How To Train And Supplement For Every Fitness Goal

When your workouts don’t reflect your goals, what you see in the mirror won’t either—and nothing is more frustrating than spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

How you spend your time in the gym—and which supplements you take to support your workouts—depends on whether you want to get strong, pack on muscle, shed fat, or boost your endurance. Use this quick fitness cheat sheet to make sure every rep you perform and supp you take accelerates your progress.

Goal: Strength

Training: When you’re training for absolute strength, you want your body to use the ‘phosphagen energy system,’ in which it breaks down a form of creatine to rapidly produce energy. Thing is, your body can’t produce energy like this for very long—we’re talking less than 30 seconds—so your workouts will need short periods of all-out work and long periods of rest.

To maximize strength gains, lift between 80 and 95 percent of your one-rep max and perform four to eight sets of just two to five reps, says New Jersey-based trainer Bryant Klein, C.S.C.S.  Rest for three to five minutes between sets.

: The more creatine stored in your muscles, the greater capacity those muscles have to churn out that fast and hard work when they need to—and research shows that how much you consume affects your stores. Studies have found that just two weeks of consuming between five and 20 grams of creatine a day can improve exercise performance and support strength gains.

“One study also showed that participants who took a daily creatine supplement while following a resistance training program significantly increased their resting testosterone levels after 10 weeks,” says dietitian Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition. Research suggests taking 20 to 25 grams of creatine a day for five days to increase muscle creatine levels, and supplementing with between two and five grams a day from there. Up your creatine stores deliciously with a powdered supplement like BodyTech’s Fruit Punch 100% Creatine Monohydrate.

Goal: Hypertrophy

Training: If you’re set on building muscle mass, you need to increase the amount of time your muscles spend under tension to tap into your body’s glycolytic energy system, which relies heavily on the glycogen stored in your muscles and is associated with stimulating muscle growth.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle

To ramp up that time under tension, perform three to six sets of eight to 15 reps (about 90 seconds of work) with 65 to 75 percent of your one-rep max, recommends Klein. Rest for one to three minutes between sets.

: Whey protein, which is made from cow’s milk, can be a major player in a muscle-building diet because it contains a high proportion of essential amino acids (which cannot be made by our body) and branched-chain amino acids (which play crucial roles in the muscle protein synthesis process responsibly for size gains).

In fact, supplementing with whey protein while resistance training regularly is the ideal combo for promoting muscle hypertrophy and exercise recovery, says research published in Nutrition & Metabolism. Studies suggest that 20 to 40 grams of protein both before and after exercise offers the most muscle-building benefits. Optimum Nutrition’s Vanilla Ice Cream Gold Standard 100% Whey and BodyTech’s Rich Chocolate WheyTech Pro 24 both pack 24 grams of protein per scoop.

Goal: Endurance

Training: “Muscular endurance training improves performance swimming, running, and other sports that require you to reproduce force over an extended period of time,” says Klein. To train your muscles for endurance, you’ll need to tap into the oxidative energy system, which can utilize fat (with the help of oxygen) to help your muscles work for long durations.

Endurance workouts need to be lower intensity, so you’ll drop your weight down to 50 percent of your one-rep max, says Klein. Perform three to six sets of 15-plus reps and rest for a minute between sets.

: When it comes to muscle endurance, a few minerals can be particularly helpful: iron, copper, and zinc. According to Warren, these minerals play key roles in the flow of oxygen to working muscles and throughout the body, and warding off oxidative stress. And since many young athletes don’t get enough of them, supplementing can help boost performance and workout recovery.

The National Institutes of Health recommends adults get about 900 micrograms of copper, eight (women) to 11 (men) milligrams of zinc, and eight (men) or 18 (women) milligrams of iron, per day. A daily multivitamin can help you reach your needs.

Goal: Fat Loss

TrainingBurning fat requires a strategic combination of cardio, strength training, and nutrition—but to lose fat in a sustainable way, you also need to preserve (or build) muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you need to live every day), and the fewer calories you need to slash to support weight loss, explains Klein.

To maximize muscle mass and shed fat, you’ll strength train just like you would for hypertrophy (that’s three to six sets of eight to 15 reps with a couple minutes of rest in between).

