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Stop Undermining Your Own Progress!

As practiced around the world, resistance training is one of the few activities where people act in ways that directly undermine the goals they are trying to reach.

In the name of making progress, the sad irony is that virtually all the tactics that are used do not help progress, they actually undermine progress.

These tactics are largely promoted by mass media publications but in the defense of magazines, the tactics have a long, long history in gym lore. The magazines are only spreading the lore.

The tactics seem to work because many people with outstanding physiques and strength use some or all of these tactics. But, what isn't always appreciated is that a small percent of people, "bodybuilding geniuses", can do virtually anything and everything and respond remarkably well. Such people, however, often are successful not because of how they train; rather they are successful despite how they train.

I'm not preaching from "on high". Every tactic that is listed below is something I've done at one point or another in a long training career. The fact that I'm pretty responsive to training often obscured the folly of my ways.

Here is a list of faulty tactics for you to consider. They are presented in no special order since it is difficult to put some absolute value on each one.
  1. Doing many sets and believing that volume training is the key. If you're doing more than one set per movement and more than two or three movements in one workout per muscle group at the least you are wasting time and more than likely preventing gains through overtraining. There is virtually no evidence that the volume of training is related to gaining strength and increasing muscle mass.
  2. Moving quickly to "activate fast twitch fibers". Quickly accelerating and decelerating movements often leads to injuries. But it doesn't make sense as a training modality even if it was safe because you are simply loading and unloading muscle groups. The long established size principle indicates that muscle fibers respond to intensity and tension and that when intensity is high, fast twitch fibers are readily activated. When you move slowly with a great deal of focus and intensity, you are activating fast twitch muscle fibers. Consider anything faster than 3 to 4 seconds to raise the weight and 3 to 4 seconds to lower the weight too fast. In gyms around the world, the speed of each rep is closer to a 1,1 cadence - exactly the opposite of what is really optimal.
  3. Limiting the range of motion. Unless you are in physical therapy and recovering from an injury, then doing as large a range of motion as is comfortable is what needs to be done. Doing leg presses with gigantic weights but where the weight only moves a few inches is not impressive. Moving rapidly with squats to at best a half-squat position also with a huge weight is also not impressive. It's really quite meaningless and a good way to destroy a lower back.
  4. Training too frequently in the hopes of gaining more. When your body is a bit sore and nonresponsive, it is telling you something. It's saying: " I need some rest. You shouldn't be training!" You simply can't force your body to respond. Few motivated people have ever not succeeded because they trained too infrequently but many have failed because they trained too much.
  5. Training instinctively and having no plan. Most people can't improve by constantly improvising and training basically in an unplanned, clueless way. What, if anything, in life really works that way?
  6. Grimacing, using body English and screaming and grunting to make the reps. This tactic only suggests that you are not effectively targeting the muscle group and are using other muscle groups and momentum to move the resistance. So, who is fooling whom here?
  7. Gaining a great deal of weight to lift a great deal of weight. Clearly, this is mostly a "guy thing" where the goal is the bigger the better. People who exercise but are obviously overweight and overfat are again not impressive. For a man, for example, weighing between 200 and 250 in order to squat with 400 proves nothing except that the guy is likely overweight and not that strong for his size. The idea is to gain muscle - difficult to be sure - and to be strong for your size at a healthy, relatively low body fat.
  8. Getting fixated on the "numbers". Exactly how much resistance you can use in any given exercise depends a great deal on such factors as leverage and neuromuscular efficiency (genetically mediated factors not subject to change), range of motion, repetition cadence, acceleration and deceleration in reps, order of an exercise in a routine, and time between exercises. Your muscles respond to intensity and tension not a specific force as represented by resistance per se on a bar or machine. If you practice the absolute best form, you may not be using "big" weights in various movements but you will be providing your muscles with an optimal stimulus.
  9. Planning your nutrition around supplements. There's virtually nothing in any "nutritional supplement" that you can't obtain at a fraction of the cost from real food. Plus real food has many other nutrients not found in supplements. Most supplements have little or no scientific data to back any claims made and it's doubtful that any supplements ever took an "average Jane or Joe" to star status. Further, various hormone derivatives sold over-the-counter as "nutritional supplements" are basically untested, unproven, potentially dangerous substances.
  10. Believing what the trainers in gyms and health clubs tell you. Many trainers are sincere and honest but if any of the things they tell you are on this list, the best advice is to walk away while you're still intact.