21 common training mistakes made by beginners (and some advanced athletes)

HUN Blog from 28/05/2022

It’s a great step to start exercising, as it’s one of the lifestyle factors that can do a lot for your health, appearance, performance or even a great recreational and social event. The effects of exercise work best when done properly, otherwise it can be dangerous to a greater or lesser extent, or the expected progress may not be achieved, despite the time, energy and money invested.

I have collected 21 typical training mistakes to make your workouts run smoother! I’m sure there are more, there may be more article to come… I’ve been doing sports on a daily basis for more than 30 years, and I’ve been coaching people for a few years. I have made some of these mistakes and often see them in beginners in our training sessions. Smart people learn from their mistakes and from the mistakes of others!

1. Building a house without basics

In the world of the internet and social media, it’s easy to find athletes with amazing physique and spectacular gymnastics stunts. In case it’s not obvious, the people in the pictures/videos have achieved this level of fitness through years of hard work. There are many training goals that are achievable for most people, but they should be nicely structured, preferably starting from the basics! First you should have the right movement coordination, body awareness, joint mobility and stability, basic strength and work capacity, attitude. Then you can build on these solid basics the advanced stunts and nice muscles, otherwise your patchwork may unexpectedly collapse or not progress. Depending on the individual, this introductory period can last from 1-2 months to 1 year.

2. Oil for the fire

Hard training is also a stress on the body, but if we allow it to recover, we adapt and become stronger, more resilient and have more skills. But if there are too many other sources of stress in your life at the moment, you might want to skip the workout or just do some light exercise that recharges you. So exercise shouldn’t be an extra stress on an already overwhelmed system, but an activity that we can digest afterwards.

3. Exercise is a punishment

Exercise is a pleasure. You should feel better after exercise. Exercise isn’t a compulsory homework assignment, a punishment because you ate too much, you’re in pain, you don’t look like a cover model, or you haven’t exercised in a long time and need to catch up. Exercise is the best way to recharge, liberate and bring joy. Physically and mentally. If you don’t feel that way, you’re doing something wrong… Train smart and with joy! /excerpt from the SunnyFitness book/

4. Irregularity

It often happens that you have a great initial momentum and you always manage to train enthusiastically for the first 1-2 weeks, but then after a while the regularity fades and there is always an excuse why. And the progress is also lagging, and then you can blame everything and everyone.

Training seasonality can also be observed in some people… There is the January training wave of big New Year’s resolutions or the “get fit fast” season before the summer beachtime. And then somehow for many people, the momentum wears off after 1-2 months. Never mind, next year…

What is the secret of sustainability? I believe that exercising is a lifelong way of life, not a fire-fighting, seasonal job. Those who regularly participated in some kind of sport as a child are in a better position, because a habit can be formed and it’s easy to pick up that attitude again even if you’ve missed a few years. If you want to start as adult, it is not an impossible task to develop a sporty lifestyle and the good news is that you have a huge untapped potential for improvement. Of course, there are situations in life when it is almost impossible to train or when it is far from being the most important. The important thing is that exercise should be on the list of the highest priority weekly activities and should only be left out for good reasons.

One workout a week is better than none, but really spectacular results can be achieved over months or years with regular, minimum 2-3 workouts of about 1 hour a week. If you’re not aiming for the Olympics or a podium in some other major or minor competition, you don’t necessarily need more than 4-5 training sessions a week. Mini workouts (movement snacks) are also a workable strategy, where you train several times a week but only 15-30 minutes or several times a day for 5-10 minutes.

If the training are too infrequent (often missing 1-2 weeks), it is almost possible to start again from the beginning, so it is worth keeping to a weekly rhythm.

Once you really get the hang of why it’s good to exercise regularly, there’s no stopping from then on! For example, even after 30 years I always find new goals, motivation and go to my next training session with childlike enthusiasm.

5. Give me everything, but immediately

In the instant world of the internet, it would be nice to get advanced fitness levels and physiques instantly with just a few clicks, right? The 50 cm biceps, the sixpack abs, the muscle-up exercise are not done in 1-2 workouts if you’re just starting out. Instead, prepare for a long journey and enjoy the day’s workout, small improvements, small changes in your body, in your movement culture. Do what you can that day to achieve your goal, be patient and persistent.

