“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.