4 Novice Lifting Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs
Novice lifting mistakes are a dime a dozen.
Understand that screwing up when you first start resistance training is part of the game, and you will inevitably look back and laugh at some of the things you used to do/believe when you first started.
While most novice lifting mistakes are generally harmless, and aren’t going to screw with your training in the long term. Here are all the mistakes you want to ditch as soon as possible.
1. Program Hopping
The next person I hear say “this program doesn’t work” without actually having finished the program is getting sentenced to lifting on the smith machine for all of eternity.
You don’t get to say something doesn’t work…if you didn’t actually do it…
Resistance training is an exercise in patience as much as it it is, you know, actual exercise. The shortest programs you’ll see are around 6-7 weeks, with longer ones reaching up to 12-16 weeks of multiple blocks of training. This is a commitment. Barring particularly bad programs, all of these programs will have a certain progression system in place that WILL WORK so long as you follow it through in order, and to the end of the program.
For novices I often chalk program hopping up to a puppy dog-esque attention span. “I wanna be a bodybuilder.”, “No wait powerlifter.”, “Maybe I should try olylifting?”, “Those strongman stones do look cool though…”.
It’s cool to test the waters of multiple lifting disciplines when you are first getting started to find out what you like. Just understand that when it comes to seeing serious progress you will have to make a decision. Pick a program with a specific goal in mind and see it through to the end. If you want to try a new program afterwards, that’s when you switch things up. Don’t complain about your inherent lack of progress if you won’t stay on a program for more than 3 weeks at a time. That’s on you. Own up to it, and fix it.
2. Constantly Maxing Out
On the same level as program hopping is the person who is constantly maxing out. This is the person that comes into the gym everyday with no true game plan in mind other than “lifting heavy”. They slap on weight set after set until they are grinding out ugly singles, then rinse and repeat, day after day. You probably know this guy at your gym, and if you don’t…confirm right now that this guy isn’t you…
The problem is for a novice this will work. More concerning is it’ll work longer than most people expect. However, when it stops working the lifter is often left stranded. Their usual training method which has gone well for them so far is now suddenly failing them, they get frustrated, throw on more weight in a desperate act to “force progress” and just get stuck in a constant loop of ugly grinder reps for eternity. This is when you’ll most often hear individuals complain about being “plateaued”.
You’re not plateaued, you just haven’t been introduced to structured training yet. Under no circumstance should your workouts be a constant struggle bus of RPE 11 efforts and failed lifts. This is not “training hard”, it’s training stupid. Not only are your training sessions going to be unnecessarily difficult, you’re going to be wasting your time on top of it.
Most of the actual progress in a proper program is made training in the RPE 6-9 effort range. As a reminder, RPE 9 means you still have one rep left in the tank. Meaning, why do I keep watching you fail set after set bro?
While maxing out is the more “romanticized” part of training, it’s fun, it looks badass, makes for great videos and pictures…it should only make up a very small percentage of your training hours as a whole. Think of maxing out as more of a reward for a long period of diligent training
The actual majority of your program? Reps. Quality reps, and a whole bunch of them over a long period of time. A solid amount of volume, at a proper intensity range (RPE 6-9), over a long period of time is what drives progress. Not full sending every time you step foot in the gym. It’s slow, it’s a process, and it takes patience. If you were looking for a fast route…this might not be the sport for you.
3. Overthinking Absolutely Everything…except for the important stuff…
Things that will impact your progress to a large degree,
-Do you train consistently? (0 Missed Sessions)
-Do you get a proper amount of sleep? (Varies, but ~7 hours)
-Do you maintain a proper diet? (Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods, caloric deficit for weight loss, caloric surplus for weight gain)
-Do you have balanced stress levels, or is something causing you undo stress? (Balanced Work Life, Social Connections/Meaningful relationships, Mental Health)
Things that will not impact your progress to a large degree,
-Literally everything else…
As a strength coach you will see comments on social media, or questions in your DMS that are…disconcerting. Not because the questions are in any way vulgar (usually), but because it’s always the wrong questions being asked.
If you do not have your bases completely covered on all of the above…don’t concern yourself with more specific questions until you do. A lot of fitness questions DO have answers, and yes, some decisions could be moderately more optimal for your training than others.
BUT, you always want the “big rocks” covered first. Think about how only getting 3-4 hours of sleep per night may effect your progress? Think about how completely skipping training sessions will effect your training sessions?
Now think about how drinking a protein shake 20 mins after your workout vs. 1 hour after your workout might effect your training? See where this get’s silly?
I will be the first to blame the fitness industry as a whole for why people tend to overthink the hell out of training. Content has to be generated, so media platforms will make some things seem way more important than they actually are to generate buzz, and keep you hooked on consuming said content.
The truth is, this stuff is really simple.
Are you covering the big things? And are you covering them consistently on a daily basis? That’s it.
4. Mimicking Pro Level Athletes
Humans have ingrained responses to “mirror” one another (We even have neurons named after this, “Mirror Neurons”). This is a good thing, it’s how we end up learning new skills and potentially connect with others. Quite literally we “watch and learn”.
Likewise, we tend to gravitate to those that are at the top of their class when it comes to learning a desired skill. This also makes sense.
Unfortunately, in regards to lifting, what high level athletes are doing doesn’t always transfer over very well to what a novice should be doing.
The best example I have of this is the strongman deadlift “bar roll”. Thanks to viral videos of the world’s strongest man competitors rolling their deadlift to them before completing thousand pound deadlifts, gym bros everywhere now roll their 300lb deadlifts…(by no means saying your worth is determined by your deadlift number, strictly for comparison)
What does rolling a deadlift do exactly? Most usually, just makes it unnecessarily difficult for a novice to produce repeatable deadlift technique. But, plenty of athletes still do it because they saw the best of the best do it. Ask them why they do it, and they’ll probably tell you “I saw this one video of a super strong guy do it”.
Understand that “because the best in the world does it” is not a valid reason to blindly do something. You always want to know the WHY behind what you are doing. Maybe your favorite powerlifter lifts a certain way because they have unique body proportions and it doesn’t actually apply to you. Maybe your favorite lifter is actually lifting sub-optimally but they are good enough to get away with it. You don’t know unless you ask WHY.
The main issue is high level lifters have tailored their technique in over YEARS to fit THEM specifically. We aren’t robots, each of us is anatomically/physiologically distinct from one another and what works for a pro could very well be the exact opposite of what works for you. Start with the basic technique for every lift you learn, then adapt from there. Each time you try out something new, you should know why you are doing it. It shouldn’t be “oh I saw this strong guy do it so now I’m also going to do it”. Over time you will develop your own set of technique skills that fit you.