Six of the Biggest Mistakes Beginners Make In the Gym

I’m shredded. Not only for summer either. 365 days a year.

 2018, post gym session.

2018, post gym session.

But I didn’t start out this way.

No one starts out this way.

 2010, running a 200m race. I lost.

2010, running a 200m race. I lost.

8 years ago I was in high school and overweight. I didn’t think I was though.

During gym class, I was afraid to take my clothes off. I didn’t hit puberty until I was 17.

‘What if the other boys notice I don’t have any hair under my armpits?’

Then it happened. I started growing hair on my balls and getting a little taller.

My friend Dave insisted on going to the school gym at lunch. You can ask him about the time I couldn’t do a push-up.

Going to the gym at lunchtime was fun but we stopped after a while.

We got back into it when I started university. There were girls there so I figured I’d better build some muscle to impress them.

My mum wouldn’t let me use her credit card to sign up. So I went down to the bank and got my own card. Dave and I signed up to Jetts.


A) Too Many Supplements

A few weeks in a girl I was seeing was over my place. I was sitting on her lap. She was into gymnastics and definitely stronger than me.

‘This stuff is going to get me massive,’ a shipment of supplements I ordered just arrived.

‘How?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Okay,’ she went back to playing with my hair.

We stopped seeing each other a couple weeks later. She was hot so it sucked. I thought I wasn’t hot enough for her.

‘Going to gym more often will make me hotter,’ I thought.

So I did. And I went to the store and spent a weeks pay on more protein powders.

They weren’t necessary. Instead of spending so much on supplements I should’ve invested the money in learning about nutrition.

My thinking was I could get around eating well by having protein shakes after gym and in between meals.

Wrong.

I don’t take any supplements anymore. My shopping list is basically the same every week.

  • Eggs

  • Meat (chicken mostly)

  • Nuts

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

That’s it.

95% of my food is cooked by me.

Supplements should be treated as they’re named. They’re convenient but not 100% necessary.


B) Poor Movement Patterns

Big legs but could barely hold a bodyweight squat.

A nice looking chest but a sore right shoulder every morning.

Thick lats but an aching lower back whilst driving.

That was me.

All we wanted to do was get bigger. Every session lifting as heavy as possible and then stuffing our faces afterwards.

I went to gym often but was the opposite of health.

All the weights and lack of mobility training turned my body into a pretzel.

All the slight twinges turned into twangs. My knee hurt walking upstairs and my lower back seized up on-demand.

Physiotherapy provided temporary relief. But a half dozen sessions later and my knee still hurt.

After seeing him in a YouTube video I bought Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett. A few chapters in and I’d learned more about the body than my 4-years of training.

I fixed my knee pain by following the book.

I learned the whole body is connected so pain in one area isn’t necessarily from that area.

Tight lower back? It might be coming from your tight feet after wearing poor quality footwear all day.

I’ve spent the past 2-years trying to undo all of the poor movement patterns I began my training with.

My training is similar to my shopping list.

  • Compound movement focused (squats, deadlifts, pushups)

  • Plenty of animal movements (lizard crawl, gorilla crawl)

  • 10-20 minutes of stretching/yoga daily

  • High-intensity interval training (sprints, short rest times)

  • Zero time on machines

If your goal is to get big, get big. But don’t forget muscles grow 3x faster than tendons and other joining tissues. These are the tissues which help your mobility.

Train your muscles alongside your mobility. Don’t end up an immobile and injured pretzel like I was.


C) Wet Rag Training

If you’re going to the gym, get after it.

If you’re going to train anywhere, get after it.

What kind of results do you think you’ll get if you train half-assed?

There’s nothing worse than seeing a group of dudes standing around treating their iPhones as their gym partners.

Playing music or watching YouTube for a technique video is fine but don’t let it distract you from what you came to do.

It’s better to spend 30-minutes at the gym training with the intensity of a Spartan than 90-minutes with the mind of an online shopping addict.

