The purpose of this article is to help quell the most common mistakes beginners make in the gym.
So, we’ve gotten all of the excuses out of the way. We decided that staying the same is more painful than making a change. We have successfully moved out of the pre-contemplation stage of change, to commitment to take action and maintain that habit for the long run. There are just a few things to consider:
- Should I join a gym?
- Tracking macros
- Compound lifts
- Hammering form and technique
- Tracking progress
- Should I get a Training partner?
- Training Gear
- Rest and Recovery
Should I join a gym?
Many people know the answer to this question already. I would say that we should join some sort of gym or health club. It does not matter what type of gym it is or what level of experience people who attend that gym is on, beginner, intermediate, expert. It doesn’t matter just so long as we are adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Joining a gym is literally an investment in your health and finances. As obesity rates continue to rise worldwide, we will be wise to join a gym and cultivate the habit of training regularly, participating in any kind of program we can get into. Whether it is an aerobics class, strength training, yoga, etc. All types of training is going to aid in keeping obesity at bay. Obesity is associated with more doctor visits due to risk of diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke and other health concerns and in turn higher medical costs in the long run. It should be obvious to us that investing as little as $10 a month for a gym membership is the way to go.
Whether we want to gain weight as an ectomorph or lose weight, tracking macros is one the most important aspects of strength training and overall fitness in general. If we do not take the responsibility of building the habit of engaging our diet in a strategic way, we will just be running on a hamster wheel, essentially getting nowhere. My theory is that this is what discourages most of us. We do not take the time to learn about diet via macros and “calories in vs calories out.” When we do not see the results we expected, we assume that “this isn’t working for me.”
- Calories in vs calories out – this is the simple concept that gaining and losing weight is built around. Of course, there are other factors that may cause complication but this is our focal point when setting goals. To gain weight, we know we must consume more calories than we burn. To lose weight, we know we must burn more calories than we consume. Simple, right? There’s a twin component to this concept.
- Macros(Protein, fats, and carbs) – We focus on macros when we want to recompose our bodies. Focusing in on macros means the difference between having a muscular 6ft/1.83m tall, 180lb/82kg body and a flabby 6ft/1.83m, 180lb/82kg body and this comes down to body fat percentage or body composition.
It is easy to track our macros these days. I personally use the “MyFitnessPal” app and it has helped me to stay on track with my daily macros and caloric intake. Again, I stress the importance of tracking macros because it directly influences how well you can train each session. While we can look at reaching our fitness goals being based off 20% diet, 80% training, the 20% has a huge impact on the results we get from the 80%. Let me give you an example, if we eat crap that has little to no functional value our training will suffer. If we do not take in the necessary amount of calories arranged in the correct permutation of proteins, fats and carbs, we stand to suffer and maybe even injured during our training sessions. The body needs the correct nutrients with functional value in order for us to get the most out of our training.
When first starting out, I recommend focusing on the four main compound lifts. The most common mistakes beginners make in the gym is that they avoid the four main compound lifts and do a whole bunch of isolation movements. These compound lifts are: deadlifts, squats, bench press and standing overhead press. These four lifts give us the most bang for our buck. This is because these compound lifts work the most amount of muscle at one time. Let’s save the isolation movements such as: bicep curls, triceps push down, leg presses and all others for the accessory component of our splits.
For example, let’s say we are training chest on a particular day. We should start off with a bench press, then if we so choose, we can go into dumbbell presses, then a chest fly movement, and work our triceps with a push down and an overhead extension to finish off. Anything after the main lift(bench press) are considered accessory movements and they aid to build that main lift.
Hammering form and technique
Many people talk about “noob” gains when first starting out in regards to strength and muscle gain. If I were to take a different approach when I was a beginner I would have focussed on being much more meticulous when it came to my form and technique and avoid the common mistake of focusing exclusively on strength. Not that I wasn’t meticulous about form and technique from the start, but I would have placed more emphasis behind it rather than trying to get as strong as possible. Luckily, when I realized just how important it was to have good form, I stripped weight off the bar, started from scratch and learned how to excute these lifts properly.
It is very important that we learn how to do the aforementioned compound lifts correctly because of the risk of potentially injuring ourselves. Our best bet is that for our first year we focus on proper form and technique in order to build structural integrity. We want to focus on getting our muscles to work in a well orchestrated manner, in tandem with one in another so that we build a well-rounded, functional physique. Yes, we can load the bar up with weight but that would not be the best option if we want to maintain healthy joints, tendons, ligaments and properly develop musculature overtime. Remember, we want to do this for a long time. We want to build and maintain a healthy physique, not destroy it. The fun part is that we can throw in our own signature ritual when it comes to technique to help us develop a pattern of proper execution.
There will be the rare occasions when we injure ourselves here and there but those occasions will be far and few between because we are practicing safety via proper form and technique. The best part about focusing on form and technique is that the amount of weight we lift over time will increase to the degree that we have maintained a proper diet, proper form and proper technique. It is rewarding to focus on the fundamentals consistently to reap the most benefit. Let’s take our time, this is a marathon not a race.
