5 Common Muscle Building Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Man Doing Bench Press
If you're spinning your wheels, odds are you're making one of these 5 mistakes: abs and biceps overkill, eating low fat, ego training or following the "Champ's" workout.

Having so far spent my whole training life in commercial gyms, I can understand the typical strength athlete in their contempt for what goes on in such establishments (I get to see all that crap everyday so I guess I am already starting to feel de-sensitized). However, instead of writing my own version of ‘why I hate fitness articles’, I reckon I can address the most typical mistakes I see being conducted on a daily basis.

The aim of this article is to help beginners or people who have been going to the gym for a while but have never improved their physical appearance or strength levels (believe me there are a lot of those in my gym). The information provided in this article will not be anything new for experienced serious trainers, as I imagine they are all too aware of the following pitfalls.

Mistake 1 – Daily Ab Marathon Sessions

Beginner MistakesHow often do you see people at your gym spend countless hours purely focusing on their abdominal muscles? Well I see plenty of such individuals, all of whom have too much excess fat which prevents them from attaining their ultimate goal – the elusive six pack. What they don’t understand is that doing 10,000 crunches a day will get them nowhere nearer to achieving that goal.

The fact is that doing endless ab exercises will not get rid of the fat that hides one’s perfectly defined abs, in other words, spot reduction doesn’t work! Instead of spending 2 hours doing abdominal exercises, more time should be devoted to weight training of the whole body, with multi-joint movements (i.e. Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Rows, Dips) being at the heart of your training routine. These exercises will make you burn more calories during the session and also after due to their stimulating effect on your metabolism.

In addition, one must also not neglect cardio work if the goal is fat loss. The most effective time to do cardio workouts is either in the morning on an empty stomach before breakfast or straight after your weights sessions, as in both cases your body is depleted of glycogen and hence the body uses fat for energy, which is what you want. Any form of cardio can be used but I suggest running or using a cross-trainer type apparatus instead of the stationary bike due to higher calorie expenditure experienced when performing the former activities.

One must also not forget diet when trying to lean up, without going into too much detail, your diet should be high in protein and moderate to low in carbs and fats (this topic will be touched upon later in the article).

Mistake 2 – Beach Muscle Syndrome

Most men who go to the gym are motivated by the thoughts of acquiring huge biceps and pecs along with chiseled abs, as those are considered the “main showcase muscles which every female seeks in a male and the key component that resonate the ultimate level of manliness for any male amongst his peers”. Whilst one cannot criticize your average Joe for having such desires, the fact is in order to attain this goal the whole body needs to be trained equally and key areas such as the legs and back cannot be neglected.

Exercises like squats and deadlifts increase testosterone levels to such an extent that the whole body grows and even the non utilized muscles such as your chest get bigger due to the overall effect higher testosterone levels have on your body. There are plenty of guys who do endless variations of curls yet never manage to make any gains on their biceps, whereas if one looks at strength athletes like strongmen, Olympic lifters and powerlifters they all tend to have extremely well developed and visible “beach muscles” (as long as they don’t go overboard with stuffing their faces at the dinner table).

Most Olympic lifters don’t even do any direct arm work or any single joint exercises for that matter, instead relying on variations of Olympic lifts which mostly involve the lower body and the posterior chain, yet most of them still possess phenomenal physiques which any average male would love to have.

Mistake 3 – Low Fat to Lose Fat

This pitfall refers to the general ignorance most people have when it comes to diet. Most believe that you only get fat by eating fatty foods, and completely ignore the detrimental effect surplus carbs have on your physique. Whilst I am not advocating a high fat – low carb diet, I believe both fats and carbs should remain at moderate levels in one’s diet, what people fail to notice in certain food products is that low fat varieties tend to have a higher sugar content and hence as a result are not all that healthier than the original versions of that product.

What is most bewildering is seeing overweight individuals in the gym doing their cardio and sipping sugar laden sports energy drinks thinking that because they are sports drinks they must be good for you and will help with their weight loss, whereas in fact all that cardio work goes to waste due to the sugar consumption from such drinks. Even things like fruit should be consumed sparingly if weight loss is the goal due to its fructose content (the sugar in fruit).

