I’ve spend a lot of time at the gym over the last few years and I’ve noticed a few things that people do frequently that hinder their progress. The follow are 8 of the simplest to fix:
1) Lifting the weight not lifting the lift. I have no problem with power lifters using whatever means necessary to get the weight up, their sport is lifting as much weight as possible and there is a special technique to it, one that is very different from a fitness or body building lift. But this type of lifting isn’t the most effective way to get fit or grow muscle. In fact, they do whatever they can to make lifting that weight as easy as possible, the opposite of what body builders and fitness participants should be doing. If you are working a leg exercise and your shoulders are hurting, take some weight off so you are able to feel the effort in your legs.
2) Not working out very hard. Intensity is key to getting quick results at the gym. It’s fine to be social while you’re there, just try your best to keep your heart rate and effort up. If you do more talking than lifting, consider finding somewhere else to hang out.
3) Avoiding power lifting movements. Power lifting moves are great for teaching you how to control your nervous system and coordinate the impulses needed to fire almost all of the muscle fibers in a muscle. In fact, you’re not likely to be able to learn this any other way. Lots of practice can teach you how to fire them but going down that avenue is going to take years vs. months. It is irrelevant that their isn’t a direct carryover from power cleans to pull-ups, because the portion of the brain that controls and coordinates high levels of muscle recruitment is going to develop from power cleans which is going to make pull-ups easier.
4) Working a very short portion of a lifts range of motion. Unless you have an injury, warm-up well and perform the entire range of motion with EVERY lift; I’ll give you a shorter range on the last unspotted rep of a heavy set, but that’s it. Lowering 80 pound dumbbells to elbows at 90 degrees and pressing them up again is exactly 50% of a rep. Would you come 50% of the way to the gym for your workout? I’ve seen people “press” 225 of 5 reps like this – you can tell who these people are because their chests are tight and their shoulders are rounded forward when they walk through the gym looking to see who saw them perform their killer set. The other great example of this behaviour is the 1/8th leg press when the person loads the machine with every plate in the gym and moves it 3 inches. At least in this case, if they load and unload the machine themselves, they are getting a decent workout.
5) Coming to the gym instead of getting another hobby. There is a limit to how much you can workout and still continue to grow. You’ll continue to burn calories the more you work, but there is a finite amount of micro-damage that you can do to your body before you start running into problems or stop being able to lift with enough intensity to do any damage. You’ve done way too much a few set BEFORE this point. While you will keep growing, you’ll not be growing as fast as you could be had you performed just enough work.
6) Not having any goals, long, short or immediate. Sometimes when I ask people what they are hoping to achieve by being at the gym they know right away and tell me, I want to lose some weight and build some muscle, I want to look good at the cottage this summer, I like the way it feels when or after I workout,… But a lot of the time, people don’t know why they are there. They’re doing the same exercises the same way and with the same weight that they always do and getting exactly the same thing out of it as they always do. When your sole reason for being there inertia, it maybe time to talk to a trainer about some goals.
7) Not trying anything new. Most people hate telling me what their favorite exercise is that they started doing in the last 6 weeks. For me it would be overhead barbell shrugs. The 6 weeks before that it would have been single arm corner barbell press and before that it would have been the agility ladder. Wide grip dead lifts on a step, glut-ham raises, front squats and, for a time, upper-pec cable crossovers would have been mentioned. The workouts I do now have some of the same core compound exercises as the ones I did a year ago, but a lot of the other exercises have been replaced with new ones. My strength on most lifts has improved marginally in that year but given that there are about 15 or 20 new lifts included in that, I believe I have progressed. Irrelevant of the numbers, my body looks better than it did a year ago because the new movements have added mass in places that were not getting worked before.
8) Never thinking about why you are doing what you are doing. I don’t mean goals here, I mean things like not questioning the wisdom of why you don’t go all the way to the ground with squats, why fat makes you fat, why you will never grow on a reduced or low carbohydrate diet, why machines are not as good as free weights or why doing cardio will stop you from growing. There are 1000’s of these pieces of wisdom out there that have been repeated so much that they are now assumed to be facts. Just question yourself every now and then to determine why your are doing what you are doing