9 Common Training Mistakes That Ruin Gains
Think you’ve got training and nutrition down to a science? Check our list to make sure you’re avoiding these nine common training and dietary mistakes
- Skipping Breakfast
Wake up. Shower. Shave. Get dressed. If you’re lucky, you get to grab some coffee before sprinting to your car and diving headlong into your morning commute. But if you haven’t eaten, you won’t be taking a trip to Gainsville.
>>Keep your gains on track by having a carb- and protein-rich meal every morning before starting your day. Your breakfast caloric ratio should be about 25–40% protein, 50–65% carbs and 10% fat.
- Excessive Cardio
Weight training, on its own, is one of the most powerful fat-fighting activities anyone can engage in since it builds muscle, which is a metabolically active tissue. The more muscle you carry, the more calories you burn. But performing cardio is absolutely essential if you expect to get your physique dialed in — it taps into stubborn pockets of bodyfat and increases your overall cardiovascular health.
>> To keep your gains on track, perform 2–3 cardio sessions per week. For high-intensity cardio, keep sessions to 20 minutes or less. If you’re doing steady-state work, 30 minutes is a good target. To keep from overtraining, add minutes or additional sessions incrementally — a few extra minutes per week or one more bout of cardio every few weeks. If you plateau, start to lose muscle or have a drastic drop in your energy level, cut back on the cardio volume.
- Training To Failure
We love spirited, iron-loving diehards who think that a set isn’t a set unless your eyeballs are bleeding by the end of it. Training to failure has its place, but the research is clear on when and how it’s best used. As to the “when,” it simply doesn’t make sense to take your first set of any exercise to failure, certainly not if your goal is to lift as much cumulative weight as possible each session.
Your muscle strength will be diminished if you spend all your energy capital at the start of each set, which is why you should save failure for your final sets of an exercise. Specifically, by training to failure during the last set — and only the last set — of an exercise, you give yourself the best chance for growth. Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra found that those taking multiple sets of the bench press to failure gained less strength than those who took only one set to failure.
>> Keep your gains on track by limiting failure training (forced reps, drop sets, etc.) to the last set of each exercise for a given bodypart.
- Not Training To Failure
One of the most common things that can hinder gains in the gym is not pushing your muscles to failure. Beginners tend to do this out of fear, while more experienced lifters do it out of some misinformed notion that doing so could adversely affect strength gains. But researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra found that lifters who performed four sets of six on the bench press, with the last set done to failure, three times a week for six weeks experienced a 10% increase in strength. Subjects in the study who performed three sets of eight, but never trained to failure over that time, saw only a 5% bump.
>> To keep gains on track, take the last set of each exercise to failure, which increases protein synthesis for 24 hours following your workout.
- Eating Carbs Late
Some hardcore bodybuilders will tell you that the only way to grow during a mass-gaining phase is to eat … constantly. All calories, all the time, they’ll tell you. But that well-intentioned advice is lacking a key bit of information, namely that meals consumed later in the day need to be more carefully thought out.
>> To keep your gains on track, have the majority of your carbs in your first few meals and taper your carb consumption off in the afternoon. This will ensure that the carbs you eat are less likely to be stored as bodyfat. Better late-night alternatives are low-carb/no-carb casein protein shakes or cottage cheese, which provide a slow trickle of amino acids to recovering muscles overnight, and a small amount of healthy fat such as a tablespoon of peanut butter to help further slow digestion.
- Being Overly Consistent
So yesterday you benched 225 for 10 reps. Awesome. Normally, that’d be a big deal for you, except that you’ve been doing 225 for 10 for, well … ever. It’s not to say that you won’t get anything out of said reps, but without forcing progression, you’re ensuring a halt to all progress.
>> To keep your gains on track, outdo your previous performance each time you set foot in the gym to train a bodypart. Incrementally adding weight, performing additional reps or decreasing rest periods forces progression and ensures your workouts — and physique — never go stale. Make it an easier go by meticulously charting your weights, sets, reps and rest for each workout.
- Avoiding Dietary Fat
If you eat fat, you’ll get fat … right? Wrong. If you subscribe to this outdated philosophy, you could be limiting how much strength and muscle you can gain, not to mention how much bodyfat you can lose.
>> To keep your gains on track, try to derive 20–30% of your total daily calories from fat, mostly from healthy sources such as olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. Also, to help general health and fat burning, supplement with 3 grams of fish oil 2–3 times per day and 2–3 grams of CLA 2–3 times per day with meals.
- Not Being Specific
What’s your goal? Do you want to be all-over beefy, with thick slabs everywhere? There’s a way to train for that. Do you want to be ultra-lean, with sickly striated muscle bellies and vascular tracking that looks like a 3-D map of the Amazon? There’s a way to train for that, too.
>> Keep your gains on track by first identifying your specific training goal, then following a proven, progressive training program to help get you there. Enlist the help of a personal trainer or a more experienced friend, or just try the focused programs we provide on this site.
- Ignoring Thyself
Since the strategic use of training to failure is a key component of instigating hypertrophy (muscle growth) and strength gains and since particular gains are best achieved at particular rep ranges, it’s important to know just how strong you are. Why? Consider the guy who is savvy enough to know that muscle growth is best achieved in the 8–12-rep range. If he stops at 12 reps on his last set but could’ve done 2–3 more, he’s drastically limiting his opportunities for growth (see tip No. 4).