There’s only 2 ways that you don’t make mistakes when you start working out.
You either stumble across the right information from day one and follow it to a tee, or you hire an awesome personal trainer that keeps you on the straight and narrow.
If you fall into either of those categories then congratulations. You’re also in a very small minority of people in the gym.
For everyone else, it can be a long road of trial and error. I wasted years on ineffective workouts, the wrong exercises and crappy nutrition.
That’s why I decided to reach out to some of the biggest and most respected names in fitness to let you learn from their own workout mistakes.
The question I asked each of the experts was:
“What was the biggest mistake you made when you first started working out?”
Here are the responses in the order they were received…
My biggest mistake was scoffing at fancy recovery methods like cold soaks, epsom salts baths, compression boots, deep tissue work, saunas, earthing or grounding, electrostimulation and so on.
I’ve now realized that these type of advanced recovery methods put you way ahead of the game and often buy you one to two extra days of training per week!
Biggest mistake I made was probably under eating.
Like many chubby guys trying to get in shape, when I started on my fitness journey, I over-corrected for my fatness, and dropped calories way too low. I definitely lost fat, but I probably made things harder on myself than they needed to be.
When I actually learned more about nutrition, I realized I didn’t need to torture myself to get lean.
The biggest mistake I made when I started on my path to fitness was not trusting my body.
It was easy to mentally push through workouts, forcing my body to go through the motions when it was telling (no! screaming) me to slow down or stop and rest. I chalk it up to inexperience and not understanding the cues that my body was sharing with me.
Remember, your body knows best, and No Pain, No Gain is a crock of BS! If I only knew then what I know now…
The biggest mistake I made when I started working out was not taking the time to learn proper technique.
I picked up a lot of little injuries that probably could have been avoided if my technique was better. I didn’t pull my shoulder blades together when I benched, and I rounded my entire spine when I deadlifted, and wound up with shoulder and back pain because of it.
Luckily those issues resolved themselves once I learned to lift with good form, and they didn’t cause me any major injuries, but some people aren’t as fortunate.
The biggest fitness mistake I made: I was afraid to bulk.
I never allowed myself to be in a calorie surplus for fear that I would gain body fat. I was too focused on keeping a six pack in the short term and too afraid that if I lost it I couldn’t be able to get it back.
Staying in a calorie deficit or around maintenance for the first five years of my training forced me to miss out on quite a bit of strength and muscle gain.
My advice to anyone in a similar position: those few extra pounds of body fat are worth it for the gains 😉
I made a million mistakes when I first started lifting, but I didn’t start getting results until I changed this mistake:
Not being consistent with my workouts.
What I mean by this, is in order to make progress, you need to commit yourself to going to the gym on a schedule. So if you train 3 days per week, you need to physically schedule it in like an appointment, show up, do the work, then get out.
I’d say not having a defined goal.
I wanted to be bigger, stronger and leaner, so I didn’t eat enough to build muscle, and did far too much cardio, while following a poor routine with no structure, no periodisation (and very little leg training!)
I focused too much on eating like the bodybuilders in Flex magazine, didn’t pay attention to calories, and thought I had to eat virtually a zero fat diet.
As a novice, once of my first big mistakes in program design was spending a ton of design on ‘accessory’ stuff. Before every workout I did an extensive dynamic stretching routine and after every workout I did an extensive static stretching routine. See this article on why research shows stretching is often a waste of time.
I also tried to do everything at the same time. I did some HIIT, some jogging and the occasional Strongman stuff. I didn’t realize that trying to combine endurance training with strength training causes an interference effect that limits your results for both.
I now focus my time in the gym much more efficiently on the work I need to do to achieve my desired goals.
My biggest mistake when I first started was not eating enough protein (and total calories) to optimize muscle gains.
Even doing something as simple as making sure I had a protein-rich meal at least 4 times per day would have been a step in the right direction.
From the data we know now, protein intake to optimize muscle gain should begin at approximately a gram per pound of lean mass.
The biggest mistake I made when I first started working out was buying all the fitness and muscle magazines and trying to copy what it said the pros were doing.
