Muscle Building Mistakes Of Middle Aged Men

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DYEL – (n.)

  1. Acronym, short for “Do you even lift?”
  2. An insult, insinuating the subject does not have an appearance which would indicate he participates in resistance training and/or other hypertrophic activities.

Johnny spent 4 hours each week in the gym, but his dainty arms and chicken legs made his friends mockingly ask Johnny, “Bro, do you even lift?”

It’s the ultimate insult on the message boards.

It’s safe to assume the goal of any self-respecting male weight lifter is to have a masculine, strong appearance.

You want to be able to protect what’s yours. Whether that means your wife, your children, your possessions, or yourself.

This means having broad shoulders, a thick, muscular “yoke” (trapezius muscles), decent arm development, and a slimmer waist than upper body.

You want to look like you do, in fact, lift.

It’s a common goal of our online training clients to “look like they lift”.

Many men in their 30’s begin to religiously lift weights.

Some of the life-changing events your early 30’s brings will remind you of your own mortality.

  • You get married, presumably to your spouse until death do you part.
  • You have children, which reminds you of the precious gift (and circle of) life.
  • Your parents begin to age, nudging you into the reality that one day, it will be on your shoulders to carry out the family legacy.

As a response to these reminders, man must choose his path. Fight the sands of time, or acquiesce to them.

The strong will fight.

There are many mid-30’s men who made some simple mistakes when they first picked up a barbell.

In a moderate amount of time, 2-3 years tops, you should look like you lift weights.

Here are a few common mistakes you can eliminate today if you want to have a strong, manly appearance in as short of a time frame as possible.


Mistake #1: Not getting strong first.

Technically speaking, pure strength isn’t the biggest driver of muscle growth. There are many athletes who get brutally strong while staying lean for competitions. Just because you’re strong doesn’t mean you will gain muscle.

Strength is always considered “king” for a reason, though. The amount of overall work you do during training sessions (volume) and the number of times each week you train (frequency) are more closely correlated with muscular size.

If you take a chunk of time (a full calendar year or more) and get as strong as humanly possible, you will reap the benefits by maximizing these two items.

The phrase is:

If you’re gonna try to get a pump, you need to make sure you can catch it.

Fix the problem:  The first thing any beginning lifter should do is follow a strength-building program religiously and do not stray from the program.

There are a lot of options for beginner’s programs.

Two of the most common are:

  • Starting Strength
  • Stronglifts 5 x 5

The beauty of these programs lies in their simplicity. And the fact that the program clearly states: 5 more pounds at each session. Many don’t do this, and the act of progressive overload will get you stronger quickly.

The failure to make your strength a top priority will hold you back from developing properly.


Mistake #2:  Lifting Like A Powerlifter

Now that we’ve determined strength should be your top priority, it’s time for the case against it.

If you’re training with your only goal being top-level strength, you’re missing out on an excellent muscle building opportunity.

Powerlifters like to train in the lower rep ranges, since they will need to hone the skill of lifting close to their maximum abilities for their meets.

When you limit your rep ranges to the lower numbers, it becomes more taxing on your body to perform the lifts.

If you perform 5 reps of 180 pounds on the bench press, you may have one rep left in the tank.

If you perform 12 reps at 100 pounds, you also may have one rep left in the tank.

5 reps x 180 pounds = 900 pounds of volume.

12 reps x 100 pounds = 1200 pounds of volume.

Assuming your intensity is the same, and in both scenarios, you left one rep “in the tank”, the second situation will likely produce a better muscle building response.

Fix the problem:  After you have developed enough strength to push around some respectable weight, don’t hesitate to up the reps and the sets.

Muscle growth relies on muscle damage. The more sets you perform, the better, assuming you don’t overtrain and you try not to reach muscular failure too frequently. Leaving 1-2 reps in the tank ensures that will happen.

End your set after the first “grinder” you have.


