Strength training can be confusing and intimidating. In this article, you will learn the six biggest strength training mistakes to avoid:
1. Not doing enough (or any) strength training
Strength training is the fountain of youth. When combined with proper sleep and the right nutrition program, strength training improves your metabolism and makes you tighter and leaner, not thicker and bulkier.
Strength training also reduces and prevents injuries and aches, builds up your bones and joints, improves your posture, preserves your muscle, and delays your aging process. Every adult (men and women) should be doing strength training at least twice each week. If you are still skeptical, read this article.
2. Going too light with strength training
I once attended a spin class at a gym in my area. Midway through the workout, the instructor told us to grab the two-pound dumbbells attached to our bikes. Then, we were prompted to do a series of curls and shoulder presses with these weights. After the class, one of my female friends joked with me that her purse weighed more than the dumbbells.
You won’t reap the benefits of strength training by doing countless reps with two-pound dumbbells. A good rule of thumb is to use enough resistance (using body weight, free weights, resistance bands, etc.) where you can only complete ten to twelve reps safely per set. You can do less than ten reps per set (with more resistance) if you want to focus more on strength and power. You can do twelve to twenty reps per set (with less resistance) if you want to focus more on endurance.
3. Not training all major muscle groups
One of the most common questions that people ask me about strength training is “How can I tighten up my _____?” Some people want a tighter stomach, while others want to tighten up in their arms, legs, or somewhere else.
Ultimately, the key to tightening up one area is to do strength training for all major muscle groups. To be more specific, make sure that you do strength training for your legs, chest, shoulders, back, arms, and core.
By doing strength training for your entire body, you will also reduce your chances of developing injuries and aches. Most of the muscle and joint pain that people experience is the result of following an incomplete program that neglects or ignores certain muscle groups.
4. Failing to warm-up properly
Many people launch right into a workout without warming up properly. This is one of the biggest strength training mistakes that you can make. A thorough warm-up helps you prepare mentally and physically for the exercise to follow. It also reduces your chances of injury.
The best warm-up is a lower-intensity version of the workout that you plan to do that day. Start slow and easy, build gradually, and target your entire body, or at least the major muscles that you plan to use that day. For example, if you plan to do barbell squats, start with a couple of body weight sets and 2-3 sets with lighter weights before you move onto heavier weights.
5. Not keeping form first
Many people sacrifice their technique or use momentum in order to try to lift heavier, longer, or faster. This is one of the most dangerous strength training mistakes that you can make.
Control any weight that you lift at all times. Using momentum will allow you to lift heavier, but it’s dangerous and defeats the purpose of an exercise. Take at least one to two seconds in either direction per rep, with a brief a pause in the middle.
Always keep your neck and spine in a neutral position during any strength training movement. Common mistakes include dropping your head/neck or allowing your hips to sag (very common with push-ups and planks), or arching or rounding your back (very common when people dead-lift or do a pulling exercise).
6. Not allowing for enough recovery time
Muscle growth and repair occurs during recovery. Over-training can occur when there is not enough time to heal between strength training workouts.
In general, you want to leave at least one day (if not more) in between doing a strength training movement, especially when you add resistance beyond your body weight. For example, squatting on two consecutive days is counter-productive. In fact, many athletes and bodybuilders only train each body part on one day each week (i.e. legs on Mondays, shoulders on Tuesdays, back on Thursdays, and so on).
If you want to reap the rewards of strength training, make sure that you avoid the biggest strength training mistakes:
- Not doing enough (or any) strength training
- Going too light with strength training
- Not training all major muscle groups
- Failing to warm-up properly
- Not keeping form first
- Not allowing for enough recovery time
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About the author: Pete Leibman is a consultant, speaker, and author who helps leaders and companies thrive. He is the creator of StrongerHabits.com and he’s the bestselling author of Work Stronger; Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work. Before writing Work Stronger, Pete worked as an executive recruiter at Heidrick & Struggles, a leadership advisory firm who serves the majority of the Fortune 500. In his free time, he teaches one of the largest group exercise classes in the Washington, D.C. area. He has also competed in the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) World Championships.