The 3 Biggest Rookie Mistakes of Strength Training
Hey guys, this is my first blog post in a while. Turns out it’s hard to keep up with writing when you start working 40 hours a week… bummer. Anyway, I decided to do a quick and light article about the 3 most common, most limiting, and easiest to overcome mistakes in pursuing gains in strength.
1. No Progressive Overload- you know this lifter already. He goes to the gym regularly, has a well practiced routine, and most notably, he benches the same weight every time he’s in the gym. When he first started that routine of his, he probably saw some good gains- felt a little stronger, looked a little bigger, moved a little better… but things have tapered off. He has plateaued physiologically, neurologically, and, in all likelihood, psychologically as well. So what’s the deal? Has he gotten as strong as he’s gonna get? Has he tapped his genetic potential? Absolutely, positively- NO. He has simply not trained with progressive overload.
What is progressive overload exactly? Let’s look at it like this- the gains you make through lifting (improved neurological coding and muscular hypertrophy) are adaptations to a new environmental stimulus. In other words, when you start picking up heavy shit for the first time, your body adapts to make that process easier. Eventually, however, your body makes all the adaptations it needs to move that particular weight, and you stop getting stronger. This is a plateau.
In order to break through a plateau, you need to provide your body with a new stimulus for adaptation. In other words, pick up something slightly heavier than you did yesterday. I have seen with myself and others phenomenal strength gains from programs that are no more complicated than adding 5 pounds to the bar every time you lift. Start with a weight that is light, and that you can handle with impeccable form. Then simply add five pound each session. In no time you will be smashing your old PR’s.
2. No Training Journal- how many lifters do you know that keep a journal of every rep they perform? Probably not very many. The ones that do, however, will tell you without hesitation that this practice has taken their training to another level. Recording your lifts in a journal provides 3 indispensable assets:
- Accountability- If you see long gaps between training sessions it will be blatantly obvious that you are not putting in the necessary work. When it’s not on paper, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re “lifting regularly.”
- Perspective- the biggest part of staying motivated is being able to see what work pays off and what doesn’t. When you have a log of your progress in each lift, it becomes clear what’s working and what isn’t, allowing you to feel confident about continuing with the same thing, or switching it up as needed.
- Tangible Reflections- we are all familiar with the feeling of picking up a deadlift and thinking, something about that didn’t feel quite right. Most of the time, however, this is a fleeting thought that never becomes anything constructive. In addition to recording sets, reps and weights for each of my lifts, I also have a section for general “notes,” from each session. I usually only have 2-4 bullets per hour in the gym, but they make a huge difference. It’s an opportunity to conceptualize what needs to be your focus during a given movement, and affirm it in a more concrete way than simply shaking your head. I make notes in my journal about everything, not just lifting- running, swimming, throwing a baseball- anything that helps me understand human movement better. I honestly believe that this practice has taught me at least as much as any of the books or articles I’ve read.
3. Insufficient Exercise Variety- this final point is more applicable for somewhat experienced lifters. Nonetheless, it is an important point for everyone to understand. Human beings are not like fork lifts. Fork lifts move loads vertically. That’s all they do. Human beings, on the other hand, are infinitely dynamic machines, capable of pulling, pressing, and twisting in limitless different ways. When a coach then says that “these are the only two or three exercises that are valuable,” they are missing something. Humans are not only capable of high variety, they thrive under it.
It would be nice if you could simply pick an exercise, and add five pounds per session for the rest of your life. This approach will get you a solid 100 lbs or more on many of your lifts, but doesn’t tend to last forever. When you hit that inevitable plateau, switch it up. There are a million awesome exercises out there to choose from.
Lift heavy, lift under control, and record it all. When you hit a wall, find a new, awkward exercise, and go to work. If you do all that, you need never hit a plateau.
People talk about genetic potential all the time. The truth is though, no one really has any idea what the fuck human beings are capable of. Plateaus are breakable. Ceilings are naught.