Are You Making These Mistakes In The Gym? By Jon Bruney – Original Article published on DragonDoor.com in August 2013
Most Hard Training Individuals – Even The Experienced Ones – Are Making A Handful Of Easily Correctable Mistakes That Are Preventing Them From Achieving Their True Physical Potential…
So If You Want More Strength, Muscle, Speed, Power, Athleticism And Conditioning – Read On Carefully And Make Sure You Aren’t Making Any Of These MISTAKES…
In case you’re wondering why you should listen to me, let me start by quickly telling you a little bit about myself…
I’m a professional performing strongman, world class trainer, coach, motivational speaker and author. I have been featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not and appeared nationwide on NBC’s The Today Show. And thousands of people have personally experienced my “Pressing the Limits” motivational strength programs.
My work with competitive athletes includes Olympians and NFL players.
I am the author of Foundations, a training series featured in MILO, widely considered the world’s most prestigious strength training journal.
And as co-owner of Submit Strength Equipment, I have been responsible for the design of numerous pieces of cutting-edge training equipment now in use around the world.
5 Mistakes In The Gym That Are Holding You Back From Being As Strong, Muscular, Fast, Explosive and Well-Conditioned As You Could Be…
1. Choosing The Wrong Exercises
Not all exercises deliver the best results for the effort you put in.
I witnessed this personally when I was a trainer for a Cable TV show that was focused on helping individuals make rapid changes in body composition. Some of these people had been working very hard trying to make changes in their physiques.
But one of the key problems – and reasons why they weren’t progressing towards their ideal physique as fast as they’d like – was exercise selection. Once we changed the exercises, the results came RAPIDLY.
The sad truth is that many people put in GREAT effort, only to get MEDIOCRE results.
If they only knew how to incorporate the right exercises into the right program, they would smash through genetic barriers and see powerful changes in their physiques.
One example is the guy who busts his ass for an hour training his arms with a myriad of machines exercises. Sure – he is training with a lot of EFFORT, but does he possess the powerful ‘guns’ he desires?
The answer is almost always, “NO”.
On the other hand, consider the guy who trains his arms using just a handful of big, compound exercises…
Chin-Ups and Barbell Curls for the biceps.
Close Grip Bench Presses and Dips for the triceps.
And he does this week in, week out.
This guy trains equally as hard as the other guy – but his results are 10 times as good!
What’s the difference?
Simple… Exercise selection.
2. Choosing A Program That Develops ‘Show Muscle’ Instead Of ‘Smart Muscle’
Many training programs only focus on one approach to create hypertrophy. This results in muscle that underperforms. Smart Muscle, on the other hand, PERFORMS as well as it LOOKS.
Allow me to explain…
Smart muscle is muscle that can multi-task and handle any challenge thrown it’s way.
To truly create a bigger and better body a strength program must use multiple stressors. This will teach the nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers and allow the body to adapt to multiple forms of resistance. The goal should not only be to increase muscle size, but also strength and athleticism.
All of my hypertrophy programs do this… they help you to increase muscle size, strength and athleticism.
To focus only on building muscle is a mistake – especially if you compete in sports and are using your resistance training to not only help you to look better, but also to become a better athlete.
3. Spending Too Much Time At The Gym
Many trainees spend too much time in the gym and have little to show for it.
You see, the truth is that long routines plus long cardio sessions are not very effective because long training sessions cause you to miss out on key hormonal factors that could build muscle.
Secondly, people should have a life outside of the gym.
By the time you drive to the gym, change, set up your workout, have a post workout shake, shower, and drive home…you could easily spend two hours or more.
There is little free time left over to develop relationships, pursue other hobbies and interests, and to feed your mind.
I have personally helped individuals to get amazing results in their own homes using minimal or no equipment in 4 hours a week or less!
The key is understanding how the right exercises can be combined to create a synergistic effect of increased neuromuscular efficiency and maximum muscular hypertrophy in minimum time.
This combination unleashes powerful muscle building hormones throughout the body.
4. Lack Of Focus And Mental Preparation
There are days when trainees just don’t “feel” like working out…
They lack motivation, so they procrastinate.
Many individuals don’t have the proper focus to complete a training session at the proper intensity. So, they just go through the motions. The results are missed or wasted workouts.
Without proper focus and concentration when training, one can never reach their physical potential. Unfortunately, many trainees don’t know that there are exercises to focus your mind, develop your willpower, and deepen your concentration skills.
Understanding the importance of mental training can often be the difference between success and failure when it comes to building a powerful and athletic physique.
