5 Strength Training Mistakes I See Way More Than I Should

Ultimately, don't let your ego get in the way of progress.

You’ve been lifting for a while and you still enjoy training, but there are times when your gains have slowed and you’re frustrated by your lack of results. You think there is something wrong with your program and making some sort of change will get you back on track.

But before making a change, make sure you haven’t overlooked the obvious and gone straight to the complicated in your quest for improvement. Take a good look at yourself before rushing head long into changing things up.

Here are five things to look and correct for before making a change. 

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

diverse pull ups

1. Program Hopping

It’s natural for lifters (and, well, anyone) to think the grass is always greener on the other side. After all, you’re saturated with new exercise methods and techniques and the people following them on Instagram look incredible.

They look even better when your current program doesn’t seem to be doing squat.

Changing programs is not necessarily a bad thing. Change is needed when you’ve plateaued, or your routine has become stale. But too much program hopping doesn’t give your body a chance to adapt to your current program because results take time.

It’s a fine line.

What To Do Instead 

My rule of thumb is finishing the program first and then evaluating whether it worked or not. For example, loss of body fat, smaller waist, bigger muscles or an increase in strength and conditioning.

But if you’ve really seen no changes after 6 weeks — and you’re eating enough and getting plenty of sleep — then it might be acceptable to try a new program.  Which brings me to the next point.

journal gym

2. Not Measuring Progress

How do you know if a program is working when you’re not tracking progress? 

If you’re not recording your sets, reps, weight lifted or taking measurements of your body parts and body fat levels during and after your program, you’re guessing and not assessing.

Going by what you see in the mirror and the scale shouldn’t be your only measurement of progress.

What To Do Instead

Buy a journal (or make a Google sheet you can access on your phone) and record sets, reps, and total volume to see if you’re making progress from week to week. Invest in a tape measure or a body fat tester and record your results. 

Plus, occasionally testing your 1-RM — provided you’re fresh and you recover properly — can be helpful as well.

[Related: 3 ways to test your 1-rep max for beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters]

farmers carry

3. Not Prioritizing Strength

No matter your goals are, all goals are easier by being stronger in the core lifts: 

  • Squats
  • Hinges
  • Carries
  • Presses
  • Pulls

Getting stronger means you’ll have more gas in the tank, and the ability to train more without burning yourself out. While there’s a bunch of strength standards in cyberspace, all you really need to worry about is adding weight to the bar or doing more reps with the same weight.

What To Do Instead 

No matter what program you’re doing, you need to include lifts in the 2-6 rep range for cycles of between four to six weeks in the core lifts. Then you’ll be headed in the right direction.  

body positive coaching

4. Not Asking For Help

The idea of “perfect form” can be nebulous, given we’re all put together differently — your squat will look slightly different from my squat. You can take a deep dive on YouTube to find out how to do certain lifts correctly but this will only take you so far.

The point is: nothing beats a trained professional to pick up on any major technique issues.

For years I deadlifted incorrectly, and I ended up herniating three discs. If I’d swallowed my pride and asked for help sooner, I may have saved myself a lot of pain, money, and hardship.

What To Do Instead

If you’re training at a gym and you’re not able to hire a coach, politely ask a trainer to watch your form to pick up any glitches. Be open to any advice they give you. Furthermore, you can record your lift and send it in a coach who offers video technique service.

If you’re unsure about a lift, please ask for help. It will save you from trouble further down the road.

Knee Pain
Image via Shutterstock/TORWAISTUDIO

5. Ignoring Pain

Common complaints heard in gyms everywhere.

‘My shoulder hurts.’ Then they go to the bench press without a warmup.

‘Squats hurt my knees.’ Then heads towards the squat rack.

‘My lower back hurts.’ Then spends 20 minutes on the foam roller followed by sets of sit ups.

There are times when certain lifts hurt, and you feel the need to push through it because you feel you’ll be left behind, or you’ll lose strength. However, ignoring pain and exercising through (and not around) it over a long period never leads to anything good.

Please remember the adage ‘if it hurts bad, don’t do it’.  

What To Do Instead

 This is not a throw the baby out with the bathwater situation. When an exercise hurts,  hanging the tool you’re using (barbell-dumbbell), body position, reducing your range of motion or performing a regression may help.

Whether it does or doesn’t help, be sure to see a physician if you’re experiencing pain.

Wrapping Up

Mistakes happen when you’ve been in the lifting game for a while. But learning from them and limiting them will help you progress in the safest possible way without ending up on the physical therapist’s table.

Featured image via Ajan Alen/Shutterstock

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

6 thoughts on “5 Strength Training Mistakes I See Way More Than I Should”

  1. I love your take on this Shane. I’m so thrilled you mentioned personal trainers.

    Time and time again I’ve had clients tell me they can do it themselves while they pack on pounds unmotivated and unhappy.

    Sad how stubbornness and ego gets in the way of health. Thanks for your article!

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