10+ Years. 10+ Mistakes.

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes”- Oscar Wilde

I started weight training back in 2005, in that time I’ve gained a lot of experience; trying new programs and training styles, new supplements, different approaches to nutrition and worked under the guidance of various coaches all of whom had their own unique perspectives.

I’ve learned a huge amount in that time and made decent progress, but I made numerous mistakes along the way as well. If I could go back and educate a younger me I would jump at the chance as I wasted a lot of time (and sometimes money) confused, ignorant and uneducated as to what I should and shouldn’t focus on, on the path to my goals. It’s too late for me, but hopefully you the reader won’t make the same mistakes I did having read this article.

1. Over Reliance on Supplements
For the first 2-3 years of training I did not use any traditional muscle building supplements whatsoever. As I got more into bodybuilding and began reading the ‘muscle magazines’ I started to believe the hype (and quite frankly B.S.) surrounding the merits of sports supplements. In an effort to get bigger and stronger I tried pre workouts, intra workouts, post workout shakes, meal replacements shakes, you name it I bought it and used it. I felt bloated, I had less money, my skin was in poor health and I didn’t gain 600% more muscle like the ad claimed.
I have since abandoned nearly all dietary supplements except whey protein and omega 3 fish oils.

Take home tip: Real, solid food should be your main source of nutrition. Save the money you were going to spend on supplements for food.

2. ‘Training Blind’
I did not use a training a diary until approximately 7 years into my weight training. Once I did, I quickly realised I had been missing out big time. Without a diary, you are essentially ‘training blind’, with no method of looking back at what you did the previous week(s), and thus no objective method of measuring and tracking strength increases.

Take home tip: The €2 you will spend on a notebook will be one of the best investments you will make if you use it correctly.

3. Not Bringing ‘Kaizen’ To Each Session
Closely related to not using a training diary, I did not place enough emphasis on getting stronger, or simply aiming to always lift more than I did the previous week and greatly underestimated the importance of progressively overloading (increasing the weight or total reps done) on all exercises for all muscle groups. This is paramount to long term success.

Take home tip: Employ the Kaizen philosophy and aim to continuously get a little bit better each session

4. Never Deloading
Taking an active recovery or “deload” week is something I now do typically after every 3 weeks of training. No athlete trains at 100% intensity year-round, and training for muscle or strength building should be no different. Taking a deload week and cutting down on the volume (amount of sets, reps or exercises) and intensity (weight in this case) during an intense block of training will have a “1 step back, 2 steps forward” effect on your progress when implemented appropriately.

Take home tip: Give yourself a break from heavy lifting every now and then. You will progress faster long term.

5. Not Striving To Perfect Technique
It’s just lifting weights, moving the bar from A to B, right? Not quite. I didn’t give optimal technique enough thought or respect in my early years. Those days are gone and I have been learning and refining my technique on some of the “big lifts” for the past number of years. In the past year I’ve made refinements to my technique on overhead press, deadlift, and bench press. Last year my squat received a full overhaul. Technique refinement should be a never-ending process. The more efficiently you can lift, the more weight you will ultimately be able to handle, equating to more muscle and of course strength.

Take home tip: Lifting efficiently = more strength and more muscle.

6. Avoiding “Bad Foods”
No, this is not a paragraph where I tell you to stuff your face with junk food! Rather, this refers to very early in my training career where I would choose not eating at all rather than eating for example a sandwich made with white bread, or a processed food deep fried in oil. Are these the ideal or optimal foods to eat for muscle gain? No, but it sure beats the hunger pangs and will do your body better than eating no food at all as I often did when caught without “optimal” foods.

Take home tip: If you’re trying to gain muscle choose so called “bad” foods over no food at all.

7. Staying Up Late At Night
We all know we should sleep 8 or so hours per night. What’s often overlooked or not specified about this piece of otherwise good advice is when those hours should take place. Sleeping 3am to 11am will have much less of a rejuvenating effect than sleeping 11pm to 7am. For too long I ignored my bodies circadian rhythm (sometimes due to work commitments, more often due to bad habits) and felt the ill effects of doing so. During periods where I had an erratic sleeping schedule, or a healthy set schedule my training sessions nearly always reflected this for better or for worse.

Take home tip: Sleep better, perform better.

8. Being a Monday to Friday Lifter
One of the major contributing factors that took my progress to the next level was getting my proverbial shit together in terms of nutrition, sleep and lifestyle on days I was not training. Like many people, I used to train exclusively midweek and consume a diet on these days that was conducive to my goals. However, once the weekend rolled around I would eat very infrequently (and quite often the wrong foods), stay up late and generally come off the proverbial wagon for two days.

Take home tip: The weekend still counts!