5. Failing To Break Training Plateaus
Trainees often get discouraged because their gains stop after a short time. They therefore quit or become stuck; never reaching their goals.
The real problem lies with the training programs. And the reason I say this is because many training programs do not provide a way to keep on gaining.
Understanding how to keep the training fresh and the gains coming is essential to reaching your true athletic potential.
If you find yourself making any of these “Mistakes”, I have good news. Tomorrow I’ll be teaching you how to avoid these mistakes and how to get on the path toward building “Smart Muscle”….
Talk to you then,
A frequently asked question when it comes to chest training is ‘Are Dumbells better or worse than a Barbell?’ – There is no yes or no answer to this one, it is entirely dependant on your goals.
As you can load a barbell gradually with minor increases in weight, they are the ideal tool for building strength. To get stronger you need to progressively lift more weight over a period of time. If you can’t, something is not right – You can perform all the drop-sets/supersets/giant sets/forced reps etc etc, but if the weight is not increasing, you will not get stronger – You will plateau much quicker with Dumbbells due to the large increase in weight percentage between them. Even a well stocked gym will have the weight increases around the 2.5kg mark. This is as increase of 5kg on your lift which is going to be a challenge for most and makes progressive loading nigh impossible. If your goal is pure strength you can load significantly more onto a barbell due to its balance and stability and so is the perfect tool in this situation.
Muscular imbalance is another thing to address. Although you can try and be more aware of pushing equally or focusing on leading with the weaker side, with a Barbell imbalances can be masked. When using Dumbbells you will be much more aware of imbalances as one side will be unstable or will fatigue first, and will prevent your dominant side from growing faster than the other. Balanced body strength leads to greater performance and lowers the chance of injury.
The Barbell bench press is also harder on your joints than dumbbells. When pressing with dumbbells, your hands won’t remain completely pronated (palms forward), but will rotate slightly inwards reducing the stress on your wrists elbows and shoulders (particularly rotator cuff) and therefore reducing your chance of injury.
With regard to muscle recruitment, researchers noted that electrical activity or muscle stimulation in the arms was greatest in the triceps with a barbell, but when dumbbells are used the biceps also come into play as stabilisers. The Barbell activates more upper chest fibres and anterior deltoid due to the wide grip in the top position, however as your hands are free to move across your body with dumbbell presses there is greater lower pectoral activation. Although yes, you will use more stabilising muscles with the dumbbells, you will be limited by the weight increases as previously mentioned meaning you will plateau sooner.
In my opinion the barbell is the better option as you can handle a lot more weight doing the same exercises. More weight moved = bigger muscles. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use dumbbells, you should try and use both – Just keep the main focus on increasing the weight on the bar and use dumbbell sets to ensure you work the entire chest area, prevent imbalances and keep your joints healthy.
In a nutshell:
Should you use lifting straps? It’s yet another massive debate with people on both sides passionately arguing the case for and against them.
Having had a crossfit background, I have been guilty of judging people on using them myself. However, since strength training I’ve been bringing them in for my heavier topsets on deadlifts and I’m getting a couple more reps, so definitely see the benefits. A lot of the for arguments are that there’s better Lat isolation or they say ‘I feel it in my back more’ or even just being able to perform more reps with a weight that they can’t without them.
When performing deadlifts, rows or pulldowns, the majority of the time your grip will give out before your back will. If you use straps a lot you will need to add in some grip work on top of everything else. Grip training itself is extremely taxing to your CNS and is difficult to recover from as everything you do involves your grip to some extent. My advice? Don’t use them every set, just when grip is starting to become an issue with the weight you’re using. That way you’re not having to do additional grip training and you can reap the benefits of being able to go heavier on your lifts.
You’re not drinking enough water
Sounds daft I know, but it is probably the biggest reason most people are failing to gain weight. Water makes up around 60% of our bodies and lean muscle itself is around 70%. We can survive for weeks without food, but only days without water – It is second only to oxygen as being essential for life.
Research has shown that even a small decrease in hydration can lead to a significant drop in strength. If your hydration drops by 3-4% it can lead to a decrease in strength of 10-20%!! Not only that but it also plays a significant part in injury prevention – Lifting weights or resistance training at high intensity for long periods of time puts enormous strain on the joints and connective tissues. Being well hydrated helps to lubricate these joints and provides a protective layer or cushion around them, reducing the chance of injury. Dehydration can also lead to muscle catabolism (wastage), which is definitely worth avoiding!
Drinking a lot of water will also make you healthier and help to flush waste products from your body. When you are healthy you recover and grow faster, not to mention reducing sickness which will only impede your training.
