Monday 25 April 2016

The Top 10 Gym Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

You work hard for your training and you deserve results. However, every time I’m in a regular gym and I look around at the people working out, I sigh in frustration. Over and over again I see the same mistakes. Mistakes the cost people time, safety and results. Here are 10 mistakes I see all the time – are you making any of these?

1. Working really hard on really easy exercises
If you have read my work, you will notice that I keep coming back to this simple truth: effective training results start with picking amazing exercises! Sets, reps, methods and every other part of an effective program is useless if you use inferior exercises!

The problem for all of us is that we will always subconsciously gravitate towards easier exercises. Sure we can make intellectual justifications for these choices, but the fact remains – transforming your body’s performance or aesthetics requires brutally hard work on really hard, uncomfortable exercises. When you embrace this truth, good things start to happen! 

2. Focusing on variation instead of progression
The fitness industry is obsessed with variation. Mix it up, keep your body guessing, keep it fresh, confuse the muscles and never let your body know what is coming next! Random “programming” is fun, exciting, entertaining and great for keeping your mind fresh. However, it misses the whole point of training. Training is about doing what you need to do to get the results you want. The magic happens when care more about your results than you care about being entertained. Once you have picked fantastic exercises and have a solid program in place – stick with it. Switch things up not when you get bored and find a cooler program, but when you honestly stop making progress. 

3. Focusing on feeling instead of results 
Ask most people how their workout went and they will talk about how it felt. They will tell you how much it hurt, how tired they got, how sore their muscles where, how they felt the burn and got really sweaty. Now, all these things might happen, but they do not guarantee success. Instead of chasing these feelings, go after results. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Am I seeing regular progression in my training log?
  • Is my health improving or staying good if it is good already?
  • Am I noticing improvement in my sport, work and daily life?
  • Is my body composition staying great or moving in the direction I want it to go?

Now, that is not to say that feelings are bad. A lot of people care more about feelings than numbers and that’s fine. If this is you, here are examples of good feelings to focus on getting from your training:
  • The feeling of accomplishment you get from setting a new PR (personal record)
  • The feeling you get from re-testing a fitness component you are working on and seeing improvement
  • The feeling of relief you get when your doctor says, “You’re in excellent health!”
  • The feeling you get from doing a task with ease that you used to struggle with
  • The feeling you get when you fit into those jeans again
  • The feeling you get from dominating your opponents in your favorite sport
  • The feeling you get when you bump into someone you haven’t seen in a while and they say, “Wow, you look great – what you are doing?”

4. Making hard exercises easier 
A classic example of this is the Stairmaster (for the record, I’m not a fan of cardio machines). Why is it that almost everyone who uses the Stairmaster ends up supporting 90% of their body weight with their hyperextended elbows? The answer is that your body does not have the same goals as you do. You may want to change, but your body wants to stay where it is. Remember science class in high school? Your body likes homeostasis. Not only will you subconsciously move towards easier exercises, you will also subconsciously move towards making hard exercises easier. 

The solution is to consciously strive to make exercises harder. Don’t let yourself cheat. Don’t cut your depth on a squat. Don’t bounce the weight off your chest on a bench press. Don’t swing your legs when you do pull-ups. Use proper range of motion. Use the target muscles to move the weight. Earn the big weights. Embrace hard work.

5. Inappropriate weight selection
Alwyn Cosgrove once wrote that if he was ruler, he would make every guy lift 10% less and every lady lift 10% more. Now, of course there are countless exceptions to this norm, but the stereotype still prevelant in gyms all over the world. Many guys need to swallow their pride and lower their weight so they can actually do the movement properly and effectively. Many ladies have no idea how strong they are and what they are capable of lifting and need to go after those heavier weights. 

6. Wrong focus for a particular exercise
Not every exercise should be done the same way. Problems in safety and effectiveness arise when people use the wrong focus for a particular exercise. Take biceps curls for example. How many times have you seen a guy with skinny arms violently jerk a heavy weight up with everything but his biceps? Remember, just because you got the weight from point A to point B does not mean you actually accomplished what you wanted to. 

