Unless you’re shooting for Olympic gold or flexing for the Mr Olympia, chances are you won’t always be 100% compliant to your regime. Here’s how to plug those leaks and paper over the cracks when you go off-plan


1. The crack: Despite clean eating and training, the scale doesn’t budge

Even if you’ve got a digital smart scale, it’s out dated tech. “Few scales show accurate readings of lean muscle mass, water or body fat percentage,” says Andrew Malcom, a trainer and nutritionist.

“These factors work against or compound each other and show a significant shift on the scale even as you diet and exercise. It’s better to take weekly progress photos or feel the difference in how a particular item of clothing fits, then write it down.” Check your numbers occasionally but don’t let their short falls dampen motivation.

Check your numbers occasionally but don’t let their short falls dampen motivation.


2. The crack: that lift hurt, in a bad way

Everyone sports a niggle. This isn’t about disobeying your doc, just tweaking your routine so you don’t feel pain, allowing your injury to heal. Two-time WBFF World Champion Fitness Model, Shaun Stafford deals with it, too. “My shoulders are practically made of chocolate; I’ve had surgery on one and so I just back away from the heavy weights.”

Here are some tweaks while you’re still on the mend:

Shoulder pain
Switch the barbell to dumbbells, for a more natural movement.

Lower back pain
Perform exercises seated or with a back support and lighten loads.

Elbow tendonitis
Lighten loads by 25-50% and increase reps by the same figure.


Tips to build muscle when not perfect


3. The crack: sandman is stuck in traffic

What happens when your good night’s sleep goes wrong? 35% of people have brief spells of insomnia, so to bridge the loss of sleep, try polyphasic sleeping.

This is basically using naps to function just as well as you would on more sleep, confirmed by the International Journal
of Neuroscience.

The quick fix
12:30am to 4am: Sleep
4am to 5:40am: Wake
5:40am to 6am: Nap
6am to 1pm: Wake
1pm to 1:20pm: Nap
1:20pm to 6pm: Wake
6pm to 6:20pm: Nap
6:20pm to normal
bedtime: Wake

Strategic naps will allow you to perform well with less sleep, but be sure to get back to the regular pattern as soon as you can.


4.The crack: Once Pringles pop you can’t stop

Certain snacks are hard coded for gorging. The worse the food, the more moreish. A cheat meal with these attributes risks derailing progress, so take a good look at yourself, literally. People who look in a mirror while they

People who look in a mirror while they eat consume fewer calories, as it reminds them of their goals found a paper by the Journal of Natural Science Research.

Just swing the camera on your smartphone to face-up to the truth of your mouth’s undertakings.


5.The crack: The weekend away to a foodie destination

The food-porn component to your Insta-feed needn’t suffer, just plan ahead. This is what your holiday preceding week’s plan could look like to mitigate the over-feeding damage and stay buff.

Here’s an example for someone who averages a 2500 calorie consumption daily to reach their goal but has a messy weekend ahead:

Monday: 2000 cals (-500)
Tuesday: 2000 cals (-500)
Wednesday: 2000 cals (-500)
Thursday: 2000 cals (-500)
Friday: 3500 cals (+1000)
Saturday: 3500 cals (+1000)
Sunday: 2500 cals (target)

Average calorie consumption: 2500 calories and goal still on track!


6. The crack: Vacationing puts gains on holiday

While it takes weeks to lose lean muscle, fat, unfortunately, isn’t so patient. Being able to gain body fat easily is an all too familiar story to those who’ve been on an all-inclusive resort. You’ve paid for it so why not eat it, right?

Internationally syndicated fitness columnist, James Fell, has a better idea. “Rise a little early and go for a run, hit the gym, ride a bike, climb something, take a class, paddle a kayak, hike a mountain, swim lengths or swim far away. Play a sport, kick some ass, do some push-ups, have sex and then have sex again,” – now those are some fun options.

Use these rules to live by on vacation: Halve your number of meals, do bodyweight circuits and relax actively (hike or swim instead of only sunbathing).


man on the beach with a cocktail in hand

7. The crack: The battle between good and evil foods has more twist than Star Wars

Dietary change should be all in or all out. “Drastically changing your diet in the initial stages of your fitness journey is a recipe for disaster,” says Andrew Malcom.

“The trick is to gradually reduce the unhealthy foods weekly. As the gradual diet occurs you will also gradually increase your workout intensity. This gradual change won’t come as a shock to the body and the cravings won’t be as strong.”


