The #1 Reason You’re Not Building Muscle (As A Natural)

“Why am I not building muscle?”—have you ever asked that? Well, building muscle is easy…. If you’re a brand new beginner. Past the “newbie gains” stage, building muscle becomes disproportionately harder, especially as a natural. This is why many people, no matter how hard they work in the gym or how well they eat, just seem like they’re not making gains anymore. Unfortunately, you can’t brute force your way past this. Beyond basic fixes like “eat enough food” or “get enough sleep”, you not gaining muscle comes down to 1 reason. Here, I reveal what the no.1 reason why you’re not gaining muscle and how to build muscle by modifying your training to instantly make it far more effective at building muscle (i.e., winning tips to build muscle).

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First, we have to understand how a muscle actually grows in order to take advantage of it. Historically, there were 3 mechanisms that everyone conceived as driving muscle growth. However, as more research was conducted over time, it became evident the science and reasoning behind some of these mechanisms was quite flawed. Unfortunately, most people, including many trainers, weren’t made aware of this. As a result, many people still train ineffectively, resulting in them not gaining muscle in the long-term. So what are these 3 mechanisms? And which of them are no longer reliable?

The first mechanism, muscle damage, represents actual damage, known as microtrauma, that training can cause to muscle cells. This damage causes a reactive inflammatory response in the body which can create muscle soreness, and in theory, causes the muscle to grow bigger in response. The second mechanism is called metabolic stress. This mechanism represents the chemical demands placed on your muscles during training. As you work harder and create more and more build up, your muscles become more acidic, creating a burning sensation in your muscles. The hormonal environment and swelling of the muscle caused by this is theorized to cause muscle growth. Thus, explaining the various tips you’ll see on “chasing the pump” to build muscle. The third and final mechanism is mechanical tension. This represents the tension that’s placed on your muscle as it lengthens and then contracts under load. Generally, the heavier the weights you lift and the greater the range of motion you use to lift them, the more mechanical tension is created.

All 3 mechanisms sound great on paper, but recent research has revealed that we’ve been undermining the importance of 1, way overestimated 1, and- well- were totally wrong about the other. Let’s start with muscle damage. As it turns out, research shows that although muscle damage and soreness will be a byproduct of hard training, trying to get more of it does not lead to more growth, and can in fact hinder it. As for metabolic stress, the available research on shorter rest periods, training to failure, and faster lifting tempos suggest that it simply doesn’t seem to be strongly correlated with hypertrophy. Finally, mechanical tension. This mechanism has withstood the test of time and recent research has only served to reiterate that it is the most important driver for muscle growth. So, if you’re not making gains, you’ll want to structure your workouts such that they maximize mechanical tension. There are 4 modifications you could use.

First, don’t prioritize ‘feeling’ like you made progress, prioritize ACTUALLY making progress. You can do this by sticking with the same exercises week to week and slowly adding more weight and reps to them as you get stronger. Second, rest with purpose. Although optimal rest time highly depends on how taxing the exercise is as well as your training status, a good recommendation is to spend at least 1.5-2 minutes of rest between sets for most of your exercises, with 3 minutes of rest being a good idea for heavy compound movements. Third, increasing mechanical tension is NOT just about going from point A to point B or how much weight you can lift. It’s about HOW you lift that weight from point A to point B. Pay attention to proper form rather than let your ego get the best of you. In addition to that, another thing explaining why you’re not gaining muscle is the lack of mind to muscle connection, so be sure to develop that.

Even if you feel stuck right now, thinking, “Why am I not building muscle?”, apply those 4 modifications to your workouts and you’ll very quickly notice the gains picking back up again. That’s the true power of science.

41 thoughts on “The #1 Reason You’re Not Building Muscle (As A Natural)

  1. Mason says:

    Whoever’s reading this, I pray that whatever your going through gets better and whatever your struggling with or worrying about is going to be fine and that everyone has a fantastic day! Amen

  2. Jeremy Ethier says:

    Hope you enjoyed this one! See below for a link to the main studies used in the video. Let me know what you’d like to see next! Cheers!

