Whatever your goals are in the gym, it is probably true that you are doing something which slows down your progress towards them.
‘Mistakes’ is a harsh word, and no-one likes being told they are making them, but it’s not uncommon for the best athletes in the world to make mistakes.
Often, it’s the benefit of hindsight and reflection – due to the nature of our job – that offers us the chance to correct our personal mistakes, and build on the ideas and techniques that help us progress faster, and perhaps even safer, than before.
That, and the hours of research we do to ensure we aren’t talking out of our backsides. People are people. We get better at stuff because we mess up. Sometimes, though, it’s better not to mess up, and just get better!
Here are 5 common ways in which people can hinder their progress in the gym. Turn them around and you’ll notice the difference.
Cardio First – Get it Out of the Way
Right?! Cardio sucks for the guy who wants to get muscles. He knows he has to do it, to stay healthy and keep the fat at bay, so he blasts it out the way in the first 20 minutes of his workout.
It’s a bad plan for anybody working out in the gym, even if your goal is to be fitter and not necessarily stronger or bigger in a muscular sense.
Cardiovascular exercise burns calories, which is a good thing, except that it rips through your supply of carbohydrates, as well as a bit of fat. So that pre-workout you drank has become fuel for your cardio, not your muscle building.
By the time you get to the weights, you’ve spent most of your carbohydrate energy. That was the energy you need right now because weight lifting needs explosive power, and the gas for that is basic sugar, ATP and some other compounds you are now lacking.
So, do cardio after the weights.
There’s another good reason too. If you burn through your carbs during the weights, by the time you get to the cardio machines, your body has to dig into its fat storage for fuel.
Oxygen and fat makes for a good cardio exercise. Try staying mainly in the upper end of the Aerobic zone, and dip into anaerobic effort for short spells every so often. Twenty to 30 minutes and you can hit the showers.
But how do I get my muscles warm for the weights if I don’t do cardio? – Good question. You can do a few minutes on a cross-trainer or eliptical (something that gets your whole body moving) to warm up but dynamic warms-ups are better.
Dynamic warm-ups involve full body exercises like burpees or squat thrusts etc. and they really light up your muscles ready for a good session. Again, this shouldn’t be too long because you’ll deplete energy, but getting to a point where you sweat and are breathing nice and deep is a good idea.
Lots of Stretching
If there’s one thing you know is true, it’s that you need to stretch a lot before lifting weights…
…unfortunately, your coach back in high school might have been slightly misinformed about that.
Stretching has its place, don’t get us wrong. It’s just another thing that should probably wait until after you have finished your workout.
Stretching muscles is a very literal thing. It is in fact stretching them. This mechanical action actually weakens them temporarily, even damages them slightly, in order for them to gain a little range of motion in the long run.
The problem comes when we try to use our newly stretched muscles and contract them under the load of, say, a barbell. In this case, they cannot achieve their full power potential, which will essentially flatten your peak power slightly and limit your growth rate post-workout.
But what if I pull a muscle? Surely I need to stretch first!! – This bring us back to the importance of a brief but thorough warm up. Secondly, dynamic movement is a far better preparatory activity for lifting weights than stretching.
In fact, moving under bodyweight, in the same way as you will under load is the best way. So if you are going to do squats, then it’s best to do some dynamic squats on the spot. Start slow and put some spring into them after a little while. Again, don’t deplete energy levels too much, just get your body warm and your muscles prepared.
Remember: Stretching a muscle in no way prepares that muscle for resistance to a load. What does prepare it is similar movement to the one you are going to do, but under less load. Like, say, bodyweight. And after a while, due to neurological conditioning, your brain and body will know what is coming and you will notice the difference in your max lifts.
The More The Better
The next two mistakes are closely related because they are two individual problems in themselves that can come together to form one big problem that is greater than the sum of both parts.
Stick with us here because this is all about training volume.
People who start in the gym without much experience – and stick to it – will see some of the best, if not the best gains they will have in their life. That’s down to a number of factors including neurological adaptation and the complexities of sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy.
Once these same people start to plateau, they feel that something has to change. Change generally comes in one of two ways, perhaps both: more training sessions per week and/or longer training sessions.
It’s true that one or both of these can even help, and we are not here to dissuade you if you feel it is the best option for you. But consider first the idea that your body improved dramatically on the training frequency you have been on.
Perhaps it is not the regularity, but the routine itself that needs to change. In fact, increasing frequency of training sessions may even have a negative impact because your muscles would have to recover, overcompensate and grow quicker between more regular sessions. A biological unlikelihood unless your diet and sleep cycle is in need of dramatic improvement.
What’s more likely is that your body has adapted to the specific movements and exercises that you have been doing over the course of the last X number of months.
Try changing those movements and exercises before you change frequency of training sessions. If only to rule it out.
The Longer The Better
As we said in the previous section, schedule might not be the best thing to experiment with first if you are struggling to get the gains. Sometimes, lengthening the session is an option, particularly if you are a weekend warrior or someone who only has 2 days a week in which they can work out…or some other reason.
Surprisingly often, however, the opposite can be true. You need to shorten your session to get more out of it. Hold on though, there are caveats to that. You can’t just do less and expect to grow more muscle.
The point here is: it’s not necessarily how much time you workout for but how you workout during that time.
Guys are social creatures, it’s part of what makes us go to gyms in the first place. It is after all a better motivational factor than training alone.
However, you should probably remember what you are doing at the gym and why you are doing it, especially if you get into a 10 minute chat about last night’s game on TV in between sets.
We’re not advocating that you ignore everyone, but putting your headphones on and getting on with each set is going to cut your time down by a lot over the course of a workout.
Being a gym butterfly is not going to make you stronger, or bigger, or faster…and neither is talking to gym butterflies. They are there to test you. Don’t fail.
Get in…crush it…then do whatever the hell you want!
There’s guys that can do more in 25 minutes than some can do in these crazy 2 hour sessions. Ask yourself what you can do in 25 minutes if you put your mind and muscle to it.
If nothing else, you have limited reserves of power before fatigue catches up with you. Float about in the gym for too long and it will catch up with you anyway, whether you’ve smoked the weights or not.
In the long run, we’ve found it’s better to calculate a schedule that fits with your life and then figure out the workouts that can be done within that, instead of trying to follow a timetable that is messing up your rest, social and work time.
I’m Focusing on my Biceps Today
Deadlift, squat, bench press, and military (shoulder) press are movements that you absolutely need in your training if you are interested in gaining overall strength and/or muscle mass.
In a way, these core lifts are all you ever really need. If you aren’t solid in these 4 lifts, why the f#ck are you fannying about doing bicep curls for 20 minutes?
Strong arms in isolation are useless if the base they are attached to is weak.
What’s more, those 4 core lifts will make your arms more powerful anyway. Master these lifts, get your movements tight and safe, and then think about embellishments.