In the first weeks and months of training, the adaptation is mainly neurological and metabolic, there is less visible muscular development and it also takes time to learn acrobatic stunts. Then there will be a golden age after a few months, if you work out regularly and smartly, when both appearance and performance improve relatively quickly and nicely. Then, after many years of training, you’ll have to think about how to push your body to improve further.

6. Lack of planning

You can just train spontaneously when and how you feel like it. For recreation, maintenance, basic fitness, it’s not a bad way to get fit. But for more serious progress, it’s good to have a longer-term plan, broken down into daily or weekly tasks. Coaches can help with this.

There are proven training programmes that can help you gain 1-2 kg of muscle and lose the same amount of fat in 3-6 weeks with 3-4 training sessions per week. These are not completely beginner methods and are quite intense, assuming some basic fitness and a conscious lifestyle. If you are interested in such a training plan, I can help!

7. Sticking too much to the training plan

Even the most scientific, precise and personalised training plan doesn’t always work if you’re not receptive to the workload because some other life event has intervened. Or one day you’re in great shape and could do a little harder training. So it’s definitely good to have a training plan that maps out the path and milestones to the end goal, but even better to take into account the current circumstances and make adjustments here and there if necessary.

I think training is both an art and a science. There has been a lot of scientific research on the subject, there is a lot of excellent literature and mountains of practical experience of what methods work. However, it takes a touch of art and intuition to get the best results given the form, circumstances and tools available on the day.

8. Numbers done, technique secondary

Every now and then I go to a gym and you can almost always see someone executing self- and public dangerous, pumping, half repetitions with horrible technique and too much weight. Shoddy technique increases injury risk, can make you stiff, and your progress won’t be the best.

Of all of the above, this was probably the biggest training mistake for me for much of my time in canoeing. All year long we pushed each other with my training partners, even every training session was filled with competitive situations and performance pressures. Well, youth, foolishness, lack of long term thinking… So the required number of repetitions (or even more) were always done, but the technical execution was pretty poor looking back in my mind today… and of course there were injuries and stagnations.

Imagine being a gymnast about to present your routine at the Olympic finals! The pros perform calmly, with an elegant posture, relaxed, yet brutally hard. Instead, do a bit fewer reps and sets, but they should be close to textbook quality movements. Pay attention to this even when you’re getting tired. If you can no longer maintain nice form, it’s appropriate to end the exercise or even the workout. Quality over quantity!

9. Routine exercise

Doing the same exercises over and over again (e.g. 50 push-ups, 100 squats, a few km jog in a nearby park) at the same volume and intensity may be good for maintenance, but don’t expect to make any progress. Moreover, injuries and muscle imbalances can develop from unilateral loading. So it is worth diversifying the time you spend exercising. It may be worthwhile to vary the different parameters of the training from time to time. Of course, only if you are interested in progressing, in the untapped potential of your body.

10. Building fatigue and not stimulating development

Anyone can put together a workout that leaves you crawling home, unable to eat dinner because your hands are shaking. Then, in legitimate self-defence, you can’t train for days or, at the next training session, you wonder why your performance has dropped so dramatically. There are smarter ways to do this! Of course, there is a place for hard training from time to time, mostly in elite sport, with years of work behind you. But 99% of the time this is not necessary to improve.

Yes, the training should be demanding and challenging in most cases, but it should end with an optimum level of fatigue for some longer term goal and not a total knockout victory over your body that day. After a really well-done workout, you should feel pleasantly tired, exhilarated, slightly euphoric and eager to get on with the rest of the day.

11. Lack of or ineffective warm-up

Some rare, lucky people may not need much of a warm-up, but most people are advised to spend at least 5-10 minutes doing this, where they will get their circulation going, move the joints of the whole body, activate the nervous system and muscles, and do some specific warm-ups adapted to the day’s tasks.

