Bodybuilding Mistakes: How To Avoid Them!

Bodybuilders worldwide tend to make similar mistakes. I've done my share of both American and European gyms, and for some reason people seem to be falling into the same traps regardless of geographic position.
Bodybuilders worldwide tend to make similar mistakes. I've done my share of both American and European gyms, and for some reason people seem to be falling into the same traps regardless of geographic position. Why? One reason is ego. Ego can be a good thing, if used to spur yourself beyond previous achievements, but it should never be allowed to set common sense aside. Joint pain while warming up? You know you should back off, but your ego urges you not to "lose face" in front of your buddies. Result: You go heavy anyway, and get a torn pectoral muscle that'll take months to heal.

Another reason is plain misinformation. Anyone reading the mags knows that the "experts" all say different things. "Avoid upright rows!" "Upright rows are great!" "Never squat below 90 degrees!" "Go all the way down when squatting!" "Keep upper arms fixed while doing french presses" "Bring'em all the way down over your head to get maximum stretch" ... And so on. The confusion is total, and somewhere in the mess a lot of people injure themselves.

Yet another culprit is believing the myths, such as that cardio is superior to weight training when it comes to getting in shape, the pros are clean and that fat is the root of all evil. Right - and I spotted Elvis during his squat-routine today at the gym. The big and the small myths are always circulating, and of course some have a core of truth hidden deep inside while others don't, like it usually is with myths. However, I thought I'd point out a few common mistakes I've noticed during my active years.

Judging By The Scale

The guy with love handles hanging out over his pants, happily proclaiming: "Hey guys, I've gained another three pounds since last week!" is easy to spot. He's made the classic diet mistake of judging himself by the scale instead of the mirror. People on a diet usually get horrified when discovering how much they're losing, but as long it's fat and not muscle, it's all right. And of course, the opposite holds true with the weight gainer. Gaining three pounds of muscle is great, while gaining 2.8 pounds of fat and 0.2 pounds of muscle is not. Remember: A caliper and the mirror is your judge, not the scale!

Focusing On Weight Only

On a good day, a person might bench press, say, 300 pounds for 8 strict reps. He feels great, rightfully so, but the next time he goes into the gym to do the same he hasn't had enough sleep and haven't been eating properly, and in addition his boss kicked his ass at the office earlier, so he's quite far from focused on the job at hand.

This time, he panics as he realize that he's not going to make eight, but will hit the wall at four or five! So, he arches his back, bounces the bar off his chest and uses momentum to get the load up. OK - he made it to eight by cheating badly, but the next time he trains he cheats again and gets a nice 10 reps instead! Great - he's made terrific gains! Or has he?

Now that he starts loading on even more plates he's left the slim path of strict form, but the question remains: Do his MUSCLES work any harder? It's muscle stimulation that causes growth, not the weight itself. The weight is only a means to an end - which is stimulating growth. Your MUSCLES couldn't care less about how much weight is moving around you, all it cares about is how much of that weight it has to lift. Else you'd make terrific gains by sticking around construction sites where several tonnes are lifted all around you all day long.

Not Resting Enough

I discussed this in another article, so I won't go too deeply into it. You grow while you rest, not while working out. If you train before fully recuperated, you've never given the body any chance for growth. Ergo: training a lagging body part twice as often is only making sure it lags even MORE behind!

Never Changing The Program

The muscles grow because they accustom themselves to the demand being put onto them. If you never change the way they're trained - the DEMAND - they won't have a reason to keep improving - growth. Make it your goal to shock your muscles at least every other workout, by altering the number of reps, sets, exercises, rep speed and such.

Skipping Meals Before Training

When you're going to train your weights, your main source of fuel is carbs. Simple logic suggests that eating lots of carbs during the day before the workout is a good idea. And that's exactly what you should do, Sherlock! Make sure it's complex carbs, such as pasta, rice or potatoes, and you're peaked when entering the gym. Save the simple carbs for immediately after the workout, when your body needs it for quick energy (raisins, rice cakes, bananas etc).

More Common Problems With Easy Solutions

Problem: My wrists hurt when I do barbell bicep-curls.
Solution: Try using dumbbells or a Z-bar. This doesn't force the wrist to bend to an extreme position.

Problem: I need to lose weight, but I always get incredibly hungry at night.
Solution: Have a protein drink, preferably something creamy that will fill you up without adding calories. Met-Rx gives you about 20-25 grams of carbs with the protein, but if you take it an hour or so before going to bed you should be OK. I don't know what they do to their stuff, but it gets really, really filling in spite of the low calories.

Problem: My calves won't grow. What's wrong with them?
Solution: How original! Well, try training them first instead of last in your workout, and make sure to use full range of motion. Squeeze for a second in the max-contraction position.

Problem: My lower back hurts after I've done deadlifts.
Solution: Have someone check your form. You might not bend your knees enough, and make up for it by rounding your back a little. Get a good belt that gives you plenty of support around your midsection. Also make sure to keep your abdominals in shape, and flex them to the max throughout the range of motion. Strive for balance, and make sure to never go so heavy that you can't do more than 4-5 reps.

Problem: My girlfriend is threatening to leave me if I keep spending 3 hours a day in the gym.
Solution: Get a life, bozo!

