Are you spending hours and hours in the gym with little to show for it? If you’re not getting stronger or building muscle, it’s time to evaluate your training practices. Emphasize what’s effective and eliminate what’s not. Your body will thank you.
Here are 10 things you might be doing that can slow your progress.
1) You do too much cardio
Steady-state cardio offers few benefits that you can’t get from sprinting and other interval workouts. Excessive cardio is a good way to experience fatigue, and that’s the last thing you need when attempting to build muscle or get stronger. If you choose to do cardio, do it on a different day or at least wait until later in the day. Better yet, skip it altogether.
If you do cardio to warm-up before your resistance training workout, 5 minutes of brisk walking or low-intensity cycling should be sufficient to increase body temperature. Remember that you’ll also be performing warm-up sets before you begin lifting heavy, so there’s no reason to do too much.
2) You do too many warm-up sets
Warm-up sets are for improving mobility and preparing for your first heavy work set. They should not create fatigue. Performing 3-4 warm-up sets of 3-6 reps should be enough for most styles of training.
Being in a rush is a bad move, too. Don’t be afraid to take several minutes between your last warm-up set and your first work set. It can take several minutes or more for creatine phosphate to be replenished in the muscles, so there’s no harm in taking your time. Overloading the muscle is the goal; too little rest and performance suffers.
3) You emphasize accessory exercises
Leg extensions, curls, and flyes should take a backseat to squats, deadlifts, and presses. If your goal is to build strength, perform compound movements with heavy weight first in your workout. If you want to develop both strength and hypertrophy, use this strategy for programming sets and reps.
4) You’re lifting too heavy
You’re doing yourself a disservice if you compromise your form to lift heavier weight. If you aren’t squatting to parallel or below, use less weight. If you bounce the bar off your chest while bench pressing, use less weight. If you swing your body to complete a pull-up, use proper form and do fewer repetitions or modify the exercise.
5) You train for the pump
Doing 100 push-ups will make you sore but improvements depend on progressive overload. High-volume training might be good for leaving the gym with swollen muscles but the effects are short lived. Build strength and lean mass with heavy weight and save the high-volume workouts for beach day.
6) You don’t give yourself enough recovery time
If heavy training with multi-joint lifts is how you approach your workout, you’re not going to make gains if you train too frequently or don’t get enough rest. Get enough sleep at night, take naps if you wish, and allow yourself to take one or more days off in between workouts.
Without recovery time, you won’t be able to perform more work, and without more work, you fail to develop. Use your recovery time to take long walks if you have the urge to be active.
7) You avoid accessory and isolation exercises
Some training purists believe squats, deadlifts, and presses are all you need to produce an outstanding physique. But if your upper chest is lagging, there’s no reason to avoid cable flyes and reverse-grip incline dumbbell presses. If your calves are poorly developed, do calf raises. Nobody disputes the importance of foundational multi-joint exercises. Make these the focus of your training. At the same time, if you have physique or athletic goals, allow yourself to perform accessory movements for specific purposes.
8) You train for power
Power exercises include weightlifting (sometimes called Olympic lifting), plyometrics, and kettlebell swings. Power is defined as (force x distance)/time. Increases in training duration (distance) and speed (time) result in decreases in force production, and force production matters more than distance and time for building strength and mass. Use power exercises for athleticism, variety, or burning calories and consider other options if you have different goals.
9) You do generalist workouts
What are your training goals? Flexibility, hypertrophy, strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness? Training to achieve all goals in one workout results in the “jack of all trades, master of none” effect. For strength, lift heavy, work less, rest long, and perform basic movements. For hypertrophy, reduce the weight, increase the volume, and use a combination of basic and accessory movements. You can expect great things with this approach.
10) You’re not eating enough
It’s difficult to eat a reduced-calorie diet and improve strength and size at the same time. Calorie cycling is one way to make this happen. It can take a lot of thought and effort to make training gains while losing body fat, but it can be done.
For those who prefer a relaxed approach, allow yourself to eat to support your activity and recognize that you may increase body fat somewhat during the process.