Step in any gym around the world and you’ll not doubt be able to point someone out making a weightlifting mistake.
Not using proper lifting technique
Not paying attention to rest and recovery
Not training appropriately for their goal
Not having a goal at all
Yet, when it comes to turning your attention to yourself chances are, you’ll say that you don’t make any mistakes and that you know how to do everything properly.
However, I bet if you were to be open and honest about your training there would be a couple of things you’d like to improve, change or understand more about.
This is ok.
In fact, it’s great.
You should never stop learning, as the more you learn, the better you’ll get.
The point is this; it doesn’t matter whether you’re a gym newbie or a seasoned pro, mistakes get mad and sometimes you don’t even realise that you’re making them.
Other times it’s a faulty belief or misguided understanding that leads you astray.
Whichever it is it could be affecting your progress and your performance. It could very well be holding you back from reaching your goals.
In this article we look at the benefits of strength training i.e. why you should do it regularly. Then we’ll break down 7 of the most common training mistakes and how to fix them.
Let’s do it.
The Benefits of Strength Training
Regular strength training has numerous benefits that go beyond building or maintaining muscle mass.
Whilst training frequency varies depending on your goal, ability to recover and more, training at least 2 – 3 times a week provides the following health benefits;
Better body awareness & balance
Reduced risk of injury
Improved mood & energy levels
However, you only get these benefits if you’re training correctly. If you’re not, you’ll find your progress is slow and stunted and your chance of injury goes up.
Therefore, strength training with good technique and a full range of motion is so important. With that being said let’s get into it and look at 7 of the most common training mistakes and how to fix them.
Common Strength Training Mistakes
If you want to get the most from you training, then you need to avoid these common mistakes.
Using Momentum to Complete Your Lifts
This first point refers to those guys in the gym who load up the bar with too much weight and then swing, lean and bend their way through their workout.
If you haven’t seen it personally, then you’ve surely seen it on YouTube, it’s painful to watch and utterly pointless from a training perspective.
When you train like this, you’re not working the muscle how it’s meant to be worked, instead you’re almost exclusively relying on momentum to complete your reps.
All this does it help you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Not to mention the fact you’ll only be actually working the muscle within a limited range of motion, whilst cheating yourself out of the work it takes to make real progress.
Perhaps most importantly, training like this drastically increases your risk of injury due to poor technique and a lack of control over the weight you’re handling.
So, stop it. Here’s how.
How to Fix It
Fortunately, this is straightforward to fix. All it requires is a change in training focus and your mindset.
Don’t ego lift: the main reason you end up using momentum to complete your reps is because the weight is too heavy. Leave your ego at the door when strength training and use an appropriate weight for your skill level and ability
Focus on your technique: another reason you use momentum is because your technique is holding you back and as the weight gets heavier and you begin to fatigue you struggle to complete your remaining reps. Take the time to learn proper technique for all the exercises you’re doing
Build strength over time: when you learn to leave your ego at the door and practice proper technique, then building strength slowly but steadily becomes the default. By training with intensity and focus you’ll be able to do away with pointless momentum lifting and build real raw strength
Not Using A Full Range of Motion
Similar but to the first point but the opposite side of the spectrum, we’ve switched from using momentum to get a full range of motion to doing quarter inch reps.
I know you know what I mean.
If you’re not guilty of it yourself, you’ve surely spied someone else doing it.
They gather up every single weight plate in the gym and put it on their bar for their bench press only to grunt and gasp to get it off the rack and perform a range of motion so limited you’re not even sure it happened at all.
All the while their gym buddy has his hands on the bar to assist with this herculean feat of strength…
Make a mental note…this shit is not impressive.
I know it feels heavy and difficult, that’s because you’ve got all the weight in the gym on it. However, this isn’t to be confused with thinking you’ve actually doing anything worthwhile.
All you’re doing here is robbing yourself of any progress, whilst simultaneously increasing the risk of injurying yourself.
Don’t believe me?
Just go on YouTube and search ‘gym fails’, I’ll wait for you.
…horrible isn’t it. Horrible and stupid.
Let’s look at how to fix this.
How to Fix It
The issues that result in you lifting like this are similar to the ones that make you cheat and use momentum, namely;
Seriously, don’t ego lift: like we touched on before you must learn to leave your ego at the door when strength training. Get into the mindset that it’s you against you, not you against the jacked guy who has been training for years
Get a new training partner: if you’re training with someone stronger than you who doesn’t account for the difference or you have someone who is pushing you too hard too fast then it’s time to find a new training partner
Like in the first point proper technique and building strength over time also apply here.
Training to Failure
Chasing the pump, loving the burn, maxing out.
Training to failure is known by numerous names but whatever you call it, doing it all the time is a mistake.
This is because training to muscular failure is, for lack of a better word, super taxing on the body. It fatigues your central nervous system and impacts the quality of your workout, both current and future.
The more this fatigue builds up, the more time you need to recover until you reach the point where you can no longer fully recovery between your workouts. As a result, your mood, performance and strength all begin to suffer.
If left unchecked, you’ll end up losing muscle as your ability to continue working out diminishes. To be honest training to failure increases your risk of injury and simply isn’t necessary.
You noticing the theme now? Mistakes can often lead to injury.
Let’s fix it.
How to Fix It
Fixing this mistake is as easy as not training to failure, but what does mean?
Leave something in the tank: your aim when working out should be to stop your set at the point you could still perform 1 or 2 more reps. This stops you from going to failure and safeguards you against burning out
If you can’t hit your rep goal without leaving a rep or 2 in the tank, then you’ll need to focus on building strength over time and work up to it. This is normal progression when strength training.
It’s also worth noting that if, on occasion you end up going to failure this is ok as long as you’re not doing it all the time on every exercise.
