6 Things You Do in the Gym That Might Be Holding Back Your Gains

Athlean-X's Jeff Cavaliere explains how you can tell that your workouts aren't helping you build muscle.

There are a number of possible reasons why you might not be building muscle, despite putting in the time training. According to Athlean-X expert Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S., there might be one dead giveaway to your struggle: effort.

RPE, or rate of perceived exertion, is a popular measure in the fitness world to gauge performance. "There's a magic effort level, supposedly, that's going to deliver gains, and anything less than or above that is not going to, to the point that you might even be confused because you've heard it defined in so many different ways that you don't even know what it means anymore." Cavaliere says. But he disagrees that RPE will work for everyone.

With that in mind, here are a few telltale signs that you may not be putting in the level of effort in your workouts required to build muscle.

You Hide Behind the Science

Cavaliere is a big proponent of science-backed fitness—but he cautions that you shouldn't think your way out of working hard.

"Most of us aren't there yet in our training where we can benefit from that. So don't hide behind the science as a way for you to hold back in your effort," he says. "If you want to make changes, you have to challenge yourself, and that means everything you do must be hard to some extent. Not that it gets to the point where your form breaks down, where it looks like you're not doing the exercise anymore, but you still have to be putting in effort."

You Don't Apply RPE Properly

For beginners, it can be difficult to determine exactly where their work is falling on the RPE scale. To grow muscle, which is the goal Cavaliere is discussing, you need to push yourself to max exertion. He calls this phenomenon "Really Poor Excuse." "If you're a beginner and you're utilizing RPE, you don't have enough experience to understand what it's supposed to feel like. You don't know what max exertion is supposed to feel like."

Instead, Cavaliere would rather that more advanced lifter use RPE. For beginners, it's more important to put in your best effort every time to develop that know-how. "If you want to make changes, you have to challenge yourself, and that means that everything you do must be hard to some extent. Not that it gets to the point that your form breaks down, not to the point where you don't look like you're doing the exercise anymore—but you still have to be putting in effort."

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You're Only Doing Your Favorite Exercises

"You should be looking for exercises that challenge you," says Cavaliere. "Your favorites mean that you're good at them. Let's start doing some of the things that you're not so comfortable with, and get better at those things."

You're Not Nervous

"When you're serious about your training, you should be nervous about the lift you're about to perform," he says. "Not all the time, but in some instances, because it means that you care about it enough to give your best effort, but secondly, you care about missing the lift... If nerves aren't there, you're not training hard enough."

You're Not Making a Weird Face

Seriously. If you're not doing some kind of grimace in your lifts, then Cavaliere believes you're not training with enough stimulus to force new muscle growth. "You've got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable," he says. "And along with being uncomfortable comes that uncomfortable-looking face."

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You're Stopping When You're Tired

"You should never stop when you're tired, you should stop when you're done," says Cavaliere, explaining that anyone who puts down the weights when they're starting to feel that fatigue in their muscles will only see negligible results.

"If you leave feeling refreshed rather than accomplished, you've done it wrong," he says. "When you have taken from your body what it wasn't willing to give you in a workout, then you have likely trained hard enough. It's as simple as that."

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