We’ve come up with the top 10 most common derailments of your training progress. Open your workout notebook and pay close attention as we count down from 10 to 6, and the top 5 in Part 2.
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MISTAKE #10: CHEATING YOUR GAINS
Used correctly, cheating can up the intensity of sets, but it’s frequently employed too soon and therefore lessens intensity. Many bodybuilders cheat (i.e., use bad form) throughout a set, and therefore transfer stress away from the targeted muscles. Biceps curls, for example, are often cheated from start to finish by the use of momentum, which shifts the focus off of the bi’s and onto the front delts.
- Learn how to do each exercise with the proper form, and then practice until you have this form mastered. Warm-ups and the lighter sets of a pyramid are also like practice rounds to get you into the groove, so you can do your heaviest sets correctly.
- If necessary, take steps to curtail cheating, such as standing against a wall and/or pressing your elbows against your sides during barbell curls or performing side laterals while seated.
- Do not loosen your form until you’ve reached f ull-rep failure. Cheating should be used to make a set harder (pushing it beyond failure), not easier (preventing you from reaching failure via strict reps)
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MISTAKE #9: GOING TOO LOW
The best range for muscle growth is 8-12 reps per set. Consistently doing 7 or fewer reps with heavier weights may feed your pride in the gym, but it won’t build as much muscle as moderate reps w ith moderate weights.
A recent study
found that when subjects used a weight that allowed them to complete 25-30 reps per set, they increased muscle protein synthesis (the process that leads to muscle growth) by 60% more than when they did sets with a weight that limited them to 4 reps.
What’s more, going too heavy often leads to truncated reps. This is especially true of leg presses. It’s likely you can use more metal with this exercise than any other. This stokes your ego, and because the guy before you used 900 for six half-reps instead of 600 for 12 full reps, you want to crank out 900-pound partials, too. Resist this urge. More reps and better form with a lighter weight will build more mass.
A recent study from Italy found that when subjects did dumbbell shoulder presses with half-reps or three-quarter reps, they did not use nearly as much deltoid muscle fibers as they did when they did full reps. Using more muscle fibers during an exercise will make that muscle bigger. Even when training for power, the fewer reps you do, the harder it is to eke out another one and thus make consistent gains.
- Do movements from full stretches to full contractions. Carefully control the negative half of reps.
- Keep the reps of most sets in the 8-12 range.
- Focus on your muscles contracting, not the weight moving.
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MISTAKE #8: FAILING TO FAIL
is the point in a set when you cannot complete another full rep with good form. Not every working set needs to enter the failure zone, but many bodybuilders fall far short of failing on every set. Often, this is because they set a target well within their reach, hit it and quit.
- On a failure set, don’t bail out of a strict rep until it has stalled for at least three seconds. Then you can stop, or you can cheat just enough or get just enough assistance to complete the rep.
- Keep a workout log, noting your personal bests in lifts. “Beating the logbook” will give you something to shoot for each workout.
- Don’t set a rep target unless it’s beyond your full-rep comfort zone and, ideally, a personal best.
- Shoot for at least one or two sets taken to failure on every exercise you do.
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MISTAKE #7: MACHINE LOVE
Most modern gyms have a plethora of machines, but resist the urge to fill the bulk of your routine with mechanical movements. Barbells and dumbbells remain the best bodybuilding tools ever invented, and free-weight or bodyweight exercises should be the cornerstones of your routines for chest, back, arms, shoulders and quads. The best chests of Arnold Schwarzenegger
’s era still compare favorably with the 12 pecs in this year’s Mr. Olympia posedown despite all of our modern advantages. Why? Pecs then were worked almost exclusively via barbell presses, dumbbell flyes and dips.
- Do mostly free-weight and bodyweight basics.
- Emphasize compound exercises (those that use more than one bodypart). For example, do dips and close-grip bench presses for triceps, as opposed to all mechanical isolation exercises like pushdowns and machine extensions.
- If you do mechanical lifts, try to choose a unilateral Hammer Strength, FreeMotion or similar machine that approximates the freedom of free weights.
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MISTAKE #6: INSUFFICIENT INTENSITY
There are those
who never push sets beyond full-rep failure and thus never truly challenge themselves in the gym, and there are those who have journeyed deep into the pain zone but, over time, their intensity progressively wanes. For the former, there are several techniques for going beyond failure, including forced reps, cheating, partial reps, rest-pause, negative reps, static contractions and descending sets. (Research shows that techniques such as forced reps boost growth hormone levels far higher than workouts in which sets are taken just to muscle failure and not beyond.) For the latter, almost ever yone experiences periods of waning intensity. The mistake is trying to work your way out by doing more of the same.
Instead, you need to recharge your physical and mental reserves. To reach your goal in the fastest time, you sometimes need to slow down, or stop and refuel.
- Learn the various techniques for pushing your sets beyond failure and apply these to a few sets each workout. Not every technique fits every exercise. For example, you don’t want to cheat squats or do negative-only deadlifts, but a spotter can help you with a couple forced reps on squats and you can rest-pause deadlifts.
- Waning intensity is a warning sign for overtraining. Heed this warning, and cut down on your workout frequency and/or take a week or two away from the gym.
- Cycle higher intensity periods of 8-12 weeks with lower intensity periods of 2-4 weeks. In the latter, break up your normal training style with something fresh, like circuit training, powerlifting or high reps (20-50 per set).
- When you’re back on the fast track and trying to push sets to failure and beyond, choose challenging but (barely) attainable short- and long-term strength goals. FLEX
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2!