Monitoring Progress: Common Training Mistakes

Training mistakes can lead to a lack of progress or worse. In this article, I will identify and offer solutions to a number of those mistakes. Find out what they are right here.

Training mistakes can lead to a frustrating lack of progress. In this article, I hope to identify and offer solutions to a number of common mistakes made by new and sometimes not so new trainers. Here is a list of some, but certainly not all, common training mistakes:

Common Training Mistakes

  • Lack of nutrition/supplement/training knowledge
  • Think fat can turn into muscle/ your muscle turns to fat when you hit 40
  • Think you have to starve yourself to lose body-fat
  • Working out 6-7 days per week: overtraining
  • Not understanding the importance of recuperation
  • Lift like a speed demon with lousy form
  • Train too light, not challenging the muscles
  • Don't know what exercises are best for specific purposes
  • Not using journals: training/diet/supplements
  • Not setting goals
  • Ignoring weak points

Lack Of Knowledge

When I was coming up, knowledge was hard to come by. There were no such things as "personal trainers." You didn't have the "Internet." All I had were the magazines and courses offered by the top bodybuilders of the day in the back of those magazines.

Of course, things have changed as time's gone by and today you have so much available information it boggles the mind. For the newer bodybuilder, hooking up with a trainer or finding quality sources of information should be easy, yet I'm amazed at how often I get guys in my store, some who have been training years, with next to no knowledge.

I've always believed in learning as much as possible. The more you know, the more you can learn, the better. It always amazes me how little some people know and how unwilling they are to learn. Bodybuilding can be complicated - why would you not want to learn all you can?

Hook up with a reputable trainer, even for a short time, getting off on the right foot - starting with the right program, eating right and using good supplements right from the start can save you years of trial and error. is filled with immensely knowledgeable people - you can learn things on here now that were near impossible for the average guy to learn about 20-to-25 years ago.

Turning Fat To Muscle?

One of the persistent myths out there is the idea that you can turn fat into muscle. This is somewhat harmless, but nonetheless is not true. You lose fat and build muscle, but it's impossible for one to turn into the other, they are two different types of substances.

For me, the more irritating idea is that when you hit a certain age, all your hard earned muscle turns into fat. When I was first getting started, I worked with a guy who insisted that, years later when I was about to turn 40, I would go to sleep that night at 39-years old, the evening before my 40th birthday, with all kinds of muscle, would wake up the next morning on my birthday and somehow, all that muscle would mystically turn to fat.

Well, I turned 40 some years ago and I can assure you, that didn't happen. In fact, being even older now, I'm making better gains that I was when I was younger.

Starving Yourself

Speaking of body-fat, the single most common myth is that you have to literally starve yourself to lose fat. I hear it all the time: "If I could just tape my mouth shut I'd lose weight." It's always "lose weight," never "lose fat."

I've recently written a lot about this, losing fat is a combination of eating smaller meals more often to keep your metabolism active, it's also a function of the right kind of calories (high protein, moderate carbs, low sugar, low fat) in the right proportions at the right times and it's also a function of proper cardio/weight training.

Starving yourself results in a lot of muscle loss and slows done your metabolism, making it even harder to lose fat. I have two recent articles that talk a lot about this: "Beginning Nutrition" and "A Beginner's Guide to Losing Body Fat."

Overtraining & Recovery

Over-training is probably one of the most common mistakes. I've said before, you grow in between workouts, not because of how often you work out. Training every day leads to one thing: overtraining. You have to give your muscles a chance to recover.

Understanding the importance of this is critical. You must allow adequate recovery time for growth to occur. On average, you need 5 days between working the same body part again. Steroid use allows for faster recovery, but does not negate the need for recovery.

If the muscle you plan to train is still sore, and if you are usually tired even though nothing in your life has changed, take 1-to-2 extra days off, you're overtrained.

Bad Form

Sometimes lack of progress is due to bad habits you've developed in the gym. We've all seen it, a bench press attempt that's all about getting the weight up, even if you're half off the bench to do it. Poor form may allow you to lift (?) more weight, but does not stimulate the muscles you're supposed to be working.

While using explosive reps and/or cheat reps is one thing, and both have their place, using bad form and momentum to lift a weight that's too heavy and your working muscles can't feel, does nothing to help you achieve your goals. Take the time to learn good form, learn to feel the exercise in the working muscles.

A great example of this is back work, such as pull-downs. You have to learn to start the movement with your lats, not your biceps. You have to think of your biceps as just hooks and learn to begin the pull with your lats.

It takes practice, and conscious effort, using your mind to "connect" with and feel the right muscles working, but with time you'll be able to do it. has great exercise videos allowing you to see how to do an exercise, check these out, they're extremely helpful.

Along with this, is not knowing enough about what exercises work what body parts. You can learn about anatomy and exercise selection right on One thing to remember if you are designing your own routines, stay with basic, or compound exercises as these allow the use of more weight and work several muscle groups at once, such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, power cleans and bent rows, to name a few.

Always base your routines around these movements. It also makes sense to work the bigger muscle groups first when you are fresh and strong, and end with smaller muscles that require less energy to train hard.

