Unlock Your Running Potential: 8 Barriers to Muscle Gain and How to Overcome Them

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Beginner RunnerCross Training For Runners
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David Dack

If you’re a runner looking to build muscle, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’ll discuss the eight common obstacles that might be hindering your progress in gaining muscle, and I’ll provide you with practical tips to overcome them.

Now, let me be clear: you don’t need to transform into the Incredible Hulk or become a full-time weightlifter to benefit from strength training. Instead, the focus is on achieving a lean, strong physique.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 1. Poor Diet

For many runners, the key to getting stronger lies in their diet. It’s not just about what you eat, but also about how much you eat.

In simple terms, you need to take in more calories than you burn off – this means creating a calorie surplus. Your body requires a specific amount of calories to maintain its weight, which is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR) in fitness circles. Your BMR depends on various factors like your fitness level, gender, body weight, age, and more.

Now, here’s the important part. If you consume fewer calories than your BMR, you’re in a calorie deficit, which can lead to weight loss and even muscle loss. Conversely, if you consume more calories than your BMR, you can gain weight, which could come from fat, muscle, or both.

As Well as Quality

Calorie Quality Matters, Too

It’s not just about the number of calories you consume; the quality of those calories is equally important. To support muscle growth and overall health, you need to choose the right foods.

Here’s the plan:

  • Get Enough Calories: First and foremost, make sure you’re consuming enough calories to sustain your running and weightlifting activities. As a general guideline for building muscle, aim for a slight weight gain each month.
  • Protein Intake: Protein is crucial for muscle growth. You should aim for about 160 to 200 grams of protein per day, depending on your fitness level, training intensity, and personal goals.
  • Healthy Fats: Don’t shy away from healthy fats. Aim for at least 20 percent of your daily calories to come from sources like avocados and olive oil.

Let’s Talk Numbers:

Shoot for at least 20 calories per pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should aim for a minimum of 3,000 calories on training days. These numbers are rough guidelines, so feel free to adjust them based on your specific needs and preferences.

Now, about food choices:

Opt for healthy whole foods consistently. Junk food and sugary drinks won’t help you achieve your muscle-building goals. Make it a rule to avoid fast food and prioritize whole, nutrient-rich options.

  • Complex Carbs: Load up on complex carbohydrates for sustained energy.
  • Lean Protein: Include lean sources of protein to support muscle repair and growth.
  • Healthy Fats: Incorporate sources like coconut oil and avocados into your diet.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 2. Too Much Running (and Cardio Training)

Research suggests that maintaining a regular running routine won’t necessarily hinder muscle growth, but excessive running can put the brakes on your muscle-building efforts, especially if your calorie intake is too low (see Mistake No. 1).

Why? It’s quite simple. Overdoing the running can create a catabolic environment in your body, which essentially means it could break down muscle tissue and hinder your muscle growth goals.

So, how can you strike the right balance? If your primary goal is to get stronger and build muscle, it’s essential to adjust your training program during the initial months.

Here’s the game plan:

  • Prioritize Strength: Focus on weight training during the early stages of your training program. Aim for at least three to four weight training sessions per week. Your main priority here is to build strength.
  • Gradually Increase Running: As you gain strength, you can gradually increase the length of your runs. Don’t make long runs the main focus at the beginning.
  • Short and Intense Runs: Keep your runs short and intense by incorporating interval training. This can take the form of Fartlek, sprints, or hill repetitions. High-intensity workouts can boost your metabolism, burn calories, and even contribute to muscle development, as supported by research

Interval Training Session:

  • Start with a five-minute jog for a warm-up.
  • Sprint at 80 percent of your maximum speed for 60 seconds.
  • Follow each sprint with two minutes of jogging for recovery.
  • Repeat this cycle for up to seven rounds.
  • Finish the session with a five-minute jog for a cool-down.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 3. Bad Form

When it comes to weight training, it’s not just about lifting weights and putting them down. Weightlifting is an art form.

