Whether you’re new to working out or quite experienced, chances are there are some aspects of your program that you’re making mistakes with, or can at least improve upon.
Below is my list of top 10 training mistakes that people very commonly make, regardless of their level of experience. These are behind so many disappointments and frustrations in the gym, and it’s important to be aware of them so that you can either avoid them, or correct them if they’re already affecting your progress.
1. Doing too much too soon
One of the quickest ways to railroad your training efforts, if not the quickest way, is to suffer an injury. Injuries can sideline you for an appreciable length of time and really set back your progress significantly. But not only that, they can also weaken both your motivation and your self-confidence in the gym, making future progress all the more difficult for you.
While working out isn’t necessarily an inherently dangerous activity, when you start mixing it with recklessness or impatience, it can very quickly become so. That’s why it’s so important to not get ahead of yourself by taking on exercises or intensity levels that you’re not quite ready for.
Some exercises are of course more technically challenging and carry a greater risk than others. A beginner can perform a simple dumbbell bicep curl, for example, without too much chance of something going wrong, other than perhaps dropping the weight on their toe.
A barbell deadlift, on the other hand, is a whole different story. It’s quite a technical movement that requires practice before doing with weight, and also carries a significant risk of serious injury if executed improperly.
Everyone is of course eager to progress as quickly as possible, but it’s important to keep yourself in check. Don’t allow your ego or your impatience to dictate your pace. Taking on too much too soon is one of those training mistakes that can be extremely unforgiving.
And whilst on this topic, the same advice goes for each of your training sessions. Don’t just walk into the gym and immediately start throwing big weights around. Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. aren’t ready. Be patient, warm up thoroughly and ease into your workout, especially when performing large, heavy lifts.
2. Not being consistent
There’s an old saying that our results are determined by what we do consistently, not what we do once in a while. And it’s very true.
So often I come across people who are dissatisfied with their progress in the gym, and yet their consistency is non-existent. Four days of training one week, two days the next, no leg training the week after, and so on. You can’t train half-heartedly like that and expect decent results.
Being consistent certainly isn’t easy however and for some people it’s particularly challenging. In fact, of all the 10 training mistakes described here this one is probably the hardest to overcome.
There are three vital ingredients to ensuring that you train consistently. Have a goal, have a workout plan, and find a way to motivate yourself.
Your goal provides you with a reason for making the effort to train in the first place. Your plan gives you the necessary structure and makes it clear what you need to achieve each day. This provides some level of accountability, since without it it’s easy to fall for the misguided belief that as long as you show up to the gym, you’re OK. And finally, motivation is the fuel that drives you to keep going each day.
3. Avoiding the big, compound movements
Isolation exercises (exercises involving just one joint) are normally technically quite easy to execute and allow you to specifically target a single muscle group. They’re generally less challenging than compound movements (those involving more than one joint) and also less demanding on your body’s nervous system and energy systems.
As a result, some people, particularly those who don’t yet have a lot of experience working out, can tend to gravitate primarily to these. They’re less intimidating and easier to get comfortable with. If comfort were your goal however, you wouldn’t be in the gym, you’d be at home sitting on the couch.
To be effective, your workout routine should be based on a variety of larger, compound movements, supplemented with isolation exercises to help develop specific areas of your physique. Nice, simple isolation exercises have their place but restricting yourself predominantly or totally to these in the gym will seriously limit your development.
The major compound movements for your lower body are squats, lunges and deadlifts. Those for your upper body are the bench press and shoulder press. Be sure to include a variety of these in your weekly routine for optimal results.
4. Not using variety
Performing the same workout routine with the same exercises week in and week out is one of those training mistakes that can only be put down to laziness. Sure, it’s very convenient to write out a plan and simply repeat it week after week, but it’s not an effective way to cause your body to develop.
To stimulate effective development of your physique, you need to hit each muscle group with a variety of different exercises, from a variety of different angles. You should also change around all the exercise variables in your program regularly – exercise type, grip/stance, number of reps, number of sets, exercise order, speed of motion, and so on.
The same principle applies to cardio workouts. Your body gradually adapts to your exercise routine when you repeat the same one over, and your workouts therefore lose their effectiveness over time.
It’s important therefore to add variety to your cardio workouts as well, by changing around the types of exercises you do, the modality of the exercise, the intensity and so on. By varying your cardio routines regularly you keep your body challenged and your training effectiveness high.
5. Blindly copying someone else’s program
It can often be tempting to simply copy someone else’s workout program, particularly if that person is a celebrity of some sort or if she has a great physique. As far as training mistakes go, this is quite a common one since many people mistakenly believe that someone’s program is entirely responsible for the quality of their results. This, of course, isn’t the case.
Copying someone else’s training program is a mistake for two reasons.
Firstly, the person whom you are copying is most likely in a totally different situation to you. Her training goals may be quite different, her time-availability for training may be greater than yours, her level of training experience may be higher, and so on.
Secondly, everyone is an individual and therefore responds in a different way to given training routine. This is why there really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all fitness program. You can’t expect to copy someone else’s workout routine and achieve the same results, it just doesn’t work that way.
While there’s nothing wrong with using someone else’s training program as a guide, at the end of the day the routine that you undertake needs to be tailored to you as an individual so that it can be as effective as possible.
