Three biggest mistakes people make in the gym

Most gym-goers have the goal of losing some body fat and gaining some muscle mass. Very few of us are at a place physiologically where we can walk into the gym week-in, week-out in maintenance phase. In fact, even elite physical athletes are still looking for those new gains with each trip to the gym.

According to IFBB champion bodybuilder Nathan Falcke, there are three things that experienced trainees do that those stuck in perpetual stagnation seem to be getting wrong. If you want to re-ignite your progress in the gym, heed the advice of Nathan, and fix these three training faux pas.

Not following a program — no structure

The old cliché goes ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. You often see people in the gym move from machine to machine, almost at random. Even with a bit of understanding about training protocols, we often make decisions based on feel and preference, rather than structure and measurement.

If you maintain a loose routine long term, you are still likely to progress somewhat over time or at least maintain the fitness you have. But to progress with your training and ultimately your results, setting specific and measurable goals, tracking progress and chasing progressive overload are the keys to making gains, be they muscular or aerobic fitness based.

Progressive overload is the notion that from workout to workout, you’re seeking to increase training load by a small degree. For the weight room, that’s an increase in weight/resistance on an exercise, the number of repetitions within sets, or the volume across sets, in the form of more sets or adding an extra exercise to the program. For cardiovascular fitness, that’s distance and/or time on the cardio machines.

Measurement is key. Set a baseline of where you’re at today and record it. Do your research into training programs and speak to a personal trainer or experienced individual about creating a structure that is specific to your goals. Formalise key objectives for each workout, and then for each month, and then your long-term objectives as well.

Poor technique — not understanding your body’s movements

The misconception about a repetition is that its purpose is to move a weight from point A to point B and how it gets done is less important. Throw enough of them together and you’ve got a set. That’s not what bodybuilding exercises are designed for.

Any exercise in the gym, be it a free-weight or machine movement, is designed to make a specific muscle or group of muscles work.

Poor technique can of course lead to injury as you can find yourself in compromising physiological positions. But even when it doesn’t, poor form almost always leads to poor progress, because poor form usually means that other muscles are aiding in the execution of the exercise. That means that you are never working the target muscle as effectively as you could be.

A focus on correct form will go a long way towards seeing you maximise your training efforts, through efficient and effective repetitions. That requires an understanding of which specific movements are best for targeting and isolating specific muscles or groups of muscles.

Exercise selection

For every body part there are a number of exercises that you can do in the gym to pinpoint the muscle or group of muscles, and train them effectively. Many exercises that appear different on the surface might actually be stimulating the target muscle in a very similar way. Doing a seated machine press, for example, and then a flat smith machine press might look like two very different exercises, but they’re offering a similar type of stimulation.

An effective workout sees you target the specific muscle group in a variety of different ways. For example, a cable crossover gives you a different movement to a bench press. Both work the chest, but the movement is different.

It also helps to know at which point in the movement the muscle is at peak contraction. That way you can structure your workout so that the muscle is being stimulated across all areas and is contracting at different points in the exercise.

For example, a bicep workout that incorporates a preacher curl, a standing curl and an incline curl will see the biceps contracting at different points in the movement, giving the muscle a unique stimulation with each exercise.

Again, seek advice from the experts in the gym, get some help with your program, focus on structure, form and an appropriate mix of exercises, and leave that training plateau behind you.

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