The Top 10 Gym Mistakes
By Myprotein Writer Mike Alexander
Most guys want to build some muscle and get stronger, but wanting to do something and actually doing it are two very different things. With all the information out there on how to train and how to eat, it’s easy to get lost.
When I started training I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but over the years I’ve learned what works, and I’ve learned that getting stronger and bigger can actually be pretty simple. Don’t confuse “simple” with “easy”, though. Knowing what to do is half the battle, but actually doing it is a different matter.
To help you along the way, here are the top ten gym mistakes I see guys making in the gym – these are mistakes that will kill your progress, and lead to you spinning your wheels and not getting what you want. They are all things that I’ve done, so I know first hand how dumb they are. Avoid these at all costs!
Mistake #1 – Not getting stronger
Most guys need to focus on getting stronger if they want to get bigger. It’s a win-win situation. But so many guys ignore progressive overload, and seem surprised when they don’t get the results they want. The simple truth is this; as you train, your body adapts and gets stronger and as a result it needs more stress placed on it for this adaptation to continue.
Put simply, each workout should be more challenging than the last. You can do this by adding weight (in very small amounts, there’s no need to try to add 20kg in your next workout… unless you really like being injured), adding reps with the same weight, or decreasing your rest periods.
After all, Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If he wasn’t so focused on physics and winning Nobel prizes, I bet he would’ve been a beast in the gym.
Mistake #2 – Not having a plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
It seems obvious, but going into the gym without a clear idea of what you are going to do is s a terrible idea. Winging it does not work. The top athletes in the world all have coaches. Even the top trainers and coaches in the world have coaches. So you need one as well – even if it’s not a personal trainer, you need a decent plan written by someone who knows what he or she is talking about. A good program will have a clear goal, and a logical progression towards that goal. It will also include the tough exercises that you don’t like, and wouldn’t bother doing otherwise. Walking into the gym and using whatever equipment is free isn’t going to cut it.
Mistake #3 – Not having any balance
It’s a classic mistake to train only the muscles you can see in the mirror. This is why you see countless guys following a training program consisting of nothing but bench pressing and curls. While this might be good at getting you pumped up before a night out, it does very little for your overall strength or physique goals.
You need some balance, and that means including pulling movements as much as pushing movements. It means training your posterior chain, and it means training your legs properly. Not only is this a healthier approach that will result in fewer injuries, but by not training your legs and posterior chain you’re ignoring the biggest muscles you have and missing out on a huge anabolic stimulus that affects the whole body. Plus… nobody wants chicken legs.
Mistake #4 – Training for too long
If half an hour is good, three hours must be better, right?
So many guys attempt marathon gym sessions, and it does nothing but hurt your progress. After around an hour your testosterone levels drop and your cortisol levels rise. This is bad. Your sessions should last 40-60 minutes and no more. This ensures you can get enough quality training done to have the most effect, but you don’t sabotage your progress by stressing your body unnecessarily. You’ve also got a life to live, and you don’t need to spend half of it in the gym.
Mistake #5 – Not using a training journal
How much can you deadlift? How much did you squat last week? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, how will you know what numbers you have to hit next week? How will you know if you’ve made any real progress by this time next year?Write down every set you complete in the gym. Write down your warm up, and any conditioning work you do. Not only is it essential to track your progress, but it will also help you identify any problems you might have. Go and buy a little black book and start doing this now.
Mistake #6 – Not focusing on recovery
What’s going to have more impact on your physique, the 4 hours a week you spend in the gym, or the 164 hours a week you spend outside the gym?
Recovery is key. You need to focus on proper nutrition, sleep and avoiding stress. Nutrition is too big a topic to cover here, but you need to eat enough depending on your goals, eat real food, and eat enough protein. Don’t eat garbage and expect to look good. Sleep is hugely undervalued by most people. 7-9 hours of quality sleep can make all the difference in the world to how you feel and look. Sleep deprivation increases your insulin sensitivity and lowers your testosterone, making it harder to gain muscle and easier to get fat.
Go to bed by 10:30, eat a satisfying meal a couple of hours before that, read a book, destress, relax and get some sleep. Oh, and turn off your phone and TV for at least an hour before bed, the light stimulates your brain and makes it harder to fall asleep
Mistake #7 – Training to failure
If life were like a Rocky training montage it’d be pretty awesome. Unfortunately, nonfictional people can’t train with eyeball-popping intensity the whole time without injuring themselves. Obviously you want to train hard, but training to absolute failure is a huge stress on your central nervous system and can hinder your recovery hugely.
It’s also just not necessary for most guys unless you’re a competitive powerlifter. Leave a rep or two “in the tank”, and you’ll thank me for it later.
Mistake #8 – Not using compound lifts
Compound, multi-joint movements give you the best “bang for your buck” out of anything you can do in the gym. They train multiple muscle groups, and are easy to track (in your training journal, remember?). A good strength and muscle gaining programme, or for that matter a good fat loss programme, will feature squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, chin-ups, pushups and dips.
Focus on getting strong in these before you worry about isolation exercises like curls.
Mistake #9 – Not cycling your training
While progressive overload is key, there are limits to how far you can go. Otherwise everybody would be able to squat a metric ton after a few years’ training. Life isn’t like that. A good long-term programme will include periods of lower intensity and planned deloads where you give your body a chance to recover from the beating you’re giving it. These are essential if you want to continue to make progress over a number of years.
Mistake #10 – Injuring yourself
The way some guys deadlift, you’d think their main goal was to give themselves a hernia rather than to get stronger. Proper form is absolutely vital. If you don’t know how to squat and deadlift safely, get someone to teach you. Without proper form you won’t benefit from doing the exercise properly, and you’re much more likely to injure yourself. Similarly, using too much weight is a great way to get hurt. Leave your ego at the door and lift the amount you are able to do without your form breaking down.
Lastly, if you want to train long-term, make sure you warm up properly and work up to heavy sets gradually. Walking into the gym cold and trying a max-effort squat is insane. If you’re injured you can’t train, and I find it’s more fun getting stronger without the need for reconstructive surgery.
© Mike Alexander, 2014.