9. Not Setting Goals

Setting specific goals has been extremely beneficial to me over the past number of years. My goals in my early years were often “get bigger and stronger” which is great, but having clearly defined short, medium and long-term measurable goals as I now do helps to keep motivation high and brings a new element of personal challenge to my training. I have picked lifts and aimed to hit X number of reps with X amount of weight, picked bodyweight targets to hit, and of course goals within competitive powerlifting.

Take home tip: Set a goal, it doesn’t have to be conventional, but it should be measurable!

10. Not Employing A Coach
Seeking the advice of a good coach early in my training career would have perhaps eliminated my previous nine mistakes and set me on the right path from day one. Unfortunately, however great coaches were not always so numerous and accessible before the growth of both the strength & conditioning industry, and the internet. With that said, coaches are not just for beginners, in the past four years I have paid an equal number of individuals for their time, experience and expertise. In line with the Kaizen philosophy, I will continue to learn from coaches I respect that have walked the path ahead of me, or indeed are walking it with me but have their own philosophies and experience to share.

Take home tip: Having a coach can be invaluable to your progress.

Well, there you have it! In no particular order, the top 10 mistakes I made on the path to where I am today. I will no doubt continue to make mistakes, however as long as I can learn, and subsequently pass on my knowledge then I will have no regrets.

6 Tips For Healthy Night Shifts

It is well established that working night shifts can increase the risk of developing many health issues. These include but are not limited to; increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of various cancers, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal issues and increased stress levels which may result in negative mental health effects.
With that said, I’ve worked nights shifts myself in the past, and I understand sometimes “you gotta do what you gotta do” to pay the bills and keep food on the table.
So, let’s not dwell on the doom and gloom side of night shifts and instead look to what we can do to minimise these effects and keep you as happy and healthy as possible when working nights.

 

1.Prepare Healthy Meals in Bulk:

Being awake for just one night (now multiply that times 3-7 for a shift worker) has been shown to negatively impact blood sugar levels which can often lead to cravings for junk food. To avoid these temptations set aside time before starting a block of night shifts to prepare healthy meals in bulk. In my experience having healthy meals prepared greatly reduces the chances of turning to junk food.
Night shift work has also been shown to negatively affect insulin sensitivity; in simple terms this means your body will have a harder time processing those sugary foods and will be more likely to store body fat as a result. This further emphasises the need to eat healthy when working nights.

 

2. Supplement Wisely:
There are natural, healthy supplements out there that can improve your health and sleep quality when you’re working nights.
Here are my top 3 recommendations:

Melatonin is a hormone that’s secreted by the brain in the late evening to prepare the body and mind for sleep. Melatonin release is dictated by your bodies circadian rhythm, meaning that melatonin will get released in the evenings regardless if you’re on your drive to work for what will be a busy shift or at home preparing to get into bed!
Melatonin release beyond 4-6am is minimal, for this reason it is recommended to take a melatonin supplement before going to sleep after a night shift.

ZMA is one of my favourite natural supplements. It contains a blend of Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6, this combination when consumed prior to bed is used to achieve a deeper level of sleep.

Vitamin D this vitamin could warrant its own article. Vitamin D is essential for muscle function, healthy bones, and reduction of inflammation. Vitamin D is found in very few foods, and our main source of it comes from natural sunlight. When working nights, it is imperative to use a Vitamin D supplement to avoid becoming deficient.

 

3. Sleep in complete darkness:
When sleeping during the day it is essential to “recreate” night as best as possible. Ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible. If you don’t have a black out blind, invest in one immediately and in the mean-time, covering your window in tin-foil is a quick and cheap alternative!
Also, ensure that any light or noise emitting electrical devices are turned off or out of the room.

 

4. Limit Phone Use:
There’s no point creating a dark room, only to get into bed and begin blasting light into your eyes when browsing social media. Stay off your phone when in bed. Avoid phone and screen use prior to bed if possible. If not, at least use a blue light filter (most phones now have these built in, if your doesn’t there are downloadable apps with these on them). This will minimise the amount of light you are exposed to, and the strain on your eyes as a result.

 

5. Avoid caffeine:
Relax, I don’t mean no caffeine whatsoever and I understand it’s often exactly what’s needed to get through a shift. However, where possible try to avoid caffeine in the final hours of your shift.
Caffeine consumption increases cortisol levels; a stress hormone. Working nights also increases cortisol levels. The last thing you want in the hours prior to sleep is to willingly send your cortisol level any higher than necessary.

 

6. Adjust Your Exercise:
When working nights, your recovery ability is going to be compromised. Regularly performing extremely intense exercise sessions prior to a night shift will result in beating yourself into the ground and ultimately lead to injury and compromised results. Where possible, aim to time your hardest sessions during your time off, or day shifts. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t train “hard” when doing nights (as I said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do) this simply means save the hardest sessions for times when recovery will not be compromised.