: Carnitine, an amino acid-like compound our body produces and that we get from food, helps our body convert fat into energy by escorting fatty acids into our cells’ energy-producing machines (called mitochondria), says Warren. “When you increase levels of muscle carnitine, you support the fat burning-process because your body becomes more efficient at processing fuel,” she explains.

One 2016 Obesity Reviews meta-analysis found that those who supplemented with carnitine lost significantly more weight than those who took a placebo. BodyTech’s Carnipure Carnitine supports fat metabolism—and tastes like raspberries (win-win!).

Which Sports Supplements Should You Be Cycling?

If you can’t remember the last time you went a day without caffeine, or have ever wondered if you should take a break from creatine, you’re certainly not the only one.

While there are plenty of sports nutrition supplements that you can take every day, all year-round, others require a little more strategy. ‘Cycling’ these supplements—taking them for specific periods of time and then not taking them for specific periods—can benefit your health and actually help you reach your fitness goals more effectively.

So which supps are we talking about—and how do you cycle them, exactly? Read on for expert tips.

1. Creatine

Creatine, a natural chemical that our kidneys and liver make from amino acids, helps our muscles produce energy. It also supports muscle protein synthesis by drawing water into our muscles and stimulating a compound called insulin-like growth factor (IGF). One of the most widely-researched sports supplements out there, creatine is used to support strength, power, and muscle growth, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.

You want to use creatine when your training and goals are focused on building strength and muscle (think lots of weight lifting and plyometrics). To keep your body from getting too used to the supplement, White recommends cycling as follows: Take three to five grams of creatine per day for 12 weeks, and then go creatine-free for four weeks. Since creatine makes you retain some water, make sure to drink at least 64 to 96 ounces a day when you take it, he adds.

Our muscles produce a type of creatine called creatine phosphate, but there are a few different types of creatine you’ll find in supplements, like creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL, says Brian St. Pierre, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition. Creatine monohydrate is the OG and most researched.

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When you’re focused on getting as shredded as possible or training for an endurance event, though, it’s time to cycle off creatine.

2. HMB

HMB, or hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, is a component of the branched-chain amino acid leucine. HMB works to prevent protein breakdown in our muscles associated with intense exercise. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that three grams of HMB per day helped athletes make strength, power, and hypertrophy gains even while training vigorously.

Like with creatine, White recommends HMB (it’s usually found in capsule supplements) for exercisers looking to build muscle and strength. Since long-term HMB supplementation hasn’t been thoroughly studied, he suggests cycling between eight weeks of three grams of HMB a day (split into one-gram doses) followed by four weeks of nada. He also suggests cycling off of HMB when your goals are all about endurance or getting shredded.

3. Caffeine

Caffeine, sometimes identified as ‘trimethylxanthine’ in supplements, stimulates our central nervous system, increasing our heart rate, blood flow, and release of hormones like feel-good endorphins to boost our energy and mental alertness. One of the most widely-used performance supps out there, caffeine has been shown to boost endurance and ward off fatigue.

The issue is, caffeine can be addictive and come along with downsides like anxiousness and trouble sleeping. It’s generally safe to consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (that’s about four cups of coffee), but White recommends cycling the stimulant by alternating between one-month periods on and off. Instead of going cold turkey in your ‘off’ months, though, just cut your usual dose in half to avoid withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irritability. You should also slowly lower your dosage during less-demanding training periods.

4. Thermogenics

Thermogenics are supplements designed to boost fat-burning by increasing our body’s production of energy and heat by using stimulants to speed up various processes in our body (like our heart rate). They’re typically found in pill and powder form.

Thermogenics typically contain a mix of metabolism-supporting ingredients like yohimbe, caffeine, green tea extract, and cayenne pepper extract. (Learn more about these popular supplements and their ingredients here.)

Since thermogenics contain a solid dose of caffeine, make sure you factor them into your total daily intake. These supps also affect different people differently, so White urges caution when trying them out. “If someone is taking thermogenics, I always suggest starting at half a dose to gauge how they react,” he says. From there, cycle between months on and off of thermogenics, as you would with other caffeine-containing supplements.

When You Can Skip The Cycle

Protein, branched-chain amino acids, and glutamine can (and should!) all remain a steady part of your routine.