Finally, drinking plenty of water helps to speed digestion and move nutrients around the body more efficiently. It helps you to store carbohydrates as muscle glycogen giving you more energy in your workouts. Building muscle also requires a high protein diet, however protein cannot straightaway be absorbed by the bodies cells, it needs to be broken down into its component amino acids, to do this you need guess what? Water.
How much water should you drink? I personally aim for a gallon a day! I don’t often get there but even if I don’t, I at least end up with the same or more than the ‘recommended guide’ as follows:
Take your body weight in pounds and multiply by the following – If you’re training 3 times a week use 0.6, 4 times a week 0.7, 5 times or more 0.8 – this will tell you how many fluid ounces to consume a day. For example 190lb multiplied by 0.6 = 114 fluid ounces or around 3.5 litres.
Avoid drinking large amounts in one go, this is the only time that excessive water drinking can be bad for you – See water intoxication – Instead aim to drink 1-2 glasses with every meal, sip throughout the day and especially when training or when you’re perspiring.
Your not training your legs as hard as the rest of your body
Our ability to increase muscle is a direct result of our ability to increase our natural anabolic hormone levels. You’ve heard of these before – Growth Hormone, Testosterone, IGF-1 to name a few – You’ve heard of these probably because you’ve heard of steroids. Steroids are just natural chemicals our bodies produce, the reason bodybuilders get so freakishly huge is they take far more of these hormones than their bodies can develop for themselves. You however, can increase your bodies natural levels of these hormones by the right training and nutrition. As our bodies operate on a ‘supply and demand’ basis, to boost these hormones you must train as intensely as possible and recruit as many muscle fibers as you can during training.
Now some basic anatomy! Our legs make up almost two thirds of our entire muscle mass! (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteals and Calves) So by training your legs as intensely as your upper body (or more), you target far more muscle fibers and so force your endocrine (hormone release) system to release all these anabolic goodies into your system. As these hormones are not just isolated to build muscle in your lower body, they also help increase size on your chest, back, shoulders, arms .. in fact, your whole body!
The Squat (In particular the Barbell Back Squat) has long been proven to be the ultimate in mass gaining exercises. It’s estimated to involve hundreds of muscles, acting as prime movers or stabilisers in the upper and lower body. The squat recruits so many muscle fibers, it releases more GH (Growth Hormone) than any other exercise – period. More GH, more muscle.
The Deadlift is number two as far as I’m concerned in the mass building arsenal. It is the ultimate strength exercise – What is more satisfying that bending down and picking up some seriously heavy weight off the ground? Again, as the squat, to deadlift requires your whole body to work ,so encourages the hormones to be released as mentioned previously.
The reason we don’t see everyone doing these exercises? (Squat & Deadlift) Mainly because they’re so hard – Most people would rather push 250kg on a leg press for 10 reps, than do 100kg back squat for 10 reps. Somehow they think this is a more impressive feat as more weight is being used. Anyone who has done a nice heavy rock bottom squat knows damn well that it is far harder (thus requires more strength) to drive up out of the bottom of a squat, than to slide a sledge a few inches along it’s track, whatever the weight involved. Either that or they don’t know how to squat or deadlift correctly so choose not to do them instead of finding out or being shown.
Anyone who has been doing bench press in some variation will have had or still suffer from shoulder pain. Usually around the anterior deltoid (front shoulder) or impingement in the rotator cuff area. Though you would think otherwise the flat bench press tends to irritate the shoulder more than the overhead press. This is because the flat bench utilises the anterior deltoid heavily, especially with a medium to narrow grip, developing mainly the front part of the shoulder. Whereas the overhead press (performed correctly) develops the shoulder as a whole.
Most bodybuilders believe that the chest should be worked at all angles and that decline is for the lower chest only. In fact during EMG studies it has been shown that the decline bench press (at a minimal angle i.e 15-20 degrees) actually activates more total chest muscle than other angles. Not only that, but there is a lot less pressure on the anterior deltoid seriously reducing chance of injury and less irritation for already damaged shoulders. Many of the biggest names (and bodies!) in bodybuilding – Yates, Coleman & Cutler to name a few, swear by the decline bench and use it as a main stay of their training, this should make it definitely worth considering if mass is your goal.
One of the things I particularly like about the decline bench is that it feels so much better, the angle feels more natural (it resembles the movement the pectoral muscles are mainly responsible for) and certainly for me, I am more aware of my chest in the movement and so find it easier to focus on the lift rather than the pain in my shoulders!! You can also move more weight in a decline position, increasing your strength and confidence under the bar, which can then help you past sticking points when you return to flat benching.
