The horrors that I see on the floor of the weights room never cease to amaze me. You’d think that with information so readily available on the internet, people would try to find out a little more about what they are supposed to be doing in the gym, instead of just copying the other patrons or doing what their ‘expert’ friend told them to do.
Here are just some of the common things I see people getting wrong in the gym.
This one normally applies just to the guys. You would think that there is an inverse relationship between the muscle size and flexibility, because it always seems to be the big guys with horrible flexibility, especially around the shoulder joint.
I guess stretching just isn’t really sexy enough and I’ll admit; I hate doing it too. The long term injury prevention cannot be ignored though as well as improved posture.
Tight hip flexors can lead to lordosis or excessive curvature of the lower back. By lengthening your hip flexors, you allow the pelvis to relax out of an excessive anterior or forward leaning tilt. By correctly aligning your pelvis, the curve in your lower spine will flatten out.
This is just one example, tight muscles all over the body can play havoc on your posture.
1. No Warm-up
I’m sure we’ve all done it at some stage. You’re pressed for time and that warm-up is going to mean cutting down on your lifting time. You load up the bar and hit the ground running. Halfway through the set something feels uncomfortable; a couple of minutes later you can no longer move your neck. Workout over – for the next 2 weeks!
Whatever you choose to do for a warm-up, at least do something. 10 minutes on the bike is not really going to prepare you for lifting but I guess it’s better than nothing. Stretching isn’t the best bet either, but it’s a start. If you really want a good warm-up you should be doing mobility training before you hit the iron. Read more about what you should be doing in The Low Down on Static Stretching.
Working out in the same rep range.
This one is so pervasive in gyms that you’d be forgiven for thinking that 3 sets of 8 was some kind of weightlifting Nirvana. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with 3 sets of 8, but it seems like people are stuck doing this for all their workouts.
You need to change things up a bit. Your body gets used to the same stimulus very quickly. If you’re stuck in a bit of an exercise rut, changing your set & rep scheme is probably the best was to kick-start your progress.
Some of my favourites are:
- 8 x 3
- 10 x 3
- 5 x 5
- 4 x 12
- 6 x 4
- 4 x 6
Working with lower reps using a bigger load will recruit different muscle fibres. You will be recruiting the high threshold motor units, which have the largest capacity for growth and also create the densest muscles with the most myogenic tone. Read Why High Reps Aren’t for Toning for more info on this.
No post workout nutrition
This is such an important time for your body to be getting the nutrients it needs to recover and grow that it amazes me how so many people overlook the post workout nutrition.
Within 1 hour of working out, preferably sooner you body is craving quick acting proteins and carbohydrates. Whey is the protein of choice here as it is the fastest to be absorbed. You also want to get a lot of high glycemic carbohydrates. Post workout is the only time you want to get high GI carbs, because your muscles are glycogen depleted and really need a quick boost to get the recovery process started.
For an intense strength training workout it is recommended that you consume 0.4g of protein and 0.8g of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight. So for an 80kg person, that would be 32 grams of whey protein and 64 grams of a high GI carbohydrate such as glucose, dextrose or maltodextrin.
You can either mix this up yourself or buy a pre made recovery drink. I like to mix is up myself, purely because maltodextrin is dirt cheap and you pay a huge premium for the privilege of having the supplement companies mix it in for you.
Following the post workout shake, your first whole food meal should be eaten within 3 hours of your workout. You’ll want about the same amounts of protein and carbs, but his time you can choose a slower digesting meat, dairy or egg based protein and lower GI complex carbs such as rice, pasta or potatoes.
Great post workout meal
Always performing the same exercises
We are creatures of habit, so this one is not surprising. In the gym, once people figure out the basics of what they should be doing they get a simple program and stick to it. A lot of people have probably been doing the same program for years.
It’s been said that the best program is the one that you’re not doing. Again, this goes back to the previous point. Your body adapts quickly to whatever you throw at it, so you need to change not only the exercises you perform, but also your entire program.
These can often be small changes. Always perform flat barbell bench press? Why not try dumbbells, or incline/decline pressing. Always do back squats? Try front squats for a humbling experience or if you really want to expose your weaknesses, try overhead squats. If you can do overhead squats without falling over then congratulations! Try to change your program every 3 - 6 weeks or until you feel like you have adapted.