Protein helps us build muscle and keep cells and organs functioning properly, so consistency is key. White recommends including 20 to 30 grams of protein in each meal and snack. For powder supplements, he likes whey protein because it’s quick and easy for our body to digest, and contains amino acids in amounts that closely reflect our body’s needs for recovery and growth.

Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, can be found in protein supplements—but many training junkies supplement them separately, too. These three amino acids, which include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are particularly important for preserving and building muscle mass. (Most supps contain a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine and valine.) Experts often recommend between five and 10 grams both before and after exercise.

Related: 5 Amino Acids All Gym Lovers Should Know About

Glutamine, the most abundant essential amino acid in our bodies, supports muscle protein synthesis (the process through which muscles repair and grow). Since glutamine also supports the immune system, it’s especially helpful if you train hard and often, says White. You’ll find some glutamine in your whey protein supplement, but you can also take it in powder or capsule form. White recommends up to 20 grams throughout the day.

Reference this guide to keep your supplement cycling game on-point:

4 Rowing Workouts That’ll Make You Feel Like A Beast

The rowing machine—often referred to as the ‘erg’—has been a staple of CrossFit® boxes since being featured in the inaugural CrossFit games in 2007.  For many other fitness enthusiasts, though, this effective exercise trend is newly on their radar. Not only are boutique rowing studios popping up all over the U.S. (like Greenville Indoor Rowing in South Carolina, Row Zone in Philadelphia, Ro Fitness in Texas, and Row House and CITYROW in New York to name a few), but even large chain gyms are putting ergs on their floors.

Why all the hype? Rowing machines are compact, easy-to-use, and offer a rare combo of benefits. Not only is rowing low-impact (meaning it’s easy on your joints), but it also works pretty much all of the major muscle in your body—about 84 percent of them, to be exact.

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“The common misconception is that rowing is an upper-body-focused exercise, but it’s really all about engaging your core and pushing hard with your legs,” says Lisa Niren, certified group fitness instructor and CITYROW trainer. “I look at each stroke on the machine as essentially a jump squat and a deadlift because it mimics the actions of both.” Since rowing engages so many of these big muscles, you burn major calories and reap both muscle and cardio benefits.

The average 155-pound person burns 260 calories in half an hour of moderate rowing—but you really amp up the benefits of this workout by incorporating it into high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Combine intervals of rowing with intervals of strength-focused moves off the machine and you’ve got a workout that’s as dynamic as it is challenging.

Try these four HIIT rowing workouts to torch calories, build strength, and improve endurance—all in under an hour.

Are You Neglecting These Two Glute Muscles?

The benefits of a strong behind know no bounds. You’ll nail bigger lifts like squats and deadlifts, feel booty-ful (sorry, had to) in your favorite pair of jeans, and move through life—whether hiking, chasing your dog around, or just carrying heavy groceries—more easily.

To build powerful and well-rounded glutes (literally), there are three muscles you need to focus on. First, the major gluteal muscle, the gluteus maximus, which helps you extend your hips (like when squatting) and rotate your legs and toes out to the sides. This muscle covers pretty much the entire surface of your butt, and if you strength train, chances are you’re already showing these big muscles some love.

But there are two smaller—and lesser-known—gluteal muscles that also deserve some attention: the gluteus medius (above the glute maximus) and gluteus minimus (beneath the glute maximus). These muscles help your hips move laterally away from your body, like when you step from side to side.

Meet The Medius And Minimus

Why are these two glutes muscles overlooked? “They are substantially smaller than the maximus—the medius is about half the weight of the maximus, and the minimus is even less—and are less visually apparent because they reside underneath the maximus,” explains Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D, C.S.C.S.-D., assistant professor in exercise science at CUNY Lehman College and author of The M.A.X. Muscle Plan.

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Just because these muscles are small, though, doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Both muscles help stabilize your hip joints, helping you run, rotate, and shuffle.

Aside from their functional feats, these two other glutes muscles can make your butt look better. “Increasing the development of the medius and minimus contributes to overall glute size, so they are most certainly important from an aesthetic standpoint,” says Schoenfeld.

Related: Your Glutes Are Begging You To Do This Workout

Plus, if you have weak medius or minimus muscles, you can land yourself with a number of surprisingly common issues, like ‘hip drop’ (when one side of your hips lowers because the opposite side is weak) or ‘knee valgus’ (when your knees cave in), says Schoenfeld. People with weak gluteus medius and/or minimus muscles may also experience low-back pain because their back takes on the stress of rotational movements instead of their glutes and legs.