Only later did I find out that none of the pros actually did the programs that were in the magazines. I was just a teenager at the time and if I knew then what I know now, I would have trained completely differently and learned what worked for me, not just what was in a magazine.
Perhaps the biggest mistake I made when I started working out was allowing myself to get fat.
At the time, my main objective was to gain as much muscle as I could. I believed that doing so required eating a vast amount of food. So that’s what I did.
Once the building work had been done, I planned to strip away the fat to reveal the Herculean physique that I’d been working on all these years. I did gain a lot of weight. But much of it was fat, even though I stubbornly refused to believe so at the time.
Because I was carrying around a decent amount of muscle, adding a layer of fat created the illusion of size. People would tell me that I was looking bigger, which was always nice to hear. And it was a great feeling to step on the bathroom scales and see my weight going up.
But I was deluding myself on a grand scale, and it subsequently took a lot of work to get rid of fat that had no business being there in the first place.
Without question: program hopping, or ‘shiny object syndrome’.
I wanted to get lean and strong as quickly as possible, so I tried everything hoping that I would find a magic bullet. I was suckered in by every fad and marketing scam out there, and as a result I never made real progress in any direction.
Despite working my ass off 5-6 days a week, I didn’t get leaner, I didn’t get stronger, and my body remained the same.
Success for me only came when I took a step back and decided to follow a proven program (Stronglifts 5×5) to the letter with a friend. After just 3 months, we had made more progress than I had in the previous 2 years.
My advice to anyone starting out: find a good plan and stick to it. It sounds too simple, but it works.
The biggest mistake I made early on was using soreness as a gauge of how good a workout was.
I figured the more sore I was, the better the workout must have been. Now don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with a little DOMS, but being crippled sore all the time will not allow you to train with any type of frequency, which is ultimately what most have to do to realize their full potential.
I do everything I can to recover fast now, which means training intense but smart, and using good periworkout protocols.
I started lifting weights 51 years ago. That’s not a typo. My biggest mistake happened around 1972. I had been doing a program that emphasized Power Cleans, Military Press, Front Squats and Bench Press. We also mixed hill runs with pull ups and played a lot of sports.
My mistake was believing the Bench Press hype at the time: I look back and we sorta connected our self worth with the number on the chart with our max bench.
I dropped the cleans, squats and overhead work over time. Yes, my bench went through the roof, but I had to start again a few years later, “rehumble” myself, and start from the excellent foundation I had walked away from in the beginning.
I started training when I was 15 and I was pretty fortunate to have some really good coaches.
I wasn’t ever in the situation where I had to figure anything out, it was delivered to me by great coaches. I believe I am lucky in that regard, so I don’t have a lot of regrets in my training life.
I would say to learn from that experience, I would suggest dropping off any ego you have and go find a great coach from whom you can learn.
If you get into fitness at an early age it is easy to be swayed in multiple directions; most of which are vanity, rather than health, focused.
It can be confusing to say, even though you “workout” you may not be healthy or you may be doing it the wrong way. That’s how I started…with an over-reliance on supplements, and unnecessary focus on mass building and very little cardiovascular work.
That’s how I got started, and it was also my biggest mistake.
The biggest mistake I made when I first started training seriously with weights was majoring in the minors.
What I mean by this is trying to train exercises that supported the big 3 with the importance of the big 3. An example is when I was 18 and 19 years old, I would train tricep extensions and barbell curls heavier than most 600-pound benchers and professional bodybuilders. My elbow is paying the price now.
So, remember, assistance exercises are there to assist the main exercises- they are not the end game.
I would say a mistake I made when I started working out in high school all my movements were linear.
All the exercises I would do are leg extensions, lat pulls, bench press, power cleans, squats, and I was a rotational athlete. Obviously as a rotational athlete I rarely worked the body in rotation. Knowing what I know now I guess that would be one of my biggest mistakes.
I was strong and developed good power, but I could have probably reached a higher potential had I added some of the rotational elements to my training.
My biggest mistake was not being consistent with my training and following too many programs where the variables changed far too often (every 2-4 weeks).
The biggest mistake I made when I first started lifting was trying everything at once.
