What a Mistake-a to Make-a

When you first join a gym, you’re excited. You’re taking the first step onto your fitness journey, towards a healthier life.

But in your excitement you may make the occasional error, some gym faux-pas that will cause you to cringe when you look back on it. And you’ll undoubtedly make training mistakes that could make your start harder than it needs to be.

So we put together a compilation of rookie mistakes, to steer you in the right direction and help you on your way.

Classic Classes

Rookie errors generally fall into the following classes;

  1. Trying too much too soon.
  2. Going too hard too soon.
  3. Copying what that big guy/celebrity does.
  4. Letting your ego get in the way.

Let’s look at the detail …


The main issue people have when writing their own workout, or copying one from someone else, is that they attempt too much too soon. What I mean by this is that they over do the volume.

Volume, at its most basic level, equals sets * reps * weight.

Volume is massively important. It is the crucial factor in gaining size and strength. Progressive overload, which I’m sure you’ve heard about, is basically just manipulating the volume you do so that when you train you’re constantly increasing your workload and, therefore, the volume.

According to Eric Helms your volume should be at 40-70 reps per muscle group per session. Or 80-210 reps per body part per week. The reason for this is that too much work will tax your central nervous system, and you will find it hard to recover.

You are always best to go the lower end first and then build up to the higher end of the reps. Even if you don’t increase the weight you’re actually lifting. Aside from not compromising recovery, increasing the reps will mean that you can practice the actual bio-motor skills necessary for the movements you are training.


While staying on the theme of ‘too much too soon,’ we should also take a look at volume’s qualitative cousin – intensity. This is basically how hard the workout is.

It is closely related to volume, and in any good powerlifting programme the volume will start off high with the intensity low and then as you progress further into a ‘peaking’ or ‘strength’ block these will eventually reverse.

If you go too hard too soon you will find that you burn out incredibly quickly.

This is why volume and intensity are manipulated accurately by coaches, it allows for a controlled build up in both factors which then results in your body overcompensating and out performing itself.

However, your body cannot go through this too often in quick succession. If you overdo it you could find that your central nervous system will suffer, potentially leading to some unpleasant symptoms;

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Reduced recovery
  • Increased muscle soreness
  • Little to no progress

By all means train hard, but train smart.

The Cookie Cutter Problem

When you’re first starting out in the gym you might not have a clue what to do. So you hit Google and find out what pro bodybuilders or fitness experts do. After all, if that’s how you want to look then surely, that’s how you should train, right? Wrong.

Whatever routine you’ve found, even if it is legitimate, is likely to be what they’re doing now not what they did as a beginner. Nearly every major bodybuilder, powerlifter, fitness model, etc probably followed a basic strength and size routine which encompasses the whole body (yes, even the legs, bro) in order to lay down their initial foundations of muscle mass.

You also can’t rule out their use of supplements in their training. They may be recovering at a faster rate than you possibly could.

At the end of the day, every workout is a mix of the same movements and stimuli but how you put them together needs to be tailored to the individual. Most have the ability to do the big compound movements, i.e the squat, deadlift, bench press, rows, shoulder press etc, so these should be the core of your training.

Once you become proficient at these and start gaining muscle you can then add in some isolation work dependent upon your goals.

Your best bet, in my opinion, is to find a good coach to help analyze what work you need and what you need to focus on initially. Failing that, a good solid routine like Rippetoe’s Stronglifts, or Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 are excellent for beginner powerlifters.

If you’re more into your hypertrophy, Eric Helms’ book which I mentioned earlier has a brilliant hypertrophy template in it.

Ego bigger than your muscles

Your ego can be at the root of a number of issues. Maybe you don’t like being wrong, or don’t like admitting to it at least. I have seen a large number of people:-

  • Stick to a particular training protocol that doesn’t suit them.
  • Not back off on the weight they’re lifting.
  • Not back off on the intensity they are incorporating into their training.
  • Not achieving proper form due to weight lifted and/or stubbornness

All of these things could seriously hamper a person’s progress, and maybe even result in injury or one of the nasty fried central nervous system side effects list above.

Having such an ego can also lead to a person not being able to ask for help from someone else.

If you are someone like this you may find that your ego is stopping you from fixing your issues. If/once you do get over this, I would then refer you back to what I said in the previous section about getting help from a coach. Programming a new workout is difficult and draws on experience.

How to avoid these errors

Get some help along the way.

Be that from a coach, a book, a website with great articles, or just a good mentor. I use the prefix ‘good’ as there is a lot of bro-science out there these days, and you need to find someone who actually knows what they are talking about so that you can trust them with your body.


If you go out of your way to find and implement all of the good information I guarantee that you will improve at the quickest rate possible.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll never plateau or get injured as these are problems of life, but those subjects are for another article. By the time you hit plateaus you’ll no longer be a rookie.

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