By James Pickering

We all want gains. And we work hard for it. But there are some simple things that hold many people back.

You can take all the whey protein you want, and lift as much as you want, but there are some things that can really hold you back.

So here they are, and how to fix them.

1. Ego training

Image source: The Awkward Magazine
Not sure sweaty floors are that good to be honest?

The mistake: I see a lot of guys come into the gym worrying about how much weight everyone else is lifting and often feel the need to match it or do better. This type of training serves no purpose other than to massage your ego and promotes poor form; small range of motion and virtually no time under tension (TUT).

The fix: Leave your ego at the door. Who cares what other people lift, they may have been doing it for years! Use an appropriate weight to ensure you’re using full range of motion to stretch and squeeze the muscle to elicit a growth response, focus on the eccentric (negative) part of the movement; that would be the lowering phase for exercises like bench press, shoulder press and squats and maintain tension on the muscle at all times.

Try to not lock out on exercises such as flat/incline dumbbell press, dumbbell flyes and squats.

2. Same exercises, same routine, different day

pinky and the brain
Image source: Flickr
Don’t do the same thing every night, or day…

The mistake: Another classic mistake I see in the gym, day in day out, is people performing the same routines every day, every week, every month. What people need to understand is the body is designed to adapt as quickly as possible as to make itself run as efficiently and smoothly as possible. Some adaptation is good and some is bad.

The fix: Don’t let your body adapt to boring and unstimulating training practices, change your routine by changing the % of your 1RM weekly or perhaps monthly. Just find something that suits you.

4×8 sets using a heavier weight with longer rest periods works great, or even 6-8 reps to hit some myofibrillar hypertrophy near the six rep range. Be careful working in the 3-5 rep range for too long, be sure to take a deload week around every 5-8 weeks depending on training frequency/experience.

3. Not keeping some exercises the same

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
What’s your deadlift PB?

The mistake: I know that you’re thinking this is a complete contradiction to the above. Glad you’re paying attention. Although changing your workouts and the reps/sets/tempo/rest periods is an important part of keeping the body guessing it’s also important and beneficial to keep some movements the same.

The fix: Keeping certain exercises the same for the start of your workout can be very beneficial for a number of reasons. Chief amongst which are the simple increases in proprioception of a particular movement. Proprioception refers to the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. This ability enables us to know where our limbs are in space without having to look.

In simple terms it means you get better at performing that particular movement. Liken this to juggling or throwing a paper ball into the bin, the more you do it the better you get. Certain compound movements require skill to activate all the appropriate muscles at just the right time with good joint alignment. The more confident and fluid you are with a movement the more you can just focus on pushing the weight up, rather than worrying about unnecessary instability.

Try keeping some exercises the same each day, for example bench press on your chest day, squats on your leg day or overhand grip lat pull down on your back day. This way you can get consistently better at performing that movement and therefore lift more weight, applying more cumulative overload and stress to the muscles.

You only have to look at training programmes such as DUP (daily undulating periodization), PHAT (Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training) or PHUL (Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower) which all boast impressive gains in size and strength that all use the same compound movements more than once in a week.

4. Not training legs or performing deadlifts

The mistake: Skipping leg day is a common occurrence and deadlifts are usually ignored due to their high risk factor with the lower back. The hormonal response from completing big compound movements such as squats and deadlifts is massive. Growth hormone and testosterone are proven to be significantly increased as a product of doing these exercises. Growth hormone and testosterone are some of the key muscle building hormones that the body needs to build size and strength.

The fix: Stop skipping leg day, this is pretty self-explanatory! If you struggle with complicated movements such as the deadlift or squat, find some trusted videos on YouTube or hire a reputable personal trainer you trust for a couple of sessions. Don’t be afraid to invest money in yourself or be too embarrassed or proud to ask for help.

5. Only working the muscles you can see in front of the mirror

gym mirror lifting
Image source: Flickr
Bicep curls can be missed every now and then once in a while

The mistake: Too often we all fall victim to training just the muscles that we can see in the mirror, whilst neglecting massively important muscles such as the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi and posterior delts as well as pretty much the entirety of our posterior chain as these are all located out of sight. Failing to train these muscles can result in poor posture, such as rounded shoulders (kyphotic) or over curvature of the lumbar (lower) spine (usually as a product of anterior pelvic tilt) which can not only cause you discomfort and pain, but will also massively reduce your muscle building capacity, as your ability to lift heavier and heavier loads will be diminished.

The fix: Don’t skip your back or leg days and ensure you train your posterior deltoids (back of shoulder) on your shoulders day and your posterior chain on your leg day.

On your leg day try movements such as Romanian or stiff legged deadlifts, kettlebell swings and even hip thrusts to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and erector spinae (posterior chain).

On your shoulders day try reverse/prone dumbbell flyes to target the posterior delts. And on your back day ensure you’re using an appropriate weight on exercises such as single arm rows and overhand grip lat pull down, if you’re swinging off the lat pulldown, it’s too heavy and if you look like you’re trying to start a chainsaw during your single arm rows it’s also too heavy! Try to squeeze your scapula (shoulder blades) together like you’re trying to break a walnut in the centre of your back to promote thoracic expansion of the upper spine. This will help with posture and promote a strong muscular contraction in the upper back muscles.