Target The Tiny Two

To prevent injury, increase booty gains, and strengthen your hip muscles, add these four exercises—hand-picked by Schoenfeld—to your routine. You’ll isolate your glute medius and minimus muscles to effectively build strength.

 1. Side Lying Hip Abductions

Lie on a bench on your side. Allow your top leg to cross over your bottom leg and stretch as far as possible over the side of the bench, without touching the floor. Engage your glutes to raise this leg as high as comfortably possible, and then return it to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

2. Cable Abductions

Set a cable machine with an ankle cuff attachment to the lowest setting. Stand next to the cable machine with your left leg closest to it. Attach the ankle cuff to your right ankle and take a comfortable step away from the machine. Hold onto the cable machine with your left hand for stability and allow your right ankle to cross over your left to bring your right ankle closer to the machine. Engage your glutes to pull your right leg back across your body and extend it as far out to the right as is comfortable (keep your leg straight), and then return it to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

3. Lateral Band Walks

Place a looped band around your shins. Step your feet shoulders-width distance apart and slightly bend your knees and hips to assume a slight squat position. Step laterally (to the side) with your left foot, and then allow the right foot to follow. Take a few more steps to the left, and then reverse your direction and step to the right.

4. Clamshell Raises

Lie on your left side with your knees bent, your right leg over your left, and your feet together. Engage your glutes to raise your right knee up as high as comfortably possible, and then return it to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

Bad Posture Can Lead To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

Standing up straight seems easy enough, but thanks to the excessive amount of sitting we do, many of us struggle to maintain posture that would make Grandma proud.

Spending too much time on our butts, hunching over our phones, and even using crummy form in the gym can really wreck our posture, according to Stuart McGill, Ph.D., professor emeritus of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and author of Back Mechanic.

And that has a greater impact than just making us look shorter and schlumpy. Bad posture can lead to stress and pain in your back and hips that can affect your ability to move and exercise, McGill says.

The tricky thing is, not all crummy posture is created equal. Your personal breed of poor posture (whether it’s sloping shoulders or shifting hips) stems from your daily routine and lifestyle—and if you’re not in pain, you might not even realize how out-of-whack your back is.

Below are the four most common posture-wrecking issues, and what you’ll need to do to correct them:

Issue #1: Your Hips Are Stuck Back

If it takes you a while (like 30 seconds) to fully stand up after sitting for a few hours and you notice that you cannot pull your hips forward and stand upright, chances are you have tight hip flexors (a.k.a. psoas muscles), which connect your lower spine to the front of your thigh bones. This is a common issue for people who sit for long periods of time—like those of us who work sedentary jobs, McGill says.

Not only do tight hip flexors make walking uncomfortable and stiff, but they prevent our hips from moving forward, which then pulls our lower back out of its natural hollow curve, he says. And being in this unnatural position puts a lot of extra pressure on our lower spine.

The Fix: Perform Forward Lunges with Hand Internal/External Rotations

To help your lower spine relax back into its natural curve, you need to stretch.

Start in a standing position with your arms at your sides. Step your right leg forward and bend at the knee to lower into a lunge. Your legs should be bent at the knees. Reach your left hand up overhead, drop your left shoulder slightly back, and push your palm towards the ceiling. As you push your left palm up, you’ll feel the stretch in your left hip flexor. (Your muscles’ protective tissues connect all the way from your arm, down your torso, to your hip flexors.) In this position, rotate your left hand back and forth a few times.

Do two or three reps on each side, holding each rep for about 10 seconds.

Issue #2: You’re Slouched Too Far Forward

If you stand with your shoulders slouched forward, your stomach relaxed out to the front, and your butt tucked under, we’re talking about you here. In this classic image of poor posture, we exaggerate the natural curves in our backs (a hollow curve at the neck, and outward curve at the upper back, and a hollow curve at the lower back), says McGill.

Related: Do You Really Need To Stretch After A Workout?

Normally, the muscles in our torso support our spine and help us maintain the slight curves our back has in proper posture, says McGill. But when we don’t have enough muscle, the discs (the pliable shock-absorbers between the vertebrae of our spine ) and elastic tissues (like ligaments and fascia)—especially in our lower back—bear the pressure of our body weight, says McGill. And that’s a recipe for pain and impaired mobility over time.

