The world of weightlifting is huge. Believe me, I know that there is a lot of information to take in and it is extremely difficult to learn enough even to know what you are doing. As a beginner, jumping into this gigantic pool of knowledge and information can be very discouraging and even dangerous. This article is designed to help you avoid some of the basic mistakes that a lot of beginners run into. I will highlight some of the more common mistakes that beginners make, ranging from what you do in the gym, to diet and supplementation.
Remember that the forum is always there and we have tons of very experienced members that are willing to help you reach your goals. All it takes is a little effort and research and the rest of the help will come.
A common mistake is that having sessions lasting hours long or performing tons of the same exercises several days a week will get you better gains. "Less is more" when it comes to weight training. Remember that your central nervous system and joints come into the picture, and suffer a lot more from the abuse of weight training then your muscles.
Your muscles grow when you are resting, not when you are at the gym. This is because when you lift weights, you create tears in the muscle tissue. When you rest, the muscle repairs itself and becomes larger than before. How long it takes to repair will depend largely on your diet and how much sleep you get per night.
To help avoid overtraining, use some of the routines already on this site, and remember not to take an intermediate or advanced workout routine until you have more experience. About 3 months before an intermediate routine and several years before an advanced routine. Remember that it is also recommended that about every 12 weeks, you take a week off of weight training to heal any of those little nagging injuries and to give your central nervous system a break.
Realted overtraining article: Overtraining, Why Less Is More - By Shaun McEwan
Cheating occurs when you are using a weight that is too heavy for you to lift, but you continue to lift the weight and sacrifice form to do it. You will see it all the time in gyms, people who lean back and throw their elbows foreword when doing bicep curls, people that bounce the bar off their chest when benching etc. This not only limits the gains you can make, but it also can lead to injury.
To help avoid cheating, learn how to properly perform an exercise, and train with that form using little to no weight to start. After you feel you have the form down, slowly bump up the weight until you can perform the exercise with the reps you need exactly the same way as you were performing with the little to no weight. Remember that although you should train to failure, you shouldn't sacrifice form to do it.
If you want to maximize your training, you should know that on the fast concentric (positive) movement trains the nervous system; the slow eccentric (negative) movement trains the muscle. So you should perform the upward part of the movement fast, and the downward part of the movement slow. For example, when doing pull-ups, pull yourself up quickly, and slowly lower yourself down. This puts as much stress as possible on the muscle and teaches your nervous system how to lift a load.
Remember that cheating not only hinders your gains, but it makes you look foolish as well. Nobody likes to see some guy screaming as he hammer throws 70 pound dumbbells for his bicep routine.
3. Lifting Heavy Early
If you are under the age of 18, stick to the 8-12 rep range. Lifting weights higher then this can cause damage to growth. This is because as a teenager the growth plates on the end of the bones haven't yet closed, and performing heavy maximum lifts can cause closure prematurely of these growth plates (epiphysis), and can also cause injuries to the bones themselves.
Combine this with the fact that most people starting out will not do well handling the immense load that is associated with low rep ranges, they will usually put themselves at risk of immediate danger, not only growth plate damage. Play it safe, and work with proper form and the results will come.
4. Using the low rep ranges to get big, training high reps to burn fat
This couldn't be further from the truth. First off, diet plays the most important role in determining how shredded or how big you are. You can pound all the weight you want, if you eat crap you will look like crap. Second, to train for size, the 6-12 rep range is optimal. The low rep ranges train muscular strength, which helps little in increasing muscular size. Remember that fat burn is achieved mostly by cardio and high intensity weight training. This can mean low rest times, supersets etc.
5. Using a professional bodybuilder or power lifters routine
You might think that because a bodybuilder is huge and used a certain routine means that you will get huge using that same workout. This is not true. Bodybuilders have been training for years and their routines will most likely be far more advanced for you to attempt. You should also consider the fact that not everything will work for everybody. Just because a guy is big and got good results from doing something doesn't mean that you will too.
6. Starving yourself in order to lose weight
Yes it sounds silly, but you would be surprised at the number of people that think this way. Dieting doesn't mean that you can't enjoy food ever again, or that you will always be hungry. Split your meals up into 5-7 a day of smaller portions. This keeps your metabolism working and will help you be less hungry through the day.
Remember that when you starve yourself, your body holds onto any fat it has and you will lose muscle instead. This is very unhealthy.
Use this BMR Calculator to calculate your daily calorie needs, and then subtract 500 from that number if you want to lose about a pound per week. Combine this with exercise and you will lose fat and hold onto muscle. You will be surprised at the amount of calories you can eat as long as you exercise.
There are many great articles on this site that already deal with construction your diet; I suggest you read them through carefully.
7. Relying too much on supplements to grow
Without proper diet and training supplements will get you nowhere. Remember they are called SUPPLEMENTS because they SUPPLEMENT your diet. If your diet is in check and you have done everything you can to ensure that real foods play the dominant role, only then should supplements be considered.
Remember that companies like Muscletech and BSN shell out tons of money to get bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler to endorse their products. On labels of these supplements you will find statements such as "Gain 7 pounds of muscle in 3 weeks" etc. Remember that these claims are usually exaggerated.
Before you buy any supplements, do research and educate yourself on what's worth it and what's not. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.
8. Neglecting Carbohydrates and Fats in your diet
Carbs and fat are an essential part in any diet, even weight loss diets. This is because carbohydrates are our main source of fuel. Without carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates, the body would begin to use other sources and this could cause problems, such as becoming easily fatigued due to lack of glycogen.
Fats are needed as well. Fat is essential to maintain good health. That being said, you should get your fat from healthy sources, such as olive oil and nuts. Remember that trans-fats are bad for you no matter what, and should be avoided at all costs.
A final note...
There are a ton of helpful articles on this site, and you should read through all of them that pertain to your goals. Remember that nothing happens overnight, do not get discouraged and remember the things I mentioned above.