8. The crack: The boys’ night out that makes The Hangover seem like a Disney movie

The lure of a good time can saddle your physique with a hangover, but only because you’re doing it wrong.

“If you know you have a big night ahead, plan in advance by eating very low amounts of fat that day as alcohol slows fat burning,” explains Menno Henselman an ISSA trainer. What if there’s nothing there to store? You’re successfully trolling your body and staying lean.


9. The crack: The work week from hell

Great physiques aren’t built in a day, nor are they lost in one either, so if your week has seen you busier than a ferret in a drain pipe factory, there’s still hope. A study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise will put you at ease, as they concluded it takes two to four weeks for the body to lose hard-earned muscle.

Draw a line through that manic deadline week and jump straight back on the gain train as soon as you possibly can.


10. The crack: Your free throws are all brick and no bucket

Whether it’s a pick-up game with your crew or a more serious encounter, missing free throws is money out the bank. If you’re riding a losing streak, break cool-kid protocol and go granny.

A mathematical analysis at Yale University found underhand throws is more accurate and reliable. You’re definitely going to get heckled for doing this, so front up and tell your opponents that they’re so bad you’ll beat ’em underhanded.


11. The crack: You’re doing body part splits but skipped a workout

Annihilating a few target muscles in each workout is the bomb for growth but can go from boom to bust if you skip a day. The fix? Combine the workout with the next.

“Life happens and the best-laid plans can go wrong. Maybe a late night at work, family emergency or whatever it might be. I handle this by mashing the missed workout into my next with a few tweaks,” says TRAIN digital editor and WBFF Pro, Altug Kop.

If you consider that overall volume is the biggest driver for muscle growth, here’s how to handle this:

The usual plan:
Monday: Chest and triceps
Tuesday: Back and biceps

Monday missed.
Tuesday: Upper body day

Increasing reps, decreasing loads and decreasing rest periods will allow for the increased exercises and volume in a similar timeframe.


12. The crack: If stress burned calories, you’d have a washboard gut

We could tell you to “just chill, man” but that’s just going to make you go shopping for piñatas so you can beat something and eat candy.

There is a special class of herbal supplements willing to help out called adaptogens. While they won’t jettison annoying folk from your life (those ‘supplements’ will get you 20-30 years in an orange jumpsuit), they will reduce cortisol, fatigue, the feelings of stress and improve performance by restoring homeostasis, according to the journal Pharmaceuticals.

The most studied of these lifesavers is Rhodiola Rosea, and the recommended intake is between 300-680mg daily. Want to give it a try? You can grab this cheap supplement online from Bodybuilding.com


man in full suit performing a deadlift

13. The crack: You need carbs but there’s no gluten free bread

If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, you’re one of the unlucky 1% of the population; the rest of us are safe from gluten’s tyranny, despite 12% of the population avoiding this so called ‘evil.’

Not smart because a new Harvard University paper found people who eat gluten actually have stronger hearts. Even you don’t believe the science, the odd encounter with this supposed nutritional nasty won’t kill you.


14. The crack: stuck between a burger and a hard place

Even the most ardent meal-preppers get caught out occasionally. A three-hour flight delay? The family visit where the goodbyes last hours? We’ve all been there. If you have any shops nearby, the next best way to fill the hole in your stomach is to grab a ready-to-eat meal.

If you know your macros, check the nutrition label and you can quickly match your regular meal without detriment to progress.


15. The crack: deadline for peaking is approaching but you’re feeling spent

The school reunion, photo shoot or competitive event are worthy end goals but what if you’re a few weeks out and lose motivation?

Listen to that message because a rest week doesn’t reduce muscle or affect metabolism, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In fact, it allows your muscles to adapt from the previous phase of training for more gains.


16. The crack: Your dreams of winning the lotto are cut short by toilet visits

Avoiding water before bed just isn’t good enough advice, but there is a new culprit: salt.

Needing to wee in the wee hours is linked to your salt intake, found a paper released at the European Association of Urology Conference. This is when your most restorative deep sleep happens, so a broken snooze short changes exercise recovery. Salt just isn’t worth it.


Just using a handful of these 16 tips will allow you to build muscle and burn fat when things aren’t perfect…because being perfect would be boring.

For more nutrition tips, workouts and supplement advice, get TRAIN magazine direct into your inbox every month for free by signing up to our newsletter