I wasted a lot of time in the gym, but I don’t regret it. I learned through many years of trial and error. But looking back, I still wish I had known then, what I know now.
The internet wasn’t a big thing, when I started training. Now, all the knowledge in the world is just one mouse click away.
It has its dark side though. Now, too many unqualified people get to fill your head with nonsense, and it’s hard to filter through all of it.
So, how do you dodge some of the most common training mistakes made by almost everyone?
7 Common Rookie Workout Mistakes
Falling Prey To Supplements
There’s a quick way into poverty and frustration. Just spend $100+ a month on supplements, without knowing how to Squat or Deadlift. I know guys like that.
Pre-Workouts, Intra-Workouts, Whey Protein, Casein, Fat Burners, various amino acids, you name it, they’re probably taking it. Are all these supplements helping their progress? Not at all.
There are only a handful of performance enhancing supplements (which won’t land you in jail), that will actually help you. If you are not getting the results you want, first and foremost, take a look at your training, not your list of supplements.
Legendary Strength Coach Dan John goes as far as saying, that until you can Back Squat your bodyweight on the Bar for 50 reps, you have no business worrying about supplements. Worry about progressive overload, getting your numbers up with the right training methods and a ton of good food.
Do this instead: For performance, creatine, a strong coffee and some good amino acids go a long way. In addition, I recommend taking Magnesium, Vitamin D and maybe a good fish oil. Except for those, save your money.
Lack Of Mobility And A Structured Warm-Up
Five minutes on an exercise bike followed by ten arm circles does not qualify as a warm-up. When I was 18, that’s what my warm-up looked like. If you were lucky. Once you hit 30 though (hopefully you will realize earlier), you’ll need to train differently. Stuff like mobility training becomes more important.
Many guys who have always neglected a structured pre-workout mobility routine and dynamic warm-up now have poor mobility, with nibbling pains in elbows, knees or shoulders. And they’ve barely hit their 30’s.
Do this instead: Start every session with 10-15 minutes of mobility work and a dynamic warm-up. Ideally, take care of your corrective work, and any weaknesses you have, during that time too.
Make it a routine and stick to it. Hell or high water. I set a timer for 12 minutes (you may need more). That way I know I’m not slacking off, and that I’m not stretching my session into one of those voodoo-flossing-lacrosse-ball-foam roller marathons either, where you forget that movement prep is usually followed by actual training.
You can put aside one day a week, where you spend more time on these things, and I find one yoga session a week does wonders too.
Chatting, checking your phone, updating your Facebook status to “beast mode”, ten sets of biceps curls, or menial cardio is all a waste of your time. And you don’t have time to waste. You can probably make it to the gym three times a week for an hour.
You need to make that time count. If the majority of your time in the gym is not composed of one main lift (eg. Squat, Deadlift), with the remainder taken up by hard work on other compound movements, it’s time to remedy that.
Do this instead: Follow a good program and a tight protocol. Limit all possible distractions and focus. A good way to do that is to keep a close eye on your rest periods between sets and by using the visualization technique. Always picture yourself dominating the next set. That’s what Arnold did and it worked wonders for him.
Majoring In The Minors
I remember the very early days when my leg training consisted of the leg press, the leg curl and the leg extension. Squats and Deadlifts? Not interested. Beginner ignorance.
Nowadays, trainees can show you ten different ways to do a Biceps Curl, before they know how to place a Bar onto their Back. Many have been training for years, but haven’t set foot inside a Squat Rack, other than for another Biceps Curl variation or a chat.
Guys can leg press 300kg, but collapse under a Bar loaded with only their bodyweight. This is unacceptable. But you get my point. Don’t major in the minors.
Do this instead: My training progress would have taken a huge leap (so will yours) if I had started to Squat and Deadlift, and learned all other basic Barbell and free weight exercises early on. There is no better and more timely pay-off. Tackle them as early as possible (using a sensible approach).
Hare vs Tortoise
“It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
Seeing gyms packed to the rims on January 1st makes me sad. Not the fact, that people have decided to make fitness part of their new year resolutions – which is great – but that by march 1st, 90% will have dropped out, and the gym will be empty once more, before it fills up again just shy of summer.
Training twice a week every week forever beats training five days a week for three months out of the year to get cute for summer, and then degrading back to whatever shape you’re sporting the rest of the year.
The problem is, slow and steady isn’t sexy enough. It doesn’t sell either. It’s cooler to enter a three month “No Pain No Gain Warrior Spartan Challenge”. These challenges, at the right time, are good, but not for people who haven’t put in the hours, and are just looking for a magic bullet. There are no shortcuts. Your first challenge must be to build consistency.
Do this instead: Develop a sustainable fitness routine. The strongest and fittest people I know are NOT the ones killing themselves at the gym for three months a year, and then the times you see them are few and far between. Slow and steady wins the race.
Letting Your Conditioning Slip
Many people are convinced that in fitness you can only have one thing at a time. As a result, everything else must go down the shitter. If you want strength, your conditioning will plummet. If you want more muscle, you’ll gain the equivalent in body fat, and good conditioning comes at the expense of losing muscle.
That’s like saying that an entrepreneur can’t build a successful company without the sacrifice of his wife leaving him, his kids estranging him, losing his friends, as well as his health and fitness.
Sure, balancing all these things is challenging, and phases of stronger focus on a single thing is necessary, but it’s doable. You just need to make a little time and be aware of everything else.
If a Football player wants to get drafted for the NFL, he needs to get strong for the Bench Press test. But he can’t let his conditioning slip because of it. He wouldn’t get drafted. He needs both.
Do this instead: I wrote about the importance of conditioning recently. Make time for it. You don’t need a lot. Ten minutes of High-Intensity work a few times a week, like pushing a Sled, Hill Sprints, Kettlebell Swings, or Battle Rope Slams is enough.
Training To Failure All The Time
Most people lifting at the gym train to muscular failure. All the time. It’s unnecessary and a mistake, and for many a recipe for staying weak. If you are a beginner just learning the exercises, I recommend never to train to muscular failure. Why?
Because it messes with your motor program. It burns failure and those last couple of shitty reps into your motor program. Do you think a gymnast trains to muscle failure until he/she falls of the rings or bars? Sounds crazy right? And these athletes have bodies people would kill for.
Do this instead: You will get stronger faster, if you leave 1-2 reps in the tank, focus on clean, controlled, but forceful reps and frequent training sessions. When you lift more weight, you put on muscle and you will learn to tap into those harder to reach muscle fibers too, without frying your nervous system and annihilating yourself each and every set. Train smarter and use to muscular failure training sparingly.