The most important resource we all have is our time. For the majority of us, devoting 3-5 hours a week to workouts is not only realistic, but all we really have time for.
As a result, it is imperative we use our time wisely and immediately stop doing exercises / routines/ programs that provide little return for our effort, and lead to worse outcomes down the road.
Here are 6 workout mistakes that you may be making, and that the majority of gym goers are most definitely making in their workouts.
1. Not enough weight training
Provided your goals include fat loss, maintaining a healthy body weight, gaining strength, and improving quality of life as you age, than weight training needs to be a big priority in your workouts.
To start, full body workouts are best, as the volume per body part is low, which is key if you are new to weight training or a beginner, as this will prevent over training and injury early on.
As your body adapts to weight training, you can increase the stimulus on each body part by adding more volume per body part. This could include different rep schemes, more sets, or incorporating more than one exercise per body part.
Weight training helps you maintain the muscle you have (which preserves and maintains metabolism), allows you to build muscle which enhances your metabolic rate, burns calories during and after the workout, and is key for improving muscular strength and bone density.
2. Not enough posterior chain work
In layman’s terms, posterior chain work refers to working the muscles of the backside. This includes the rhomboids, lower/middle trap, lats, hamstrings, glutes, etc.
For the general public, these muscles are severely underworked, which leads to poor posture through the shoulder girdle and pelvis, compensation that can create injury if not corrected, and overloading particular muscle groups more than others leading to poor mobility of that particular tissue.
Unfortunately the mirror muscles are already underworked from 8 hour desk jobs and sedentary lifestyles. To make the problem worse, these are also the muscles that people tend to train the hardest at the gym.
There is no easy fix for any of the above problems, but if you want to mitigate some of these issues, add backside work to your workouts by introducing the following exercises:
- Romanian deadlifts
- Bodyweight 1 leg deadlifts. Consider using a wall or TRX if you have poor balance.
- Glute bridge
- TRX rows and other rowing variations
- Rear delt fly’s. Either db or TRX.
3. Too much machine work
For certain populations there is value in machine work, under a controlled and fixed range of motion. People like seniors, those who are extremely obese, or clients rehabbing injuries can benefit greatly from machine work.
But for most of us moderately health, injury free, general population folk, we are better off staying off machines and use our workout time most effectively.
Machines and working your muscles under a fixed/controlled range of motion does not allow you to build adequate stability, strength, coordination, and mobility. You are not maximizing the amount of muscle fibers and groups worked during the set. This is precisely why you should be using weight training as a tool to lose fat, to maximize the muscle you work.
If you are a beginner, and have never weight trained, you can still do weight training without machines, but will require some modification to ensure safety.
Here are the best styles of weight training exercises to incorporate:
- Assisted bodyweight movements. Using a wall, TRX straps, benches, steps, etc.
- Free weight exercises, with light dumbbells or barbells. Progressing to heavier weight as your acquire form, body awareness, and strength.
So forget about isolating your inner thighs on the coveted inner thigh machine. Add in some lunges, split squats, squats, deadlifts, etc. which will shape and tone your thighs infinitely better than a machine ever would.
4. Not enough core work
Developing, activating, and strengthening your core is like building a strong foundation of a house.
Without developing adequate core strength, you automatically increase your risk of compensation, injury, and always lose out on strength gains that certain movements can provide. Core work, if neglected will always be the weak link in your chain, and prevent you from seeing real benefit from compound exercises like squat, deadlifts, pushups, rows, lunges, and TRX work.
When we refer to the core, we are referring to the muscles of the torso, which are responsible for stability of the spine and maintaining overall integrity throughout a movement. These include the rectus abdominals, internal and external oblique, lower abdominals, and the most important one to develop, the Transverse Abdominal. This is the deep inner layer of muscle, literally acting as a natural weight belt to stabilize the spine.
Core work should focus on activating and strengthening these areas, with a big focus on the traverse abdominals and obliques, as they are underworked for most people.
Focus on plank work (front and side) for short intervals of 20-30 sec holds, where you are creating as much tension as possible through the appropriate muscle groups. 2-3 sets completed 2-3x per week is sufficient when starting and provides good strength gains over time.
Where and when you place core work in your workout depends on what you want to prioritize. If developing core strength and activation is the main priority, include it at the beginning of your workout.
5. Poor technique, and too much weight
These two go hand in hand, as poor technique is usually caused by lifting too much weight.
Too much weight leads to compensation from muscle groups that are not designed to bear the stress, overloads the joints, and enhances the risk of injury.
Yes, you need to lift an adequate amount of weight to create stress on the muscle tissue, and create adaptations over time. There is no argument there. But the amount of stress required varies and is less than people think they need.
Technique must be mastered before anything else. Focus on working and contracting the appropriate muscle as much as possible, and and the amount of weight lifted a secondary aspect of the exercise. Muscle first, movement second.
6. Doing weight training after cardio, and mixing cardio and weights in the same circuits
These are two big mistakes I see gym goers make. If weight training and fat loss are goals you have, then weight training always comes first in your workout. Ideally, if you can keep these sessions on separate days, that is best. Practically speaking, this may not work for you, so if need be, prioritize weight training in your workout.
Here are the reasons why weight training needs to come before cardio:
- By weight training first, it will allow you to maximize strength gains and the direct stress you put on muscle tissue, as you are starting fresh and your anaerobic system is not depleted from prior activity.
- By doing cardio first, and weights second, you would be doing weights in a fatigued state, which compromises form not allowing you fully stress the muscle tissue.
Technique and form become issues, as you are training under a fatigued state. This is why mixing cardio and weights in the same interval/set is a big no-no.
Cardio (assuming it’s the high intensity variety) based activity creates prolonged fatigue, interfering with your ability to hold correct technique.
- By doing cardio first, your anaerobic system gets depleted, which means you need to use backup fuel to complete the weight training portion of your workout. Backup fuel means you will utilizing protein/muscle tissue to as fuel the remainder of the workout, which defeats the point of weight training in the first place (to spare muscle tissue and maintain metabolism).
Always do your weight training first, and then cardio. Keep your sessions intense, brief, and allow the appropriate amount of rest time in between sets.