I get asked at least twice weekly to "check out" a workout program.
I also see tons of BS on social media with terrible exercise selection and people ego-lifting trying to re-invent the wheel.
Good training is not complicated.
Here are 4 major mistakes I see people make in their training that stunt their results.
#1 Terrible exercise selection
This one has two parts; Pointless exercises and dangerous exercises.
One, you are wasting your time.
The other is just a matter of time until you get hurt.
#1 Rule when designing workouts or exercise selection is: DO NO HARM
It comes down to risk vs. reward.
There is almost always a simpler way to achieve the desired outcome. Most people only need a few (2-3) quality exercises to target a muscle. Stop worrying about what angle to do your curls at, and just do a simple curl well. Stop trying to position yourself to do a special "glute" exercise, and just squat well. Also, hate to break it to you, but sumo anything is a horrendous way to "target" your glutes. In 2021 Coratella et al. looked at sumo vs. multiple other squat variations. They found that a standard squat, especially front squats, offered more glute max activation than a sumo position measured by EMG and force plate. (1)
Here are my top 3 biggest offenders for wasting time
Sumo squats and sumo deadlifts
Any glute kickback with a cable or kick out.
Wide grip anything for back (lat) exercises
Next are the dangerous exercises. Just stop if you do any of the below.
Squat jumps or jumping for conditioning.
Jumping off of a box, after a box jump up.
Running to lose weight.
Anything that requires you to balance on an object
Any Olympic lift for high reps or time
Stretching your lower back if it feels tight
For every single one of these, there is a better option that offers far less risk. There is minimal reward in any of these exercises; you're guaranteed to get sore knees and a sore back. If you want to burn calories from exercise (which will not lead to long-lasting results), just walk and enjoy time with yourself, your family, friends, or a dog.
Also, I hate to break it to you, but your fat doesn't care how "hard" something is. Your fat doesn't care if you had to "work" for it. Typically, when you push something to an extreme, there is a response metabolically in the other direction, which we Weill get into another time.
#2 Not Adjusting Volume
Volume = reps x weight x sets
Volume also means the total amount of miles covered in the running world.
If you do not change or increase volume, your muscles will not develop. Volume works in tandem with intensity. If you go too high with both, you get hurt.
Your volume needs room to progress over the coming weeks and months. You can't continue to do the same thing and expect a change. With successful training, there is typically an increase in volume week after week. (Usually incremental)
Followed by a period to de-load and let volume come down to recover fully.
(usually about 1 week or workout cycle).
If you are going through a workout program or ramping things up in the new year. Typically by the time you feel the negative consequences (joint pain, fatigue, lethargy, plateau). You missed your chance to de-load properly.
Workouts shouldn't be 2 hours with 5+ exercises per muscle group.
There is nowhere to progress from here, and that amount of volume leads to injury. In lifting, this is knee pain, wrist pain, and rotator cuff injuries. You never end up getting results because your body never has a chance to adapt or recover. That same SRA curve from above is flat or negative.
In running, signs of too much volume are similar; stress fractures, shin splints, knee pain, low back pain, plantar fasciitis, and hip pain.
You should ideally change 1 to 2 variables in your workout program as it develops. Increase the weight on an exercise, or increase a few reps with the same weight, or add a set with the same weight. Think "scientific method." We want to change a handful of variables; measure and understand what caused the results.
If you just go doing random workouts and every exercise, you can think of. Sure, you can get lucky and get into shape. However, you won't be able to reproduce the results.
#3 Going too "heavy" too often
This applies to teenagers more than adults.
Heavy weights are great and necessary to strengthen bones, but I am more taking to the people who attempt to max out too often. (teenage boys) For individuals who are newer to training (Within 3 years or under 17) majority of strength gains come from just learning the movements. When you go too heavy, two negative things can happen. Your form is absolute garbage, and you are teaching your brain/body to "grind" and move slowly.
Think of strength as a pyramid. The volume you do is the base, and your one rep max is just the tip. The more time you spend teaching your brain to do the movement properly with efficiency and gain volume, the wider the base will be. Over time it will lead to a taller peak.
Most people think it's just "heavyweight" that increases muscle and strength.
We know that muscles will grow regardless of weight as long as you get close to failure. (2,3) Note, close does not mean failure, it means close. That is why coaches and influencers use the term RIR (reps in reserve) the number of reps you could still do on that exercise with that weight. So a set of curls to 2 RIR for me with a 15lb weight might be 15 (could get about 17) and for someone else might be 30 repetitions.
This principle of close to failure and load works for both ends of the spectrum, heavy and light.
#4 Not going heavy enough
This applies more so to adults.
In the same theory as laid out above,
you need to stress the muscle. If you are not getting within 5ish reps to failure, or the load is below 40% of a max lift, it most likely isn't heavy enough to strengthen muscle or bone.
Simply, the exercise must be hard without failing for the muscle group to develop that muscle and strengthen the bone. (3) The reasoning behind this is Wolf's law. Julius Wolf a German anatomist in the 1800's observed that bones will adapt to loads that are placed upon them. Greater loads result in stronger bones, less loads result in weaker bones.
We can look to Holubiac, Iulian Ștefan et al. 2022 study “Effect of Strength Training Protocol on Bone Mineral Density for Postmenopausal Women"(4). This study found that postmenopausal women who participated and worked with weights under 70% of their maximum strength (as measured at the beginning) but above 50% increased their bone mineral density (BMD) by 3.01% within 6 months.
The women-only exercised 2x per week for 60 minutes. They also only did 2 sets of 12 repetitions (6@ 70%, 6@ 50%) of 6 exercises one day and 5 exercises the other day later that week.
This study also included a partial meta-analysis analyzing multiple studies from the past decade about weight training and bone density.
I also see tons of BS on social media with terrible exercise selection and people ego-lifting trying to re
I hate seeing people waste their time in the gym. I get it; you want to have "fun." However, it is too easy to get burnout. If you want to get the most out of your workouts, select simple, effective exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck. Let yourself recover from the amount of work you do, with room to add more and pull back. Work with weights and rep ranges that get challenging but not to absolute failure often. It comes down to the goldilocks principle, not too much, not too little. We want to be in that zone that best works for you. Maximize your time and your energy.
We will dive deeper into each of these topics separately in the future. If you have questions, reach out to us at email@example.com
1. Coratella G, Tornatore G, Caccavale F, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. The Activation of Gluteal, Thigh, and Lower Back Muscles in Different Squat Variations Performed by Competitive Bodybuilders: Implications for Resistance Training. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 18;18(2):772. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18020772. PMID: 33477561; PMCID: PMC7831128.
2. Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 15,4 715-722. 1 Dec. 2016
3. Santanielo, Natalia et al. “Effect of resistance training to muscle failure vs non-failure on strength, hypertrophy and muscle architecture in trained individuals.” Biology of sport vol. 37,4 (2020): 333-341. doi:10.5114/biolsport.2020.96317
4. Holubiac, Iulian Ștefan et al. “Effect of Strength Training Protocol on Bone Mineral Density for Postmenopausal Women with Osteopenia/Osteoporosis Assessed by Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA).” Sensors (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 22,5 1904. 28 Feb. 2022, doi:10.3390/s22051904