BY ANTHONY J. YEUNG, CSCS
Everyone starts as a beginner. And as we get comfortable with working out, eventually we learn the basics: how to use the machines, how to observe gym etiquette, and what happens if we don’t wipe the gym equipment. Thank goodness!
But even after you ditched the training wheels, you could still make grave rookie mistakes—those that sabotage your progress and leave you frustrated, confused, and exhausted. Even if you worked out for years, it could still happen. To build an awesome body and take your fitness to the next level, you must avoid these nine worst beginner mistakes. Learn how they happen and how you can beat them.
“I want to gain 20 pounds of muscle and start eating healthier.”
“I want to lose 15 pounds of fat and cut all carbs.”
“I want to workout six times a week and start running every morning at 6 a.m.”
Tackling a mammoth goal all at once can lead to failure. You’ll exhaust your limited amount of time, willpower, and energy. You’ll also frustrate yourself because it takes so long to achieve.
Instead, break that massive goal into smaller, easier steps:
“I’m going to switch from machines to free weights to build more muscle and strength.”
“I’m going to increase the weight on my squat by five pounds each time.”
“I’m going to eat at least 150 grams of protein every day.”
These are all simple habits you can measure, use to build confidence, and get you closer to your overarching goal.
Not Tracking Anything
“What gets measured gets managed,” Austrian business visionary, Peter Drucker, once said. Beginners never take notes. But if you measure nothing, what can you improve?
Record everything in your worktout: what exercises you did, what weight you used, how many reps—everything! Also, track your physique by taking photos and measuring your bodyweight, circumference, and body fat percentage periodically. This will highlight your successes and failures so you can adjust your exercise program and diet to upgrade your results.
For example, if you try a new diet, but your physique stays constant, you need to change something. But if you try a new workout and your body fat drops while your circumference grows, you’re doing great. Guys who skip taking notes also commit the next error…
Not Having a Plan
Without a plan, beginners roam the gym looking for something to do or switch their routines endlessly. But you will never build a great body this way, because there’s no system or foresight. Instead, you’ll prevent yourself from mastering exercises, waste time, and miss out on great results.
With so many great beginner programs available, pick one, get started, and stick to it for at least eight weeks. This will give you a system to follow and hold you accountable for each step.
Relying on Supplements
Beginners always ask me which supplements they should take. Then I find out they ate a pizza last night… and the night before… and the night before. It’s simple. Supplements are useless against a bad diet. Make sure you have a solid diet of lean meats, veggies, whole grains, and a lot of water before you start thinking about muscle gainers, pre-workouts, amino acids, and creatine. The food you eat impacts your physique far more than an expensive cocktail of powders.
Not Warming Up
When some beginners warm up—if at all—they’re jogging for a few minutes on a treadmill and doing some stretches they learned back in Physical Ed. But this does nothing to prepare your muscles, joints, and nervous system to lift weights. Instead, do a comprehensive warm up filled with dynamic stretches, activation exercises, and movement preparation to help your body feel great and lift a lot of weight. Try following this warm-up routine.
Ignoring Your Legs
When someone says, “I run for my legs” or “I don’t need to train my legs, because I play soccer,” all I hear is someone scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard. Running, soccer, biking, or any other exercise will never build the strength, size, and endurance in your legs that heavy barbell exercises can do. Lifting weights also strengthens your bones and joints and builds total-body balance.
Over time, strong legs lead to more size gains, more growth hormone throughout the body, and even a stronger upper-body. If you want to build a big and powerful physique, you must work your legs.
Training to Failure
If you’re still training to failure every workout, you’re still a beginner. Your workouts must stimulate your muscles, not pulverize them. If you coax them into size and strength gains, they’ll happily respond and you’ll advance for years. But if you batter your muscles every time, they’ll get fatigued, which can obstruct recovery and growth.
A simple rule-of-thumb is to stop a few repetitions before failure to give your muscles a break. If you think eight reps is the absolute maximum you can do of an exercise, then stop at six.
Beginners skip workouts if they’re feeling tired, sore, or lazy. They forget that the secret to building an amazing body is simple: consistency. Honor the commitments you make to yourself. If you decide to workout on Mondays and Thursdays, schedule it in your calendar and get it done. If that’s too hard, cut your routine down to just one day a week, but never skip it.
There’s no better way to get amazing results.
Working Out Too Often
There are, however, beginners who live in the gym, workout six times a week, and split their days between back and bis, chest and tris, shoulders, abs, arms, legs, and cardio. (It’s called “youth.”) Unless you’re an elite athlete or a high-level bodybuilder, avoid working out too often; doing too much, too soon will slow your progress (because of the constant fatigue) and lead to overtraining.
For most beginners, three times a week is perfect—you’ll give your muscles, ligaments, and tendons ample time between each workout to recover, grow, and get stronger.