Here's what you need to know...
- Don't sabotage yourself by clinging to a workout program. Listen to your body and take advantage of training opportunities.
- If you have nothing to talk about aside from your gym and food accomplishments, it's time to do more with your life. Accept those who have other aspirations.
- Short, intense workouts are better than nothing. Fit them in.
- Training while injured will set you back longer than the time it would take to recover.
- Stop thinking your goals depend wholly on training. Your diet plays just as big a role.
You're not a beginner anymore. You've made training a priority, you fill up on protein, and you use progressive overload to make progress.
Those are lessons learned by newbs. You're not a newb. But there are still areas for improvement. Here are the mistakes experienced lifters make and the solutions for overcoming them.
1 – Being Too Rigid
It's good to follow a program rather than just going into the gym and winging it every day. But it's just as important to learn how to adapt your workouts on the fly based on how you're feeling or your circumstances that day.
Fix it: Leave room for instinct and unpredictable circumstances.
Say your program calls for you to test your deadlift or do a brutal set of 20-rep squats when you feel a cold coming on, or your back is particularly stiff. The prudent move would be to hold off on your program and invest in your next training session when you feel better.
No, this isn't a hardcore strategy, but pushing through a workout when you're not at your best can sabotage your next few training sessions and set you back.
Now let's say your program calls for you to deload, but you're feeling great and you have a buddy in town that wants to lift with you. Rather than being a slave to your program, go in and get after it. Don't pass up opportunities when you're feeling great.
And never miss an opportunity to work out with people stronger than you or more skilled in a certain aspect of training. Doesn't matter if you just did a brutal squat workout the day before - if someone stronger invites you to join in on their leg day, toughen up and jump in.
Don't miss out on the opportunity to advance because you're too anal to stray from your program. You're only hurting yourself.
2 – Thinking You're Better Than Others
It's amazing how often some lifters bash those who aren't big on lifting weights.
That air of superiority isn't attractive to outsiders. It discourages them from wanting to get started. It also gives lifters a bad name.
You know those Planet Fitness commercials that paint an ugly picture of meatheads? Don't be the guy or girl who makes them somewhat accurate.
Fix it: Give up smugness and self-righteousness. It's just training.
If you judge people based on how they choose to exercise or eat, you need to rethink your priorities in life. Or better yet, get one. If you've got time to be a jerk, maybe you need to fill your life with more than just fitness.
The people you're bashing are probably better than you at other things. Maybe it's parenting, or farming, or being a rocket scientist, an FBI agent, or a heart surgeon. These people have made different life choices and could just as easily be ripping on you.
Keep that in mind and don't be a dick.
Lift weights because you love it, and leave others to pursue their own passions, whatever they might be.
3 – Doing All or Nothing
A lot of lifters won't even bother hitting the gym if they don't have time to work through their full training session. If they don't have 90 minutes to devote to a full warm-up and a preplanned routine, they figure it's not worth it.
Fix it: Work out when you're short on time.
For anyone with a busy life (you), it's important to learn that when you're strapped for time, something is always better than nothing.
Say you allotted 90 minutes for your upper body workout and intended to foam roll and do a dynamic warm-up before doing a workout consisting of 5-6 exercises for 3-5 sets each.
If you get stuck late at work and end up with only 20-30 minutes to train, you're much better off going to gym, ramping up in weight, picking the two most important exercises from your program that day and alternating back and forth between them for as many sets as you have time for.
This beats going home because you can't get it all done.
Is it that a perfect plan? No, but short workouts add up over time, even if it's just a few sets of chin-ups here or a couple sets of deadlifts there. And hitting the gym when you know you don't have a lot of time can force you to be more efficient.
Ironically, having fewer responsibilities will make you conditioned to expect lengthy workouts at your convenience. But the tighter your schedule, the more you get used to squeezing in training as often as possible.
4 – Prioritizing Training Over Diet
It doesn't matter if your intention is to build muscle, burn fat, lose weight, gain weight or improve your body composition, how you eat is the single biggest determinant of whether or not you achieve it.