If you haven’t tried it before (or even if you have), replace your flat bench with it for a while. When you reach a plateau swap it back out again and see how it has helped your strength come along, as well as your physique! Just be sure to have a spotter to hand as any bench, and worse case, dare I say it? use a smith machine for safety.
In a world gone mad for the latest greatest machine or new fangled exercise that every newly qualified Personal Trainer ‘thinks’ they’ve invented, we are sadly overlooking what has always worked. For great upper body strength and development look no further than the chin up and the dip and they’re weighted progressions. If you’re not sure look at a professional gymnast – I think you’ll agree that they’re pretty Hench! And do you think they do curls/pushdowns or use machines? Nope, the overwhelming majority of their training is dominated by chins and dips in some variation.
We all know by now that the squat is the king of the lower body exercises, and if you don’t you badly need to read up! I’m not going to rant about that right now, there is more than enough that’s been said on that front. Well, the chin-up and dip are most definitely in the running for the upper body crown. The most frustrating thing is that most commercial gyms don’t even have a chin-up bar and less still have a dipping station, preferring instead the grossly overpriced suspension bands or some variant, where all manner of interesting movements can be done and so make them more ‘functional’ … man, am I getting sick of hearing that word! Guess what? Gymnastic rings were first used in the mid 1800’s, and have been used in gymnastics since the early 1900’s. They are still used today in virtually the same form (rings at the end of a rope). So what exactly is so revolutionary about suspension bands? Oh wait, they have a different attachment point so they can be used at different angles and are unstable so require more ‘core’ stability when performing standard exercises like rows and bicep curls on them .. oh dear! Check out that person doing the exercises and tell me their core is stable – they’re usually not strong enough for it anyway and are wriggling around and swinging their hips with dreadful posture whilst doing the exercises, thus negating any ‘stability’ in the first place!
Anyway, back to chin ups and dips, how many have seen the guy doing gut wrenching, back swinging lat pulldowns with the whole stack? He probably can’t even do strict chins for the same amount of reps. The same goes for the guy who can smash out 10 reps at 100kg on the bench press, can he do 10 strict dips? Probably not. Not to mention the stability involved in the shoulder joint, and the subsequent strengthening of the rotator cuff.
Some of the best physiques in bodybuilding were built back in the day with a staple diet of chins and dips, I’ve already mentioned gymnasts but again, check out the upper body development of Kristian Thomas as an example.
Basically, the reason most avoid these is that they’re too damn hard! especially the weighted versions. But since when has the easiest version of something given the greatest gains? It’s about time you went back to basics put these two great exercises back into your routine. If you need further clarification see what Charles Poliquin has to say about them here: weighted chins, weighted dips. That’s it, rant over 😉
When it comes to performing exercise, there is so much contradiction it’s hard to muddle through. From forced reps to partial reps to ‘cheat’ reps – everyone has an opinion and everyone loves to tell you who’s wrong! Here‘s an article from Elite FTS and here, one from T-nation discussing this issue. Neither of which I hasten to add, advocate for a moment ‘cheating’ as a beginner or even an intermediate lifter in some cases, but only when you reach advanced level’s of strength and/or size and are looking to break through into new territory. I personally cannot stress enough the importance of form and believe it should be something you strive to improve all the time and focus on every single session, but let’s not forget there are benefits that can be had from ‘cheating’. After all what is a negative rep if it’s not cheating at the start and benefiting from the overload on the negative phase to come back stronger next session?
Recently I posted a video of my overhead press and commented that there was too much layback. However, this enabled me to lockout at least the last two reps of my set. If I was being really harsh probably the last three! Where these last few reps beneficial? Potential injury aside, I think so. Although I stand by the fact I need to tighten up my form (to reduce that injury potential), those last reps would have provided a stimulus for my muscles/CNS and I will be stronger for it when I re-visit the bar. To reduce injury potential I would have been better turning the last rep into a push press and perhaps I’ll try that next time!
Of course, if you are a competing athlete or weightlifter, then cheating or not locking out a lift whilst competing is an absolute ‘no-go’, and I am in no way condoning the use of ‘cheat’ reps for these types of goals. However my goal is not one of competition, but of size and strength. In the journey to getting ‘Hench’ I feel that the occasional ‘cheat’ or partial rep may well be beneficial in certain exercises, as a finisher for otherwise fatigued muscles or to force some extra growth. But this is just my opinion, I would suggest you make your own decision! If for anything else you could increase DOMS and could then potentially reduce your performance in the next session!