The Fix: Re-Train Your Hips

To take that pressure off your lower back, you need to move your spine back into a more neutral position. To do this, imagine straight lines extending down from your ears, through your shoulders, through your hips, and into the middle of your feet, McGill says. This will help you shift your hips beneath the center of your weight and pull your shoulders back. Simply being aware of your body position and reminding yourself to stack your spine back in that neutral position can help you re-learn proper posture, he says.

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

You should also consider this posture issue an invitation to work on your core strength. That might mean hitting the weights regularly or using your own body weight to build strength. One bodyweight option is Pilates, which can increase core stability, according to a study published in Isokinetics and Exercise Science. (Participants saw improvements after eight weeks of three weekly Pilates sessions.) 

Issue #3: Lifting Weights Improperly Has Landed You With A Disc Bulge

When you excessively flex or extend your back while under stress (like when lifting weights with poor form), the repeated pressure over time can make the discs between your vertebrae bulge or full-on rupture.

Sitting puts pressure on a disc bulge, while walking reduces it, so if you have back pain after just a few minutes of sitting but can walk around okay, this may be your issue.

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For some people, disc bulges occur from squatting or deadlifting beyond their natural range of motion. It all depends on your hips. Some people have deep hip sockets, so at some point when they squat deep or reach to deadlift a barbell up off the floor, their thigh bones hit the front of those sockets. This point should be the end of their range of motion, but most people allow their lower back to flatten so they can continue lowering. Putting your spine in this unnatural position while bearing extra weight puts immense pressure on your discs, and can lead to a bulge or rupture. (This is less of an issue for people with shallow hip sockets, whose hips have a greater range of motion, and who can squat deeper or deadlift from the floor without having to flatten their back.)

The Fix: Correct Your Form and Support Your Back

A certified strength and conditioning coach or physical therapist can help you identify your safe range of motion for the aforementioned exercises.

Follow the video above to determine the best squat depth for your hips and avoid deep “ass-to-grass” squats if you have deep hip sockets. Similarly, those with deep hip sockets should deadlift a barbell off of raised blocks instead of off the floor. Widening your stance for squats and deadlifts can also increase your hip mobility and help you get lower without straining your back.

You also don’t need to drop it super-low to benefit from squatting. Hit the rack and make sure your form looks like the following to guarantee you’re squatting safely:

Step underneath a racked barbell and allow it to rest on top of your upper back muscles. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale and un-rack the bar by stepping both feet backwards. Keeping your core tight, sink your hips back and bend at the knees to lower the bar until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Then, exhale as you press through your heels to drive your hips up vertically and push the bar back towards the ceiling until you’re standing straight up.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

If you suspect you already have a disc bulge, it’s time to see a doc. You can also use a LumbAir back pad whenever you sit for an extended period to restore the natural curve of your back and reduce the pressure on the disc, McGill says. Slowly, over time, the disc bulge should heal.

Issue #4: You Have Weak Glutes

Strong glute muscles help keep your hips centered beneath your weight. Weak glutes, though, whether from too much sitting or not enough strength training, can allow your hips to shift too far back and cause hip or lower-back pain, says McGill.

The Fix: Hip Thrust

With the right technique, the hip thrust can target and strengthen your gluteal muscles to help get your hips back in proper placement.

How to do it: Lie on your back, bend your knees, and put your feet flat on the floor. Grip the floor with your feet, squeeze your glutes, and drive them towards the ceiling, bringing your pelvis off the floor. Push your pelvis up until your torso forms a straight line from your shoulders to your tailbone. “Focus on squeezing your glutes and imagine pushing your feet and knees away from your body,” says McGill. This will ensure that you’re using your glutes and not your hamstrings.

Perform three sets of three to five reps at the beginning of your workouts or once a day.

Related: Grab training equipment and accessories, from resistance bands to yoga straps.

6 Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle

So you’ve been busting your you-know-what in the weight room for months now, and the coveted muscle you’ve been working for is still M.I.A. What’s the deal?

The idea is that when you put resistance on your muscles (say in the form of a dumbbell or barbell), they adapt over time by producing more of the proteins inside of them that help them contract. And that leads to larger muscles. In science speak, this gain in muscle size is called ‘hypertrophy.’