A few arm swings, 5-10 minutes jogging on the treadmill or static stretching are not effective warm-ups. I’ve written a more extensive article on warming up HERE. I’ve made a couple of videos of 5 minute, full-body, full-body, warm-up, mobilizing exercises HERE.

12 No pain, no gain

A famous slogan in the training world… This is partly true, if you want to improve you have to step out of your comfort zone to a certain level, but it doesn’t mean 10/10 pain for every exercise, every workout. It is only worth “suffering” to a necessary and sufficient degree, otherwise the risk of injury and recovery time increases.

The duration of exercise is also exaggerated by some. Well, I finally have my morning or afternoon free, I haven’t exercised in 2 weeks, so I’m going to destroy myself with a 2 hour workout. Or, I’m very motivated, I have free time and I achieve big things fast, every day 2 hours of exercise is a piece of cake until I reach my goal. Here again, there is almost guaranteed risk of injury, lack of progress or overtraining.

For elite athletes, bodybuilders, endurance sports, multi-hour workouts are not uncommon. They sometimes have their place, but optimally, training should be completed in less than 1 hour (excluding warm-up and cool-down), as this is when the hormonal response (testosterone, growth hormone, cortisol levels) for muscle building and fat loss is at its best.

The Bulgarian method is famous among weightlifters, where athletes trained 5-7 times a day (!), but these were 30-40 minute sessions at most, so that testosterone secretion was at optimal levels and did not overload the catabolic cortisol bath. Of course, back then, some people were probably chemically aided to handle this incredible amount of workload, but at least they successfully optimised their workout duration.

I can very much agree with the 1 hour training time limit. Believe me, there are 20-30-40 minute workouts after which you won’t want to do more and you’ll make nice progress! According to Charles Poliquin, one of the best strength training gurus, if you’re in the gym for more than 1 hour, you’re not training, you’re making friends.

13. I don’t want to be too muscular and the case of the squat with pink dumbells

Resistance training (bodyweight or weights) is probably the best full body shaping method. Anyone, anytime can learn the correct technical execution of the exercises, and then the sky is the limit. Relax, no one becomes a bodybuilder champion in 2 weeks (especially women, due to hormonal differences). I wrote earlier that initially it is more of a nervous system and metabolic enzyme adaptation to the training, with more spectacular muscle building only starting later. Furthermore, it is possible to vary the parameters of the workout so that only maximal strength, or perhaps endurance, of the muscles is developed rather than muscle mass. In addition, there will be numerous positive effects of strengthening: better posture, stronger joints, better joint mobility, stability, etc.

If you’re already weight training, use challenging weights that you can still maintain a nice technique. No one has ever grown muscle with 10-20% resistance to their potential and a few reps. There are exercises (mostly in leg strengthening, e.g. squats, deadlifts) where even the 80 year old grandma could work with few times 10kg. Of course, the prerequisite is adequate joint mobility, stability, and painless body.

If we are in a load-capable state and choose too low load, there will not be enough stimulus to progress. If you need to do 100 reps with one exercise (e.g. squats with a half-pound pinky dumbbell) to start getting tired, it’s time to switch to heavier weights, heavier levels of execution.

14. Beachbody and social media muscles

For women, it is usually the buttocks, thighs and abs, for men it is the biceps, chest and abs that are the desired visual tuning, for which some people are willing to sweat regularly in the gym. You can target just these areas, and then do not be surprised if your shoulders, knees, waist and legs ache and you’re stiff as a frozen dog’s legs. You can do it smarter! With modern, full-body training, these muscle groups will also develop in a nicely proportioned way, and even flexibility, mobility and everyday usability of the body will improve. I would definitely start with a basic full-body strengthening programme, and then periodically add in perhaps 1 or 2 more specific training cycles.

15. Jogging to lose weight

While this method can work, it is far from the most effective method with the knowledge available today and has its drawbacks. With too much weigth in excess and possibly improper running technique, inadequate joint mobility, chronic fatigue, it can do more harm than good. It might not be a good idea to train first, but to get other lifestyle factors right (circadian rhythm, breathing, eating, stress management). Then, when it comes to training, it might be better to start with a well-constructed strength-building programme rather than running. Building and maintaining muscle mass is energy intensive. Once you’ve managed to start growing muscle, it will eat away the excess fat nicely, provided you’ve got your eating and sleeping in order.

