This article is dedicated to some of the most common mistakes at the gym. Even professional athletes require their coach’s guidance to avoid some of the bad judgements mentioned below. Unfortunately, some of below mistakes are embedded into the training programs out there leading to poor results or even quitting training altogether.
Mistake No.1: Failing to find the right Training Frequency
Failing to define the right frequency for your workouts will most definitely prevent you from reaching your maximum potential and to develop to the optimum degree. I’m referring to the frequency of training in the gym of each muscle group or exercise – for those who train for strength. Although you can definitely drive muscle growth and strength by training every muscle group once a week (eg Chest-Biceps, Back-Triceps, Shoulders, Legs) – if you gradually increase the load and volume of training – you will most likely not have the maximum growth attained.
Our research shows that even with the same total training volume in a week, there are better results in terms of strength and hypertrophy when it is performed more than once. The difference can be even greater if one considers that if you train a muscle group more often, you can increase your overall training volume during the week. Also, if you are interested in gaining strength in an exercise, it makes sense to want to practice it more often and not just once a week.
Athletes such as weightlifters, throwers, powerlifters and bodybuilders usually train several times a week, doing multi-joint exercises that work the whole body. In addition to building major strength, they typically achieve great muscular and vascular appearance.
Conclusion: Training Frequency undoubtedly is affected by multiple factors in one’s life, such as family status, work schedules etc. however need to keep in mind that to maximize your muscle hypertrophy and strength, each muscle group needs to be activated with a higher frequency than once-a-week, even if it is achieved with multi-joint exercises.
Mistake No.2: Using Too Advanced Techniques for no reason
A common mistake that many athletes do (yes, you are all athletes!) is to always train to failure/exhaustion or to use advanced techniques -usually done by elite bodybuilders. These techniques may include drop sets, forced reps, rest-pause, etc. to continue a set beyond failure. By failure, we mean the inability to complete one more repetition of the meiometric phase of a movement (when pushing or pulling weights while exerting force).
While it is debatable whether training to failure ultimately has additional benefits or not to muscle hypertrophy and increased strength, it is certain that it should not be pursued continuously.
Let us discuss an example with numbers to demonstrate how you can achieve higher overall training volume with smaller initial sets.
Example 1: Exercising at fatigue every time
Let’s suppose you bench press 200lbs of weight executing 10 repetitions. If in the first set you do 10 reps, in the next you will have enough fatigue that you will only be able to do 8-9 reps at best – going again until muscle fatigue stops you. In the following set you will be even more tired so you will do 6-7 reps. In the final 2 sets let’s suppose you can do 4 or 5 reps. So in total you will have performed 5 sets of 10,9,7,5,5 repetitions at 200lbs, ie a total of 36 × 200 = 7200lbs of volume (training volume).
Example 2: Done differently to result in higher overall training volume
You could, on the other hand, try doing 5 sets of 8 initially, or even 3 of 8 and 2 of 7 if you get tired easily, but always before reaching max fatigue. In total you would have done 38-40 repetitions with the same weights therefore more overall volume (40x200lbs=8000lbs), which in turn would lead to greater muscle gains!
Conclusion: Finally, training at failure all the time increases the risk of injury and higher fatigue, which can eventually lead to overtraining. Your recovery times might even be longer which in turn could cause even training pause. Avoiding exercising at failure and using a more gradual progression plan will most definitely lead to better results in the long term!
Mistake No.3: Workouts without Progressive Overload
The most important omission in most people’s training schedule is perhaps the lack of some form of progressive overload in the gym. The muscular system to develop needs some form of stress (stimulus) which will disrupt its homeostasis causing some controlled “destruction” in it. The main factor that seems to lead to muscle hypertrophy during exercise is mechanical tension, as well as muscle destruction and metabolic stress. During rest, and if the required energy and the structural components of the muscles -which must be covered by the diet- are covered, the muscles become bigger (muscle hypertrophy) and stronger.
Because the body tends to adapt to whatever stimulus we give it repeatedly, we need to somehow increase it. Commonly we should have a progressive overload in our muscular system through our training program. This practically means doing something extra every workout, such as a few extra pounds, a few reps or sets with the same pounds, an extra exercise per muscle group or even an extra day of training.
Conclusion: Training at random weights and reps every time is not the ideal way to achieve muscle growth and strength. Regardless of what program you follow, one suitable way to ensure accuracy in your progressive overload approach is to keep a notebook where you will record what you do each time. That way your next training session can be adjusted to ensure that you will have advanced in your progressive overload plan.
Mistake No.4: Short breaks will always drive Muscle Growth
The theory of short breaks to maximize hypertrophy can be challenged. This theory is based on the observed increase in growth hormone in the blood after exercise, as well as the increase in metabolic fatigue and muscle destruction. Two of the factors associated with the induction of muscle hypertrophy. However, the main factor that seems to be drive muscle hypertrophy is the mechanical tendency. This must increase gradually, as the training volume and the load increase.
By trying to take short breaks, you are likely to limit the total sets and training volume you will do in a workout. Thus, it may not have the optimal benefits. Surveys comparing 2 minutes with 30 seconds, 5 minutes with 2 minutes, and 3 minutes with 90 seconds as rest times between sets, did not show any difference in the result.
Conclusion: Use as much time as you feel you need until you can perform to the maximum in the next set. This is obviously not a reason to be laid back or play with your cell phone between sets. A superset of heavy lifts may require 5-6 minutes of recovery. Instead you can be ready in 30” between 2 sets of biceps bends on the pulley, for example.
Mistake No.5: Missing Rest
Last mistake, but surely not least, and very impactful for your progress is the avoidance of rest or discharge (deload). Although most people are in the stage where they try to fit exercise into their busy scheduls, there are others who are at the other end. They simply overtrain. People who exercise every day, often do double workouts (eg one weightlifting and one cardio), push themselves all the time to the limits and appear in each workout more tired than the previous one.
As mentioned above, the stress caused by training must be gradually increased in order to have the ideal result. We must give our body time to recover. Some way to do this is to have more relaxed workouts during the week (eg someone who does 3 leg-days in one week can do one of those days at a lower intensity with fewer sets in total from the other two. That day will serve as an active recovery.
Another option is to do a deload. This means a few days or a week of low training volume and / or intensity every 4-8 weeks, depending on the overall level of fitness.. This way we can avoid injuries from accumulated fatigue, replenish the body’s energy stores and be ready for the next weeks of overload. Research has shown that 6 weeks of training with 3 weeks of abstinence after 24 weeks gave the same gains in strength and mass as 24 weeks of continuous training.
Conclusion: “Listen” to your body and rest when you feel you cannot perform at even 60% of your max effort. Do not forget: Your muscles grow at recovery phase and NOT during the training phase!
Mistakes at the gym.- References:
1. de Souza TP, Jr., Fleck SJ, Simao R, Dubas JP, Pereira B, de Brito Pacheco EM, et al. Comparison between constant and decreasing rest intervals: influence on maximal strength and hypertrophy. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jul;24:1843-50
2. Ahtiainen JP, Pakarinen A, Alen M, Kraemer WJ, Hakkinen K. Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic resistance training: influence on muscle strength, size, and hormonal adaptations in trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug;19:572-82.
3. Ogasawara R, Yasuda T, Ishii N, Abe T. Comparison of muscle hypertrophy following 6-month of continuous and periodic strength training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Apr;113:975-85.