If you’re interested in getting stronger, looking better or both, there are some common mistakes you need to avoid.
Don’t Make Up Exercises.
To some of you this may seem obvious. Yet, I see people inventing exercises almost every single time I go to the gym.
I realize there are different methods and different sports that people train for, so understand I’m not talking about unconventional exercises. I’m talking about when people grab the lat-pulldown and start squatting with it.
If you want to start exercising, take the time to do a little bit of research instead of just going into a gym and free-balling it.
I suggest one of your starting points being simply searching YouTube for tutorials on performing exercises. It is vital that you learn good movement patterns. This brings me to my next point.
Focus on Form.
Form is paramount especially as a beginner. My article on habits discusses how when you perform an action repeatedly it creates and strengthens neural networks. Our bodies are exactly the same.
If you continually develop proper movement patterns, you will get stronger while minimizing risk of injury.
If you continually strengthen bad movement patterns, you are going to get hurt.
Use Full Range of Motion.
This is also fundamental. However, when I say use full range of motion, I am not disregarding partial movements.
There is a way to perform partial movements correctly. This is by using the full range of motion in the given partial.
Well that sounds a little contradictory, doesn’t it? Allow me to explain.
The range of motion on a deadlift is from resting on the ground, to the top of the lockout, and back down to the ground. Now if you wanted to train in a partial range of motion specific to the deadlift, you could perform a block pull or a rack pull.
What this does is decrease the range of motion by placing the bar higher, but you still move the bar from a resting position to the lockout and back to the resting position.
The reason why this is the proper way to train a partial portion of the exercise is it breaks up the chain of movement. Also called the eccentric-concentric chain.
When this chain is broken up it minimizes the stretch reflex and allows you to build your strength in both parts of the movement. Having a shorter range of motion will also create better leverages, which when done properly, you are safer and you can lift more weight.
It has also been shown that strength is joint angle specific, and training in a partial will have carryover to 10-20 degrees in either side of the partial.
This is very important information because if, for example, you are weak 3 inches off the chest in the bench press, doing partial bench presses 3 inches off the chest will allow you to strengthen your weak point and break through plateaus.
However, if you are a beginner, you don’t need to worry about training partials. you should be training in full ranges of motion.
Take Your Training Seriously.
There’s nothing wrong with having fun and enjoying your workout. So many times, though, I see people wasting their own time.
Stop talking to people everything in the world. Having a small chat about things in between sets is one thing, but if you are spending 5+ minutes in between sets of hamstring curls talking about the latest sneakers, you need to stop.
You are wasting your own time, you are turning your 45 minute workout into a 1.5 hour workout just because you get so involved in your conversation. Or even worse, your phone.
Turn Off Social Media.
Limit the use of your phone in the gym to these things:
- Recording data on your lifts (if you track your progress, which you should!)
- Looking at your program to see what you should be doing
The more time you spend on your phone when you are training, the more disengaged you become. Fitness is largely a mental game, and getting your head right is very important to physical success.
Take Photos Properly.
I was going to include this under the previous point, but I felt this needed its own section altogether.
Taking progress pictures is fine. However when people cant grab some dumbbells that you’re standing in front of because you’re too busy checking your abs, that’s not okay.
If you want to take some photos then do it either
- In the changeroom by a mirror or
- Somewhere in the gym where you aren’t in someone’s way
And lastly, there’s no need to take 35 progress pictures every day. Results come in months and years, not days.
Learn How To Properly Warm-up and Cool-Down.
There are 2 important things about warming up and cooling down you need to know.
- Stretching is important, but whats more important is how you stretch.
- When to perform Cardio
There are two main categories of stretching: Dynamic and Static.
Dynamic stretching should be done before you workout and Static stretching should be done after.
Dynamic stretching will prepare your body in a sport specific manner when done correctly. There are many different kinds of these stretches, simply choose one or two specific to what kind of workout you will be doing.
For example, if you know you are going to be doing a lot of leg work/pulls, you can use leg swings and leg crossovers to open up the hips and hamstrings.
This study shows an increase in power and agility with pre-workout dynamic stretching.
Static stretching should be done after the workout. This form of stretching will increase flexibility of the joints and stretch out the fascia tissues.
