I've made a lot of mistakes during my years of training. While I will probably make even more in the future, there are some I wish someone could have told me to avoid in the beginning.
1) Lacking intensity
This one is especially obvious in the many regular gyms, where most "gym goers" work out.
You see people sitting on a bike reading a magazine, breathing no heavier than they would sitting in the sofa. Or the ones chatting away with their friends in the middle of a bench press set.
So much time wasted…
You can't expect to push your limits if you never push yourself to the limit first!
Solution: Challenge yourself. Add enough weight so you have to actually fight gravity. Push harder and get that heart pumping!
You've just started working out and you're motivated like never before. All the times you've failed to keep a routine before are behind you now and this time you'll show them all.
Suddenly you set the alarm for 5 am to do an hour of cardio and then grab a carrot for breakfast. Before lunch you go for a run, followed by a light salad. For the evening you have a weight training session planned and a meal replacement dinner after that.
I get it – it's very easy to get caught up in the sudden motivation and you want all the results, now!
But it's not sustainable.
The first thing I think people do wrong when they start training is that they overwhelm themselves.
Make your new training routine sustainable by trying to do it just once or twice a week to start with. Allow those weekly sessions to become an integral part of your week.
When that happens, add in another session of either the same thing or something new. Now you are training 3 times a week, doing things you enjoy and all without thinking about it. This would now be a time to consider changing your eating habits if you need to and tweak your progress once again.
Patience is key. Training is exercise with an end goal. With a purpose. It is a long game and not a quick fix. Getting strong, losing fat and building muscle takes time, but if you put in the hours and the effort you will succeed.
– Elizabeth Hare of CRG CrossFit, Edinburgh
If it's something I've learned it's that your body adjust to your everyday life. If you eat and live like an obese person you'll become obese. If you eat and train like an athlete you'll become that instead.
This is why dieting will never, ever work. You can easily drop a couple of kilos, grow stronger and improve your aerobic conditioning. But if you then go back to an unhealthy life – say goodbye to your progress.
Your body will adjust to the way you live.
Thus, if you want to live life feeling healthy, strong and fit – guess how you'll have to live your life?
Solution: Find a sustainable way to live, and give this process a couple of years to settle. Make small adjustments, see if they work for you and then tweak, add and remove habits as you go.
3) No direction
If you start walking aimlessly around you'll probably not end up where you want. It's simple logic.
Instagram might have some profound quote on the journey's importance but we want results damnit!
That's why it's frustrating to see people coming in to the gym with no idea what they're traing today. A set here, another there and then some biceps curls because … chicks.
Stop wasting your time.
Decide on a goal for the coming three months. More if you can but absolutely no less!
Do you want to grow stronger? Be able to run longer and faster? Lose fat while maintaining muscle?
There are programs for everything.
And they don't skip squats just because you're weak in that exercise, which is pretty much the only way you'll stop being weak.
Solution: Pick a program with your goal in mind. You could of course make your own program but I would bet a tofu sandwhich there are people who are better than you at programming. So why not pick an existing one? Then simply execute on it.
4) Bad form
A squat can seem like such a simple exercise: you sit down and then stand up again. It's a movement pattern that comes very natural to our bodies.
And it's simple!
But when you put an iron barbell with a hundred kilos on your back, it becomes more than just sitting down and standing up. You're suddenly at risk of some serious injury.
And if you want to see that weight go up, you really need to start optimizing your movement.
Strength is a skill and to improve you'll have to train not only your muscles (biological adaptation) but also your technique (neurological adaptation).
Solution: Initially invest in some time with a qualified coach to learn the basics. Having someone correct your technique and build a proper foundation will pay off manyfold.
Then go to YouTube to look at the elites training (not competing) and try to replicate their movement. Practice the full range of motion and don't be afraid to lower the weight for proper technique.
Finally read some books to keep refining. Never ever think you're done and can't improve.
5) No progression
Are you lifting the same weights today as you were a year ago? Running the same distances, or managing the same number of max reps?
