When I first started lifting, I made a ton of mistakes in the gym. I thought I had all the answers, but fast forward years later and I realize I made gains mostly out of luck and despite what I was doing, not because of it. I dare to dream where I would actually be had I avoided these top 2 gym mistakes.
#1: Not Having a Plan
This is by far the biggest gym mistake I see with new lifters but also the most correctable.
As a rookie, the good news is you will get great results from a simple plan, so you don’t need to put together anything elaborate. The more muscle you can recruit, the more muscle you can build, so build your program around compound exercises like bench press, squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.
Have the plan in writing and know exactly what you are going to do before you even set foot in the gym. This will prevent you from wasting time and wandering around aimlessly.
#2: Not Lifting Heavy Enough
A lot of new lifters are worried about lifting heavy because they fear injury. While this is a legit concern (I don’t advocate lifting too heavy too soon without demonstrating proper form), the far more common problem I see in beginners is not lifting heavy enough.
Individuals are far more capable than they often give themselves credit for. This mindset causes them to underperform in the gym, especially in weight lifting. You must lift heavy enough weights to provide a stimulus to your body.
How much weight should you be lifting to build muscle and strength? Read this.
So now that you know what the top 2 mistakes are, where do you go from here?
Suggestions for Beginners
- Progressive overload above all: This is one of the most basic strength training principles and understanding it is fundamental to making progress in the gym. This principle basically states that you must eclipse your previous workout in order to progress. According to progressive overload, if you hit 6 reps at 135 pounds on bench, the next time you bench you either need to hit at least 7 reps at 135 or 6 reps at more than 135 pounds. More weight or more reps. Keep progressing from session to session.
- Keep a training log: This goes for everyone, not just beginners, but charting your progress over time is key to making long-term gains. To make sure you are following the principle of progressive overload, you must chart your progress to ensure you are improving day to day, week to week, and year to year.
- Write down your workout prior to training: Studies of basic human motivation show that people are far more likely to follow a goal or plan if they write it down ahead of time. Having your training pre-determined is a contract with yourself, and you are far more likely to complete it in its entirety if you have it in writing. This will also make you much more efficient at the gym, allow you to keep your rest times in between sets, and improve your focus during your training sessions.
- Know the “Why” in addition to the “What”: Following a plan blindly is a ticket to apathy. You don’t need to have a degree in exercise science, but you need to know why you are doing certain things. Knowing why you are performing certain movements or rep schemes, etc. gives you confidence in your plan. Having “buy-in” to the process you are undertaking is important and keeps you motivated during your journey, despite any adversity that comes your way.
- Keep it simple: The less experience you have, the simpler your training should be. Don’t overcomplicate things. There is a reason why the basics (bench, squat, overhead press, deadlift) have been around so long. I’ve been lifting for more than a decade, and those still form the foundation of my training. Master those before you progress into advanced lifting routines.