Fix it: Adopt a nutrition strategy before piling more exercise on top of your program.
Hard work and good intentions don't really matter if you regularly throw caution to the wind with your food choices.
You know this. You can regurgitate all the platitudes about eating clean and out-training a bad diet, but if someone were to take a closer look at your diet, would your actions match your words, plans, and goals?
Some lifters always want recommendations on the best way to train for fat loss. Should I add more interval training? Do steady state cardio? Circuits? Barbell complexes? Kettlebells? Spin class?
Sure, all those things can work, but none of them will if you continue to crush shitty food like it's your job. Learn how to live without the damn donuts before you worry about what type of cardio you should be doing.
And this isn't just for those wanting to lose fat. There are guys who are dead-set on gaining 20-plus pounds. They'll say they've tried everything: high-reps, high frequency training, full body routines, body part splits, you name it.
The problem? Their training program isn't the missing link. Diet is.
One guy came to me with this very issue, and when I asked him about his diet, he told me about his intermittent fasting and how his only meal was a big dinner and a couple snacks.
Sure, he tried everything in the gym to gain muscle. But he was missing the most important part of the equation - food. Not surprisingly, he'd been stuck at 160 for a few years despite trying all sorts of training protocols.
No program is going to make you build muscle if you're eating like a bird. Intermittent fasting may be effective for those trying to lose weight or maintain their current physique, but if you want to gain a noticeable amount of muscle, eat.
5 – Training Through Injuries
Lifters will argue the merits of different forms of training, but none of this minutia will matter if they make the mistake of training through injuries and making them worse.
Fix it: Prioritize recovery.
If you injure yourself and can't train for an extended period of time, no program is going to work... no matter how good it is. Missed training time due to injury is far and away the biggest impedance on your progress.
Most training-related injuries start as minor tweaks then become major injuries because you're too stubborn to take care of them right away. When the discomfort first presents itself, you ignore it and train though, hoping that it'll disappear. But this just makes matters worse.
Remember this: When recovery is at stake, the body always wins.
That doesn't mean you can't train at all, it just means you need to seriously modify your approach, work around the issue, and give it time to recover. You'll also need to figure out the underlying cause of the injury to prevent it from getting worse.
You already know the difference between injury and exercise-induced muscle soreness. It's fine to train through muscle soreness provided it's not too severe, but strains and joint injuries are not to be ignored.
Don't try to kid yourself and train when you know it's more than just soreness. You'll digress when you try to make progress like a jackass.
6 – Letting Workouts Define You
If your life is defined by your workouts or diet, you need to take a step back. It's one thing to have a passion for training and health, but it's another to let it define who you are.
Fix it: Zoom out, re-prioritize your life, or at least pretend you haven't drunk the Kool-Aid when you interact with other people.
Last summer I ran into an acquaintance whom I hadn't seen in almost two years. I asked him how he was and expected to hear about his job, family, who he was dating... you know, life-stuff.
Instead, he went straight into telling me about how sore he was from his workout the day before, how hard it was to stick to his new "cutting" diet, and how he was pumped about getting shredded.
After describing the complexity of his training and nutrition protocol, he had nothing left to say.
Sure, it's fine to talk training with your friends, but remember, I hadn't spoken to this dude in almost two years and that was the most important thing for him to talk about. I made up an excuse to avoid hanging out with him.
Contrast that with a couple days later on my trip to see T Nation contributor Eric Cressey. Not once during our two-day visit did we broach the topic of training.
I have no clue how my closest friends train themselves, and frankly I couldn't care less - unless we're working out together. My friends have no idea how I train either because it's just not something I talk about that much outside of the gym.
As much as I love working out, when I meet someone who has nothing to talk about other than how he lifts or eats, I make a mental note never to hang out with that person.
Friendships and experiences aren't enhanced through self-referential fitness chatter - unless you're actually working out together or seeking feedback.
It's as annoying as the school girls who don't, like, stop talking about, like, the boys they like, and what they're, like, going to wear.