Whether you’re focusing on muscle building or weight loss, when it comes to hitting the gym, you want to make your workouts count. You most likely already have a gym routine down, too — you go in, warm up for a few minutes, do about 30 minutes worth of cardio and then you hit the free weights to get that six pack you’ve been aiming for or work on perfecting your bicep curls. You may vary your routine a little bit to isolate different muscle groups daily, but overall, you’ve got a pretty good idea of how your hour at the gym is going to be spent.
Whether you go to the gym daily, weekly, or just every once in awhile, it may be time to take a look at seven of the most common training mistakes you might be making. Getting the most out of your gym routine is essential to building muscle and avoiding injury, so here are a few missteps to avoid.
1. Isolating specific muscle groups only
While it may seem like a good idea to isolate small muscle groups and work them individually using weights, you probably won’t be building strength in areas of your body that will be useful to you in every day life. Outside describes this common training mistake as one that many heavy lifters seem to make. While it may seem like a good idea to work those small muscle groups just as hard as the bigger ones, you want to make sure you’re working them in a way that will benefit your body as a whole and help you build up your strength.
To build strength that you’ll employ in your life, you should aim to do exercises in the gym that work multiple muscle groups at once. Squatting is a great exercise for this reason — with proper form, you’ll be working multiple leg muscles, core muscles, and back muscles, and exercises that work a varied number of muscles are great for improved athleticism as a whole. Don’t just work on your hamstring curls — perform leg presses and leg extensions at a heavy weight with few reps for an all-over leg workout that includes the hamstrings.
2. Cardio: Doing too much or too little
Many athletes make the mistake of either over-training or under-training with cardio — there is a sweet spot to how much or how little you should go for, and you have to strike a balance between cardio and weight lifting in order to continue building muscle. While lifting is the best way to build muscle and thus burn more calories throughout the day, you can’t discount the importance of cardio either, as it’s excellent for your cardiovascular health and jump-starting a weight loss program.
You’ll want to strike a balance between cardio and lifting. Muscle and Performance explains that in an attempt to burn fat more quickly, many men will overdo the cardio and subsequently also make it more difficult for them to build muscle. It’s difficult to put on more muscle if you’re creating a huge calorie deficit with your cardio, as your body needs those extra calories for muscle build, so you should aim to train for no more than 45 minutes of cardio per gym session. And, you should perform no more than two to three cardio sessions per week. If you’re really going for a difficult cardio session, keeping your run or elliptical time around 20 minutes should also do the trick.
The opposite of this problem is also a training mistake, as some men do too little cardio in comparison to their weight training routine. You’ll want to find the balance that works for you, but doing 30 minutes of interval cardio training is typically best.
3. Starting your workout tired
While one night of poor sleep may not make much of a difference when it comes to your gym routine, don’t make a habit of this. The average adult needs between seven and nine and a half hours of sleep a night, and this is vital for muscle build and repair and for keeping your energy levels up at the gym. Livestrong.com explains how your lack of sleep can impair your body’s ability to recover after a hard workout, and this is when your body is responsible for building muscle in the first place. While you’re putting in the time and effort at the gym to break down your muscles, the recovery process is what builds them and makes them stronger. Your sleepless nights may be negatively affecting this.
If you begin your workout already tired, it’ll be harder for you to perform your workout with the intensity and energy that you need, and this can also make you more prone to mistakes in form and possible injury. For you to safely and effectively complete a tough hour of lifting weights, you’ll need to be as alert and prepared as possible for your training session.
4. Skipping your warm-up and stretches
You’ll have those days where your gym time is limited, and you may be tempted to rush right to the hard-hitting lifts and cardio once you get there to maximize the time you do have. However, skipping your warm-up is ill-advised; while you may not think it’s all that important to properly warm your muscles, you do need to take a solid five to 10 minutes to prepare your muscles and joints for the work that’s to come.
Bodybuilding.com explains that warming up before your workout is vital, as it increases your body temperature, lubricates the joints, improves circulation of blood flow, and improves the capacity at which you’re able to move. Warming up, essentially, tells your body that you’re preparing it to lift, stretch, and move in ways that exceed your other daily activities, and warming up is one of the best ways to avoid injury. Stretching at the end of your workout is also very important — while cardio and weight lifting can cause your muscles to tense and tighten, stretching right after you’re finished is the best way to increase flexibility and also prevent injury post-workout.
5. Using improper form
If you’re a heavy lifter, you should ensure that your form is perfect before beginning your reps, as lifting improperly is sure to leave you with strained muscles and a higher likelihood of sustaining injury. Weight Loss for All describes how exercising with proper form allows you to push your muscles until they can no longer perform the exercise, but adding in that extra rep at the end with improper form can work muscles you aren’t meaning to work, thus causing possible strain. Proper form is particularly important when it involves chest, back, and some arm exercises as well, as any excess pressure on your spine can cause serious, irreparable damage.
Maintaining your form also helps work the muscles you’re targeting, thus giving you the workout you were aiming for all along. And, proper technique allows you to breathe easier. If you can bring more oxygen into your body while you’re lifting those heavy weights, this should assist you in getting the most out of your weight training.
6. Sticking with the same routine
After you fall into the flow of your workout routine, be sure to gradually increase resistance or the number of reps in your set for a constant challenge. While some days may require an easier workout than others, you never want to stay too comfortable in your routine, as no challenge for you means no challenge for your muscles, either, and you won’t gain as much muscle or cardiovascular benefits.
Simply Shredded warns that if you find that through your week you need to lessen the intensity of your workout or use less weight, you may be overtraining. For your muscles to grow, you must take time to rest between exercises. A failure to rest means a failure for muscle growth and repair, so take the time to allow your muscles to relax. Then, come back to your workout with full force, and as you grow stronger, vary your routine by both weight and rep length. One day, try a higher weight with less reps, and the next time you work that muscle group, try a lower weight with more reps. For cardio, try interval training for a half hour — this will keep your muscles guessing and constantly adapting to the new activity.
7. Going into your workout without goals
Every time you get to the gym, you should go in thinking of both your short-term and long-term goals for that workout. What do you want to achieve that day? Are you looking to increase your run by a half-mile, or are you looking to increase the weight with your deadlifts and do a few more reps per set? Setting short-term goals is a great way to make each individual gym visit unique to your body and what you’re capable of.
With your small goals in mind per visit to the gym, you should also keep in mind what you want to get out of your workouts in the long run. What areas of your body are you looking to tone and shape? Or, are you looking for a healthier cardiovascular system overall with the aesthetic effects of working out being a secondary goal? It’s important to know why you’re going to the gym, and what you hope to accomplish within a given timeframe. If you’re having trouble coming up with your own fitness goals for yourself, Men’s Fitness gives a few ideas for some goals that you may want to aim for while you’re paying visits to the gym.