I know many people who do and I can't for the life of me understand how they can motivate themselves to keep training, when they do not progress.
But progress doesn't just incidentally happen. You need to keep pushing your limits, adding weights, and making it hard for yourself.
Beginners need to focus on a balanced strength training regimen with an emphasis on compound exercises I refer to as the five pillars: upper body press, upper body pull, lower body press, lower body pull, and core work.
Increase weight each week for three weeks and then back off for a week to avoid either not using enough intensity or too much.
Make sure to have clearly defined goals such as adding 25lbs to your deadlift in six weeks. Vague goals such as getting stronger or more fit are not precise enough.
You need a specific target and a defined deadline for completion.
Over time your training will come to feel easy. Pullups are no longer a problem, you can do all the WODs RX, and you snatch your previous 1RM for reps.
That's awesome! But it also means you are no longer pushing yourself as hard as you used to, which in turn means you will stop making the same kind of progress as you used to.
Solution: Track your workouts so you can compare today with last year, or you might not notice when you stop pushing yourself. Pick a program with built in progression – like Starting Strength or StrongLifts.
6) Cheating yourself
What's easier – to stay in the sofa researching which vegan protein has the best amino acid profile, or going to the gym and lift some weights? Then guess which will give you the best results.
We are all genetically programmed to waste as little energy as possible. (Yes, you're lazy by nature.)
Given two choices that both feel like they take us closer to our goal, we'll naturally pick the easiest.
That's why the supplements industry is such a huge business – they offer you the possibility to just shell out $10 for some pre-workout drink and you'll feel like you're making progress.
Getting strong and fit isn't easy but it's damn simple!
The ones who tries to make it complicated are often the ones who also tries to sell you a shortcut. But there really are none – you will have to put in the work if you want the result.
Solution: Don't spend a single cent or minute on anything except what is absolutely necessary for executing your chosen program above. Buy cool equipment, nice clothes or fancy supplements with moderation and try to keep it as occasional rewards for having actually done the bulk work over a period of time.
7) Missing recovery
What you do when training is only half the story. After stimulating your body with the right amount of intensity, you'll need to give it time to adjust.
This is when the magic really happens.
Muscles grow to handle the heavy weights, pathways improves to produce energy faster, and ligaments strengthen so that they can withstand more.
But all too often you'll see people not prioritizing their recovery.
Their bodies don't get enough nutrition, they're always feeling a bit tired and yet the get back in it – smashing another workout.
Continuing in this manner will stump your progress and eventually have you plateau.
Solution: Make room for sleeping. You will need at least eight hours per night, probably more if you're lifting heavy. Determine when you need to get up and count nine plus hours back from that, for your bedtime. Limit screentime before going to bed and make sure you're sleeping as dark as possible.
One thing that would apply to both training for an event and people just looking to get fit is this:
try not to train through pain or illness!
Doing so can exacerbate an injury, and if nothing else can develop compensatory patterns that have the potential to cause other injuries, imbalances, and pain later.
Training when sick, at the very least, means you're spreading your germs around the gym and exposing everyone else to them. It also has the potential to affect your form (sickness often means you're not as strong or energetic as usual) and possibly make you sicker.
As for food – eat plenty and make sure it's nutritious. Limit the crappy fast food, processed shit, and similar worthless calories. Make sure you get enough. Start with what feels like too much and then tweak week by week as you see your body change.
Too many people go to the gym feeling it's a chore. Something they would rather not do but have to.
This is a terrible way to spend all the time that it takes to make meaningful progress.
Plus, one of the absolutely biggest reasons people actually succeed with their ventures is whether they can stick to it and keep grinding. If you're bored while doing so, that'll make it so much harder.
Solution: Don't equate "getting in shape" with having to get back to the treadmill. Just because you want to grow muscle it doesn't mean you're stuck lifting barbells. Try other forms of training! There is one out there that fits you.
Once there, talk to the people around you. Start with a simple hi. They're all on the same journey and you could help each other - just make friends and keep encouraging one another!