If a bead of sweat hasn’t formed on your forehead yet, you aren’t training hard enough.

I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I’m going for that wet rag look.’

You know why? Because no one wants to look or perform like a wet rag.

Stop training like a wet rag.


D) Nutrition > Exercise

We’d finish training, then head straight to McDonald’s. Load up on the fries, double burgers and a sundae.

No wonder I looked like a puffball.

The muscle was there but it was hidden.

Right now, I’m 75kg. Sometimes lower. When I tell people this, they’re usually surprised.

‘You look like you’d weigh more,’ they say.

It’s because I’m lean. The muscles I do have aren’t the biggest but they show themselves. The shreds aren’t covered up by layers of fat.

In the beginning, all I wanted to do was make the scale tick over. I’d eat until I couldn’t. Then after I wasn’t full anymore I’d eat again.

I was gaining muscle but I was also gaining fat. Too much fat.

‘All this training I’m doing should compensate for the food I’m eating.’

Wrong.

You can never out train a poor diet.

It wasn’t until I tracked everything I ate for two-years did I realise this.

I’d gotten too puffy so I started weighing every meal to the gram.

It gave me an understanding of what went into certain foods. And most of all, it taught me the brain is a liar.

Our lizard brain wants food. It still thinks our next meal could be a while away. So whenever calories are on offer, especially easy to digest calories like sugar, it wants to load up.

But what our lizard brain doesn’t realise is we’ve got calories in abundance now. And we don’t have to be gorging every 2-3 hours.

I used to think I had to be eating calorie-dense meals six times a day or my muscles would magically disappear.

It doesn’t happen like that. Fair enough, when you first start working out your metabolism will increase. But not as much as you think.

For gaining or maintaining muscle, the golden ratio is to eat 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Any extra and you’ll end up turning it into carbohydrates through gluconeogenesis. And if you can't make 1g per pound bodyweight, you can get away with less.

Don’t overeat believing you can outwork the extra calories. You can’t. I’ve tried.

PS there’s no best diet for everyone. Vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto. I’ve tried them all.

Anything is better than the Standard American Diet (S.A.D). The acronym is SAD for a reason. All the refined carbohydrates, low protein quantities and damaged fats make you puffy and depressed. Avoid.

Eat in a way which lets you enjoy your food and perform your best. Enough to keep you going, nothing more, nothing less.


E) Sleep + Nutrition > Exercise

It took me too long to realise you can't out train a bad diet.

It took me even longer to realise you can't out train poor sleep.

There isn't a single process in the body not affected by sleep and nutrition.

If you're thinking about cutting your sleep time short to wake up early and workout, you might be doing more harm than good.

Poor sleep quality and quantity leads to an imbalance in hormones. Hormones which regulate appetite, muscle gain and weight loss.

Missing a few hours of sleep to workout could end up in you craving bad foods and your body not being able to repair the damage from your previous session. A double negative.

Get the best of both worlds.

Now I sleep like a baby and eat like a scientist.

  • 7-9 hours every night

  • Wake up at a similar time every morning (between 6-7 am)

  • Pitch black room (even standby lights can interrupt sleep)

  • No caffeine after 2 pm

  • Minimise screen time an hour before bed (I'm bad at this)


F) Consistency + Patience = Gains

All the best gains in life come from compound interest.

When I first started I was frustrated I wasn't seeing results after 3-months. The time frame was way too short.

If you want a lasting overall body transformation, think 3-years, not 3-months.

Whether your goal is get ripped, be slimmer for your wedding or impress that girl you like, remind yourself biology is a 24/7 process. It never stops.

There's no point only investing in your health in short doses. Treat your health how Warren Buffet treats investing. Long-term.

If I had to give advice to the skinny 17-year-old who was begging his mum for her credit card, these are the things I'd tell him.

But he probably wouldn't listen. Getting big muscles and girls were too important.

They still are. But not as much.

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