A lot of guys want to build muscle and strength, but wanting to do something and do it for real are two very different things. With all the information there is on how to train and how to feed, it's easy to get lost.
When I started training I had no idea what I was doing, but over the years I have learned what works and I have learned that getting bigger and stronger may not be easy. Knowing what to do is part of the battle, but doing it is another thing.
To help you along your journey, here are the 10 gym mistakes I see most often - these are mistakes that will kill your progress and won't get you what you want. These are all things I've done, so I know how stupid they are. Avoid them at all costs!
Mistake # 1 - Don't get strong
Many guys need to focus on building strength if they want to grow their muscle mass. But just as many guys ignore progressive overload and indeed, seem surprised when they don't get the results they want. The simple truth is this: as you work out, your body adapts and gets stronger. As a result, it needs more stress to continue this adaptation. Let's make it simple, each workout must be more strenuous than the previous one. You can do this by increasing the loads (little by little, you don't need to add 20kg in the next workout… unless you love to get injured), adding reps with the same load or shortening your recovery time. After all, Einstein used to say that the definition of insanity is always doing the same thing and expecting different results. If he hadn't been so focused on physics and winning Nobel Prizes, he would surely have been a monster in the gym.
Failing to plan is planning for failure. It seems obvious, but going to the gym without an exact idea of what you're going to do is a bad idea. Complaining doesn't work. The best athletes in the world always have coaches. Even the best coaches have coaches. So you need it too - even if it's not a personal trainer, you need a plan written by someone who knows what you're talking about. It will also include the exercises you don't like. Going to the gym and using whatever equipment is free won't work.
It is a typical mistake to train only the muscles that you can see in the mirror. This is why you see so many guys following a training program that consists solely of bench press, pecs and biceps. While this may work for pumping you up before a night out, it does very little for your overall strength and physical goals. You need balance, which means including pulling motions as well as pushing motions. It means training your back and legs properly. Not only is this a healthy approach that will lead to fewer injuries, but by not training your legs and back you are ignoring the larger muscles you have and a great anabolic stimulus that benefits the whole body. Also… nobody wants crow's feet.
If half an hour is good, three hours must be better, right? Wrong! So many guys try gym sessions like marathons and it doesn't lead to anything other than making progress worse. After about an hour your testosterone levels drop and cortisol levels rise. This is bad. Your sessions should last 40-60 minutes and no longer. This ensures quality training for the best effects but does not sabotage your progress by unnecessarily stressing the body. You also have a life to live, and you don't need to spend half of it in the gym.
How much can you lift in deadlifts? How much in the last week's squats? If you don't know the answer to these questions, how will you know what numbers you need to hit next week? How will you know if you will really make progress from now to next year? Write each set you complete in the gym. Write down your warm-up and any work you do. Not only is tracking your progress essential, it will also help you identify any problems you may have. Go and buy a small notebook and start doing it now.
What will have the most impact on your physique, 4 hours a week spent in the gym or the 164 hours a week spent outside the gym? Recovering is the key. You need to focus on proper nutrition, sleep and avoid stress. Nutrition is too big of a topic to cover here, but you need to eat according to your goals, eat real food, and eat the right amount of protein. Don't eat junk expecting to look good. Sleep is particularly underestimated by many people. 7-9 hours of quality rest can make a tremendous difference in how you feel and how you look. Sleep deprivation increases your insulin sensitivity and lowers testosterone, making it difficult to gain muscle mass and easy to gain weight. Go to bed at 10:30, have a satisfying meal a few hours early, read a book, relax and sleep. Oh, and turn off your phone and TV for at least an hour before bed, the light stimulates the brain and makes it difficult to fall asleep.
In a life like in the Rocky movies it would be cool. Unfortunately, real people can't train with exaggerated intensity all the time without hurting themselves. Obviously you have to train hard, but training to absolute failure places great stress on the central nervous system and can seriously hamper your recovery. It's also not necessary for most guys unless you're a competitive powerlifter. Leave a repetition or two "in the tank" and you'll thank me later.
Multi-joint exercises are the best you can do in the gym. They train multiple muscle groups and are simple to track (in your training diary, remember?). A good strength and mass program, or a good weight loss program, will include squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, pushes, chin-ups, push-ups, and dips. Focus on getting strong in these exercises before focusing on isolation exercises like curls.
While progressive overload is vital, there are limitations. Otherwise anyone could lift a ton after two years of training. Life is not like that. A good long-term program will include low intensity periods and scheduled discharges where you allow the body to progress over the years.
From the way some do deadlifts, you might think their main goal is to get a hernia rather than gain strength. Proper execution is absolutely vital. If you don't know how to do squats and deadlifts safely, get someone to teach you. Without proper execution you will not benefit from this exercise and will most likely hurt yourself. Likewise, using loads that are too heavy is a great way to get hurt. Leave your ego at the door and lift as much weight as you can without sacrificing execution. Finally, if you want to train for a long time, make sure you warm up adequately and gradually reach heavy sets. Going to the gym cold and trying to squat with maximum effort is insane. If you get injured you can't train and I find it more fun to get stronger and stronger without the need for reconstructive surgery.
© , 2014.