When I first started training, I wanted to get the fastest results possible so I figured more would be better. My wake-up call came when one day I did a 2 1/2 hour session and then lost a considerable amount of strength in my next session.
Lesson: Keep your training sessions from approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour MAX! Any longer and you are either just breaking your body down or not working hard enough to get results.
After training for about a year and gaining a whole lot of weight (not all of it muscle!), I went on a very low-fat diet. The problem with this was I hardly ate any protein because meat had fat in it! I couldn't figure out what the problem was until one day, when I had had enough of low-fat eating, I cooked up four chicken breasts (with skin) and ate them all in one sitting. My strength jumped up immediately!
Lesson: Protein is critical for muscle-building and dieting. Don't get enough and you will compromise your results.
When I first began training, I went from a 145-pound cross-country runner to a 217-pound weight lifter in 8 months. During that entire time I didn't do any cardiovascular training. Not only was a lot of that weight gain fat, I felt really unhealthy and unbalanced.
Lesson: Even if you're trying to gain weight, keep at least some cardio training in your program, even if it's just walking a couple of times per week. Your heart and muscles will thank you for it.
After the previous extreme, there was a time when I was trying to lose fat and went to the other extreme: too much cardio. I remember one session where I did 20 minutes at the highest setting on the Stair Master, then skipped rope for 10 minutes, then did the stationary bike for 20 minutes, then the Stair Master for another 20 on high, then 10 more minutes of skipping.
I was in great cardio shape but my strength and muscle mass plummeted and, to be honest, I could have achieved better fat-loss results with 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training.
Lesson: Too much cardio can be counterproductive. Certainly, it will burn a lot of calories but your muscles will burn more during the day just sitting there. Short, intense sessions will spare your muscle mass and boost your metabolism more effectively.
When I started training, I used a weightlifting belt for every exercise. I would basically keep the belt on for my entire workout. It was a big mistake and here's why:
- A belt is very effective for stabilizing the abdominal core area. However, it is so effective that your core muscles aren't challenged and don't develop effectively. This can leave them weak and your core unstable, fostering a reliance on the belt.
- A belt should really only be used for near-maximal lifting with very heavy weights. If you need a belt to do bench presses or barbell curls, you should re-examine your form and honestly evaluate your core strength. You may be setting yourself up for a back injury.
- A belt works to stabilize your core by making your abs push outwards against it. Do you really want to be training your abs to push out and stay there? It's like training to make your gut stick out.
Lesson: Ease yourself off the belt if you currently use one. You will need to slowly work back up to your current weights to ensure you don't hurt yourself. When you go to do a lift, suck in your gut and tighten your abs. You will develop far better core strength and stability, not to mention tighter, flatter abs.
My goal has always been to develop muscle mass and strength. There have been times when I used a weight that either caused me to compromise my form or didn't allow me to get enough reps to build mass.
The rep range between 6 to 12 reps per set is most effective for building muscle mass. If you consistently use weights that only allow you to get 5 or fewer reps per set, you will build strength and some muscle but most likely not nearly as much as you are capable of.
Lesson: If you want strength, do 1 to 5 reps per set. If you want muscle, do 6 to 12 reps per set. Always push yourself to use more weight but not so much that you compromise your form or results.
I can clearly remember one dieting cycle I did where I was so enthusiastic to lose fat that I severely overtrained myself within the first two weeks. In my enthusiasm, I buried my recovery ability with extreme training volume and intensity. Coupled with a reduced-calorie diet, this overly-hard work spelled disaster.
Lesson: Train hard but don't overwhelm yourself. Your body needs time and nutrients to recover and rebuild. This is especially important when dieting for fat loss.
This is a mistake I've made many times before and am sure I will make again. It applies not only to muscle-building but to fat loss as well. Not eating enough can really limit your results. But, as we all know, life gets busy and it's hard to eat and prepare frequent, healthy meals.
Lesson: Do your best with the time and food you've got and be aware that the more regularly and frequently you can eat, the better. If you want to gain a lot of muscle, you are going to have to eat even when you don't feel like you necessarily need to or even want to.
Everybody makes mistakes. There is no doubt about that. I sincerely hope that the information I've shared with you here will help you to avoid making the same mistakes I have.
Nick Nilsson is the Vice-President of BetterU, Inc. and author of several training eBooks available at www.fitness-ebooks.com. He has a degree in Physical Education and Psychology, has been a personal trainer for 7 years and has been training like a maniac for more than 14 years.
Some of Nick's best lifts include a 550-pound squat, a 520-pound deadlift, a 350-pound bench, and 945-pound partial squats for 150 reps.