So you want to build some muscle? Great! However, is what you are doing in the gym actually helping you build muscle? Too many guys make the mistake of emphasizing their ego at the expense of their muscle growth. As a result, their head is the only thing that actually grows. If you are serious about building muscle, here are 10 ego traps you must avoid. I’ll also provide with you with a practical application ego challenge so you know just what to do so that you can actually build muscle.
Ego Trap #1: Avoiding weaknesses
Too many people just avoid their weaknesses in the gym. If they are weak at an exercise, they skip it and just ones they are strong at instead. If they have trouble building their legs (or just spend too much time on their upper body) they just wear pants year-round.
While cowards avoid their weaknesses, champions attack them. One of the best examples of this is Arnold Schwarzenegger. When Arnold first game to America, he had a massive upper body and puny calves. Instead of avoiding his small calves under a pair of pants, he cut his pants off at the knee so everyone could see his small calves. Then, he gave them top-priority in his training and made one of the most impressive body-part transformations the sport of bodybuilding has ever seen.
Now, it is human nature to avoid weaknesses. In some cases (e.g. sport or career selection), this can be great. However when it comes to your body, you will perform better, be healthier and look better if you are balanced.
Ego challenge: take an honest look at your current muscular development and strength. If you have a weaker or smaller area, check your ego at the door and attack it!
Ego Trap #2: False gains
Progressively adding weight is essential to building muscle. This is especially true for those who don’t have great genetics and who don’t take steroids. However, adding weight is only helpful if your range of motion stays the same. If you progressively add weight while progressively decreasing your range of motion, you end up with a massive weight on the bar, but no change to the size of your muscles. I call this false gains. Trust, me, I’ve done more cycles of false-gain squats than anyone – learn from my mistakes.
Ego range of motion challenge: do something to ensure that your range of motion is staying the same. With some exercises (e.g. deadlifts) it is easy because the bar starts on the floor each rep. With other exercises, you need to get more creative. With squats, you can try touch and go box squats. For other exercises, you may have to film yourself to monitor your range of motion as you add weight.
Related: Are YOU Making False Gains?
Ego Trap #3: Chasing weight at the expensive of feel
Yes, you have to lift big to be big. However, you can’t build a muscle if you can’t feel it. This especially common with back and arm work. Too many people row and curl with everything but their back or biceps. Remember that just because you got the weight from point A to point B does not mean that you actually used your target muscle(s) to get there. While a minor amount of body movement is inevitable when you are moving big weights, if you get carried away, you can get hurt and build nothing but your ego.
Ego row and curl challenge: No one cares what you row or curl. Make sure your form is tight enough and start with a weight light enough that you can actually feel the target muscle(s) working. Pay attention to how your low back and joints feel the next few days. Also, include some variations that don’t allow any cheating such as Prone DB Rows, Trap Bar Bench Pulls and Scott Curls.
Ego Trap #4: Flat Bench Press
What is the hardest part of the chest for most guys to develop? If you said the upper chest – your right! While plenty of guys have decent lower chest development (if they are lean enough), very few have thick, well-developed upper chests. Why? While there are other reasons, the main reason is that almost everyone focuses on flat bench. Why? Ego! People choose flat bench over incline because they can lift more weight.
Those who checked their egos at the door and focused on the incline press built some of the best chests in bodybuilding.
I’m also a huge fan of incline pressing for athletes (with a narrower grip than a bodybuilder uses) as it usually easier on the shoulder and puts your arms in a more natural pushing angle.
Related: A Case for the Incline Press
Ego Chest Challenge: focus on incline or reverse grip bench presses and see how your upper chest responds. If you have a good bench structure, you can still include the bench press. However, if you don’t feel flat bench in your chest, you need to focus on dumbbell bench pressing and dips (if your shoulders allow).
Related Posts: The Truth About the Bench Press
Ego Trap #5: Squat choice
How many times have you seen someone at your gym doing a squat variation other than a barbell back squat? Isn’t a barbell squat the “King of all exercises”? Well that depends a lot on your structure. When you are trying to build muscle, you must always ask yourself the all-important question – am I actually feeling the muscle I’m supposed to be working? If you feel back squats in your legs – great! However, if you feel them in your back, you need a different leg exercise.
