Do something stupid and it’s likely that a buddy berates you with those two damning words. But not every mistake is stupid, especially when it comes to training. Sometimes mistakes are simply action-outcomes that spring from lack of knowledge.
If you’re new to the iron game, you’re going to make mistakes. That’s fine, you’ll learn from them. That’s not to say pre-emptive knowledge won’t help you make progress. Below you’ll find seven bits of advice to help you avoid seven mistakes that new lifters make.
1. No Goals
Concrete, measureable goals are the structural elements that a strong and sizeable human frame rest upon. It’s impossible to succinctly and effectively direct your actions if you don’t know what you’re striving for.
Goal setting is simple. Grab a notebook and dedicate it as your goal book. On the first page, openly brainstorm about physical attributes you’d like to achieve. This brainstorm may exist as a single session, or you could spread it across multiple sessions, offering yourself time to think between unions of pen and paper.
As you transcribe your potential accomplishments, you’ll notice a few stand out. You must capture these; they are the goals you can emotionally attach to. On the next page write two goals that you’ll achieve in sequence. Tear the page out of the book and post it near your bed. It’s now the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night.
Each day you’ll monitor your progress toward your goals in the notebook. At the top of the page you write the goal you’re currently striving for and on the rest of the page you’ll write the day’s action steps toward the goal. This is your means to self-accountability. It’s also a story you’ll reference as you set your next goal and devise a plan for achieving it.
2. Program Hopping
Often an ugly byproduct of ignoring goal setting, program hopping is another newbie mistake that requires conquering. If we don’t know what we want, any path takes us on a journey. So we try one program for a few weeks, get bored, and move on to the next eye-catching set and rep scheme. While that might suit a fitness vagabond, for us progress-minded folks it’s a circular voyage that travels 360 degrees back to our starting point. Refusing all gains along the way.
Treating training programs like they’re Hollywood marriages limits progress because the body isn’t afforded the opportunity to adapt. The crux: you don’t get bigger, stronger or leaner.
For optimal results, set-up a year-long plan that achieves your goals at certain milestones. You’ll most likely conquer them every eight to sixteen weeks. At the bare minimum, stick with training programs for at least six weeks before jumping ship. Cut and run before that and you won’t know if the program was going to work.
3. Majoring in the Minors
Getting enamored with outcomes, rather than investing in processes, leads to poor decision making. Every lifter, of course, wants to look like they lift: sizeable arms, protruding shoulders and pant-challenging legs. The problem is new lifters attempt to streamline the process of attaining these attributes by using a lot of silly, single joint movements: biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, leg extensions, etc. In short, they major in the minors.
In reality, however, the process, and all its compound lift labor, is the means to an aesthetically-desirable, strong body.
When you’re considering biceps curls, trade them for pull-ups or chin-ups. Bypass the leg extension machine for the squat rack. Press a barbell before you employ shoulder raises.
4. Not Thinking “Strength First”
You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. That’s a colloquialism used for decades to impart the importance of building solid foundations. When it comes to weight-room success, no matter if your goal is physique or performance based, strength is the foundation that all other qualities are built upon.
Unfortunately, most newbies disregard this mindset, opting instead to focus on size and body composition before they’re ready to master the barbell.
It’s the same rush-to-the-finish mentality that motivates folks to major in the minors. They want the size and the low body fat. Each of those ends, however, are easier to achieve with a murderously strong body.
It’s simple. Get strong first by setting concrete lift goals (for example: bench 200 pounds, squat 300 pounds, etc.). Everything else becomes easier.
5. Not Seeking Help
Although our culture celebrates an individualized, pioneering spirit, we accomplish nothing great by ourselves. We all need help.
It’s frustratingly unfortunate to witness a new lifter fumble their way through the gym, haphazardly attempting a little of this and a little of that. Sometimes it continues for months, the guy or gal continuing to falter until they finally, in defeat, remove training time from their life.
If you’re new to the iron game, there’s no shame in understanding your neophyte status and securing advice from veterans. The process is as simple as asking an experienced lifter for advice. Hiring a good coach is also warranted.
6. Dismissing Nutrition
Gym novices botch nutrition in several ways, namely by thinking they can out-train a bad diet or by simply not eating enough. Prevalent are the new lifters that don’t eat enough food to accommodate their new routine. By not increasing their intake, they create a caloric deficit that wrecks recovery and potential gains.
Size and strength require calories. If you’re a new lifter that fears he’s not eating enough, try bumping your intake up by a couple hundred calories per day. Once you feel like you’re caloric intake is aiding your recovery, and you’re not eating to the point of sickness, maintain that caloric level.
7. Skipping the Warm-up
I’ll level with you. I’ve never met a lifter that loves warming up. Sure, everyone likes the results: feeling ready to train, a healthy frame, etc. But the act is viewed maliciously. While it’s not the sexiest part of the training day, avoiding the warm-up is potentially the worst mistake a newbie makes.
Warming-up prepares the musculoskeletal system to handle training’s stress while exciting the nervous system to enhance performance. These benefits are priceless for a lifter. Prepping your muscles and soft-tissue for work limits injury risk and jacks up your nervous system to turn your body into a powerhouse.
The process is simple. Plan ten to fifteen minutes of activity that employs drills to improve movement in your upper back, shoulders and hips. Keep the pace up to increase body heat. Wrap up the warm-up session with some jumps or throws to stimulate your nervous system.
Set some goals, warm-up and focus on getting strong first. Accompany these three solid actions with the final four mistakes to avoid and you’ll make progress faster than every other new lifter at the gym.