American college athletes recommend a mix of dynamic and static stretching before exercise and static stretching afterwards.
Another thing that can be added in is foam rolling. Foam rolling was found to increase the plasma Nitric-Oxide concentrations and improve artery function. I would postulate this can help give a slight edge on both training and recovery because if artery functions are improved, more oxygen and nutrients are able to go to the muscles.
Use Free Weights.
Machines have their purpose. But likely they will not benefit you as much as free weights will.
When you train using free weights there are a lot more muscles, tendons and ligaments being used to stabilize the weight. Using only machines can take emphasis off of these stabilizing muscles and create imbalances. If these imbalances get too severe it can potentially lead to injury.
Machines can be used occasionally, but I personally believe that free weights should be utilized primarily.
Leave Your Ego.
Of all people, I know what it’s like to want to be stronger. Especially when all of your friends are out lifting you.
But it is important to know that what works for one person, wont necessarily work for another.
You are at the stage in your fitness journey that you are at, not someone else’s. You need to treat your training as such.
Intensity and volume needs to be managed properly for you. This will be different based on many things such as genetics. where you are in your fitness journey and your fitness goals.
Don’t make the mistake of looking up the workout regime of the fitness celebrity you look up to.
Chances are they are taking drugs, lets just burst that bubble now. Regardless if they are or aren’t, they still have been training for a lot longer than you have and their career literally revolves around them being fit/good looking.
Understand you need to follow a program that’s suitable for you.
Be patient, be consistent, be intense. But most importantly, be smart.
Focus on Recovery.
Recovery has two main parts to it: nutrition and sleep.
Make sure you are eating the right amount of calories for what your goals are. I recommend a plant based diet for a variety of reasons (you can read more in this article).
One thing you should be doing is tracking your calories. This will allow you to understand exactly how much you’re eating and what adjustments you need to be making.
I personally use and recommend using cronometer. I am not affiliated with this company/website but I use it for all my calorie tracking. On here you can analyze over 80 different nutrients and there are other useful services when you purchase a membership such as their oracle service. This service allows you to find foods that are highest in a chosen nutrient based on restrictions you set.
Sleep. You need sleep.
I am guilty of 4-5 hour sleep a night, and I can promise you when I under eat and under sleep, I under perform and lose weight (oh no!). Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night!
More Is Not Always Better.
In the case of exercising, more is not always better.
You need to use the proper weight to hit the number of reps you are prescribed. Using more weight does have the potential to compromise form which can lead to bad movement patterns being learned and injury. That being said, you need to be pushing harder as often as you can.
Just do it smart.
I used to go into the gym and do every exercise I could for the muscle group I was training and you know where it got me? Nowhere.
More volume does not always mean more gains. Not immediately at least. Follow your program as prescribed have some trust in it.
What You Need To Focus On.
Now that you know some of the rookie mistakes people make, let me tell you briefly what you need to do and focus on to get the most out of your training.
- Eat the right amount of calories
- Sleep properly
- Stay relatively active
- Follow a program designed for your goals
- Progressive overload.
Everything here except for 2 things has been discussed.
Eating The Right Amount Of Calories
Your body burns a certain amount of calories per day. This number is likely a lot higher than you think it is. It is also effected by a number of different variables such as gender, height, age, activity level and more.
This number is referred to as the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
If you eat the same number of calories as your BMR, you will maintain your bodyweight.
If you eat less calories than your BMR, you will be eating in whats called a caloric deficit and you will lose weight.
Likewise, eating more calories than your BMR, you will be eating in a “caloric surplus” and will gain weight.
One important thing to note, is it is easier to gain strength while in a caloric surplus.
This is the key to progression. Progressive overload is the continual increase of stress on the body during training.
This can be done by increasing either the volume, the intensity, or both over time.
Total volume can be calculated by Weight*reps*sets. Progressive overload has been shown to increase muscle hypertrophy along with increased blood flow and stronger neural connections to these regions.
Now, Get To The Gym!
Now you know some of the biggest do’s and don’ts about starting to train.
Do some more research and start or improve your fitness journey today!
If this article helped you, comment down below and let me know what helped you the most.
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