Most people have this false misconception that fruit will never make them gain weight as it is “natural” and that it is “full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants”, though these points are correct it doesn’t mean fruit will not make you fat – it easily can, especially depending on the portion size and types of fruit.

Dumbbell Lunges

Mistake 4 – Ego Training

This is something that goes on in my gym and I m sure in countless others worldwide, and although it’s common amongst beginners, many long time gym goers still keep on making this stupid mistake. What this entails is using too much weight than the individual can handle but they still insist on biting more than they can chew, common examples of this include someone who has no idea how to squat yet insists on doing quarter squats with a weight they have no right to even look at, let alone put on their back.

Another favorite of such folk is heavy bench pressing with a buddy (or 2 or 3) who basically ends up doing a deadlift in order for his ‘bro’ to get the weight up, all the while screaming “it’s all you!” Joking aside, in my time training I have probably seen every exercise bastardized for the sake of using more weight, as a result rendering the exercise useless and leaving the trainer highly susceptible to injury.

Whereas a lot of beginners make this mistake from sheer inexperience and lack of proper training knowledge, the majority of trainers do it to stroke their ego and demonstrate how “strong” they are to their fellow gym members. One must never sacrifice form in any exercise for the sake of using more weight and once in the weight room the ego always needs to be kept in check no matter how inflated it is.

Mistake 5 – Following the Champ’s Routine

There is nothing wrong with trying to emulate the success of many great bodybuilders or strength athletes. In the old days Arnie set the tone and every male in gyms all across the world wanted to be like him, more recently it has been individuals like Marius Pudzianowski or Jay Cutler that have inspired new generations to start training with weights. This is all well and good, but the belief that if one follows the same training routine as those champions do and that it will yield the same results is completely incorrect.

All the time I see newbies in the gym following a chest or arm routine consisting of almost every exercise there is, I am sure they have read Flex or some other muscle publication and saw some huge bodybuilder training his chest with 5 different press variations followed by another 5 fly variations, their reasoning is if it makes his chest so massive and ripped, surely it will do the same for me.

What they fail to understand is that by following such routines they would severely overtrain themselves and make zero gains in muscle size or strength, as a result they will get demotivated that all their efforts in the gym are not giving any results, and subsequently will stop training altogether. What these trainers need to grasp is the successful athletes who follow such routines have many factors available to them which allows them to profit from such training routines.

Firstly, their genetic makeup is superior to others, this cannot be changed – you are either born with superior genetics in regards to building muscle strength or size – or you are not, fact is very few have favorable genetics for this purpose and the individuals you see in magazines are the minority that have it. Secondly, it needs to be understood the access that the top guys have to food, supplements, and other “extras” which would be insurmountable for your average person.

Thirdly, for most of these athletes their training (along with nutrition and recovery) is their full time job, most don’t need to spend all day at the office or other work establishments, they are able to train freely when and how often they want, and likewise are able to feed their body and give it enough rest without restrictions.

It should also be noted that any successful champion didn’t start with the advanced training routine that he or she follows now; it took them years to get to such a level where their current routines are actually beneficial for them, and this regardless of their genetic potential and other advantageous elements. So if they began with more basic training routines, why should everyone else start with something their body and nervous system cannot handle? Beginners and even intermediately experienced trainers need to train in a way that reflects their level and not like someone of a much higher level trains.

Final Thoughts

The pitfalls listed in this article are a daily occurrence in gyms and fitness centers all across the world. The mistakes committed by gym members are all due to general ignorance in regards to diet and training; this is not helped with the misinformation that is presented in many fitness publications and online sources, in addition to being guided by ‘qualified’ personal instructors who don’t know much themselves.

Every year the same clientele of gyms look physically the same and never get an ounce stronger, yet they still carry on making the same mistakes and end up wasting their time and money on pointless training. By looking at the list of pitfalls objectively and consequently eradicating them, anyway can improve on the non-existent progress that they have been stuck with.