There is a reason why you don’t see jacked guys around every corner. In fact, even inside a gym you will most probably see just a handful of guys that look muscular and have a physique that you would want to have.
When I was in high school I was in a small group of 5-6 guys that worked out regularly for couple of years, yet neither one of us had a truly muscular, impressive body. Even though we had a ton of fun working out, our training routine was pretty stupid and the results were very poor in most of the cases.
Anyways, once you understand it, dieting and training right is not rocket science at all. But people find very creative ways to mess it up each day, most of the time due to lack or knowledge. I know that feeling when you think you are doing everything you are supposed to yet you are not making any muscle gains, no strength gains or not losing any fat.
There is nothing worse that busting your ass off in the gym just to look average. In this article we are going to discuss some of the most common training mistakes people make inside the gym, and why this leads to poor results. Because of poor results the overwhelming majority of the beginners give up training.
That’s why I think it’s super important to have a solid knowledge base and train accordingly if you plan on sticking with the bodybuilding lifestyle long term. Here we go.
Training mistake #1: Light weight / High rep
Even though this is not a mistake that I used to do as a beginner (because of the ego lifting – which led to other mistakes by the way), it’s probably the most common mistake I see at my gym.
As you may know already, muscle hypertrophy is triggered by constant adaptation to stress. You probably heard that in order to develop yourself, to develop your skills, you need to get out of your comfort zone. It’s the same old story in bodybuilding. The muscles need to get out of the comfort zone in order to develop, to grow.
In other words, you need to constantly lift heavier and heavier weight in order to force the muscles adapt to more and more amounts of stress. We have science backing us up – you can read more here about the slow twitching and fast twitching muscle fibers and their role.
Long story short, you need to lift using weight that are about 80-85% of your 1 RPM – which will place you in the 6 to 8 reps maximum. Yes, I know lifting heavy is harder than lifting light and the workouts will feel much more intense and exhausting, but that’s the only way to building muscle.
Use weights that are 80-85% of your 1 RPM and stay within 6-12 reps per set.
You don’t need to be super strict with the 6 to 8 reps range, anything up to 10-12 reps will be fine for most of the exercises, just don’t be using light weights forever. Generally speaking you can do more reps for isolation exercise, while keeping the rep range lower for compound movements.
If you’ve been doing 15 reps per set with weight that are half of you 1 RPM you need to change your style of training now. If you are a complete beginner, you may see some progress in terms of muscle growth at first but you are going to stall shortly.
The reason people tend to think that high rep workouts are superior is because of the pump or burn feel you get from performing many light weight reps. Even though you won’t get the same pump after a 6 rep incline bench press trust me, this style of training is better for muscle growth.
Training mistake #2: Focusing on single joint movements
This is the next common mistake in line that I see A LOT in the gyms. Single joint movements aka isolation exercises aka accessory exercises are exercises that target only a specific muscle group such as bicep curls, triceps puss downs, leg extensions and so on. Basically any exercise that uses only one joint in the movement is an isolation exercise.
These types of exercises are not necessarily bad, but are not optimal for muscle growth. That’s why your focus should be on heavy, low rep (see #1 above) compound exercises.
As you probably guessed already, compound exercises are the ones that use multiple joints movements. Common examples are bench press, squats, pull-ups, deadlifts, cable row …. You got the point.
These are far superior for muscle and strength gains, especially for beginners. As a beginner your only purpose in the gym is to get stronger on a handful of compound exercises. Combine this training strategy with a solid diet and you will be on your way to becoming a superhero.
Focus on heavy compound exercises and become a superhero.
It’s ok to include one or two isolation exercises here and there, but the focus should definitely be on compound exercises. Accessory movements are something that more advanced lifters use frequently to correct or compensate lacking body parts or make fine tuning in muscle symmetry and stuff like that. As a beginner or even an intermediate you will not have this problem – every body part is your weak part.
Another good idea is to stay away from machines and cables and use free weight exercises more. There are better for developing a strong foundation, strengthen joints and by learning how to stabilize the weight.
Training mistake #3: Resting too little between sets
In order to be able to do heavy weight (#1) compound exercises (#2) you need to take your time and rest between the sets. You can’t do #1 and #2 correctly if you do not rest enough before you start each new set.
Unlike what most people think, there is no benefit in running and jumping from exercise to exercise like crazy with no or very short resting periods. Drop sets, super sets, triple sets – I’m sure you’ve read about them in the magazines or seen the big guys in the industry doing it, but most of the times these type of workout routines should be used by pro-bodybuilders that are on drugs (and their bodies can take super high training volumes in a short period of time) or my advanced natural lifters.
For the rest of us, here is what is optimal in terms of resting periods between sets:
- 2-3 minutes between compound exercises (even 4 minutes if you are feel really drained)
- 1-2 minutes between isolation exercises
This may seem like a long resting period, but science has proven this is optimal for muscle growth. On the other hand, short resting times between sets are optimal for gaining muscle endurance.
When you are training for strength and muscle growth, the purpose of the rest period between the sets is to allow the muscle to recover to the point they are able to take as much weight as possible. For example, after doing a set of 8 reps with 85% of your 1 RPM, on the next set you should be able to perform about the same amount of reps with the same weight.
For optimal muscle and strength gains, rest periods between sets should be 3-4 minutes.
That’s why many legit muscle building routines use flat sets (using the same weight through the sets). I’m sure you’ve probably experienced this on your own by now. Longer resting periods allow almost full recovery of the muscles which enable you to hit the next set using the same weights and doing roughly the same number of reps (usually by the time you get to the last set you lose 1-2 or even 3 reps, depending on the rep range you are using).
Training mistake #4: Pyramid training style
At #3 above I mentioned flat sets style of training as a good workout routine for muscle growth. Yet, many training routines recommend doing “pyramid sets”.
Pyramid sets are sets in which you constantly increase the weight as you go through the workout/exercise. For example:
- Set 1: baby weight – 20 reps
- Set 2: light weight – 16 reps
- Set 3: moderate weight – 12 reps
- Set 4: heavy weight – 8 reps
- Set 5: very heavy weight – 4 reps
What’s wrong with this way of training?
By the time you get to the actual weights you should be using from the start your muscles are already fatigued and you can’t overload them anymore. Remember – no stress on the muscles – no gains.
Many people use the pyramid training style because they focus way too much on the warm-up. In the example above the first 3 sets are practically warm-up sets. Don’t get me wrong, getting the blood pumping and the joints lubricated is definitely important, but a warm-up should not interfere with the training itself.
That’s why I like doing flat sets, with plenty of rest period between them. Here’s a good way of performing an exercise:
- Step 1: Warm-up set with a very light weight (20 reps)
- Step 2: Warm-up set with about 50% of your 1 PRM (12 reps)
- Step 3: Go directly to your working weight (80-85% of 1 RPM) for 3-5 sets (depending on your workout plan).
Jump right to the heavy weights after warming up.
Do this and focus on getting stronger and stronger each workout (progressive overload) and you will be on your way on becoming a bigger and better version of yourself, slowly but surely.
Over to you
That’s all I have to say on this topic for now. I hope this has been informative, helpful and I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Don’t forget to reach me out by email (see the contact page) if you have any questions or you just want to say hi.