Done correctly, it’s like creating a masterpiece. Proper technique is the key to maximizing your workouts, targeting the right muscles, preventing injuries, and conserving energy. Bad form, on the other hand, can lead to a host of problems, including injuries, discomfort, and lackluster results.

The good news is that mastering good form is achievable through practice. Here are some essential pointers to help you build and maintain proper weight-lifting form:

  • Controlled Repetitions: Focus on slow and controlled repetitions. If you need to pick up the pace, do so in a controlled manner.
  • Avoid Swinging and Momentum: Steer clear of swinging weights or using momentum to lift them. Don’t lock your joints at the top of movements.
  • Consistent Breathing: Keep your breathing consistent throughout the exercises. Holding your breath creates tension and can lead to poor form.
  • Maintain Proper Alignment: Keep your body straight during exercises. Avoid arching your back or using rocking motions for momentum.
  • Full Range of Motion: Don’t resort to quarter or half reps, often referred to as cheat reps.
  • Bend at Hips and Knees: When lifting weights from the floor, bend at your hips and knees, not at the waist.
  • Engage Your Core: Keep your core muscles engaged throughout every exercise. This not only helps prevent back issues but also strengthens your core without relying solely on crunches.
  • Seek Feedback: Be open to feedback from more experienced gym-goers and don’t hesitate to ask for advice when needed. Put your ego aside.
  • Recognize Compromised Form: If you notice your form starting to suffer during a set, end it as quickly as possible. Cheating during exercises won’t benefit you in the long run.
  • Don’t Blindly Follow Others: Avoid blindly copying what others are doing in the gym. Focus on your own form and workout goals. Bad form can spread when people imitate others without understanding the principles behind proper technique.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 4. Not Enough Compound

While classic isolation exercises like bicep curls, calf raises, front raises, and leg extensions have their place in a well-rounded strength training program, if you’re serious about maximizing your weightlifting sessions, it’s time to dive into compound movements.

But what exactly are compound movements?

Compound movements, also known as multi-joint exercises (think squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups, and bench presses), engage the largest muscle groups, resulting in faster strength gains. These exercises also stimulate the release of testosterone, a hormone crucial for muscle growth.

So, how can you fix this?

Strive for a balanced ratio of compound to isolation exercises, aiming for a 2-1 or 3-1 ratio. In other words, for every two to three compound exercises you perform, include one isolation movement. Furthermore, prioritize compound movements at the beginning of your workout when you’re freshest and save isolation exercises for later.

Some of the most effective compound movements to incorporate into your routine include deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, rows, pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips.

By incorporating compound movements into your strength training regimen, you’ll harness the power of these multi-joint exercises to supercharge your muscle-building journey.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 5. Sticking to the Same Program

Are you finding it challenging to make significant muscle gains? It could be because you’ve been sticking to the same weightlifting routine for too long. The secret to muscle growth lies in introducing variety into your workouts.

Variety not only promotes muscle growth but is also essential for preventing overuse injuries and maintaining long-term health.

So, how can you fix this?

As a general rule, change your weightlifting routine as soon as you stop making noticeable progress. For beginners, this might occur every 8 to 12 weeks. However, as you become more experienced and stronger, you’ll need more frequent “workout updates” to continue growing.

In fact, many elite weightlifters rotate their exercise routines on a weekly basis to keep their muscles challenged and ensure ongoing progress.

By embracing change and regularly updating your workout regimen, you’ll break through plateaus and keep your muscles on a continuous growth trajectory.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 6. Not Keeping Track

Achieving efficiency in your workout routine goes beyond just eating right and exercising correctly; it involves maintaining a comprehensive training journal. In other words, you need to keep track of everything related to your fitness journey.

A well-maintained training log serves as a crucial tool to measure your progress or identify areas where improvement is needed. This applies to your running routine, weight lifting program, diet, recovery practices, and more. Remember, you cannot improve upon what you cannot measure.

In fact, training logs are just as essential as the training program itself.

So, how can you fix this?

To accelerate your strength gains, diligently track your workouts, whether they involve running or weight lifting. Keep records of workout intensity, duration, weights used, reps performed, exercise tempo, and any other relevant details. Leave no room for uncertainty.

