By: Bianca Herres, CPT
Everyone wants to get in the gym and feel comfy, confident, and ready to conquer their goals. That said, it can be difficult as a beginner to know what to prioritize – so we are here to take the guesswork out!
Whether you’re a beginner or a well-seasoned lifter, here are the 5 biggest training mistakes we see as coaches, and what to do instead!
1. Ignoring intensity notes from your coach
If you have a coach or a program you follow, the intensities should be laid out in an intentionally, progressively overloaded way. Intensity refers to things like percentages, RPE (rate of perceived exertion) RIR (reps in reserve), etc. and helps us to build strength and hypertrophy over time.
If we disregard this plan and say, max out every week, we’re not only going to burn out faster, but we’re also going to stunt our progress in the long run. Program structure is built so that we can progress over time, and there’s no way to progress upon an effort that’s already been maxed out. It might feel good to PR, but if that’s all we ever try to do, we will both plateau and increase our risk of injury. Similarly, if we disregard prescribed deloads or tapering blocks, we miss out on major opportunities for muscular and nervous system recovery that will make us stronger in the long run.
2. Making substitutions that don’t accomplish the goal that’s been set out for you
Just like intensity, the exercise selection in a given program is there for a reason! Let’s say you have an inverted row programmed, and you decide to sub it out for a dumbbell overhead press. It may seem fine because they both work upper body, but in reality, we’re taking a pulling motion and choosing a pushing one instead, and taking a horizontal motion and choosing a vertical one instead. Similarly, if we have a deadlift programmed and choose to do leg press instead, we are taking a hinge exercise, a grip exercise, and a posterior chain exercise, and choosing to do a squat pattern with no grip, that primarily works the anterior (front) of our body.
One other way we can incorrectly substitute is when we ignore rep ranges. Let’s say we have a 5×3 programmed and choose to do a 3×12 instead – this completely changes the weights we’ll use, the kind of load and stimulus, and the outcome of that lift as a result. When your coach or program has something written a certain way, it’s there for a reason, and we owe it to both ourselves and that program to adhere to it!
3. Not taking workout notes
How many times have you done a lift one week, said “I’ll remember what weight I used,” and then next time you go to do it you can’t quiiiiite remember if it was 30 or 35 pounds? Or was it 20? I’ve been there too. When we take detailed workout notes, they not only help our coach know how we’re feeling day to day and week to week, but it also helps us hold ourselves accountable to working on building up weights and monitoring progress. Workout notes are also the place to note how you felt going into each lift: well-fueled? Under–fed? On your period? Slept well, or poorly? It serves us so much better long term to have too many notes as opposed to too few, and will only build our relationship with ourselves and our coach(es) for the better.
4. Not taking videos
Even if you don’t have a coach or anyone to send videos to, they are one of the best, most powerful tools for self-analysis and form improvement. You want to make sure to video directly from the side at hip height, directly from behind, and directly from the front. This helps us get all angles of a movement, and identify the most important cues to work on building. From these 3 videos alone we can determine depth, foot positioning, weight distribution, bar path, knee valgus (or lack thereof), range of motion in general, and more! Especially if you have a coach, are in pain of any kind, and/or are training for something sport-specific, videos are not even just recommended, but pretty much required for improvement.
5. Skipping your warmup, mobility, or core work
Trust me, I’ve been there. You get to the end of your lift, you’re tired, maybe you’re running late, and that extra 2 sets of core is just not getting done. Maybe you’ve been having some nagging shoulder pain, but you really just want to make sure you get in your compound lifts for the day, and don’t sweat your mobility. I get it! That said though, the things we want to avoid, like mobility, accessory work, and core, are the fine tuned little details that afford us longevity in our lifting. Consistent mobility work can make or break our range of motion and pain management. Consistent core work is oftentimes the difference between nagging back pain, and alleviating it entirely. We might not feel the same empowerment or “gains” from these more subtle movement, but the real gain we get is the addition of months, days, and years to the time we are able to lift, feel mobile, and feel supported by our bodies. To make sure we adhere to these movements, coaching can absolutely help to hold accountability and higher standards, but so can twisting our plan around a little. For example, if you know you won’t have time for mobility at the end of your workout, sandwich it in the rest periods between your warm-up sets for a lift. If you don’t like doing your core work at the end, do it with your warm-up or between a few other exercises. Is it ideal to rearrange a program? Not necessarily – but it’s even less ideal to skip this crucial work altogether.
On the whole, there are so many key pieces to our lifting practice and development in the gym. Avoiding these 5 common mistakes, however, can differentiate the good from the great, and can take your lifting to the next level!