6 Mistakes You Are (probably) Making In The Gym
Alright, I can't say for sure if you are making these mistakes when you train or workout. In fact, I hope you are not. However, from my experience, many people don't train in a way that optimizes their performance. That has inspired this article on common mistakes that I see people make when training in the gym.
1. Not warming up
Alright, you got to the gym. Step 1: COMPLETE. Next step? Heavy squats, obviously *insert eye roll
It still amazes me how many people neglect to perform a proper warm-up before exercising, despite the general widespread knowledge that it is important. However, I believe that most people devalue the warm-up because they don't understand the physiological benefits that a proper warm-up can provide on performance.
Physiological Benefits of a Warm up:
- Increase blood flow to working muscles
- Increase heart rate and stroke volume (amount of blood being pumped)
- Increase enzyme activity to better facilitate contractions
- Increase body temperature, resulting in more compliant joints
When a proper warm-up is performed, your muscles can generate more force, lift heavier weights, and are less likely to be injured. So, in order to optimize your training, make sure to warm-up for at least 10 minutes, getting your heart rate up (70-80% HRmax), and performing dynamic movements (leg swings, lunge steps, arm rotations etc.) to create mobility in your joints. It's also a good idea to pre-activate certain core muscles (like the glutes, abdominals, and thigh muscles). If you're sweating, that's a good start - keep going. After that, perform 1 "warm-up" set of each exercise you are performing at 50-60% of your 1-repetition max.
2. Avoiding Recovery
Even more shocking than the lack of adequate warm-ups I see is the complete avoidance of a proper recovery. I get it, the workout is over. The last thing you want to do is continue to move. But trust me, an active recovery is one of the best things you can do to optimize your performance, especially if you are training more than 3 times a week.
The structure of a proper "cool-down" is similar to the warm-up. Take 10 minutes, and this time work on progressively bringing your heart rate back down to pre-exercise levels. I suggest jogging or walking on the treadmill, or rowing for 500 metres on the rowing ergometer. After that, perform some static (or better yet PNF) stretching exercises on the key muscle groups that were worked.
The key to recovery is to keep your muscles working at a low intensity to help keep the blood flowing through them, allowing the lactic acid (and more importantly hydrogen ions) to be swept away from the muscles and thus resulting in less muscular fatigue and soreness.
Fact: Your muscles don't actually fatigue or get sore from lactic acid, as commonly believed. The byproduct of lactic acid being produced in your muscles results in more hydrogen ions, which lowers your body's pH levels, resulting in a limited ability for your muscles to work.
3. Not going to failure
You want bigger muscles? You want to see improvements in your strength and power development? Well, guess what, you should be going to failure on each exercise. What I mean by failure is that you should be nearly completely fatigued on your last rep of each exercise, unable to fully finish the repetition. Of course in this case, it is absolutely necessary to have a spotter who is familiar with proper "spotting technique" (yes, that's a thing).
When you contract your muscles, the small contractile units in the muscle (called actin and myosin) are working to keep those muscles contracting - that's their job. Until they can no longer do that (failure), Your body's response to this in the recovery phase is to create MORE of these cellular units, along with making the ones you already have more efficient. More of these contractile proteins means physically more muscle mass, and increases the ability to generate strength and power.
Still confused on the difference between strength and power? See HERE
4. Order of Exercises
Number 4 is more of a mistake in the order of which exercises are performed in a given workout. Whenever you perform compound (multi-joint and multi-muscle group) exercises after isolation ones, you are limiting the ability to optimally perform the more technically difficult and (most of the time) more important exercises. For example, doing leg extensions will begin to fatigue the quadriceps muscles, and if you are planning on squatting later in the workout, you will not be able to perform as many repetitions in the squat. For body builders trying to target the quadriceps development, this is okay, but for athlete's it is simply unnecessary.
Just remember that exercises should (most of the time) be performed in this order:
- Power Exercises (compound)
- Strength Exercises (compound)
- Hypertrophy (compound or isolation)
- Endurance Exercises (compound or isolation)
Suggestion: Work from the most complex (most joints & muscles involved), to the most simple (isolation of one muscle), and in a biggest-smallest manner.
5. Forgetting the "Brace"
This is a mistake that I often notice when I first start working with a client. They perform an exercise that requires the full body (like a squat, deadlift etc.), and completely neglect to "brace" the core. By not bracing the core, you put unnecessary pressure on the spine and joints. Even many isolation exercises like the standing barbell curl require the core to be engaged in order to not put stress on the lower back. This isn't necessarily a "mistake", however, Many people are just unaware or untrained in the way to engage their core muscles while performing certain exercises. To "brace" the core, think about lifting your chest up so your spine is "tall", and squeeze your abdominal muscles. It's a tricky technique to master, especially when trying to breath and perform an exercise, but just like everything else with training - it takes practice. The best thing you can do now is be conscious of it. If you notice it's difficult to hold the core engaged, try lowering the weight until you can feel braced.
6. Neglect the Aerobic System
It actually hurts my feelings when someone says they don't do cardio. The most common argument is "I'm not an endurance athlete, so I don't need cardio". Regardless of the sport you play, or the personal goals you have in exercising, training the aerobic system through 10+ minutes of cardio can and will help you improve performance. Even for athletes who predominantly use the anaerobic system or power movements, having a strong aerobic system is important for the ability to recover from these bursts of exercise. The greater conditioned aerobic system means quicker recovery due to increased oxygen delivery, waste removal (remember hydrogen ions?), among many other benefits.
So, in order to perform at your best, I suggest having at least 1 day a week that is dedicated specifically to improving your aerobic performance. The modality of exercise is up to you, just something that gets your heart rate up to 70-80% of your HRmax and keeps it there. Monitor your performance, and try to improve every week.
Kalan is an Exercise Physiology & Sports Performance Expert who brings an evidence-based approach with practical-based knowledge to the world of combat sports and human performance. He is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), and has obtained his MSc. Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. Through his masters thesis research, Kalan has established and implemented the KFit Test Battery for Combat Sport Athletes which is used by both Karate BC & Karate Canada as their standard fitness test for athletes across the country. Additionally, Kalan is an exercise physiology lab instructor at the University of Victoria, and trains individuals (including athletes) every day to help meet their fitness needs and goals. He has many years of experience both as an elite athlete and high performance coach and is knowledgeable in the many fields surrounding fitness and training for sports performance.