Mistakes That Make Your Workouts Suck

With the assumption that you’re a middle-aged guy or gal and newly engaged in a workout program with goals to lose fat, gain a little muscle (which raises your metabolism to help burn fat), look better and be healthier; then this article is for you.

Gym Mistake #1: You’re Just Moving Weight Instead of Engaging the Targeted Muscle(s)

I see this without fail, every time I walk into the gym. It’s one thing if you’re an athlete and training to improve in your sport, if you’re a CrossFit athlete or ready to be conditioned to be one or similar. In other words, there is a training style and approach for everyone’s goals. But, for here and the unconditioned newbie or middle aged person who is striving for a more aesthetic body while keeping safety in mind with an aging body, this isn’t your best approach.

Instead of just swinging or jerking the weight, think about and engage the targeted muscle(s).

Gym Mistake #2: Your Tempo Sucks, with No Time Under Tension

What I mean here is referencing to how fast you allow the weight to move concentrically (the “positive”), peak contraction of movement and then the eccentric portion (the “negative”). Fighting the resistance back to the starting point during the eccentric phase is often ignored completely.

Belly-BounceEnvision a guy on the bench press who essentially almost drops the barbell onto and bounces it off his chest, has zero squeeze of his pectoral muscles at the top of the movement and proceeds to freely drop the bar with little to no resistance given during the eccentric lowering phase, over again and again.

Of the three said phases of a movement, the lengthening/eccentric is the most important one to control and emphasize. Instead of the example above, this said person would gain much more by lowering the bar with a controlled decent, fighting the resistance as it comes down to the chest with a full controlled stretch at bottom while after fully engaging the front deltoids and more so, pectoral muscles going back up with a strong squeeze finishing into the top of the press.

Repeat in this controlled fashion with a steady “1-2” count coming down, and a “1 count” going back up and at peak. 2:1:1 count tempo.

This is also referred to as time under tension. Keep the targeted muscles fully and constantly engaged through each repetition. Having complete focus on this versus the amount of weight you’re moving can go a long way.

Gym Mistake #3: Your Muscles Don’t Know Numbers or Math

Is it good to have a repetition scheme and number of sets to get in? Absolutely! But, if you are one of those hell-bent “numbers people” and you’re supposed to get 10 reps based off your program you’re following or per your trainer’s suggestions and you get exactly that number each time, this may be the slap in the face you need!

To me, the amount of reps is a guideline to follow for the most part. What do I mean? Well, if say you are following a hypertrophy program that calls for 8 reps for 3 sets and you get to rep #6, then 7 and finally 8 but you know damn well you could do 3 or 4 more, then this is where you break the rules and do another 4 reps. Then, you know you need to increase your weight for the next set.

Stopping short of failure is a sure way to NOT optimize your workout efforts. Your last 2 or 3 reps should be almost near impossible to complete while displaying your “ugly face” gritting some teeth and grimacing. Failure here is okay and acceptable. Not rushing these last few reps, but instead slowing down for brief pause and extra breath to finish strong and with focus can go a long way with finishing the set with purpose.

In short, don’t be a super strict counter. Don’t over think, short change and de-value your workout. Go to failure every time, whatever that repetition number ends up being. You can always modify the weight on the next set to keep your rep range in the right zone, if needed.

Gym Mistake #4: Your Priorities Are Backwards

Traditional rookie mistake; Loads of cardio first with “a little bit” of isolated weight training second. Any gym, anywhere will always have the bulk of the treadmills and elliptical machines being occupied. These are what I call hamsters on a wheel. You ever see one? They are spinning away, but getting nowhere!

Assuming your goals are fat loss, more attractive body composition, better hormonal picture and health, then challenging weight/resistance training must be prioritized. Excessive amounts of cardio with lack of resistance training works against these goals. Envision for a moment a long-distance runner; “skinny fat”, no muscle, no shape and often bad posture. Now imagine a sprinter; Nice muscle definition and shape, low body fat, good posture.

