It’s very easy to follow a program, do the important things correctly, and think you’re getting results.
Unfortunately, it’s even easier to mess up and do the little things wrong (such as not warming up), or worse forget to do them at all. When I see guys lifting in the gym I’d say they do about 90 percent of stuff right. Overall that’s pretty damn good for the average or even above average lifter, and the best part is that even with them doing only 90% they’re still making progress, which is what I’m all about.
My only problem: Is what if they did worry about the little things and focus on the other 10%, while still doing the other 90% right?
Wouldn’t they be better off?
There’s an old saying I heard back when I was a kid that says “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. It pretty much means don’t worry about the little things. I used to agree with this until I got older and realized that it wasn’t the “big” stuff that was holding me back. It was the small stuff.
If the guys I see lifting in the gym are doing 90% of stuff right and are only fucking up the other 10% then it makes sense if they fixed the other 10% they’d be damn near perfect every time.
This is probably a good time to say that I never bought into the whole “perfection” thing (I also think whoever came up with the practice equals perfection saying was full of themselves). I believe it’s impossible to reach perfection, but I do think that its possible to get very close. Vince Lombardi said in a speech once: “Men, perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”.
I agree with the old ball coach, 100%.
With that in mind, here are the most common mistakes I see in the weight room:
1. Not Warming Up Properly, or At All
The same way a solid breakfast sets the foundation for a good day, a solid warm up sets the tone for any workout to be great. When we lift, run, or perform any physically stressful activity, the body is stressed and some “wear and tear” occurs. Now with lifting, or any other kind of training this isn’t a problem because we plan for this, preparing to build the body up afterwards with proper nutrition, intelligent supplementation, and most importantly rest. Our bodies need to be prepared for the next round of damage we do on them in the weight room, on the track, the field, or however. Our muscles need to be relaxed, and our minds need to be focused.
A couple of halfhearted arm swings isn’t going to get the job done on days when you have to bench press, just like 5 minutes on a bike isn’t going to be a sufficient warm up on days when the plan is to squat heavy. The idea is to warm up the whole body with a routine that’s not too strenuous and that includes some of the same movement patterns you’ll perform on that day. Here’s an example of a warm up I might do for a leg workout:
Lower Body/Leg Day
10 Prisoner Squats
10 Wide Squats
10 Walking Lunges (Down and Back)
10 Sideways Lunges
10 Calf Raises
1 Superman (30 sec)
1 Plank (60 sec)
100 Reps of Jumping Rope
Will a warm up like this take too much out of you before your lift? Not a chance. Will it get the blood flowing and force you to mentally “check in”? Damn right.
2. Letting your Ego get the Best of You
Having a big ego in the weight room isn’t as big of a deal as most people think. It’s only when that ego gets in the way of being able to use common sense that it becomes a problem. I think it is best to illustrate this concept with a story:
I remember last summer when I had an extremely busy day and couldn’t get my lift in on time so I used my 24 hour key and went later that night. There were 4 guys and 2 girls in the gym that night, which was a pretty good night because it meant I wouldn’t have to wait in line for a squat rack. I finish my set, look across and see the 2 girls sitting on the leg press machine watching one of the other guys hype himself up to squat.
He had a decent amount of muscle on him so when I saw the 405 on the bar I wasn’t surprised. Hell, with the way he looked it didn’t even bother me not asking him if he wanted a spot. He bounced up and down for a minute, put on his blue beats, got under the bar and walked the weight out. Here’s where shit started to go downhill.
His 1st problem: He walked out with the weight and waited for about a good 40 seconds before he did a rep.
When we do certain lifts it strains the body in certain areas. In this case, and with that much weight, it put a strain on the spinal cord, core, and posterior chain. His muscles were fatiguing the entire 40 seconds just trying to support the added weight, he should’ve started his 1st rep about 5 seconds after he walked it out.
His 2nd problem: Letting his ego get in the way of what he knew he could or couldn’t do. I’m all for trying to impress people, that’s just the way society is. We buy the most expensive cars to impress the ladies, or get the highest paying position to impress our parents, or other people’s parents. I get it.
This guy understood that but didn’t know that everything has a limit. As soon as he went down to start his set, his legs started to shake and you could see his face turn red as a tomato when he started to go down with the weight. He didn’t just lower the weight though, he slammed it. This guy went down faster than Kim Kardashian did on Ray J the night they shot that million dollar sex tape.
He looked embarrassed, the girls looked unimpressed, and I looked like Mckayla Maroney when I got it through my head that I wasted my time watching him. Arnold wouldn’t be impressed.
That night reinforced some things in my mind, that looking strong and actually being strong are two completely different things, and that it helps to know your limits. If this guy would’ve let his ego get in the way a bit more by trying to impress those girls and walked the weight a little more outside the safety bars, he would’ve been in the hospital that night. I have no doubt about that. The moral of this story is to know what you can do, and don’t try to push past your limits when you’re not ready.
3. Refusing to Ask for Help
If you don’t know something and you want to, ASK. We hear this all the time in school. I really believe there’s something wrong with my generation when it comes to asking for help. We don’t like to look ignorant, or look like we don’t have it all figured out when the sad truth is that by NOT asking we’re only setting ourselves up to be ignorant and to look stupid.
How does this apply to lifting?
If you need a spotter, ask.
