5 Beginner Lifting Mistakes Everyone Makes

1. Training to Absolute Failure 

“NO PAIN…NO GAIN!!” – Gym bro who’s bench max hasn’t changed since 2015

Look…I get it, training hard makes you feel like a badass. There’s also situations where training to absolute failure is absolutely warranted. However, for the vast majority of physical training (be it strength training, endurance training, or even specific sport training) the bulk of your sessions should be in about the 65-85% intensity range or RPE 6-9.

Training to failure seems like the most bang for our buck option…at first. Logically, why wouldn’t you always want to train as hard as you could? Unfortunately, constantly training at maximum effort tends to screw with our ability to recover, and as a result how much work we are able to get in during the week.

Consider this, would you rather you hit one crazy max effort intensity session, that leaves you completely gassed, but too sore to get any more quality work done over the course of the week. Or…would you rather 3 focused and quality training sessions that  certainly aren’t easy, but they also don’t completely destroy either, allowing you to accrue a lot more work over the week?

Don’t make the mistake in thinking you are about to start sandbagging your workouts, you’re still going to train hard. However, you’re going to understand the bigger picture of your training over the long term, and that you shouldn’t compromise all of your training days to full send a singular session. Train smart, ramp up the intensity over time, max out, then come back down and do it all over again. You don’t need the pedal to be floored every single training session.

2. Not Tracking Anything 

You’d be surprised by the number of people you’ll meet, who train consistently, have been training for years, but have zero clue where their numbers are at for movements they train on a weekly basis…

Tracking your training is annoying…just another thing to add to your seemingly unending list of things to do. Again, I get it.

BUT…tracking our training also happens to take a lot of the stress out of training. Need to know if a program is working for you or not? Check your training log. Want to know why you made great progress last year but not this year? Check your training log. No idea if your progress is trending up or down? Check your training log.

A lot of progress in training can be seemingly non-existent if you don’t have a record of it. You usually aren’t making huge leaps and bounds, but instead tiny bits of progress over the course of a whole year. You usually won’t see that progress unless…you guessed it…you have a training log. If you aren’t currently tracking, just start. That means today by the way…

3. Lifting Heavy to Get Big 

An easy bro mistake to make right out the gate is thinking all that matters in getting jacked is the weight on the bar. So, you load up your movements with as much weight as possible and start crushing some hard sets…of 1 to 3 reps. Solid work, but now you’re a powerlifter, and you’re not going to see much hypertrophy from training so heavy.

Hypertrophy Adaptations (building muscle) are ruled mainly by volume. Of course many other variables are in play, but volume should be towards the top of your list. Beginner lifters will often be surprised to learn that sacrificing some weight on the bar in order to crank out significantly more reps will be in their best interest. Of course, we always want to be progressively overloading and lifting heavier weights over time will be important…but never so important as to outweigh getting the required volume in.

Higher training volume (more sets and reps), quality time under tension (controlled lifting), shorter rest periods, and a caloric surplus will get you jacked. Not so much those heavy triples.

4. Ignoring Nutrition’s Effect on Your Progress

Exercise is the first solution people look to to solve their problems. Need to lose weight? Go train. Need to build muscle? Go train. Unfortunately, your training won’t be all that useful to you if your nutrition game plan doesn’t align with your goals.

Give nutrition much higher priority in your life as it’s 1. Often the easiest way to hit your goals and 2. Tends to have bigger impact on if your goals actually happen in the first place.

For example, in weight loss situations individual’s will often place high importance on exercising a lot with little care to what they are eating. However, an hour of your work in the gym can be canceled out in five minutes of eating. Therefore, it’ll be more fruitful to you to focus in on that diet. Likewise, lifters will claim they want to be bigger and their training may very well be on point. But if they aren’t consuming enough calories for their body to actually grow, no matter how much they train they simply aren’t going to see the progress they desire.

5. Neglecting to Switch Up Your Training

So you’ve started training, you’re able to make it to the gym on a weekly basis, and you aren’t missing any sessions, awesome! However, you’ve been doing the same exact routine verbatim, all 3 days you train, for the past 2 years…time to change it up.

Settling into a routine you’re comfortable with can be a great way to get you started with physical activity in the first place, but our body will constantly need new stimuli overtime if we actually want to improve.

The basic principle behind training is, we introduce our body to a new stressor (lifting weights, running, sports, etc.), this stressor damages our muscle cells, in response our cells repair themselves bigger and stronger to be better prepared for that stress in the future. If we keep introducing the same stressor however (constantly doing the same routine) our cells will have no reason to actually adapt to be better, and instead just stagnate.

Now…this doesn’t mean you need a new routine every single day, more so every few months. A lot of strength programming rotates around 4 week blocks for periods of 3-4 months. Inside these blocks the goal is usually to hit more reps, higher weights, and generally just progress overtime. As time goes on some exercises get switched out for new ones, and the programming focus could change. Huge sweeping changes do not need to be made, but you’re shooting to constantly be giving your body new reasons to get better.

(For even more beginner lifting tips check out this video with 10 technique tips for novices!!) 


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.