• Nicola Dale

Gym Mistakes I’ve Made

I started really focusing on the gym during university, around 5 years ago now, and I’ve made a fair few mistakes along the way. Here are my top 5 that by recognising and changing helped me see huge jumps in my progress. They’re also things I see commonly among other people, so have a read and see if you recognise any of these in your own training.

3 women squatting with barbells on their back

1. Not learning the movement first

Performing exercises with correct form is vital for preventing injury and engaging the targeted muscles properly. Without knowing how the movement is supposed to feel before picking up heavy weights means you are less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong and increases the risk of hurting yourself.

You want the movement to feel fluid, cause no sharp pains and you want to be able to perform it through the full range of motion. Then, once you’ve achieved this start upping the weight. My top tip for checking your own form, if you can’t ask somebody else, is to film yourself. You’ll be surprised how different exercises can look to how they feel.

2. Going too Heavy

Needing to use momentum (swaying, bouncing, etc.), having to rush in order to complete the exercises, or not moving through the whole range of motion are all signs you may be trying to lift too heavy. This isn’t going to benefit your progress, instead it means you won’t be properly engaging the targeted muscles but recruiting other muscles to assist the lift which will impact your strength and size gains. It will also put you at higher risk of injury which could lead you to needing to take an extended time off the gym to recover. Therefore, whilst you think lifting heavier is going to get you results quicker it may actually slow you down.

Don’t let your ego get in the way and lower the weight.

3. Not Implementing Progressive Overload

In order to make progress you need to put your body under a certain level of stress. As your body adapts to what you’re doing you need to increase this level of stress through things like increased weight, reps, sets, frequency workouts, order of exercise selection, tempo and so on. This is called progressive overload (read more about it here).

This is often overlooked by newbies in the gym, it certainly was by me, but it is essential to your results. The easiest way I find to ensure I’m implementing progressive overload is to track my workouts and make sure I’ve incorporated it week on week. It doesn’t have to be big, it might just be adding 1 rep to each set of an exercise or picking up 1kg heavier dumbbells. You don’t want to make huge jumps. Do as little as needed so it’s easy to keep progressing. Think about it, it’s far easier to progressively overload from 3 full body sessions a week then it is if you jump straight into a 6 day a week body part split from the beginning.

4. Not Having a Plan

It doesn't need to be super set but some kind of guidelines so that you’re not just picking body parts to train randomly will make a big difference. It’ll ensure you’re hitting all the muscles groups on a regular basis and that you have a well-rounded programme. Results take time so choose a style of training you enjoy and stick to it for long enough to see some progress.

If you have specific goals then you need to train in a specific way. For example, if you want to get a 100kg squat, training a squat randomly every few weeks isn’t going to get you there. Or if you want to run 10k, spending an hour on the cross-trainer 3 times a week isn’t going to help that. This is called the rule of specificity and basically means you improve at what you train. So to improve at running you need to run, or to improve at squatting you need to squat. Yes some gains from other aspects of your training will transfer, but you need to specifically train what you want to improve.

This is why people often don’t get the results they’re after from doing random workouts here and there, because they’re not doing one thing frequently enough to really progress at it. Remember random workouts equal random results.

5. Comparing Your Progress to Someone else’s

Female resting in gym between sets with dumbbells in front of her and headphones round her neck. Wearing purple shorts, nude sports bra and white jumper. Arms above her head

Even if you completed the exact same workouts and ate the exact same food as somebody else your results would be different. This is down to differences in your body composition, bone structure, hormone levels, health conditions, previous injuries, fitness levels and a whole host of other differences in your anatomy and physiology which makes every individual unique.

On top of this comparison really is the thief of joy. With everybody posting their successes on social media nowadays, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough or not progressing quick enough. But remember people don’t share their failures or the time it’s taken them to get where they are. Most ‘overnight successes’ were actually years of hard work in the making, so don’t let this discourage you.

So there you have it, 5 Gym Mistakes I made myself. If you enjoyed this piece let me know in the comments below and I’ll write a Part 2 sharing more mistakes I’ve made that will hopefully help some of you avoid them.

And if you're interested in joining the gym but don't know where to start check out: So You Want to Start Lifting

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