When starting out we want to track our progress. This is another important aspect of strength training, like tracking our macros, we will be running on a hamster wheel getting no where if we do not know how we are progressing in terms of weight, sets and reps. There are many ways to track our progress. I’m a little old school and like to use a notebook to keep my progress on hand. We can use our phones to track our progress but in this day and age, our phones are distracting. Keeping a notebook allows us the freedom to leave our phones in our locker or turn it off while training. Nothing keeps us in the zone more than knowing where we are in our training session, how far we’ve come and how fmusch further we have to reach a particular goal than tracking our progress. We can always look back to last year to see that we were benching a mere 135lbs/61kg for 5 reps and this week we are benching 225lbs/102kg for reps of 8. Another benefit of tracking progress is managing volume and discovering different strategies of getting stronger. There may be a week or two where we can go up in load but we notice that if we increase our reps a bit, we can set a volume personal record.
Should I get a training partner?
It is a great feeling going to the gym with a buddy and getting stronger, maybe even competing a little bit with them. With a gym partner we can push our limits a bit more through encouragement, friendly competition and it is even a bit safer when we have someone to spot us just incase we want to go to failure on our last set. The downside is that we may become too dependent on a training partner and forfeit our independence. Start out training alone for some time, develop independence. Knowing that you have your own goals that you want to reach. Having a gym partner should only compliment your goals, not hinder those goals. Having a gym partner for some means that once that partner gets a new job, starts a family or gains other kinds of life altering responsibilities, it’s a roadblock for them. It means that they themselves lose motivation to continue on the path to reach their goals. Develop self-discipline by making it a habit to get to the gym no matter what. Having discipline even beats having motivation because motivation is based on emotion and emotions change all time. Discipline is an ingrained habit similar to muscle memory.
There are a ton of training gear out there. I started out with none at all because I couldn’t afford any but as time went on I purchased training gear one at a time. Instead of listing off all of the training gear that ever existed, I’ll mention the training gear that I use from time to time:
- Wrist Wraps – If you are an ectomorph like myself, you probably have small joints. I go as heavy as I can without using wrist wraps in order to develop joint strength and connective tissue as much as possible without aid. Wrist wraps support the wrist joint and reduces the risk of injury. I use these for pressing movements. Personally, they do not seem to help me much with pulling movements such as deadlifts, rows or lat pull downs.
- Wrist Straps – This is a decent piece of equipment. These are similar to wrist wraps except that we have a piece of material, a strap coming from our wrist. We wrap the straps around the bar or handle of a piece of equipment that we are pulling with in order to get all of our reps in when our grip starts giving out. I did not purchase these until a little later on in my training career, that is, when my back muscles got much stronger than my grip strength. Over time, pulling movements develop back strength to the point where they give out much later than grip does. Let’s say we want to do sets of 8 reps of a moderately heavy weight. Our grip starts to give out at around 5 to 6 reps. What the straps does is allows us to hold onto the bar a little longer to finish out the set so that we can reap the full benefits of it.
- Oly Shoes – These are hit or miss with some people. For me, it is a huge hit. As I am more glute and hamstring dominant in my squats, these shoes help to take the emphasis off of my posterior chain and focus more on my quads. For some, based off of their body dimensions, it may do the exact opposite. These are relatively expensive, running at about $160 dollars a pair. By no means are these shoes necessary. We can very well get along without using these shoes at all.
- Powerlifting Belt – I still have not touched my belt. This belt allows for core stability. I prefer to let my core do most of the work in order for it to develop naturally. But as soon as I start to feel some snap action, I am throwing this bad boy on. Also, this belt of course allows for us to lift more weight because of the added support we get from the belt in addition to having some sort of decent core strength.
- Gloves – No.
- Knee Sleeves – I wear these for aesthetic purposes, they just look so cool over some joggers.As for functional purposes, they keep the knees nice and warm and therefore, helps with mobility.
- Thin Bands – I use these bands to warm up the shoulders and arms before a chest, back or shoulders session. Invest in these! They have helped me to maintain healthy elbow, wrist, and shoulder joints.
- Thick Bands – I use these bands to help warm up the hips, knees and back on leg day. I go through a series of stretching, hip adduction and hip abduction movements to set me up for my squat sessions, very important for mobility.
Again, this list isn’t exhaustive.There are many other pieces of equipment that people use to train. Having training gear is not that serious. I recommend getting all of this gear one at a time and add them or subtract them from your routine. These pieces of equipment are not the end all be all. They should only HELP you. There should not be any particular amount of emphasis placed on getting these pieces of equipment. Only use them as you see fit.
Rest and Recovery
And finally, all of the above means nothing at all if we do not get adequate rest and therefore recover properly. If we do not sleep properly, manage our stress levels and just create a habit of getting out of our body’s way so that it can recover then we are wasting our time. We have to get at least 8 hours of sleep in order for our body to recharge for the next session, for the next day in general. The body repairs itself while it is sleeping. When we train, we are strategically breaking down muscle tissue in order for it to be built back up and then some. This is how we gain muscle and strength. We also must manage our stress levels to the degree that we keep cortisol levels in check. Cortisol is necessary but too much and it’s bad for the body.Meditation helps with rest and relaxation.
The plan is to approach strength training and fitness with a balanced, responsible, effective approach.A strong, healthy, body has many benefits. We want to make this a lifestyle. This is not a trend or something that we pick up and put back down. This is our health we are talking about!