Setting up the right split routine and exercise order is an article in itself and you can read my article entitled, "Training Splits: Which One is Best?" for more information.

Challenging Your Muscles

As well, you have to challenge your muscles. This means using enough weight in the workout and it means using progressive resistance to keep moving forward. If you do a working set of 10 reps and you stop at 10, and that set was fairly easy, you aren't training hard enough. Either keep going or better yet, add weight. That last rep or two should be near impossible to complete.

You can go until you can't complete one more rep and use extended set techniques such as forced reps, partials or dropsets for even faster results. Remember to add weight every couple of workouts, as long as your reps don't drop, to keep progress going.


Setting goals in bodybuilding is critical to success. What are your goals? Have you written them down? How detailed are they? Whatever goals you have set for yourself, you must first believe you can succeed then you must plan to succeed. Set a goal, plan, execute.

One of the keys to mapping out plans and monitoring the progress of that plan is to keep a detailed workout journal, a diet journal and a supplement journal. Whether you're trying to gain mass or lose fat, journals are invaluable.

They provide a wealth of information regarding your workouts, what worked, what didn't, how you responded to this or that program, how much strength you've gained, how much fat you lost, what effect this food or that supplement had. This is helpful because this allows to go back and re-use programs that worked in the past, maybe years and years in the past.

Training Journal

Maybe there's that seemingly magic sequence of exercises you just couldn't remember if you didn't have it written down. What about that day you hit a personal best in the bench or squat wouldn't it be good to have the program that got you there written down?

One of the things I use a training journal for is to preplan my workouts. Most of us, I'm sure, do this. By having a journal, I set goals for the upcoming workouts, and I design my workouts based on specific goals and responses to previous sessions.

When setting up a journal, date it both on the front cover and date it individually, workout by workout. Record the time so you know how long you're training - going to long causes release of catabolic hormones destructive to your efforts. Record your poundage and reps, and make note if you've progressed in either or both.

You can add notes about how certain exercises felt - I like to analyze new movements and then note what I thought of them. If I didn't like them, they're gone. If I did, I'll use them again. You can also note how you felt, how your energy was and any pertinent piece of information you feel you want to have down there.

One great benefit of training journals is to help overcome weak points. A good example is the bench press. Let's say you're weak in that movement and you want to increase strength. By identifying what areas you are lacking - maybe your front delts are weak, or your triceps, you can set up and monitor a program designed to improve those areas.

Diet Journal

By diet journal I mean nutrition - your eating habits, your daily calorie intake, your daily protein, carbohydrate and fat intake. It is possible to eat well without writing it all down, but really, unless you eat exactly the same every day and have it all memorized, you're just guessing at your intake amounts.

As well, you can add notes as to how certain foods affected you, if you had a bad or good reaction to something. This could also include recipe ideas you've tried that you would otherwise forget.

When setting this up, as above, date it but also write down your meal times so you can see how long you go in between meals. I also write down how I slept and how my mood and energy is throughout the day.

Supplement Journal

Supplements - did it work or didn't it? Write it down. How long did you use it for, what else did you take with it, how did you feel and what, if any effect did it have? I think a journal like this especially makes sense if you plan to use a stack - supplements aren't cheap, use a stack of products you work, it's a good feeling to know you're getting your money's worth.

All three journals are invaluable for contest prep, allowing you to have this information handy for future contests as well as the current one. Competing for the first time? Write everything down, this gives you a starting point for your next contest.

Goal Setting

All of this ties into goal setting. It's important that you keep your goals realistic. If you have two months training under your belt, being Mr. Olympia by the end of the year is not realistic. Set goals you have a good chance of achieving, a certain amount of new muscle in, say, six months time or a new personal best on a certain exercise in a few months time.

One of the main keys to setting and achieving goals is your mental attitude - you succeed in your mind first, then you succeed at your chosen endeavor. Whether it sounds like a cliche or not, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities to succeed first and foremost. There's no place for doubt and negative thinking. Don't approach a tough set and say, "I can't do this."

You have to believe you can do it or otherwise, why bother?

Ignoring Weak Points

Finally, there are those guys who deal with weak points by simply ignoring them. You've seen the guy: huge, ripped upper body and ... chicken legs. Not the best! Deal with weak points before they get out of hand by analyzing your physique and taking corrective action in how you set up your routines.

  • Weak Upper Chest? Use incline presses and flyes first in your chest routine, maybe add partials at the end of a tough set to further fatigue the muscle.

  • No Lat Width? Use chins and pull-downs first in your routine. Cut back on rowing movements to put more emphasis on width movements.

  • Biceps Seem Small? Cut back on triceps work and attack biceps with some new exercises, such as 21's for example. Experiment with different exercises and see how they feel.

Often, weak points and plateaus are a result of not changing things up. It's easy to do the same thing all the time, sometimes for years.

One of the keys to progress is to change things up every 4-to-6 weeks, some people will do it more often than that. You can completely change your routine, or you can drop some exercises and add new ones, you can try new intensity ideas or try new rep schemes, to name a few things.


So, there you have it. Hopefully some of you will find some useful ideas out of this article. Thanks for reading!