Regarding challenging weight/resistance training, the foundational pieces of a successful program should include and emphasize big movements such as squats, bench press/push up, pull down/pull up, deadlifts, overhead presses and rows. These are compound movements moving more than one joint while working large muscle groups. These should be learned and performed correctly early on and done on a regular basis moving forward.

If you don’t know these exercises, their correct planes of motion, safely starting and finishing each rep and set, breathing and more, then invest in a qualified personal trainer to help you. If money is an issue, simply hiring one to teach just these movements over a small handful of sessions and moving on from there to learn more on your own is fine. Don’t be a hamster on wheel.

Gym Mistake #5: You Lack Structure and Progression with Workouts

Assuming you’re seriously trying to do more than just sweat a little and lose a couple pounds at first with no results following, you will want to have a structured and progressive workout program as your weeks and months go by. Doing the same exercises with the same rep and set scheme with no change in your rest periods will surely have any motivating progress coming to a halt.

Incorporating macro cycles to change up your repetitions and rest periods between sets every so often can be a nice and shocking, new change to your workouts.

Funny overweight man flexing his muscle isolated on white backgrGym Mistake #6: You Blindly Pay for a Bad Personal Trainer

Unfortunately, I see this too often. Fortunately, there are plenty of great fitness trainers out in the gym worlds, but there are trainers that obviously (to me anyways) lack experience and professionalism. And if you’re seeking out a trainer primarily with fat loss and improved body composition goals as discussed earlier, you’re most likely foolish for hiring the trainer who is overweight and out of shape.  If they don’t know how to do it for themselves, chances are high they will struggle showing you how to do it.

A few signs of an under qualified trainer:

  1. They’re a “counter” versus an educator and motivator to get “2 more”. They count – “13, 14, one more… 15, good job”. This is when the client should be moving 20+ more pounds or doing 3 more reps. Muscles don’t know math, remember?
  2. Unnecessary touching when the client should be learning to move the weight on their own with proper guidance and examples. Sometimes touching is necessary, other times its inappropriate.
  3. They don’t have a structured plan for you, each workout. They don’t ask you relevant questions as to your efforts towards your goals outside of your time with them. They don’t communicate with you outside your gym time.
  4. They talk on their phone, with other people or often have their attention on things other than you and your paid time together. You are paying for you trainer’s time and you should get 100% of their attention.
  5. They lack any track record of client success stories. Being a new and upcoming trainer is fine, we all have to start somewhere. If that is the case, interview them. Ask of their educational background thus far. Are they in shape themselves? Assuming they’re young & passionate about health and fitness, they should at least have this going for them. This is TOTALLY FINE to work with a new trainer, just don’t pay top notch prices. A lower priced but “up and coming” trainer is a great match for many, don’t count these ones out! They may be able and willing to put in a lot of extra time and effort for you if their heart is in it…

Hiring a personal trainer is a relationship. They need to be the expert. They should be a constant educator for you every time you see them. Would you hire a broke guy living on the streets to manage and invest your money if he claimed to be a “highly certified” stock broker?

Be wise and look for reviews or testimonials from trainers. Ask them who they are certified through, their experience/background or what degrees they have relevant to your goals.  NASM, ACE, ACSM, and NSCA are all accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCCA accreditation is known as the standard for the field—certifying bodies must undergo comprehensive evaluation and regular renewals to keep this accreditation.

A great resource to not only find and investigate personal trainers near you but also see if they are verified to be certified and through whom, is a site called Idea Fitness. You can go here and put in your zip code to find a suitable trainer near you: Find a Trainer Near You Here

Maximize Your Efforts in The Least Amount of Time

Learning how to effectively get the most out of your time in the gym is important. We all have life’s obligations and our time is valuable and for most, scarcely available. Invest a little now to save a lot moving forward. Avoid some of these common mistakes and learn how to maximize the efforts of your workouts!

Best regards,

Roger Bowman, CPT

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