If you want to make sure your back isn’t rounding on a deadlift, ask someone to check your form. (Someone with some authority in the weight room)
In most gyms there’s usually an older guy that’s extremely ripped, who you can tell has put time in the weight room. These are the guys you want to ask, most of the time they’ll be happy to help a young guy out. Just don’t interrupt their set to do it.
Another great resource to expand your lifting knowledge, outside of the internet and this website, are books. Crazy, right? Some of the best strength training knowledge there is can only be found in complete explanation in books. If you don’t know where to start, check out these eight books to get started.
4. Focusing too Much on Isolation Exercises
In the gym there are lifters and then there are curl monkeys. The guys with the huge arms and skinny legs that couldn’t back squat to save their life. These are the guys you don’t want to be like. In most cases they only lift to look good to impress the ladies, which is understandable, but the problem is that they take it too far. They ignore neglected areas of their bodies and their fitness just so they can feel good from their pump and flex to show off for the girls.
It might work for a little while right now, but when they get older the deficiencies in their bodies from not having a balanced program is going to bite them in the ass. Make sure your program is balanced and doesn’t focus too much on any one aspect.
Take these workouts for example:
You should be able to see what I mean when I say “balance” out your workouts. The person who follows the first workout program will be much better off, and more developed, than the person that followed the second workout plan. Why? The first workout trains a wider variety of muscle groups with a greater emphasis on compound movements. The first workout also includes a wider variety of exercise types, such as flat, incline, and vertical pressing/pulling, as well as cardio to keep up cardiovascular fitness and stretching/foam rolling for greater mobility and recovery.
5. Forgoing Recovery
When we train we’re tearing down our bodies. We’re purposefully inflicting stress upon our bodies so that muscles can be built bigger and stronger, cardiovascular fitness improved, and mobility increased, and in the same way we start a workout with a proper warm up, a workout should end with a proper recovery session. When I tell people this the first thing they say to me is that they don’t have the time, and to this I call bullshit.
It can take as little as 10 minutes to get a proper recovery session in after a lift, and the same people that say they don’t have time are the same ones that spend over 15 minutes talking up a storm or staring at their phone during their workout. Unless you’re a very busy Fortune 500 CEO that’s always on the move, you have time.
If you don’t know where to start, a slow static stretching or foam roll session is a safe bet for most people, and if you’ve been doing those already, check out floss bands to take your mobility/recovery to the next level.
6. Confusing Rep Ranges and their Benefits
I have a love/hate relationship with this one because it’s such a paradox.
On one hand rep ranges are the simplest thing in the world to understand, and most people intuitively understand the concept, but they won’t do it. Its the exact same way a professor will teach material to you in class, you’ll understand, getting every answer right in class if you’re called on, but you ultimately fail the test the next day, and you’re left wondering what the fuck happened?
Here’s what happened: You understood the material (for a moment), you just didn’t take the time to put it into practice (do the homework), and couldn’t use what you studied when it really mattered (passing the test).
So here’s the in-class lesson, certain rep ranges have certain benefits. If you wanted to get stronger you wouldn’t train for endurance, just like if you wanted to get bigger muscles, you wouldn’t train for power.
Here’s the basic breakdown:
Reps for Strength/Power: 2-6
Reps for Hypertrophy (Size): 7-12
Reps for Endurance: 12+
It doesn’t get much easier than that. That’s only a basic breakdown though and doesn’t go into other concepts like bar-speed, rest times, tempo, etc. I could go much longer on those subjects but it would be a lot easier if most guys understood this part first before trying to go into the more advanced concepts.
The fastest way to see if your training program is in line with your goals is to look at what you’ve done. You should compare them and see if your results match up with your initial goals. Start by asking some questions.
Am I trying to get bigger? Am I trying to get stronger? Do I want to focus on improving my endurance?
Then, look at how you’ve been performing relative to those goals. A guy that’s been bench pressing for 4 sets of 15 reps the past 5 weeks expecting to stimulate hypertrophy and get bigger is just fooling himself and wasting time. An easy way to keep track of the varying rep ranges of your workouts is with a workout journal. Use one.
7. Incorrectly Performing a Rep
There are two parts to completing a rep. Most guys think there’s only one, and they’re dead wrong. There’s the raising of the weight (concentric), and the lowering of the weight (eccentric). If you walk into any gym I’d be willing to bet money that you’d see guys bench pressing lift the weight off, drop it to their chest, press it up, and think they did a rep.
They only did 1/2 a rep.
In order to get the results you weight you’re going to have to learn to perform a rep correctly. If you ever watch professional powerlifters, Olympic lifters, or strongmen setting new PR’s, you’ll see them move the weight with control.
Now Olympic lifters are a different story, mainly because they compete in the Olympic lifts which require the bar to move explosively. Here’s the funny thing about it though, their movements are still controlled, they’re just done faster.
Chinese Olympic weightlifter Tian tao squats 270kg X 6 reps, with GREAT form. No bullshit here.
You can fix this problem easily by performing each repetition of an exercise with control, which means you don’t bounce the weight or let it control you. You control the weight.
If you are new or old alike to the gym, making sure you don’t commit these 7 lifting mistakes will take you 90% further than most who frequent the gym. Lift smart, lift hard, be consistent, and stay humble, and you’ll be rewarded.
GO FORTH AND CONQUER
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