How to train (for no gains)

written by Philip Stefanov  |  JUNE 6, 2023

A lot has been said and written about the best training practices, but what about the opposite? What are some common training practices that sabotage gains and cause people to waste their time without even knowing it?

Read on because we are going to explore four of these in this week’s newsletter:

1. Program Hopping

It's not unusual to spot folks in the gym trying out different workout routines all the time. One week they're running an upper/lower split, then the next, they're on Starting Strength, and before you know it, they're hitting it hard with high-intensity circuit training.

Sure, a little bit of everything keeps it exciting, but hopping around too much might slow things down for you.

Here's the deal:

When you stick with one workout plan for a while, your body can adjust, improve, and build strength. Think about it like learning to play a musical instrument. You wouldn't expect to become a guitar virtuoso if you're jumping between the piano, drums, and violin every other week, would you?

The same concept applies to training. Your body and mind need time to get in the groove. Getting used to specific exercises, loads, and workout frequencies allows you to optimize the process. You didn’t feel your chest that well during the floor press this week? Make some minor tweaks to your technique for next week to see if that helps.

Hopping from one program to the next and changing all the training variables stops you from doing that.

Also, don't forget that most workout plans are created to give you the best results if you stick with them long enough. So, if you keep changing your routine too often, you may not be giving your body the opportunity to squeeze out all the associated benefits.

So, the magic word here is 'consistency.' Find a workout routine that you enjoy, stay with it for some time, and chances are, you'll start seeing the results you've always wanted.

It's perfectly fine to sprinkle in a little variety if you need to shake things up, but remember to keep your main routine as your foundation.

2. Training With Poor Form

Heavy weights have always been alluring. I mean, who doesn't feel a rush of excitement lifting more than before, right? But here's the thing:

It's not just about how much weight you can lift. It's more about how well you do it. This is where the concept of quality repetitions steps in.

Consider this:

You could be hoisting the heaviest dumbbell in the gym, but if your form is off, it won't do you any favors. Worse, it could land you with an injury, which is the last thing we want.

That's why it's crucial to focus on the quality of your repetitions––doing each rep with proper form and control.

Now, you might've come across the term ego lifting. This is when someone tries to lift more weight than they can manage just to show off or to please their ego. The truth is, it's a risky game and can cause more harm than good. Instead of propelling you towards your fitness goals, it can derail you into a world of injuries and setbacks.

Take the deadlift, for instance. When done right, it's a fantastic full-body exercise. But, if you're pushing too hard, trying to lift too heavy just to impress others or pump up your ego, you might compromise your form––for example, by rounding your back. This puts a lot of pressure on your spine and, over time, could lead to serious back problems.

Plus, training with poor form can affect muscle activation, shifting the focus away from the desired muscles. Do you want to train your biceps with some barbell curls? Too bad. Swinging back and forth, using momentum, and shortening the range of motion keep your biceps less engaged.

So, here's the key takeaway:

It's not about hoisting the heaviest weights but about lifting the correct weights in the proper manner. Let's ditch the ego lifting and focus on quality reps––the genuine route to progress.

3. Pushing A Bit too Hard

Training to failure is a phrase you’ve probably heard a lot. It's all about giving your absolute best to squeeze out as many repetitions as possible until you physically can't go any further.

On paper, it sounds like a solid plan, doesn't it? Pushing to the brink for those sweet, sweet gains.

But here's the thing:

Doing this all the time might not be the best route for you. Why? Well, when you're constantly training to the point of failure, you're racking up a whole lot of fatigue.

Your body needs time to recover after every set and workout, and if you're always hitting it at full throttle, it makes bouncing back tougher. This can throw a wrench in your performance in your next workout or even in your next set.

Let's picture you're doing push-ups, and your max is 20 reps in one go. So:

  • Set 1 - 20 reps (failure)
  • Set 2 - 10-12 reps (failure)
  • Set 3 - 5-6 reps (failure)

That’s only 35-38 reps.

Now, imagine that instead of pushing to failure, you leave some reps in the tank. So:

  • Set 1 - 15 reps (you could have done more, but you decided to stop)
  • Set 2 - 15 reps
  • Set 3 - 15 reps (you might even get close to failure, but since this is your last set, it won’t affect your performance on subsequent sets)

That’s 45 reps total, or 7 to 10 more than if you trained to failure on each set. Plus, you haven’t generated nearly as much fatigue and can more easily continue with the rest of your workout.

The point is, taking the occasional set to failure might be good, but doing it non-stop is not the greatest idea. A better tactic is stopping just before hitting that failure point to manage fatigue and get the most bang for your buck in your workouts.

4. Not Logging Your Workouts

Picture this: working out without tracking your progress is like whipping up dinner without a recipe. It's easy to miss a thing or two.

Let's take last week's deadlifts as an example - were they 225 or 235 lbs? Hard to recall, isn't it?

But don't worry. Keeping a workout log isn't a big deal at all. It's actually pretty simple. You could use an app like Hevy or stick to a trusty notebook, whatever's easiest for you.

Write jot down your exercises, the weights you lifted, and the number of sets and reps. Say you did five sets of squats with 205 lbs, ten reps each. That's great; just make a note of it:

High-bar back squat:

Set 1 - 205 lbs x 10
Set 2 - 205 lbs x 10
Set 3 - 205 lbs x 10
Set 4 - 205 lbs x 10
Set 5 - 205 lbs x 10

Armed with this info, you can add more weight, sneak in an extra rep, or maybe even squeeze in another set in your next workout. This way, you're constantly nudging your body to keep up and get stronger.

So, by taking a minute to note down your workouts, you're paving the way to achieve your fitness goals via progressive overload. Plus, you're ensuring every trip to the gym is a step in the right direction.

Thanks for sticking around. I'll catch you next week!



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