Additionally, use your training log to monitor various aspects of your fitness journey, such as energy levels, dietary habits, injuries, and more. By keeping meticulous records, you’ll gain valuable insights into your progress and make informed decisions to optimize your muscle-building efforts.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 7. Overtraining

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in the world of training, whether it’s cardio or weight lifting, more is not always better. You might be surprised to learn that overtraining can lead to diminishing returns, hindering your muscle growth and potentially causing health issues. It’s a mistake that many make, and it can limit your muscle-building and fitness gains.

One of the negative outcomes of overtraining is the increased release of cortisol, a stress hormone. This hormone can further impede muscle growth and overall fitness progress.

So, what’s the solution?

The key is to ensure that your workouts, whether for running or weightlifting, are intense and focused. Quality, not quantity, should be your priority. Approach each set with intention and purpose.

As a general guideline, aim for no more than four sets of three exercises for each muscle group. Avoid performing these exercises at high intensity more than a couple of times a week.

If you’re a beginner, start with 30- to 45-minute workouts and gradually build from there. This should include six to eight different exercises with proper rest between each set. You really don’t need to do more than that.

When it comes to selecting the right amount of weight, target around 60 to 70 percent of your one-rep max. This means choosing a weight you can lift for 12 to 16 reps before reaching complete muscle fatigue.

Lastly, avoid running on the day after a strenuous leg-strengthening session. This can interfere with your recovery, potentially leading to muscle soreness and fatigue. Give your body the rest it needs to rebuild and grow stronger.

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 8. Mediocre Recovery

You see, consistent strength training is undoubtedly beneficial, but the actual muscle growth doesn’t happen in the gym. So, how does it work?

Well, it’s rather straightforward. When you engage in resistance training, you create tiny tears in your muscle tissue. However, it’s during the recovery and your everyday activities outside the gym that the real muscle growth takes place. In essence, what you do beyond your workout routine is just as critical as the training itself.

If you neglect proper recovery, you can expect fitness plateaus, chronic fatigue, and potentially even serious health issues down the line.

So, what’s the remedy?

It’s crucial to incorporate effective recovery practices into your training program. To start, be sure to space out your intense workouts with recovery days, even if you don’t feel an immediate need for rest. Additionally, avoid training the same muscle group within less than 24 hours.

Post-workout recovery meals should also be a priority. Research shows that a combination of carbohydrates and lean protein can expedite recovery after a workout. Therefore, focus on consuming high-quality foods, especially complex carbohydrates and lean sources of protein.

Sleep plays a vital role in recovery as well. Getting enough quality sleep is essential for creating the optimal hormonal environment for muscle growth and proper recovery. Aim for at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep during the night to support your muscle-building goals.

Additional resource – Guide To BCAAs for Runners

Reason For Not Gaining Muscle – 9. Inconsistent Training

When it comes to achieving success, the ultimate key is consistency. In fact, consistency and fitness gains, whether on the running track or in the gym, are inseparable partners. So, regardless of your chosen path, it’s vital to maintain consistency.

On the flip side, if your training regimen lacks consistency, you won’t make significant progress. Inconsistent training tends to result in regression rather than progression, and you’ll find yourself wasting time and energy, even if you’re employing the most effective weightlifting strategies.

The remedy?

Set long-term goals and do whatever it takes to stay on track week after week, month after month, and year after year. But how consistent is consistent enough?

While the answer varies from person to person, as a general rule, aim to hit the weight room at least three times a week, every week. Additionally, establish realistic goals and regularly adjust them.

This approach will significantly impact your motivation in both the short and long term, setting you up for a successful fitness journey. If you’re looking for more guidance on setting fitness goals, here’s a comprehensive guide for you to explore.

8 Barriers to Muscle Gain and How to Overcome Them – Conclusion

There is no such thing as a magical pill that’s going to help you build muscles. And most definitely, you won’t find it in here.

When it comes down to it, getting strong is the result of experience, consistency, and a long process of trial and error, period.

No more.

No less.

So get ready to embrace the process, buddy. And the rest will be history.

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