Mistake #3:  Staying in “perma-cut”.

Muscle growth takes a substantial amount of time.

Take a look at this picture:

This picture was taken in 2013 after two years’ worth of dieting and lifting with a strength emphasis.


I was able to squat ~275 and deadlift ~450 at a bodyweight of 210.

I was decently strong – and looked like a damn stick figure.

The main reason?

I was stuck in “perma-cut”.

About 8 months prior to this picture, this is what I looked like:

image1 (3)

What I should have done (hindsight is 20/20) is slow-bulked to add mass to my frame.

But alas, I wanted my 6-pack. I was unaware I had nothing to reveal under my layers of fat.

Lesson learned.

Spend time eating at least at maintenance or above. At least 8-12 weeks at a time. Accept the fat gain which comes with it as part of the process.

Don’t “fulk” or you’ll just get fat.

If you have a good amount of weight to lose, then getting lean should be your top priority.

After you get there, the faster you start eating to support muscular growth, the better.


Mistake #4:  Having unrealistic timeframe expectations.

Muscle building is slow in comparison to fat loss.

You can lose fat quickly and effectively.

You can burn a house down in minutes. Building a house takes weeks, if not months.

You’ve read all of the articles about the maximum amount of muscle you can put on in a week.

In spite of what many internet sources tell you, there’s almost no chance you’ll gain a half-pound of muscle each week if you’re in your mid-30’s without “assistance”.

Guys who actually gain a half-pound of muscle per week have a few conditions tipping the scales in their favor.

They are often:

  • In puberty or in their early/mid-20’s.
  • Have less responsibility and less stress.
  • Have higher metabolisms and can eat more food without fat gain.
  • Have higher testosterone levels, which helps burn fat, gain muscle, and produce energy.

A pound of muscle per month is a solid pace of muscular growth in your 30’s. Show consistency with this pace, and you’ll look drastically different after a few years.

Another picture for you:

before and after

There’s about 20 pounds of muscle difference between the three pictures. This transformation took 2 years.

(Interestingly, after the second picture, I stopped deadlifting and squatting. More on that in the weeks to come…..)

But two years is a long time. That’s a lot of training sessions and more rice and bagels than I care to think about.

Trying to rush your progress is the biggest mistake you can make – show patience and understand that you will make gains, it may just take some time.

Side note:  You know those anecdotes about “gaining 5 pounds of muscle” that sound like this:

Imagine a one-pound steak on each pec, on each arm, and on each trap!

That’s what 6 pounds of muscle will look like!

Those anecdotes are completely wrong.

When you gain mass, you’re more likely to become a “little bit bigger” all over than you are to gain little snippets in one, exact spot.

You can bring up a lagging body part with more frequency and targeted tension, but it won’t be as drastic as you think it will be.


Mistake #5:  Worrying too much about overtraining.

Recovery is super-important.

A few items on your recovery checklist include:

  • Calories – are you eating enough to gain mass?
  • Sleep – are you getting 7 hours minimum? (8 or even 9 would be better.)
  • Hydration – are you getting enough fluids?
  • Food quality – are you eating enough whole foods and getting enough vitamins/minerals?
  • Injury prevention – are you actively recovering? Foam rolling, stretching, walking, etc.?

If you can’t recover, then you can’t keep grinding forever.

That being said, if you are taking care of those items, there’s no need to worry about overtraining.

An hour of lifting per day will not cause you to overtrain. Perhaps if you spend all hour doing nothing but squats, you may run into issues, but that’s not likely to be the case.

Assuming you are recovering, a muscle will respond best to a frequent stimulus and a good dose of volume.

The human body can adapt to most anything you throw at it, within reason. Give yourself permission to test its limits as you try to gain mass.


Be sure you use best practices when it’s time to make some gains.

Cross these common muscle-building mistakes off of your list so you, too, can answer with a resounding “YES!” if you ever get asked if you lift.


Yours in true health,






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