Ego Leg Challenge: choose squat variations that allow you to actually feel your quads working. Be honest with yourself – if you don’t feel back squats in your quads, check your ego at the door and use another squat variation that allows you hammer your quads such as:
Related: Squat Right for Your Body Type
Ego Trap #6: Testing vs. training
I love heavy weight training. I also know it is a critical part of the muscle building process – especially if you are trying to build natural muscle. However, it is easy to let your ego get the best of you and focus too much on this. Yes, it is fun to work up to a 1-rep max on the deadlift and yes, it can be helpful to do this from time to time to test your strength levels. However, you need to recognize that this is a test, not an effective muscle-building workout. Also, 1-rep maxes on big lifts can beat you up and fry your central nervous system thus impacting future workouts.
Ego training challenge: spend the majority of your time training in a rep range that allows for steady strength and size gains. While this can vary depending many factors (e.g. specific muscle group, training age, fiber dominance, etc…), 5-8 is a good range for bigger lifts (some higher rep work on leg and accessory exercises is also great). Then, if you want, pick a handful of times throughout the year when you will peak. During these times, move into the lower reps to test your strength. And yes, feel free to pull out your phone for this can get a video for Instagram.
Related: The Best Rep Range
Ego Trap #7: Focusing on “mirror” exercises
A while back I was at a public gym training athletes. As I looked around, I noticed that every guy in the gym was doing an exercise that had him sitting in front of the mirror. Yes, I know that seeing yourself in a mirror can be motivating, but it can also pull you in an ego trap. For example, why do guys love cable crossovers? The answer is simple – you get to look at yourself in the mirror doing a most muscular pose with each rep. Contrast that to an exercise like dips. With dips you don’t look as pretty, but they are a way more effective exercise for packing slabs of muscle on your upper body. Also, if you are lean, they will give you a great lower pec ledge!
Ego challenge: focus on the exercises that make you look better in the mirror because of your workout – not during your workout.
Ego Trap #8: Gymnast wanta-be
Body weight training is an old-school staple in building a strong, functional, muscular physique. More recently, there has been a huge surge in popularity of body weight training. Many people have risen to Instagram fame through their amazing body weight stunts. Now, I’m not saying that body weight training is bad. I love pull-ups, dips, weighted push-ups, inverted rows and single leg squats. I’m also a huge fan of rings.
The problem arises when you focus shifts from building muscle to trying to be a gymnast. Remember the purpose of gymnastics is to artistically display incredible feats of athleticism – not to get jacked. Now, I know what you might be thinking, “Wait a minute - aren’t those male gymnasts jacked?” Sure, but real question is will this style of training make YOU jacked? Male gymnasts are jacked because they are short, upper body-dominant mesomorphs who devote their entire lives to practicing their gymnastic skills. This is not a time-efficient, economical way for you to build some muscle.
Ego challenge: Remember that your body is a tool – just like barbells and dumbbells. The best bodies are built with a combination of effective tools. Use the best tool to get the job done of building muscle – even if it is not as sexy.
Ego Trap #9: Blindly chasing the pump
Guys love to go to the gym and spend hours hitting their pecs and arms from every angle using light weights, high reps and techniques like drop sets. Sure, you get a skin-splitting pump. Yes, after admiring your guns in the mirror you can step-out of the gym and show the world. However, after an hour that pump will be gone – then what?
Now, there is nothing wrong with the pump. This flow of blood and nutrients to freshly trained muscles can be great for building muscle. It can also be the sign of a healthy body. However, the problem comes when you blindly chase the pump at the expense of effective training. You can get a pump from curling heavy dumbbells or from standing in front of the mirror and flexing. The pump doesn’t guarantee that you are actually building muscle.
Ego challenge: enjoy the pump, but keep your focus on progressively adding weight to your main lifts in the 5-8 rep range.
Ego Trap #10: Biggest fish in really small pond
Too many guys let their ego select where they train. They love the feeling of being the biggest, badest, strongest dude in their gym. However, the gym they pick is a non-hardcore gym where average age is higher than the weight of the heaviest dumbbell.
Ego gym challenge: find a serious gym where the average member is bigger and stronger than you. Look for one that allows chalk, has heavy dumbbells, round plates for deadlifting and won’t sound an alarm if you grunt. Another great option is to train at home, away from all the distractions and folks who are just there for a good time. Then you can get down to business – beating your previous self and building muscle.
How about you? Have you seen any other ego traps I missed? As always, I welcome your comments or questions below.