16. Machine only training

Today, for almost every muscle group, some kind of robust iron scaffold has been developed to pump muscles in a stabilised position and in a fixed path of movement. These devices may have their place in some situations, but for most people, bodyweight and free weight exercises will be much more effective for a strong, athletic, aesthetic physique and for getting through everyday life.

17. Improper breathing

It is common to see athletes gasping at the mouth, tiring quickly and feeling nauseous after a few sets. If you haven’t heard of it, I recommend you familiarise yourself with Buteyko’s breathing method.

For the most part, keep your nasal breathing both in and out and only start mouth breathing when the intensity is very high. Also, try to switch back to nasal breathing as soon as possible during rests.

The rhythm of breathing and sometimes holding your breath for longer periods of time is also important when performing strengthening exercises, it helps to keep your torso stable during a squat or deadlift and even increases the effort you exert. In fact, correct breathing technique should be automated in all exercises.

18. Poor diet and/or zero calories

If you’re going to take the time and effort to train, then honour your body by paying attention to what you eat and minimise the junk, overly refined, processed food looking stuffs and midnight fridge visits. If you want to make progress. Eating has a big impact on appearance first and foremost, but also on performance.

Another typical mistake, for the very determined, is to try to train hard for weeks or months while seriously fasting and in a calorie deficit. It might work in the short term (experienced bodybuilders might even know how to do it smartly), but in the long term it can cause problems at the hormonal levels and here too, progress can be stunted. So if you’re training hard, feel free to eat more calories and protein too, preferably from quality sources.

19. Pills, powders, then maybe a workout

Training-development hierarchy. Make regular training high priority in your lifestlye. Be there with your head and work out according to a smartly structured program. Learn to move and do exercises correctly. Achieve a sufficient level of joint mobility and stability. Gain a basic strength, endurance, work capacity. Get your eating, sleeping, breathing and circadian rhythm right. Then we can start talking about the various supplements. For many people they may not be necessary, but in some cases they can be useful.

20. Early morning, late night and indoor training

The day is 24 hours, life is busy, so why not fit in a workout at 5am or 10pm. Mathematically and logistically feasible, but there will be a little problem in terms of circadian rhythm and hormones. Our body’s metabolic program, hormone and neurotransmitter systems are adapted to the alternation of day and night. Ideally, exercise should take place between sunrise and sunset. In general, the body is best prepared for exercise in the afternoon. If you deviate from this natural pattern over a long period of time, you will have a problem with hormones. In my opinion, training too early or too late does more harm than good for long-term health. Be active during the day and honour your body with rest in the dark of the evening and dawn.

If you’re indoors all day long, surely it’s a good idea to do your workouts indoors all the time? What about sunlight as essential nutrition? There are many benefits to gyms and home exercise programmes, but there should be natural light time during the day and why not combine that with exercise?

21. Instant solutions

It is probably clear from the above that there are no instant, immediate solutions in the world of exercise. Plus 10 kg of muscle, minus 10 kg of fat in one or two workouts with some miracle method and so on.

The exception might be to correct some joint mobility deficits that are not extreme. Often this is just bad habits and fear of certain ranges of motion, which can be resolved relatively quickly with some well-chosen exercises, done slowly with awareness, perhaps backed up with some massage, manual therapy, or correcting a bad breathing pattern.

For me at least, I have often had immediate, spectacular improvements in both mobility and strength after specific exercises or soft tissue manipulating techniques. In these cases, the strength gains were simply the result of unblocking some of the body’s biomechanics and managing to restore natural function.

Hope you didn’t recognise yourself at many training mistakes! If you have, it’s never too late to make a change and you’ll be able to work more efficiently in your next workouts.

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to invest in maintaining and improving your long-term physical and mental health. Most exercise goals are achievable but they are time and effort consuming. Luckily there is now a lot of information available on how to achieve this safely and without dead end streets.

Build a sporty lifestyle where regular weekly exercise time is always in your diary and learn from your mistakes!

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