    DEBUNKING MUSCLE DAMAGE AS A DRIVER OF GROWTH: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29282529/
    IMPORTANCE OF RESTING ADEQUATELY BETWEEN SETS: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26605807/
    MIND-MUSCLE CONNECTION STIMULATES MORE GROWTH: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291018876_Attentional_Focus_for_Maximizing_Muscle_Development
    TRAINING TO FAILURE & HYPERTROPHY: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4731492/

    • Harry Turnbull says:

      This was a great one Jeremy, thanks for clearing this up for me. After not training for many years, I started again about 4 weeks ago and seen frankly incredible results with barely any pain, which has been quite confusing… It seems my instincts lead me down the right path! I definitely would not have been able to grow so fast and painlessly without researching the best targetted exercises to safely maximise mechanical tension, focusing intensely on each contraction & extension, making time to breathe and loving the exercise buzz for the first time ever!

      Critically though, I’d never have been able to succeed this easily without using a tasty, effective protein powder for pre and post workout. I’ve tried 3 before, but they were always too uncomfortably sweet for me or the friends & family I shared it with, which was so disappointing, because I’ve long wanted to add an easy, low calorie, vegetarian protein source to my diet. Now I’m using Nutritech Premium Whey Peanut Butter, which is simply amazing! Taste is naturally subjective, but I think having a list of the best tasting, highest quality whey protein concentrate/isolate/mix products would be hugely beneficial for beginners, and in fact, for anyone who isn’t vegan or on a low protein diet. I’d love to hear your whey product recommendations!

    • Moe Rivera says:

      Will this be the same for guys over 40 or 50? You should make a instructional video for older guys. Thanks

  3. TonyCanones says:

    Jeremy, I am 57 year old and have been working out for decades. The gym shutdowns gave me time to reassess my workouts and my approach to fitness. That’s when I found your channel. I replaced my routines with the ones you provide and changed my mindset about working out, including working out 5-6 days a week at 6 am, instead of 45-50 minutes 3 days a week at the end of the day after work. At 57 years of age, I added an inch and a half to my arms and am more muscular and stronger than I had been before. Folks, Jeremy’s recommendations work. Commit to the work and results will follow.

    • TonyCanones says:

      @SkN097 I alternate between Jeremy’s PPL and his whole body routines. I consistently spend between 90 and 120 minutes per session. The biggest change in terms of the time it takes me is that I now take a 2-minute rest between sets. Sometimes I do 3 and sometimes 4 sets. This is why a 6 am workout is a must for me. I cannot do this later in the day.

  4. LITHIUM says:

    Hey Jeremy! What should be the rules to decide the rep range of an exercise (roughly speaking)? I’ve been told, it’s less for compound exercises & more for isolation, but if mechanical tension is the main driver of muscle growth, then shouldn’t the rep range always be low to allow you to lift more? Why take reps beyond 8 at all (given low reps don’t provide enough volume, so I’d argue 6-10)?

    • catabolic beast says:

      It depends on your training goals, hypertrophy, strength, endurance and so on

    • Narutee the Fodder Pianist says:

      Depends what your goals are. But there are exercises like lateral raises where it’s safer to work on higher reps because of injury risks.

      High reps/low weights train muscular endurance. In real life application you aren’t going to use your 1 rep max strength for a short burst of force but usually a sustained movement of energy.

      It’s always good to mix the range. Warm up sets for high reps then heavy for the compounds.

      There’s nothing wrong in doing 10+ reps for compounds too. There are benefits nonetheless.

  5. Kavak says:

    1. Take longer rests between sets
    2. How you lift>How much you lift
    3. Focus on muscle you are training
    4. Training to failure is not as effective as not training to failure

    • Simon says:

      @Ric The actual difference that Brad Schoenfeld found was that training to total failure only stimulates 2-3% more muscle growth but it causes too much muscle damage that takes more time to heal from, so you won’t be able to come back as soon to train that muscle….thus, over time, you’ll accumulate less training volume and volume is the main driver for muscle growth. If you stop 1-2 reps shy of failure with each set, you’ll still stimulate approximately 97% of the same muscle growth as failure, but you’ll easily be able to come back in 3-4 days and do it again, so over a given period of weeks or months, you’ve likely done 20-30% more total volume….thus you’ll have grown more. 😉

    • 2$hraf says:

      @Inspector Weasel He actually made a video with a greater depth on this specific subject search it up

    • Albert Camus says:

      @Inspector Weasel Good question. I recommend a self regulating scheme. Maybe Jeremy can do a video on this.

