Strength training is the most powerful exercise tool you have for changing your body. But you can’t just walk into a gym off the street, start throwing weights around, and transform your physique. Training requires fairly complex skill.
If you’re like the vast majority of trainees hitting the weights, you’re going to make some common mistakes that will inhibit success and make your efforts a waste of time.
This article will give you ten rules to triple the effectiveness of your workouts. We’ll start with the simplest rules and work up to more complex principles that require a bit more education to understand.
You’ll avoid pitfalls that will allow you to rise above the masses to be one of those unique individuals who actually transforms their body into the physique they desire.
#1: Limit Workouts to Less than 60 Minutes
Enter the gym with focus and drive, keeping your workouts to less than an hour. Shorter more frequent workouts are ideal for beginners. Four 45-mintues workouts a week will allow you to train with a superior degree of effort and determination for faster progressions.
Common Pitfall to Avoid: Long workouts.
They lead to diminishing returns on all goals besides endurance. The stress hormone cortisol tends to increase to tap into fuel sources from muscle in order to provide continued energy to keep you going, which is not a positive development.
#2: Be Consistent & Patient
There’s no mystery as to how to improve your physique or gain functional strength.
People just don’t like the answer: Results take time, consistency, and relatively hard work.
Accept that the successful people are the ones who show up and use their time wisely. Stay the course. Follow the plan. You will get what you desire.
#3: Accept that What You’ve Been Told Before Is Probably Wrong
The world of fitness is overflowing with training myths. These myths are due to incomplete understanding of how the human body works, leaving many trainees, both novice and advanced, very confused.
For example, when squatting, it is not dangerous for the knees to go over the toes, nor is it bad to go all the way down past parallel into a deep squat. Both are misconceptions spread by trainers who do not understand how the musculature of the lower body works.
Doing full squats in which the knees come over the toes and trainees go down past parallel is protective for the knees and safer than partial squats, which lead to degenerative changes in the knee joint and spine.
Common Pitfall to Avoid: Getting confused by myths.
It’s highly recommended you learn from an experienced trainer who identifies as a “strength coach” because strength coaching principles are based on exercise science.
You can test your coach by asking them to explain why they are having you train in a certain way. Can they explain it in a way that makes sense to you? If not, they don’t understand why they are having you train that way. Look for a new coach.
#4: Don’t take Advice from People Who Don’t Train
Undoubtedly, people who don’t exercise and have zero experience strength training are going to give you advice if they find out you’re embarking on a serious program.
When this happens, ask yourself, where is this person getting their information?
From magazines, friends, the media, or their own past failures?
Yes, you say? Now, are any of these a reputable scientifically-based source for how the human body works?
Thought so. Glad we had this talk…
#5: Don’t Eat and Supplement Like an Athlete Unless You are One
Athletes need to optimize recovery so that they can train multiple times a day. They put themselves through punishing, muscle damaging workouts that require a large amount of calories and nutrients for recuperation.
Novices who are training 3 to 5 times a week for an hour have different nutrition and recovery needs. And if your goal is fat loss and general health, you’ll get best results by focusing on sane, simple, sustainable nutrition.
Trainees with muscle growth or performance goals can certainly benefit from pre- and post-workout shakes and other supplements; however, it’s generally preferable to gain significant training experience first.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid: Taking carbs pre- or during workout, or drinking multiple protein shakes throughout the day.
As long as you have a fairly normal eating pattern, novice trainees don’t need carbs pre-workout for “energy” because it’s highly likely their muscle glycogen stores are full. Muscle glycogen provides more than enough fuel for an hour workout.
You may benefit from one post-workout protein shake with about 20 grams that is free of added sugar if your overall protein intake is low, but there is rarely a need to take it beyond that. Dosing protein elevates insulin, which is better avoided, especially if the goal is fat loss. Stick to whole food protein.
#6: Get Stronger Faster By Learning Training Technique
It’s imperative that you learn proper lifting technique because you’ll reap the following benefits:
You’ll accelerate strength development.
You’ll gain more muscle and likely lose more body fat.
You can eliminate joint pain linked to faulty movement patterns.
Most importantly, you won’t look like a bonehead in the gym.
Proper lifting technique varies by exercise, but there are some common elements to all lifts, which you need to master:
• Always train with a tight, flat upper back, but allow the natural arch to appear in the lower back. Never round the back and don’t let your stomach hang out. Engage your abs to stabilize your trunk.
• Keep your chest up, shoulders back and your head in line with your body, not looking up or down.
• Use a weight that is challenging but allows you to complete every repetition with identical form. If you are unable to maintain the correct pathway of the bar or dumbbell for every repetition, then you have reached technical failure. Stop the exercise and rest or use a lower weight.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid: Rounding the back when doing exercises that involve the whole body such as squats, deadlifts, or rows.
