I love that strength training has been gaining in popularity over the past several years. Getting stronger and building lean muscle is a great way to accelerate your metabolism, burn more fat, boost energy, and improve the overall quality of your life.
As a trainer, I’ve spent plenty of hours in the gym working with people from all walks of life. I’ve coached beginners who have never stepped foot in a gym before, as well as grizzled weight-room veterans who still could benefit from a little guidance and refinement.
What I’ve observed is that most people are concerned with the X’s and O’s of strength training. They have questions like:
“What exercises should I be doing?” “How many reps are best for burning fat?” “How many days per week should I work out?”
While these are all valid questions, they’re not the things holding them back. The biggest errors I see in the weight room have to do with people’s understanding of what strength training is, and how to pursue is safely and effectively.
Below are five of the most common errors in thinking when it comes to strength training. They’re more about your mindset and approach to getting strong than tips or techniques. If you can avoid them, you’ll be well on your way to long-term success in the gym.
Underestimating the skill of movement
One of the most common mistakes people make is not appreciating that squats, deadlifts, kettlebell movements, push-ups, and even lunges are all motor skills, and they require some time to learn. Although most people accept that technique and form is important, they underestimate how much time it takes to truly ingrain that proper technique so that it’s stable at higher speeds and heavier weights.
Often what happens is that someone will get a surface-level education of how to perform an exercise, and then assume that they’re good to go. But they often miss some of the finer details and fail to put in enough practice time. The result is shaky form and higher risk of injury when it really matters: when you’re tired.
When starting a new exercise, take the time to really learn it well. Consult a trainer, shoot a video of yourself and study it, or ask a friend to watch you and critique your form. And as you increase the amount of weight you use, make sure that your technique doesn’t start to change. Think of strength training as practice not exercise, and the results will pay back double in the long run.
Not pushing hard enough
If you’re lifting the same amount of weight that you were six months ago, either your training program isn’t set up correctly, or you’ve got to push yourself a little bit harder.
As a coach, I’m constantly urging people to add a little weight to the bar or to do a few extra reps. It’s natural, especially for beginners, to be a little hesitant and want to hold back out of fear of injury. But generally, people underestimate what they’re capable of and don’t understand that sometimes, it’s okay to put the gas pedal down and really stretch their limits.
Finding that sweet spot of “enough to improve, but not too much to get injured” takes some time to learn. So be cautious, but don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and explore your capacity. Remember, stress can be a good thing. When it comes to getting stronger, it’s how you get better.
You’re out of shape, new to the gym, and you think the whole gym sees it. You see everyone in their tight-fitting clothes, looking so happy and comfortable, and it makes you want to do a few sets of curls and then sneak out the door before anyone notices. But here’s a little secret: No one’s looking at you!
Feeling self-conscious hold people back in a big way. Not only does it divert their attention away from their workout, but it also prevents people from trying new exercises they may be unfamiliar with, or pushing themselves too hard out of fear of looking silly.
We’re always more critical of ourselves than we of others. We’re the first to notice a skin blemish or coffee stain on our shirt, but the truth is those things just don’t stand out to the people we interact with. In the weight room, most people are usually too absorbed in themselves to pay any attention to what you’re up to. So just let it go, relax, and know that feeling out of place is part of the process. Be proud that you’ve made the commitment to change your health and body. You’ll quickly find your rhythm and feel right at home.
Being tuned out
Strength training, or any form of exercise for that matter, is so much deeper than simply going through the motions, or as I like to say, “mimicking movements.” If you choose to listen to music while working out, that’s fine, but keep your attention focused inward and really monitor how your body is moving and responding to the exercise.
How smooth does the movement feel?
Is your left side different than your right side?
How does your balance change as you squat or lunge?
Are you able to keep your back flat throughout that push-up?
Paying attention to your body on a deeper level will strengthen the connection between your mind and your muscles. Being tuned-in to how your body is feeling will not only allow you to progress at a faster rate, but also to avoid injury, since you’ll be able to detect when your body isn’t feeling as good as it usually is.
There is a widespread belief that what is new or different, must be better. Don’t fall into this trap! It’s common for people to try the newest workout they just read about in a magazine, or abandon their program in favor of a new routine that got their friend amazing results. The problem with hopping from program to program every few weeks is that the body never gets a chance to adapt or improve from anything. It’s always in starting mode.
There’s no such thing as a magic program, ideal number of reps, or secret exercise. The formula for getting stronger is: basics + consistency + time = results.
Your cornerstone exercises should be big movements that engage a lot of muscle like squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, and pushups. Keep your efforts on showing up to the gym consistently. And lastly, have patience. Anything worth doing is difficult and takes time. So stay focused on remaining healthy, practicing good habits, and good things will come.