Problem: My lats won't grow, no matter what I do.
Solution: Lats are hard to train, as it's so very, very easy to cheat and start involving other muscles. Your best bet is to cut the weight 25%-50%, and go really high-rep for a few workouts. Put your mind into the lats, and re-discover the feeling of the lats actually working. Once you've got that feeling of how it should be, you will find it much easier to maintain that feel as you start piling on the plates again.

Problem: I've tried all kinds of diets and supplements, but I still can't lose any fat.
Solution: Forget the fads and stick with the basics. Establish your BMR and make sure to stay - 500 calories per day on the average (keep a log!). Use cardio sensibly, and don't neglect the weight training. Keep the protein high, and keep eating SOME fat (at least 10%). Keep in mind that it's a long-term project, and that consistency will win where short, heroic efforts will fail. Stay focused.

Problem: I feel unstable when I do squats.
Solution: It could be that your hamstrings are shortened, causing you to compensate with your upper body. It could also be that you're simply not built for squats (6-foot-6 basketball players seldom like squats, while a 5-foot-8 wrestler probably swears by it). Or it could be that your form just plain sucks, which is a rather likely scenario. Have an experienced friend, or better yet, a Personal Trainer, have a look at your form. If form isn't the problem, say hello to your new friend Mr. Legpress.

Problem: My forearms are way out of proportion to my upper-arms
Solution: This can be somewhat genetic, but that's no excuse not to try to improve the situation.

Step #1: Do NOT ditch the straps, like everybody will tell you to do. Why would it make sense to compromise your back training because of your forearms?
Step #2: Dedicate a part of your Bicep-day solely to forearms. Above all, do barbell-rolls behind your back (that means rolling the barbell to your fingertips, and all the way up until your fists are entirely clinched & the palm facing upwards), and, if available, some kind of machine with a squeezing-action (Nautilus has a really great one, though hardly ever used). Hammer curls with dumbbells are great too, hitting the entire area along with the Brachialis. To really target the upper part of your forearm, try twisting your hand a little (palm toward the floor).

Problem: I'm skinny, but I can't seem to eat enough to grow! I get full too fast!
Solution: That is why God (or whoever it was. Let's give the Big Guy credit for now!) Invented the gainers drink. These darlings can pack a whopping 800 calories with ease, and since they're all fluid they're relatively easy to digest and assimilate. Try adding 2 of these drinks between meals for a month or two, and I can assure you that you'll see results. Don't forget the "real" food though.

Problem: I'd like start going to a gym, but I find the atmosphere to be rather intimidating.
Solution: Carry a shotgun and act as you were extremely unstable. I'm sure no one will bug you, even if you'd be using the 1-pound dumbbells.

All jest aside, this is something you should talk to the gym owner about. If it's the layout and looks of the gym that is the problem, rest assured he'll listen to you. If it's the clientele, well, that's worse. Keep in mind that most big guys are really nice though, so don't jump to conclusions just because they look insane when they're doing 500-pound deadlifts. Either way, as a paying member you have as much right to your space as anyone else, so if they have any issues with that they can discuss it with the gym owner. That is what he's there for. Last but not least, if you're uneasy about the training itself, I'll just recite my mantra: Get a Personal Trainer. He or she will give you a flying start, ensuring that you'll get the most out of your efforts - quickly, efficiently, and without injuries!

Problem: My neck is so thin it makes me look like a chicken. What can I do?
Solution: Train it, but make sure to go easy. You don't want to injure yourself by being too enthusiastic in the beginning. Make sure to get at least one exercise for the front and one for the back, preferably with one "twisting" kind of exercise as well. (For detailed exercises, look up the two articles labeled "Bull-headed?" under previously published articles.

Problem: I train 7 days per week, but I don't grow.
Solution: Take a break, rest a week, and start again with a 4-days-a-week schedule for the weight training. Make sure to rest each muscle group at least a full week before hitting it again.

Problem: I have 21-inch arms, but still can't get any women. What's up with that?
Solution: Hey Johnny Bravo, try developing your personality along with your biceps. No woman except for my wife falls for amazing looks alone. (Hey, stop that laughing!)

Seriously though, keep in mind that while training and being physically fit is good, you're nothing but a pathetic decoration if you don't take the time to lead a normal life with friends and family. Help dispel the myth of the muscle-head by developing yourself equally in all areas of life. Achieve balance in your life, and soon enough you'll strike luck. Pulling your shirt off and hitting a "most muscular"-pose rarely works with any woman though, balanced life or not.

Problem: I can't afford all the cool supplements being advertised!
Solution: Despair not, oh ye fellow poor soul! Most of the supplements being advertised work all right, but the question is if they are worth the price? Creatine works bigtime, for example, but is it really worth 10 times more money to try some new, hyped up herb that is rumored to make Japanese sumo wrestlers strong enough to rip trees up by the roots?

The truth is probably that it might have a slight effect, but surely not worth the money. Hype is only that: hype. The basics are surprisingly cheap, if you search the web for good prices and isn't afraid to buy in bulk. The necessities for a normal bodybuilder would be, say whey protein, creatine, and multivitamin/mineral capsules.

That's usually less than $30 a month, total. If something from the new things actually sticks for a couple of years, like L-Glutamine and Thermogenic Enhancers, it might be worth looking into.