Let's be honest - most of us have probably made a few mistakes on the road of our training careers. I know I have and you know I have, as I have written on the subject a number of times before
Making mistakes doesn't make you any less of an athlete. In fact, identifying your mistakes and taking the time to learn from them is probably one of the most important things you can do in order to keep making progress long term.
That said, there are a few mistakes that seem to crop up far too often and stay unnoticed for far too long. Many people who step into the weights room without professional guidance continue to make these mistakes for years on end - ultimately, stopping them from ever reaching their true potential.
The question is... how many are you making?
Read this article, fix your mistakes, and watch how fast you progress.
#1 - Constantly changing your programme
Exercise variety is key to keep your body guessing, forcing it to adapt to different training stimuli and grow stronger.
But, changing your programme too much will only serve to stop you making any progress at all.
The key to building muscle is getting stronger. In the most simplistic of terms, this means adding more weight to the bar every week (or every few weeks, or every few months, depending on how advanced you are).
How do you expect to do this if you are constantly changing your exercises?
Example: if you're barbell back squatting one week, front squatting the next, goblet squatting on the third and doing leg press on the fourth, how are you going to get stronger in any of these lifts?
You'd be much better off focusing on your back squat for a 6 week block, and slowly building up strength each session. Then, you can switch to the leg press and repeat the process for another 6 weeks.
Yes, it's important to keep your body guessing. But it's a fine balance between training with variety, and training so sporadically you stop making any progress at all. Most lifters fall firmly into the second category.
Set a programme, with the help of a professional if you need to. Know what you're doing every time you step into the gym. Stick with the programme for a solid 4 - 8 week block, get stronger, and then freshen things up. Stop aimlessly 'training' with no focus - you'll never get anywhere!
#2 - Not tracking PRs
Carrying on from point 1, training without focusing on making PRs will stop you making the progress you deserve. You can't go into the gym, lift the same weight every week, and expect to grow bigger and stronger.
Worse still, you can't change your programme so much every week, that you have no idea what your PRs even look like!
The key to getting bigger is to get stronger. And the key to getting stronger is lifting more weight than last time. It's the fundamental science of weight training, but a science that far too many people overlook.
So, if you squatted 80 kilos for five sets of five last week, you can aim to do 5 sets of 6 this week. And then, the week after that, you can add an extra 2.5 kilos to the bar.
You won't be able to PR every week. But, with a well-structured training programme, you can continue to make consistent PRs on the regular.
PRs don't have to be a one-rep max, by the way. Unless you're a professional powerlifter, training in the bottom end of the rep ranges will probably just be counterproductive in the long run.
You can set PRs in high rep ranges and low rep ranges. You can set PRs by adding more weight, more sets, or lower rest periods. The most important thing is that you actually set them.
The best advice for setting PRs is to keep a training diary. That way you can record your progress on a weekly basis, to ensure you continue to get stronger throughout your training career.
The best part is flicking back through the pages to see how far you've come.
#3 - Not listening to your body
We live in a world where more people employ online trainers than actual trainers. The main downside of this one is obvious; there's no one to keep an eye on you and let you know when your form gets sloppy. But even worse, is when you blindly adhere to a programme set by an online coach without paying attention to how it's actually making you feel.
Example: If you're still sore from a heavy leg session three days ago, but your coach has programmed another lower body day for this afternoon, it's easy to try and push through the pain barrier and do the session your coach has programmed.
However, that lingering soreness is a tell-tale sign that your body hasn't recovered properly from your previous workout. In which case, it's going to be counterproductive to try and train again before your muscle fibres have had the chance to fully heal.
If you do decide to train, you'll be noticeably weaker than if you hit the same session when you felt completely fresh. This definitely won't help you in your ultimate goal, which is to get stronger.
And, worse still, you significantly increase your chance of injury. If you strain a muscle and are out of the gym for sixt-to-eight weeks, that extra session that coach programmed doesn't seem like such a good idea in hindsight does it?
Listening to your body is something that gets particularly important as you get older. If a particular squat variation is bothering your knees, you're probably going to need to remove it from your programme for a few weeks. If your hamstrings are too tight for a RDL, you might need to switch the exercise on this week's session to prevent you getting injured.
The smartest trainees are the ones that can listen to their body and train intuitively. If something doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to tweak your training to compensate, rather than just blindly following the programme in front of you.
#4 - Trying to be the hero
If you're not prepared to leave your ego at the door of the gym, you may as well turn around and go home.
Are you really benching 100 kilos, with textbook perfect form?
Or are you grinding out half reps, resting for ten minutes and scrolling Instagram in between sets?
FYI: Lifting more weight than you can handle isn't going to build anything apart from your already inflated ego.
Stop trying to be the hero, and lift a weight that you can actually handle. An 80 kilogram squat below parallel, maintaining constant tension throughout, is 1000 times better than bouncing out the bottom of a 100 kilogram squat, with a rounded back and knocking knees.
Oh, by the way. No one really cares how much you lift. So put your inferiority complex to one side, and focus on proper form rather than mindlessly loading the bar with as many plates as you can.
Once you've mastered the weight, only then can you think about growing stronger.
#5 - Not warming up properly
You probably already knew that not warming up properly will dramatically increase your chance of injury. That alone should be enough of a reason to warm up before every session. But did you know that not warming up properly is also affecting how much you get out of your workout?
It's simple really, but often overlooked. By warming up properly and removing any lingering tightness or tension from the muscles, you are preparing your body for a full range of motion to allow you to get more out of each lift.
For example, if you're squatting with tight calves, you'll struggle to get a solid movement path with your reps. This will affect the amount of weight you are able to lift, thus hindering your progress.
Simply taking 2 minutes to roll out your calves on a foam roller or lacrosse ball will dramatically improve your form, allow greater tension in the working muscles and, best of all, allow you to move more weight.
As a general rule, your muscles should be warm and with a slight 'pump' before attempting a strenuous exercise - particularly compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press and overhead press.
In practice, this might mean a few sets of bodyweight squats and leg extensions before moving on to the barbell back squat.
But before you do any of that, you'll want to fully mobilise the muscles and any tightness or tension. You may find that some foam rolling is necessary, particularly if there is lingering tightness after stretching.
The take home rule is: don't jump straight into your big lifts without paying proper attention to your warm up. You'll increase risk of injury, decrease your lifting capacity and short change your workout. Prioritise your warm up, and watch how quickly your results improve.
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