Chris Lee

October 22, 2022 3 Min Read

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Common Mistakes You’re Making In the Gym 

Most people don't even know where to start when they first begin going to the gym. This article has you covered and will help you avoid some very common mistakes most people make.

Was it 3 sets of squats or was it 4? How many reps do I need to do for that set? I heard “time under tension” was the best way to build any muscle. Which is better, supersets or drop sets? I heard deadlifting is bad for your back so I use machines for legs instead.

These are extremely common statements and questions for people who don’t know WHY they are doing everything in the gym. It’s completely understandable. There’s a plethora of information about exercising. How can you decipher what is the right information from the wrong? You’re in the right place. 

These are the MOST common mistakes I see in the gym that prevent MOST people from truly getting their dream body.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.

I can NOT stress this more than enough. There’s a reason why this is a science. A proper program has everything you need to guide you to the adaptation you desire most. You should have a plan that includes times per week you WILL hit the gym, exercises you are doing each day, the sets and reps you are doing, the length of your rest period, the INTENT of the exercise, and your progression method for each movement. Have a plan that includes all of these to ensure that you’re maximizing each time you visit the gym.

Technique FIRST

Learn the proper techniques for each exercise. Building the foundation of exercise technique is CRUCIAL to your long term success. This will prevent you from getting injured more often than not. The less you’re injured, the more sustainable the process is. Understanding that you want to get the most out of your movements, not to do one hundred exercises and 99% of it being useless. Each rep in a set counts. Practice the proper technique as much as you can, then start loading once you have a foundation.

Compound Movements over Isolation Movements

No, I don’t have anything against isolation movements. What is the problem is if you’re more of a novice to intermediate in the gym, you should be focused on the performance of your compound movements. What tends to happen is people will do a full body part day, like chest, and DESTROY that muscle with cable flys, upward cable flys, then bench press, and incline dumbbell bench press.

Instead, focus on the barbell bench and the incline dumbbell bench press as the first movements in your day. See if you’re able to add a rep or two, week to week, month to month after double checking that your technique is on point. Just food for thought. A person who can squat 400 pounds for working sets will have SIZE on his legs versus the person who only does leg extensions for 10 sets of 10 reps . WHY? You’re using EVERY detail of your body in a squat and it is way more demanding than any isolation movement for your legs. Make compound movements your priority and isolations as secondary versus the other way around.

Training Intensity

There are two types of intensities we speak of in exercise science. One is the intensity/load  (weight being used) or intensity of effort. They relate to each other but we’re focused on the intensity of effort. On one end of the spectrum, we have the guys that go BALLS TO THE WALL in every exercise they do. Yelling and grunting after every rep like that rep will be the next one that ends their life. If you’re in this camp, start leaving 1 or 2 reps shy of technical failure, especially on your compound movements. This will take significant pressure off of your connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, etc). Plus, you will be less fatigued after every session AND injured less frequently because you’re not pushing each exercise to the ABSOLUTE limit.

On the other end are the guys that don’t train hard enough. The ones that only practice with light weights and do a thousand reps. For people in this camp, start incrementally adding weight to your major lifts. Start working in the 4 to 6 rep range, which is pretty heavy. With a COMPOUND movement, if you’re able to hit 4 sets at 4 to 6 reps with proper technique, add more weight next week. Each set should be challenging. If after a set, you left more than 2 reps in reserve, then you should go heavier. For your isolations, try taking a high rep movement to technical failure. WIth your bicep curls, if your rep range is 10 to 15, try to hit ALL sets to 15. At 15, it should be HARD to do that 14th or 15th rep. You’ll see the difference in your gains once you start to build to the proper training intensity

Rest Period

There is a reason rest periods are in an exercise prescription. The duration of the rest period is correlated to the adaptation you are looking for. GENERALLY, I tell my clients to make sure that you’re not breathing super heavy before the next working set. For compound movements, I say no more than 3 minutes and isolations are no more than 2 minutes. Now, if the rest period takes longer than 5 minutes, then it becomes a concern on your cardio. That just means you’ll need to do some cardio to be able to perform proper working sets for resistance training. 

This is mainly for the people who are unable to stay put during exercise. The ones who are used to doing cardio with weights. Nonstop back and forth doing multiples of exercises back to back. Your body has adapted to that form of exercise, which is cardio. When looking for the adaptation to grow muscle, your muscles need to rest so they can perform adequately for the next working set.If your heart is beating out of your chest while doing bicep curls AND you stop the set because you can’t catch a breath versus the bicep muscle can’t perform a proper rep, you need to rest longer. This isn’t cardio, this is muscle BUILDING.

Warm-Up / Priming

Most guys will walk into the gym, put their stuff down, and then do some shoulder circles with a 5 pound plate thinking that’s doing anything to help them warm up for the bench press. Not understanding why their shoulders keep aching after a couple weeks of consistent training, guys need to have a directed warm up approach. 

A proper warmup consists of you getting your core body temperature up, then performing movements that’ll help you in the compound movements you’re performing that day. Those movements are called priming. After 10 minutes on a cardio machine to get your body warmed up, there are priming movements that’ll help you get ready for your main movements. These priming movements are tough to do. Most of them are just using your own body, focusing on squeezing certain muscles so they are turned on when you perform your big movements. For example, When someone is about to squat, you want to perform a movement for your hips, shoulders, core, and any other joints that need focusing prior to doing your working sets. The most common ones for those joints, respectively, are Hip 90/90, Handcuffs with Rotation, and the McGill Big Three.

Start with building a plan. With that plan, make sure your technique is nearly perfect for each exercise. Make sure you’re performing the compound movements first in the day and that you’re getting stronger with them in a certain time frame. Make sure you’re training hard enough, leaving 1 to 2 reps from technical failure to ensure safety and efficiency of each exercise. Rest periods should be as long as you need to be to perform the next hard set. If your rest is significantly long, than doing extra cardio will be necessary. Make sure you’re warming up properly. Get your heart rate up, core temperature warm, perform priming movements you need to get yourself ready for the movement programmed.

Try these tips out and see HOW much more effective your workouts are. 

If you like what you’ve read here and want to explore other ways we at Generation Fit can help you on your fitness journey, feel free to contact us.

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About The Author

Chris lee is the co-founder of Generation fit. When he's not busy transforming his client's bodies, you can catch him lifting, playing spikeball with friends, hanging out at the beach, or playing video games like "Call of Duty".

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