By Patrick Striet ProSource
I firmly believe the pursuit of increased strength, size and conditioning is as much art as it is science. Sure, science has told us a great deal about how to get stronger and larger, but it certainly doesn’t provide all of the answers, all of the time. It certainly provides us with sound principles, but it is the art of training — tweaking things on an individual basis throughout the months and years — which is largely responsible for results beyond a beginner stage.
Part of the art of training is continually doing an inventory of your training, looking for areas in which to improve, absorbing what is useful and discarding what is not. Even though most seasoned trainees are prone to making some mistakes, the key is being savvy enough to continually analyze your workouts and programs on both a micro and macro level and learn from them.
With the above being said, let me highlight some common mistakes I see people making. Even if you are already doing a great job of analyzing your training, you may not have considered some of the issues I’ll point out below.
Mistake #1: You Are Not Using a Training Max
I first heard of the idea of a training max from Jim Wendler, the creator of the wildly popular 5/3/1 Program. You cannot train with max weights all of the time. There is an ebb and flow to your workouts. Some days and weeks, you are on fire, getting great sleep, getting plenty to eat, and your stress is lower. Other weeks, you feel like dog crap, are getting 3 to 4 hours of broken sleep each night, your time for meal prep is non-existent, your boss and spouse are on your back, your kids have to be driven all over the place, and your workouts suffer.
This is the reality of training for the common person. If you are basing your set and rep protocols off of your true 1 repetition maximums, or, even worse, your “best ever” one repetition maximums (something you probably couldn’t do right now but did some other time in the past), you are going to burn out and you don’t leave yourself a lot of wiggle room.
If you use a training max, you can always get some productive work in, regardless of how you are feeling. To find your training max, be honest with yourself and establish your best current gym max in any exercise. Again, this shouldn’t be something you did during the Bush administration, but something you know you can confidently do right now. Now, take 90% of that figure. That’s your training max. For example, if you know, with confidence, you could probably lie down right now and bench press 275 lbs., your training max should be set at about 245-250. All of your set and rep schemes should be based off of that number . . . NOT your true max!
Trust me, avoiding this pitfall will take your workouts to a different level. You shouldn’t be “grinding it out” all of the time, and using a training max ensures you can push hard when you feel great, but still work productively when you are not at your best.
Mistake #2: You Are Not Auto Regulating
Having a plan and following a program is great, but being overly rigid is not. All successful trainees — those who have acquired impressive strength, size and conditioning — know how to auto regulate. You have to know how to adjust things on the fly, based on how you are feeling that day. Is your shoulder a little grouchy? Maybe the 4 sets of lateral raises your programs calls for needs to be cut down to 2 sets, or maybe there needs to be a substitute exercise, or, maybe the exercise needs to be eliminated entirely.
On the flip side, if your program calls for 6 sets of 3 reps, and the weight flew up on the 6th set, someone who knows how to auto regulate will recognize they are primed to go harder and farther during this particular workout and will take advantage of it by adding in a 7th set and going heavier. Again, this is the art of training: knowing when to push, when not to, and making changes on the fly.
Mistake #3: You Don’t Take Advantage of Post Activation Potentiation (PAP)
Without getting overly scientific, PAP basically involves lifting a weight heavier than that which you plan to use on your work sets to induce a high degree of central nervous system stimulation. This results in greater motor unit recruitment and force, which can last from five-to-thirty minutes. PAP increases the efficiency and rate of the nerve impulses to the muscle. In laymen’s terms, this means that doing a heavier set prior to your planned work sets can actually help you fire higher threshold muscle cell motor units. Bottom line: by utilizing PAP, your normal 5 rep max may turn into a 6-7 RM.
If there is one thing I’ve added to my programs in the last 2 years which has helped my results the most, utilizing PAP would be it. PAP methods work best on basic barbell movements like squats, presses, bench presses, deadlifts, etc., but I’ve also had success implementing PAP with exercises like chin ups (try doing a couple reps with added weight prior to testing your body weight max, for example). Try doing 1-2 sets of 1 rep with 10-20% more weight than you plan on using for your working sets. You won’t be sorry.
Mistake #4: You Don’t Change Your Training Split/Schedule
I’ve seen too many guys get stuck in the rut of using the same training split. They’ve been doing chest and tri’s on Monday, legs on Tuesday, back and bi’s on Thursday, and shoulders on Friday FOR YEARS! One thing I really encourage high intermediate to advanced trainees to do is change their split every month.
Something like this:
Month 1: 3 day/week- upper/lower/total split
Month 2: 4 day/week-upper/lower/upper/lower split
Month 3: 5 day/week body part split
Month 4: 2 full body workouts
You’d be amazed at how the body responds to this. Grouping things differently, changing the amount of volume and frequency muscle groups receive, etc. can really unlock some new gains. I also like this 4-month format as there is a progressive build up in training frequency prior to a period of lower frequency which allows for super compensation to occur. Also, the nice thing about this is that you don’t necessarily have to overhaul all of your exercises. If you format things correctly, you can keep strength indicator movements in your programs for all 4 months and just choose new accessory/supplemental exercises each month when the schedule changes.
Mistake #5: You Are Too Damn Hard On Yourself
I’m not talking about training too hard, too often, or with too much volume. I’m talking about negative self-talk and doubting your approach and abilities. If you go back to mistakes 1 and 2 listed above, I made the point that bad workouts happen. Sometimes, a string of those happen. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve seen too many people have a bad workout, or a bad week, scrap what they are doing, go on a search to find the next great program, switch training goals entirely, or (even worse) tell themselves they are not destined to be strong or that they have bad genetics.
Training is a process. It’s part of the fun of it. Having the body or strength levels you want is not a linear path without setbacks. You have to have the mindset, in times of adversity, to say “Okay, I’m in a rut . . . but I’ll pull out of it.” You’ve got YEARS to train: enjoy them, and accept some of the peaks and valleys of the process.
Mistake #6: Your Pre-Workout Preparation Sucks
While I don’t think you need to spend a half hour activating every muscle with “corrective” exercises, foam rolling the long head of your triceps, or bringing in a DNS or breathing pattern specialist to work with you prior to your first warm-up set of squats, I DO think it’s fair to say most people completely skimp on their pre-workout prep.
For me, the pre-workout starts with the right supplementation. [Editor’s Note: Everyone has their favorite pre-workout supp, and regular readers here at ProSource know that a workout maximizer that does double duty in supporting anabolism is the way to go. A good example in this category is BioQuest’s AndroFury, which provides both a precision-targeted complex of performance enhancing catalysts AND a protodioscin-rich testosterone-boosting super compound that lays the groundwork for maxed-out power, aggression, libido, and male well-being.]
Beyond the right supplement, there are several other, in my mind anyway, mandatory steps to a good pre-workout regimen. Instead of rehashing everything, let me point you to a prior ProSource article I wrote on this very topic.
Once again, even if you are a savvy lifter and are very good at trouble shooting, I hope you took something away from the mistakes I’ve highlighted in this article. If you are making one or more of the mistakes above, head my advice and reap the benefits! Until next time . . . LIVE FIT!