Focusing on Isolation Exercises Too Much
A quick primer for those who aren’t sure what isolation exercises are.
Isolation exercises are any exercise that work a single muscle with action at a single joint. For example, the bicep curl works just the bicep with movement at the elbow.
The problem with focusing on these types of exercises too much is that they don’t provide as much stimulus as a compound exercise like the pull up which works multiple muscles (back and biceps) with movement at multiple joints (elbow and shoulder).
This makes it more difficult for you to apply progressive overload which means you build less muscle and strength.
Not only this but the overall rate of progression is much slower when using isolation exercises due to the fact a single muscle cannot produce as much force as several muscles working together. i.e. you can lift a lot more doing pull ups than you can doing bicep curls.
If you focus too much on isolation exercises not only will build less overall strength and muscle but your workouts will also take longer to complete as you need to do more isolation exercises to replace the work of a single compound exercise.
How to Fix It
We’ve already touched on the answer – compound movements – when addressing the problem.
Using compound movements allow you to lift more weight ad build more strength which translates to faster progress and more muscle over time.
Not Resting Enough
The temptation to do more in fitness is always there. More fat loss. More muscle. More training.
Yet, it will backfire, and be to your detriment if you’re not careful. This is because rest and recovery are so important when it comes to making progress.
What do I mean by rest and recovery? Good question. Rest and recovery refers to all aspects of your recuperation including;
If you don’t give your recovery enough attention, you’ll soon find yourself burning out as you’re unable to fully recover between workouts.
Keep it up for long enough and you’ll even begin to back slide on your progress and lose everything you worked so hard for.
How to Fix It
Exactly how to do this will depend on how often you work out and your lifestyle in general but good guidelines are;
Don’t training the same muscles on back to back days
Prioritise getting 7 – 9 hours of good quality sleep every night
Eat a nutritious diet that supports your training goal with food from each macro group
Try and get 24 hours between workouts when possible, if you can’t then train different muscle groups on different days i.e. upper body workout then a lower body workout
Reduce cardio as necessary to allow you adequate recovery on rest days
Not Warming Up Properly
This is a no-brainer really, but when you’re running short on time and still looking to get a workout in it’s funny how quickly a good warmup goes out the window.
Instead of taking the time to prepare yourself for exercise you jump straight in, only to wonder later why your performance suffered.
A good warm-up doesn’t have to be hugely time consuming and should be done for several important reasons;
To prepare your body physically
Reduce the risk of injury
Get you in the right head space to workout
If you don’t warm-up or only do a half-assed one, then you’ll not only see your performance suffer but you also significantly increase the chances of getting injured.
How to Fix It
The first step is to always make sure you’ve factored in time for your warm-up when you’re figuring out how much time you need to work out.
As for what you should do you have a few options when strength training;
Minimum: at the very least you want to perform 5 – 8 warm up sets using increasing amounts of weight with adequate rest in between. This will prepare your body for the work to come and get you physically and mentally ready
Solid: if you have a bit more time then incorporating some mobility work before you do your warm-up sets is even better and will go further in preparing your body for your workout. This is particularly useful when doing more demanding or complex movements like the deadlift or squat
Ideal: if you have no constraints on time then starting with 5 – 10 mins of light cardio to raise you body temperature and heart rate before moving in dynamic stretching and mobility work, then moving onto your warm-up sets is ideal. This warm-up will fully prepare you in every way for your work out
Not Sticking to One Goal
Do you find yourself jumping from one method of training to another, one type of diet to the next and/or flip flopping between building muscle and losing fat?
If you answered yes, then you’re suffering from ‘spin your wheels’ syndrome.
This is characterised by the constant switching of training plan, diet and/or goal in pursuit of the perfect or best method but getting nowhere due to a lack of consistent effort and action.
By not sticking to one single goal for long enough you rob yourself of the ability to make any kind of meaningful progress as just when you begin to get some traction you up and change what you’re doing.
How to Fix It
Choose one goal, find the appropriate way of training for it, get your diet in order and then stick with it for at least 3 months (preferably more) and you’ll make good progress.
Goal: not sure whether to lose fat or build muscle first? Then stick to the guidelines, if you’re 10 – 12% body fat then you’re in prime position to build muscle and if you’re 15% body fat or higher then you’ll want to focus on losing weight first.
Training: once you know your overall goal this bit should be easy. Pick a method of training suitable for your goal, this means training less frequently when losing fat as your ability to recover is reduced and then training with more intensity and frequency when building muscle to help facilitate growth
Diet: knowing your goal will determine whether you need to eat a calorie deficit or surplus. Then 9 times out of 10 you’ll do best to use the 70/30 dieting principle. This means getting most of your good from nutritious sources and a smaller percentage from ‘junk’ foods that you enjoy
Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you learn and change from them that’s the difference. All 7 strength training mistakes listed here are common ones which means there is no shame in making one or some of them.
The important thing is to set about fixing it and getting yourself back on track to reach your fitness goals.
Depending on the mistake the action you take to fix it will be different;
Using momentum to complete your lifts then you need to reduce the weight, work on your technique and build strength slowly but steadily over time
Not using a full range of motion then you need to stop lifting with your ego, reduce the weight and work on applying progressive overload to get stronger
Training to failure then you need to begin leaving a rep or 2 in the tank most of the time to prevent yourself from burning out
Focusing on isolation exercises too much then you need to rebuild your workout from the ground up with a much larger focus on compound movements as this is where the bulk of your progress will come from
Not resting enough then you need to begin prioritising your recovery as much as you do your training, this might meaning eating better, sleeping better or having more time off between workouts
Not warming up properly then you need to begin factoring in time to do some sort of warmup and prepare yourself for your workout
Not sticking to your goal then you need to get clear on what your goal is and adjust your training plan and diet to match up