Here’s the thing, though: The equation is a little more complicated than ‘lift weights equals get big.’ From nutrition to workout design to plain ol’ genetics, there are a number of factors that might be standing between you and building muscle.

But there’s hope for you yet! Here are six of the most common muscle-building saboteurs—and what you can do to finally start making gains.

1. You’re Doing Too Many Reps

If your goal is to build muscle, you need to apply enough stimulus to your muscles to force them to grow.

What does that look like in the gym? Low to moderate rep ranges with heavier weight (like between three and 12 reps)—and not higher rep ranges with lighter weight (like upwards of 20 reps), according to a review published in Kinesiology.

There’s quite a bit of back-and-forth in the research about using certain rep ranges and seeing muscle growth—but the studies do suggest that sticking to 12 or less reps is key.

One study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, for example, found that guys who lifted in an eight to 12 rep range for eight weeks saw similar muscle gains to those who lifted in a two to six rep range. Meanwhile, a study published in Physiological Reports, for example, found that guys who lifted heavy for four sets of three to five reps made greater muscle gains in eight weeks than those who lifted moderate weight for four sets of 10 to 12 reps.

So if you’re lifting to put on size, there’s a place for lifting heavy weight for six or fewer reps (which is known for building strength) and lifting moderate weight for eight to 12 reps (which is known for pure hypertrophy).

Related: The Hard Gainer’s Guide To Building Muscle

“Strength and hypertrophy are related so it is just as important to build strength in order to be able to do more repetitions at a heavier load, which will result in continued hypertrophy,” suggests N. Travis Triplett, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D., F.N.S.C.A., professor of exercise science at Appalachian State University.

The key takeaway: Performing tons and tons of reps builds muscular endurance, but not the strength and size you’re looking for.

2. You Were Born With A Lot Of Type I Muscle Fibers

Our muscles are made up of two main types of muscle fibers: type I muscle fibers, which are better at using oxygen for energy and have higher endurance for activities like running, and type II fibers, which rely on glycogen (stored carbs) for energy and are better suited for explosive movements (like plyometrics), and strength training. Type II fibers are naturally larger than type I fibers and give a muscle it’s size, shape, definition, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The proportion of type I and type II muscle fibers we have comes down to genetics—and often determines what sports and activities we gravitate towards. (Picture your classic lean runner versus a more brawny football player.)

Related: 12 Plyometric Moves That Build Strength And Burn Calories

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, your potential for making serious gains in muscle size may be determined by the amount of type II fibers you have.

That said, just because you might be type I-dominant doesn’t mean you can’t train and develop the type II fibers you do have. By focusing your workout routine on heavy resistance training and explosive movements, you can recruit more of those type II muscle fibers, according to ACE. Focusing on HIIT (high-intensity interval training) over moderate steady-state cardio can also help you call those type II fibers into action.

3. You’re Overtraining

Ultimately, working out puts stress on our bodies, and we see the best results when we apply enough stress to adapt and reach our full potential, but not so much that we run ourselves into the ground. When you can’t bounce back from that stress you enter a state called ‘overtraining’—which can wreck your performance and sabotage muscle gain. Basically, you’re in breakdown mode.

Training too often or too hard, missing out on ample rest, and falling short on nutrition can all lead to overtraining, which is often marked by persistent fatigue, loss of appetite, and crummy mood, according to a paper published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

If you’re inexplicably sick, have an unusually high resting heart rate, see a decrease in strength, or feel unusually fatigued over a period of weeks or months, chances are you’re overtraining.

The American College of Sports Medicine and European College of Sport Science recommend taking at least one full rest day per week and prioritizing ample sleep throughout the week. Proper hydration and carb intake are also key for keeping your body out of the stressed state of overtraining, they say. Though many people trying to keep body fat at bay often shun carbs, our bodies need them—especially after exercise—to replenish the glycogen in our muscles so that we can continue to perform and build muscle, according to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine.

4. You’re Not Eating Enough Protein

When you lift weights (and go hard), your body burns through its stored carbs and begins to break down protein (like that in your muscles) for energy. If you want to build muscle, you need your body to build up more protein than it breaks down. And to do that, you need to eat protein.