      Let me explain this scheme (and its not my idea at all).
      Let’s say you do say 5 reps for 4 sets of 225 pounds bench press right now.. You go like this today 5, 5, 5, 6 (1 more rep final set) next week 5 5, 6, 6 and so on – until you reach 8 reps. Once you get to 8 reps you bench 230 – until you can do 8 reps again and so forth and so on.

      You are always striving to add more weight or more reps to the bar – and sometimes you will actually go to failure – because you will not be able to complete the final addition rep or new weight. But sometimes you will not go to failure at all.

  6. Sanja P says:

    After 7 months of working out, -10kg, toned muscels… I have noticed that despite adding weights my muscels are like at the start, soft and my skin floppy… I think that your advices can help me, will try.

  7. Clickyknees says:

    “If im not sweating everytime I’m working out, im not building muscle” told to me when I was younger. 43yrs old now and this still pops in my head from time to time during my workouts. Reverse ego my brain out of that mind set now days.

  8. Luka Frelih says:

    I 100% agree with “work correctly, not hard”
    If you say you lift x kg/lbs and you do it really fast and without control, it means nothing to me. Try doing 1-2 seconds up, 1 second rest, 2-3 seconds down, 1 second rest and you’ll se how much harder it is if you do it correctly…

  9. Keiけいです says:

    Thanks I actually haven’t felt soreness in a month now and thought I hit a Plateau but this cleared up that misunderstanding

  10. Dan Dascalescu says:

    Great video! Here’s the summary:

    What works: (time under) mechanical tension
    1. Prioritize progress in weight and reps. Stick with the same exercises. No soreness is good.
    2. Take 3+ minutes between compound sets, and 1.5-2 minutes between other sets
    3. Always practice good form. Don’t bounce. Control the weight down. Don’t cut reps short.
    4. Focus on the mind-muscle connection

    Debunked research / what doesn’t work: muscle damage and metabolic stress.
    * training to failure
    * short rest periods
    * fast reps/tempo
    * training to muscle damage (the growth is only temporary swelling; true muscle growth only happens after the damage is repaired)

  11. Tristan Gourdet says:

    This has to be, probably, the most important and best video that Jeremy has ever done. It’s a video that you may have to watch over and over to remind yourself, throughout the journey of exercising. I know the saying is cliché but trust the process!

  12. 사믹샤 says:

    As a woman what I personally needed to do was increase my protein intake as I was only getting ¼-½ of the recommended daily intake! Once I started doing that then all the hard work I was doing started paying off, and now I can slowly work up to the exercises you show in your videos. I am still working on “girl pushups” for example. Have to start somewhere 😀 I am almost 40 and I wish I could go back in time and tell the younger version of me that it’s healthier as a woman to build muscle rather than focusing on being slim on its own! As we women age, strong muscles are a must for various reasons.

  13. JazzySaint says:

    I really enjoyed how this video was edited and filmed!!
    I think the note about taking longer rests was the best one for me… I try to take shorter rests when I’m pressed for time, but I usually can’t push myself as well, so I guess that figures… will have to work that out somehow haha ^_^

  14. Jonnyboy1821 1 says:

    I took a long break from the gym. Your content has made it so much easier and faster to get back into shape and build muscle

  15. lifeisgood070 says:

    This probably doesn’t affect anyone else. But the number one reason I wasn’t building muscle i was actually missing tryptophan. Collagen protein powder doesn’t have tryptophan in it. I’ll list the things I had to do:
    I had to consistently eat 1 g of protein per lb and eat it throughout the day not all at once. This meant big breakfasts.
    I had to eat more vitamin C. I started juicing my own oranges. For some reason my body doesn’t build muscle without a lot of vitamin C. I don’t understand it either.
    I had to sleep more than six hours consistently each night.
    I had to stop working out so hard. For me I was going to hard. Now I just do maybe one hard set per muscle group each gym session or maybe even just one heart set on one of the muscle groups in the gym session. The rest is just about consistency and getting in and out. I have a tendency to push way too hard. And neurologically it will drain the hell out of me. And it was drastically limiting my gains.
    I had to start working out the most stretched position of the muscle. I had been missing that
    The last part was getting my testosterone levels high again by eating raw egg yolks and breathing deeply and committing not to worry about stress even if it was a big deal

  16. Bill Horton says:

    Question about getting enough rest between sets: Is it cool to superset a different muscle group? I can’t make enough time to have half of my entire workout be resting minutes.

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