Exercises will generally fall into 3 categories: power, strength or accessory and each one requires a different focus for optimal results. Here is what your focus should be for each of these:
  • Do power exercises (e.g. power clean) with an aggressive, explosive action (you need to get a little mad when you are doing a set of a power exercise!)
  • For strength exercises (e.g. squat or deadlift) attempt to accelerate the weight up while staying tight and focusing on a proper bar path. 
  • For accessory exercises (e.g. reverse flies, biceps curls), focus on isolating, flexing and squeezing the target muscle(s).

7. Turning head to watch in the mirror
While often just a vanity distraction from your training session, mirrors can be a valuable tool to check form. (Personally, I’m not a fan of watching myself in the mirror while I lift – I just see this bald guy suffering and I feel sorry for him). However, many people make the mistake of turning their head to look in the mirror while doing an exercise. 

Years ago I was doing a set of rows. In the middle of the set I turned my head. Instantly I heard a pop in my neck and couldn’t turn my head to the right. 

When you are under load, be sure to keep a neutral neck position. This will reduce the risk of a neck injury and ensure that the nerves coming from your cervical spine (neck) are not hindered (i.e. this helps your performance). 

You can use the mirror to your check your set-up from the side before you lift (e.g. deadlifts, 1-arm row). However, before you pick up the weight, get your head back to neutral. If you want to see your form while lifting, grab your phone and have someone film your set. Then you can analyze your form. You will be amazed at what you learn from this!

8. Excessive corrective exercise
Between daily life, sports, work and bad training habits we all have some issues and can benefit from some corrective work. However, if you want to burn fat, build muscle or improve your performance, corrective exercise alone won’t get you there. While a small amount of corrective work can be done as part of your warm-up, between sets of bigger exercises and after training, you need to be careful. If not, you can end up spending your whole training session correcting and not actually training. 

9. Inappropriate training splits
Many people use the wrong training split or weekly layout. Now, for the record, I’m not a full body guy or a split routine guy. I’m a results guy and I’ll use everything from full body workouts to body part split routines depending on the needs and goals of my clients and athletes. 

Each weekly layout option has its own advantages and disadvantages. The problem comes when your choice is inappropriate for you. Here are some examples: 
  • Body part split routines can work well if you are advanced, have a bodybuilding goal and can come to the gym at 4-6 days per week. 
  • If you are a beginner, you will make faster progress on a full body routine. 
  • If you are trying to improve your athletic performance use some variation of a full body or upper/lower split. 
  • If you can only train 2-3 days a week, don’t do chest on day 1, arms on day 2 and abs on day 3. Yes there can be a place for an arm day – after you have done already devoted other days to pushing, pulling, squatting and hinging. 
  • No one needs to spend a whole workout on abs. 

For more on split routines vs. whole body and weekly layout options, check out these posts: 

10. Excessive sitting 
Sitting stinks and most people do too much of it. To make matters worse, after sitting all day, many folks go to the gym and sit through their entire workout. 

If you sit at the office, stand at the gym
I still cringe when I think about the workouts I used to design for clients back in the 90’s. We would start with the bike to warm-up. Then, proceed through a handful of machines (which all had you sitting while you moved your arms or legs) and then finish with more bike for cardio. The most functional thing the person did was walk from their car into the gym.

Now, sitting does have its place in training. It can be helpful when trying to isolate a muscle (e.g. seated DB curls). After not sitting in my training for over a decade, I have brought a few seated exercises back into my training program to help isolate muscles I was having trouble targeting in a standing positoin. However, the problem comes when you find yourself sitting for most of your workout. Remember the most effective exercises happen on your feet. 

How about you? What mistakes do you see when you are at your gym? I welcome you to share the mistakes you have seen at your gym in the comments section below or on my Facebook Page

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