6. Not being mentally present
An important part of being able to work out intensely and effectively is having your mind on the job 100 percent. If you’re in the gym and your mind is elsewhere, thinking about what you’ll be having for dinner, where you’re going out on the weekend, something you need to do for work, or anything else, then you’re workout will suffer.
Without total mental focus, you’re just going through the motions. Your mental and physical intensity will be sub-par and your form will be less than optimal.
A major culprit behind distractions in the gym is cell phones. If you really need to bring yours along in case of an emergency or because you use some apps to help with your workouts, then that’s fine. Just be sure you don’t get drawn into texting, posting on social media or otherwise wasting your time with it. The gym isn’t the place for that.
While actually performing each exercise, the mind-muscle connection is very important. You need to focus on the muscle group you’re training at all times and visualize it working. Studies have shown that this makes a significant difference to how your muscles activate and therefore what results you get.
If you want good results, then make sure both your body and your mind are working for you.
7. Ignoring pain
Training mistakes that affect your results are one thing, but those that can influence your health and wellbeing are entirely another and need to be taken particularly seriously.
Working out intensely is obviously uncomfortable and can even be described as painful. And part of being able to get great results from your training is pushing through the pain of an intense workout. But there are actually two types of pain, one which makes your body grow and the other that signals that something’s wrong. It’s important to be able to distinguish between the two.
Toughing it out through the wrong type of pain isn’t going to do you any favors whatsoever, and will only exacerbate the underlying source of the problem.
If you’re suffering from joint pain or pain that’s the result of a muscle tear or tendon problem, then you need to give your body time to recover. Continuing to work out despite this type of pain will not only prevent you from working out effectively, but it can potentially cause irreversible damage.
If you’re not sure about the source of some pain you’re experiencing, play it safe and consult your doctor. It beats disabling yourself permanently from working out properly.
8. Cheating on form
Of all the 10 training mistakes on this list, this is the one I come across virtually every time I step into the gym. And the offenders are almost always males.
When too much weight is being used for an exercise, some form of cheating becomes necessary to be able to complete the entire set. That entails either using improper form or momentum to assist the working muscles.
There are two main problems with cheating on your form. The first is that by using incorrect form or an exercise, you increase your chance of injury.
The second is that by cheating you’re either recruiting assisting muscles or using momentum to actually reduce the workload on the target muscle group, but in doing so you have no control over exactly how much load it’s actually being exposed to. This makes the workout very hit-or-miss.
Minor cheating used to help complete the final rep or two of a set with fatigued muscles is quite acceptable, but cheating on a set from the very beginning definitely isn’t.
One very blatant example I’ve personally seen of cheating was with an individual who was performing lat pull-downs. He actually had his body about thirty degrees from horizontal at the bottom of each movement, turning it more into a row than a pull-down. In this case his cheating was so blatant that it virtually changed muscle groups being targeted.
One reason for cheating on form is simply not knowing any better. But by far the most common is ego, which is probably why it’s so prevalent among males. Cheating doesn’t make the target muscles any stronger however, it simply compensates for their inadequate strength.
A far more sensible approach is to use appropriate weights that you can manage and control. In this way you’re not only able to work out more safely, but you’re also able to effectively track your progress.
9. Not periodizing
As far as training mistakes go, this one is a common one with lesser-experienced exercisers who are working on their own.
Periodization basically refers to the practice of varying your workout routine periodically to focus on the development of different attributes. There are a number of different approaches to periodization, each with different purposes and strengths.
We already discussed the importance of variety in your workout program in a previous point. Periodization allows you to introduce variety over time in exercise factors such as number of reps, training volume, training frequency and so on, in an organized manner.
Another very important benefit of periodization is in the planning of deloading phases and/or rest phases into your program. It’s not possible to train at maximum intensity non-stop. Your body needs time to rest and recuperate, so these are an important element of any effective training program.
10. Not actively progressing
Physical development is all about constant progression. And the only way to progress with your workout program is by tracking your progress so that you can continue doing so, rather than stagnating.
One of the classic training mistakes among novice and experienced exercisers alike is getting into a groove of simply going through the motions each time they work out. If you never push past the current limits of your body, your body doesn’t develop. It’s that simple. You can’t expect to keep doing the same thing if you want to see change.
The first, essential step to progressing is to track and record all your workouts. You need to know exactly what you can achieve with each particular exercise. Without this it simply isn’t possible to progress reliably and constantly.
Over time, you should be actively working towards new PR’s in each of your muscle groups and exercises, as these signify that you’re getting stronger, or fitter, or more conditioned, as the case may be.
Don’t make the mistake of sitting idly by and waiting for results to come. Go out and earn them!
Getting into great shape is never easy, and making it more difficult through fundamental mistakes is the last thing you need. It’s quite likely that at least one of these top 10 training mistakes will resonate with what you’re currently doing or not doing, as the case may be.
If so that’s fine. It’s good that you’ve realized it – simply make the necessary changes and keep going. As everything else in your fitness lifestyle, it’s a process, and hopefully one that you’re able to constantly improve upon.
If you have a minute, I’d love to hear about some of the mistakes you’ve been making in your workout program to date in the comments below. How have they been holding you back and how have you managed to overcome them? Let me know . . .