Common Weight Lifting Mistakes

Those new to lifting, and even some "experienced" lifters, are often guilty of making the same five common mistakes in the gym.  Not seeing the results you want in the gym?  Chances are that you're making some or all of these mistakes.  Not to worry!  The good news is that all of these problems are simple to fix. 

Using Improper Form

We've all seen it before.  The guy doing dumbbell curls 5 feet from the mirror and violently thrusting his hips and back into each rep.  Or how about the guy who uses his chest as a spring board while bench pressing. This not only limits your gains, but can also lead to serious injury.  This poor use of form is easy to spot.  That said, you may be guilty of using poor form yourself and not even realize it. 

Here are some of the most common mistakes made on popular exercises: arching your back during a military press; failing to keep your feet aligned over your knees during squats; lifting your lower back off the bench and bouncing the bar off our chest during bench press; using momentum to "swing" during bicep curls. 

So how do you fix these and other form issues? First, tone down your ego in the gym.  Trying to lift too much weight is the single biggest factor that leads to using improper form.  You should start with little to no weight and make sure your form is perfect.  Once you have the form down, slowly increase your weight load, always making sure that your form is just as good as it was with little or no weight. 

It's also vital to be aware of what muscle group each exercise is intended to work out.  That way you can focus on ensuring that only those muscles are doing the work in that exercise.  As a general rule, you shouldn't need any momentum to perform the exercise.  While each exercise has its own specific form, lower back posture is an extremely common problem too.  There are a ton of resources available on youtube and other sites that you can use to learn the proper technique (just make sure you find a knowledgeable source - just because it's on the internet doesn't make it correct).  Also, don't be afraid to ask a trainer at your gym - they know what they're talking about and they're usually happy to help. 

Failing to Keep a Log

Carrying around a notebook in the gym may seem like a "meathead" thing to do, but it's also an extremely effective tool.  How do you expect to improve if you have nothing to measure yourself by?  Keeping a log of your workouts holds you accountable and can provide extra motivation.  A simple focus on beating your previous workout, even if it's by one rep or a few pounds, will have you well on your way to making gains.  Still don't feel like carrying around a notebook at the gym?  You're in luck because there are actually a bunch of great workout log apps for your smartphone - some are even free. I use one called gym buddy. 

Repeating the Same Routine

Now, keeping a log is highly advisable but that doesn't mean you should do the same workout routine month after month.  Our bodies are amazing adapters and that means you need to challenge your muscles with new and varying training techniques.  A common problem for lifters is "hitting the plateau".   Hitting the plateau refers to when a lifter continues to train just as hard yet fails to get any stronger.  This occurs because his or her muscles have adapted so well to a certain routine that they actually stop growing. 

The fix?  You have to switch your routine up and keep it fresh.  There are number of ways to do this including: introducing new exercises or techniques, increasing or descreasing your standard rep range, varying the muscle groups you work together, varying the order of the exercises you do, and introducing drop or pyramid sets. 

Not Strenghtening Your Core

The core is the most important area of the body - it's activated in almost every movement we make - yet it is also one of the most ignored areas in the gym.  A weak core can literally impair how well your arms and legs function.  Thus, if your core is weak you can't expect other muscle groups to develop properly.

Dont'y worry, strenghtening your core doesn't mean doing crunches or sit ups either.  In fact, many core exercises involving holding a stationary position - you don't even have to move!  To start strengthening your core trying adding a circuit of these moves to the end of your workouts: plank, side bridge, and swiss ball knee tuck. 

Not Recovering Properly

People tend to forget that working out actually damages your muscles.  Your body then repairs this damage which in turn triggers the muscle growth that makes you bigger and stronger.  So, all of your growth takes place outside of the weight room.  In order for this growth to occur you need ensure you recover properly.  Recovering properly involves getting enough protein intake, getting enough sleep, and not overtaining.

How much protein does your body need to recover?  Research suggests that the average guy who works out 3-5 times per week should shoot for 0.45 - 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  Thus, if you weigh 180 pounds you should make sure you get around 90 grams of protein per day.  Getting enough sleep is probably the most vital aspect of recovery.  You should get anywhere between 7-9 hours of rest per night.  Lastly, be sure not to overtrain.  Overtraining simply means working out muscles that haven't recovered properly.  How can you tell when you're overtraining?  It really just involves listening to your body.  If your muscles are still feeling noticeably sore then you need more rest.