The aimless workout
Like anything in life, you need to set goals. If you have no goal to your gym workouts, then you are not going to achieve much. For this you are going to need a well designed program to follow with some tangible goal at the end. Do you want to run your first marathon or have you set a goal of being 10% stronger in 4 weeks?
Having a goal will give you the motivation to push that little big harder at the next workout. You should also be keeping records of your workouts – how else will you know how hard to push yourself the next time?
To many isolation movements, not enough compound movements.
It seems like most guys are obsessed with getting huge guns. If that is what floats your boat then who am I to criticise, but dedicating so much time and energy to a couple of muscle groups seems strange to me.
What a lot of people fail to recognise is that compound movements can be really great arm builders too. Any compound back exercise is going to place a lot of stress on the biceps too. Any type of rowing, lat pull downs and especially chin-ups can do wonders for your biceps, not to mention adding some width to the back, which is probably lagging due to all the effort spent on isolation. Compound movements allow for a lot more load bearing and therefore have great growth potential.
What about the triceps? If your shoulders are healthy, dips are probably the best triceps builder around. Add in some close grip bench pressing and maybe one isolation movement (I know you’re going to do them anyway!) and you have a solid triceps routine.
This doesn’t only apply to arms though. In general gym goers do too much isolation. Take one of the ultimate compound lifts, like an Olympic power snatch. To work the same muscles in isolation would require at least performing: standing calf raise, leg extension, leg curls, shrugs, back extension, abdominal exercise just to name a few. You still wouldn’t get the intra-muscular co-ordination and metabolic kick up the butt either.
Compound movements allow you more bang for your buck and allow you to condense a workout into only a few exercises. Compound movements also stimulate more growth hormone release.
Too much pressing and not enough pulling
Ever noticed how a lot of big guys in the gym have rounded shoulders? Along with arms, bench pressing has to be the most overused exercise.
If you consider that a bench press is a horizontal pressing movement (relative to the correct anatomical position) it would follow that any kind of rowing would be a horizontal pulling movement. In order to develop the agonist and antagonist muscle pairs around the pecs, shoulders and back an even amount of pressing and pulling is required.
Because of this obsession with the bench press, the pectoral muscles, anterior deltoids and certain rotator cuff muscles overpower the back muscles of the rhomboids (responsible for pulling back and pinching your shoulder blades together) and posterior deltoids. Tightness in the pectoral muscles, due to lack of stretching, compounds the problem further by pulling the shoulders forward. This is a gross simplification and I don’t want to turn this into an anatomy lesson, but the take home message is that you should be doing an equal amount of pulling and pushing.
If you already resemble Quasimodo, I’d recommend seeing a specialist first. At the very least you should also cut back on your pressing and increase you pulling until your strength imbalance resolve. Stretching your pecs will also help. You should also check your desk ergonomics – chances are you’re reading this slouched over your desk. Your mother was right when she told you to sit up straight. There is only so much corrective exercise can do for you. If the other 23 hours in your day are spent slouching, chances are you will remain that way.
Again, it’s the guys who are most at fault here I’m afraid. Horrible form is usually the result of trying to lift too much weight. A bicep curl should be slow and controlled. It’s not a back exercise, but all too often you’ll see somebody with too much weight using their back to heave the weight up. I also see a lot of guys bouncing the weight off their chest in the bench press or racking the squat bar with too much weight and then performing 6 inch squats. Who are you fooling? If this is you then my advice is to leave your ego at the door. That gym hottie across the room who you’re trying to impress doesn’t care how much weight you’re lifting, really.
She doesn’t care, really.
Regarding form, a muscle should be worked through its full range of motion – from full extension to complete flexion. I’ve seen the heaving-style bicep curls done where the elbows barely moved at all!
Ego aside, there are still people with good intentions who just get it wrong. If you’re not sure, check out somewhere like exrx.net to get your form correct.
Hopefully this didn’t come across as too much of a rant, but these are pretty simple things that are easy to fix and will go a long way to keeping you healthy and making sure you progress.