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The Teen Guy's Guide to Gaining Muscle

What to do -- and not do -- to build up your muscles.

Skip These 5 Mistakes

Here are five things NOT to do when you're working on building strong muscles:

1. Don’t hurt yourself trying to look cool. You know those guys who always moan and strain in the gym until they’re red in the face? Don’t be one of them. “The kids who get into the ‘I can lift more than you’ [mindset] and try to do their one-rep max on the bench can tear something or injure themselves by being unnecessarily competitive,” Roberts says. An injury can make you lose valuable training time. So always stay within your limits, and work with your coach or trainer.

2. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. Bad form while lifting can also get you injured. And when you’re using sloppy technique -- say, leaning back and jerking up the dumbbells while doing biceps curls -- you’re not focusing the load on your target muscles. Instead, you’re bringing in other muscles and making them help with the exercise.

Seek out a qualified trainer with good credentials at your gym, or talk to coaches at your school who know what they’re doing in the weight room. Ask for lessons on how to properly do all the common lifts.

3. Don’t overdo protein. We said it before, just a few paragraphs ago, but we'll say it again: Too much protein is bad for you. “Kids see these high-protein diets in muscle magazines and think, ‘Muscle is protein, so I need to get a lot of protein to get a lot of muscle,’" Arent says. “If they’re training a lot, they do need more protein than the average individual, but it’s not a ridiculous amount.”

Aim to get about 1.6 grams of protein each day for each kilogram that you weigh. We've done the math: Look up your weight and get about this many grams of protein per day:

  • 110 pounds: 80 grams
  • 120 pounds: 87 grams
  • 130 pounds: 94 grams
  • 140 pounds: 102 grams
  • 150 pounds: 109 grams
  • 160 pounds: 116 grams
  • 170 pounds: 123 grams
  • 180 pounds: 131 grams
  • 190 pounds: 138 grams
  • 200 pounds: 145 grams
  • 210 pounds: 152 grams
  • 220 pounds: 160 grams
  • 230 pounds: 167 grams

4. Don’t overtrain. A hard weightlifting workout breaks down your muscles. When your body repairs them, they get bigger and stronger. This process requires rest. So just lift 2 to 4 days a week, Arent says. And don’t work the same muscles 2 days in a row.

5. Don't skimp on sleep. You probably like to stay up late. But “kids who get enough sleep are going to have more vigor and train better,” Roberts says. So if you want big gains in the weight room, make sleep a priority. 

Reviewed on June 14, 2013

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