A rounded back is extremely dangerous because it puts a huge amount of unnecessary pressure on the spine.
Not using enough weight is another problem. Startling research shows that novice trainees rarely choose weights that are heavy enough to produce gains in strength or muscle.
Women are most risk of wasting their time: One study found that novice women self-selected weights that were 30 percent lower than the minimal weight need to elicit measurable increases in muscle for a better body composition.
#7: Stick to the Basic Lifts
Excitement about training may tempt you to train a wide range of lifts from Olympic lifts to shoulder shrugs, but there’s no need to go crazy.
Learning a few multi-joint exercises that use more than one muscle at a time is the best way to develop the base levels of strength that are required to progress to more challenging lifts and complicated programs. You’ll also improve your movement patterns for daily life by learning to squat, deadlift, lunge, press, and pull.
Most people new to training don’t even know how to bend down and pick up their shoes properly, so it’s critical you train you body to respond appropriately to different tasks (called the development of neuromuscular strength).
Common Pitfalls to Avoid: Focusing on lifts for only one part of the body.
Newbies train only arms, chest, or abs, but this is a big mistake because the key is to develop balanced strength throughout the body. Higher baseline strength predicts the magnitude of your training success over time. For example, one study showed that if you have a strong squat when you begin power training, you’ll increase athletic performance by 50 percent compared to only 20 percent if you start out weak.
#8: Pick a Priority and Train for It
You want it all: Fat loss, muscle, strength, and stamina. Having multiple goals is commendable. You’re ambitious and motivated, but it can also dilute your action to the point where your efforts are unproductive.
The solution is to pick a priority and train for it. The catch is that novice trainees are at a disadvantage because their status as a beginner conveys the default priority of gaining base strength and learning how to train.
Use this to your advantage: Say your reason for working with weights is to get a better body for summer. Your focus should still be on building strength because results will come quickly and it’s motivating to have the numbers on the bar go up.
Strength increases can appear after one or two workouts, whereas fat loss takes weeks and muscle growth takes months.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid: After lack of patience, having too many goals is one of the most damaging pitfalls novices face.
Focusing on getting strong and acquiring training technique will allow “patience” to take care of itself so that at the end of your first training phase you’ll be ready to make intense fat loss workouts productive.
#9: Use Volume & Intensity To Your Advantage
Avoid boredom and stagnation by planning your workouts in 3 to 4 week phases. This is a very basic principle of strength training that novices need to become familiar with.
Recall that fat loss and changes to body composition take a long time, but strength is gained quickly. The body responds very rapidly to the stress of training loads, which means that you must change your training frequently.
There are two basic parameters within which you should alternate between:
First is accumulation, which refers to doing more reps and sets so that you spend more “time” under the weight. The primary change to your body with accumulation training is more muscle and less fat.
Second is intensification, which refers to lifting heavier weights that are closer to the maximum amount you can lift. When you train for intensity, you do less volume, spending less “time” under the weight. The primary change to your body is greater strength.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid: Never changing the parameters of your programs.
Doing the same exercises with basically the same weights and set-rep schemes over and over and over is not a worthwhile use of your time.
#10: Let the Reps Dictate the Load
Letting the reps dictate the weight that you use has three benefits:
• It allows you to ensure you are lifting the correct amount to produce results, which is critical because novices have no idea of their strength capacity.
• It allows you to individualize your training. Due to genetics, gender, and experience, people differ in their baseline strength and endurance.
• It accounts for the fact that strength varies 10 to 20 percent over the course of a single day, peaking between 2 and 5 p.m. The weight you use when training after work may be inappropriate when training first thing in the morning.
To allow the reps to dictate the load, use rep ranges when programing. If you’re working in the 10 to 12 rep range, but can perform 13 or more reps, the weight needs to be increased. Likewise, if you can only perform 8 or 9 reps, your load is too heavy.
A sample program that alternates volume with intensity ever 3 weeks is as follows:
For the first 3 weeks, you’d do 3 sets of 10-12 reps per exercise (you should use a weight that won’t allow you to do more than 12 reps before you reach failure. Less than 10 reps means the weight’s too heavy).
For the second 3 weeks, do 4 sets of 5-7 reps with a heavier weight than you used for the first cycle, reaching failure by the 7th rep.
For your third 3 weeks, do 8-10 reps for 4 sets at a slightly lighter weight, reaching failure by the 10th rep. For your fourth 3-week cycle, do 4-6 reps for 4 sets, using a heavier weight than you used for the second cycle.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid: Never changing weights, or getting discouraged that strength and muscle gains don’t occur despite always lifting in the same rep range.
Final Words: Be excited!
Starting a strength training program is literally learning a new sport. Not only are you going to have a blast with a little hard work thrown in, you’re going to enter into a whole new world where people value physical ability and have the knowledge to change their bodies as they like.