Someone training hard to gain muscle may need anywhere up to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, says Triplett. (That’s a little more than one gram per pound of body weight.)

Reach your daily needs by including protein in every meal and keeping protein and amino acid supplements handy for on-the-go. Triplett suggests first bumping up the protein in each of your meals, and then turning to supplements like protein powders and bars to reach your daily needs.

And don’t forget to fuel up before or after you train. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism found that supplementing with 20 grams of whey protein before or after training boosted exercisers’ levels of amino acids (the molecules proteins are made of), so that they had the positive amino acid balance necessary to build muscle.

“For best results, consume protein within 30 minutes to an hour of finishing your workout,” Triplett recommends.

5. You’re Not Following A Structured Training Plan

You could have years of gym time under your belt and still not have even scratched the surface of your muscle potential—and that goes for both strength and size!

Showing up to the gym and just winging workouts won’t yield maximum muscle gains. It’s possible to gain some size from doing random workouts a few times a week, but to really make the most of your gym time, you need to have a long-term plan in mind. (You’ll often hear this referred to as ‘periodization.’) Within your year-long plan at the gym you should have cycles of shorter-term plans to help you reach your goals, according to the International Sports Sciences Association.

So if you’re main goal is to build muscle, you’ll need to alternate between phases of lifting to build strength and phases of lifting for pure hypertrophy. You might dedicate four weeks to high-weight, low-rep training to build up strength, then four weeks of moderate-weight, moderate-rep training to maximize your muscle-gain. You’ll continue to alternate between these two training styles to prevent plateaus and keep your muscles growing.

In your high-weight, low-rep strength cycles, you’ll perform sets of six reps or less with weight that’s between 70 and 85 percent of your one-rep max, according to the NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training. In your moderate-weight, moderate-rep hypertrophy cycles, you’ll perform sets of eight to 12 reps with a weight that’s between 60 and 80 percent of your one-rep max, suggests Triplett. How many times a week you train depends on your lifestyle, but make sure your workouts include staple exercises like barbell bench presses, back squats, deadlifts, power cleans, overhead presses, push presses, and pullups.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Deadlift And Crush Your Next PR

Why? “Hypertrophy is best developed by stressing a muscle group with a variety of exercises,” says Triplett. So incorporating a mix of single-joint and multi-joint exercises (which tax your body even more) into your routine is best way to promote muscle growth. So dumbbell rows and squats both deserve a slot!

6. You’re Not Using Intensity Techniques

Even with consistent and well-rounded training, your muscle growth can still plateau. Consider it a very frustrating sign of your progress: Your muscles have adapted to the stress you’ve been putting on them!

To get back on the gain train, up the intensity of your workouts with techniques such as drop-sets, eccentric reps, or occlusion training.

Drop-sets: The next time you’re doing bicep curls (say for three sets with heavy weight), tack on an extra fourth set. In that extra set—your drop-set—you’ll slash the weight you lift and perform the usual number of reps with that lighter weight. Drop-sets further fatigue your muscles and lead to additional damage of working muscle fibers, which can spur further muscle growth, according to ACE.

Eccentric training: This focuses on the lowering action or ‘negative’ part of an exercise. This can help you make muscle gains that would be otherwise impossible. That’s because your muscles can support more weight when, say, uncurling a dumbbell versus curling it, so you can do eccentric training with heavier weights than you can use for standard concentric training, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). You can use a squat rack or spotter to use eccentric training on big movements, like the squat, with a super-heavy weight (around 110 percent of your one-rep max). In the squat, for example, you’ll start in standing position with the barbell on your back and slowly lower the weight until the spotter or squat rack safety bars catch it. Instead of squatting that weight back up, you’ll take plates off the bar or work with your spotter to re-rack it in starting position. You can also employ eccentric training with weights you normally use by shifting the timing of your reps. Using a moderate weight, lift the weight and contract at your usual pace, and then take three to five seconds to slowly lower that weight. This way, the emphasis is on the eccentric part of the movement.

Occlusion training: This sort of training requires you to wrap a strap, band, or cuff around the top of muscle that you’re training in order to block blood flow to the area. You’ll then train those muscles with light weight (20 to 50 percent of your one-rep max). The theory is that blood-flow restriction training forces you to use type II muscle fibers when you would normally recruit type I fibers, according to a review published in Strength and Conditioning Journal.

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