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How To Maximise Time Spent In The Gym
I’ve been training and visiting the gym for 25+ years now. In that time, I’ve seen people do some crazy things in the pursuit of fitness but it’s the common mistakes that I see which trouble me the most. Lots of people are ‘guilty’ of more than one of these mistakes and they can add up to gym sessions which are at best suboptimal and in some cases completely counter productive.
Here are the ten common mistakes (some of which you may be making) and how to avoid them. Implementing these tips will avoid you chasing your tail and ensure you get the maximum benefit out of each visit and the effort you are putting in.
1. Not planning the workout routine ahead of visiting the gym
I see this one regularly and it’s a major waster of time and efficiency. People turn up to the gym without a clear plan of what they are looking to train or get out of the session. How can the session be optimal if you wait until arriving to decide what you are going to do!? Have a clear routine laid out either in a notepad or in the Notes application on your phone. If it’s a new routine walk through the entire routine in your head ahead of visiting the gym. Doing this you can quickly answer the key questions: does the flow of exercises work? Are the key lifts in the right order? Can any of it be improved? Is the session the right length?
2. Not tracking your gym workouts
This leads on from Not planning and is a major failure by most lifters. The aim of your exercise sessions should be to improve. To know that you are improving (either in extra weight being lifted or additional reps of the same weight) you need to track both the exercises you do and the weights and reps you achieved. Using a simple app such as Gym Hero, the Notes app on your phone or even a good old fashioned pad and paper can make this easy. Without doing this, you are pretty blind to progress over week’s or months of training. If you are tracking, you can easily assess if all the variables (diet, routine, session frequency) are working well and working towards your goals.
3. Exercising too often
Most novice lifters fall into the trap of believing that more is better in terms of weight training session frequency. Whilst you can get away with this to a greater degree when you are ‘newbie’, you soon progress to a level where your body needs at least one day of rest between weight training sessions to fully repair and be ready to go again. If you compress the sessions into smaller windows you will have sub-optimal results and eventually end up overtrained. For most natural lifters, I would suggest 3-4 sessions of strength training per week, this will provide optimal results.
4. Lifting weights above ability
Most people get a buzz from getting strong and lifting big weights. However, you need to earn this right! Being able to lift heavy weights safely and with correct form takes time….
You need to build up the muscle to allow you to do this. Far too often, I see people lifting beyond their capability to impress other gym goers. Trust me, nobody cares what you are lifting! What you are lifting this week and next should be your own personal challenge.
Track your workouts, keep form good and slowly increment weight as your strength grows.
5. Performing exercises with improper form
This one can go hand in hand with Lifting weights above ability. I see people that have either progressed without studying and learning the proper form of an exercise or have introduced poor habits to allow them to ‘cheat’ up bigger weights. The correct form has been developed for a reason and it’s there to ensure the exercise is safe and targets the intended muscles. By not performing the exercise using correct form you will be using other muscles and running the risk of injury.
Poor form is usually demonstrated on common exercises such as bench press. Typically, the correct form is not deployed and the person manages to get away with it for a while until the weight gets to a tipping point and injuries result. It’s simply not worth it! Take the time to learn proper form (Bodybuilding.com has excellent on-line videos of all the common exercises) and progress in weight slowly as strength improves.
6. Changing gym routines too frequently
Despite what you may have read, you don’t want to be constantly changing routines to ‘confuse your muscles’! Following on from the point of Not tracking workouts – you need to be performing the same exercises in the same conditions for at least 4 weeks to ensure you are progressing. I would recommend keeping your core lifts the same for 3 months at a time. After 3 months moving the order of key lifts within a routine or substituting a couple of exercises will give the best results.
7. Working in too high a rep range (pump training)
I see guys working on isolation exercises and doing set after set of them. Working in the high (10-15) rep ranges. This results in a quick Sarcoplasmic muscle pump but when you see the same guys in the gym two days later they have nothing to show for their previous hard work. Unless you are pharmaceutically assisted, you want to concentrate on low volume, compound exercise routines and progressive overload to develop Myofibrillar muscle growth. This will give you strong dense muscle that will be with you for life.
8. Treating the gym as a social outing
Too many people turn the session into an opportunity to catch up with their mates and discuss the latest sports results or last night’s TV! You need to remember this isn’t a Starbucks! You are there to get the job done, hit it hard and get out of there. It’s fine to chat but you don’t want to be hogging a set of equipment whilst surfing on your phone or idly chatting.
9.Comparing your progress and ability to others in the gym
You will seriously mess with your mind if you are constantly comparing and worrying about what others in the gym are doing. Concentrate on your programme, execute the plan to the best of your ability and then assess progress (from your tracked results) and adjust if required. You are competing against yourself only.
10.Spending too long in the gym
If you are in the gym for more than 60 minutes then your routine is too long. Ideally you want to be performing around 4-5 exercises per session with a 2-3 minute break between sets to allow you to fully recover and deliver your best for the next lift. If you find you are in the gym for over an hour you need to review the number of exercises and sets in your routine.
Summary Of 10 Common Gym Mistakes
That’s it – those are the 10 most common mistakes I see being regularly made. Some are more serious than others but the list is a good reminder to all of us of what good practice looks like. Whilst training and being in the gym is a big part of my life, it only makes up 3-4 hours of an entire week! Therefore, it needs to be a background activity to everything else I do and enjoy. Making the visits as efficient as possible helps to achieve this. If you would like help with setting up a routine which is optimal for reaching your goals, please feel free to get in touch using the contact form.
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