of bed if I’m feeling tired or anything!

    1. You’re Father is a different breed of man!

  5. Zach – straight on!

    Especially point 5 made me giggle as I always get some weird, weird looks when I’m at the butcher and demand steaks with lots of fat in it. Essential fats (not transfats) are not only very tasty (just think why they seem tasty to us!) but should be an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. My boys eat tons of butter, raw milk, eggs, almonds and dip just about anything in olive oil – they all have visible abs, which is quite rare nowadays.

    Maybe you should’ve made 1,2 points more – like:

    11) Sitting makes weak cowards of us all!
    We all sit way too much – at work, at home. Even staying up straight engages the body nonstop and many weak backs wouldn’t be occuring if people would just stand, walk more.

    12) Allow playing time.
    Training has become this serious, mega science. What is often missing is some creative playing time. Get out there and have some fun while training.

    13) Avoid sugar at all cost.
    Not only is sugar bad for your teeth – it also deprives your bones from growing dense and saps Calcium out of your body AND has a very bad impact on your immune system. If you want to change one thing on your diet – get rid of sugar!


    1. Sven, this is excellent!

  6. Another awesome post Zach thanks so much for all the info and advice you’ve provided throughout the years. Went fro 135 to 215 and now playing university rugby you were a huge influence on me. Thanks so much brother.

    1. Connor, holy shyt, brotha!!! I wanna see pics of this transformation! Go BEAST Mode, homie!

  7. Good afternoon Coach Zach –
    Did the strength camp seminar with the strongman athlete in Feb fill up? If there is any way I can get in please let me know. Love your blog and what you stand for.

    In Gnarly Health –

    Coach David

    1. David hey brotha, Mike passed away a week ago and I decided not to hold the cert…..

  8. Dustin Maynard says:

    Sometimes the biggest mistake boils down to dedication—- to be truly great at something, you have to constantly work on it. Nothing is given— only earned. Adapt and grow— be smart but yet be fierce. Be committed.

    I been working 16 hr shifts with only a 30 minute break. Labor. Even when I sleep just for a few hrs, I wake up and convince myself—–just do it. Even doing one big lift with a PR…….counts! It always has and always will. If you’re constantly getting stronger everyday—-you’re untouchable.

  9. Zach I love the quote at the beginning “fail to plan and you plan to fail.” This sets the tone for everything we do not only in training, but in life. I might have to borrow that quote my friend.

  10. As always, a great article about how to get yourself muscle and fitness … I’m almost 44, Zach, It’s just a number. Live strong.

  11. Aaron Sleeman says:

    Another great article, with spot-on points! There was a lad who came into the gym the other day, looks as if he’s never been before and the first thing he does were biceps curls with a weight he sure was gonna struggle with! Most people forget that any great program is based around squat/deadlift/bench/overhead press and yet they still neglect these exercises!

  12. Christopher Johannes says:

    I fully agree with the old school free weight training I am 42 and started training at 18 years old in my friend’s garage we moved on from there to gym as the weights we to light after some time. My concept never changed I stuck with free weights did cycling out on the road and lots of swimming. Then gave up the bodybuilding for ten years at age 24 and came back at 34 but always stuck with free weights my cycling and swimming and at one stage was pushing 220kg on the bench press squats was 300 and leg press 500kg. I did my lunges and all other excercises with free weights and it really makes you strong quicker but you must be prepared to lift heavey and work hard. I am a sucker for punishment so bring it on when I look at the guys at gym I’m still stronger than guys half my age or ten years younger reason being they are not prepared to punish themselves damn idiots.

  13. George Modzelewski says:

    maybe this will work for me

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