One day I would lift for strength. Then, because I read a wicked workout in Get Swole in 5 Minutes Muscle Mag, I’d jump on the first bodybuilding routine I could find.
Information overload was a huge problem, and still is for a lot of beginners. Focus on reading one web-site or book, choose one workout, and stick with it for 12 weeks before changing. A good place to start is my Ultimate Beginners Guide, which you can pick up for free here.
The biggest mistake I made when starting to work out in the gym was undoubtedly wasting time on bodypart split routines.
Like so many, I made the mistake of trying to replicate the routines of the pros that I found in magazines such as Flex or Muscle & Fitness or in the pages of Arnie’s Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding (utterly useless for anyone not taking steroids).
For the typical drug-free lifter, these routines simply do not work nearly as well as the full-body routines used by bodybuilders such as Steve Reeves, John Grimek and Leroy Colbert in the pre-steroid era.
These natural lifters eliminated the bodypart split from their regimen after years of trial and error, finding it wholly ineffective when compared to the full-body approach.
By hitting all the main compound lifts (squat, bench, deadlift) in a single session three times per week your body becomes more efficient at training the neural pathways/motor skills involved with these lifts, and your progress will accelerate considerably.
Split routines simply leave far too much time between each main compound lift, dramatically hindering progress on these key movements and squandering precious time on other useless exercises (dumbbell seated one-leg calf raises… please fuck off).
It was only when I finished university and started to do some research of my own instead of being spoonfed shit that I discovered the efficacy of full body training, and, after a year on Reg Park’s 5×5 programme, I’d made more size and strength gains than I had for the previous five.
Sadly, the bodypart split approach to bodybuilding is still considered gospel today. Walk into any gym around the country and you’ll see people of all ages hitting arms one session, shoulders the next, spending hours on rope pushdowns and employing 10 different variations of the bicep curl.
Not only is this approach misguided and practically worthless, but it’s also overtraining, as isolating muscles with high volume splits is a recipe for injury.
At GymTalk we’ve made it our modus operandi to spread this message and we’ll keep banging the drum until people are sick of hearing about full-body routines.
Back in high school when I got serious about playing football and had my sights on the NFL, I worked harder than anyone on the team in training.
I wouldn’t go out and party, didn’t drink, skipped spring break, all just to give myself an edge. What I didn’t realize is that the huge amounts of pasta, bread, pizza, and milk I was eating daily (and especially before games) was hamstringing my energy. I would get so tired before a game and had no idea it was because I’d filled up on gluten and dairy the night before.
I often wonder now how much better I could have performed if I’d known about the right diet.
The biggest mistake I made — and most people in my opinion make — is not being clear on the precise purpose and function of each workout.
Just “hitting the gym” or going out for “a run” without a plan will only reap moderate results. If you want to maximize your training time and progress efficiently towards your goal while reducing chance of injury, you need a well-thought out program that contemplates both short and long-term goals.
For endurance athletes, that program should be periodized to include long aerobic days, shorter tempo days, strength / speed building days, rest days and rest-focused weeks.
Understanding the why and when of each and every workout, while also being patient, will help you overcome plateaus improve steadily.
Looking back I think the biggest mistake I made when I first started working out – and I can guarantee many people are in the same boat – is that I tried to emulate the programs the top people were doing.
Whether you follow bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting…or you just want to look good naked (like the models on the covers of popular fitness magazines)….anyone new to working out shouldn’t copy what the top people are doing NOW. You should copy what they did to get there 10, 15, maybe even 20 years ago.
The basics work. Keeping things simple works. Staying consistent with basic, simple “stuff” works. Almost always. Do that.
My biggest mistake is not keeping a training and nutrition log.
I started working out as a teenager. And, the mistake that I made was thinking that the better I got in the weight room, the more it would help me as a high school wrestler. To the point at which I wad focused more on the weightlifting aspect of my training than I was on actual wrestling (skill) practice.
I had a quick wake-up call when I noticed that I was getting ruined on the wrestling mat by dudes who I was war stronger than in the weight room. And, the fact that I could out wrestle some kids that could out-lift me.
It was after this lesson that I realized that 1) not every field, court or combat sport athlete is a good weightlifter and that not every good weightlifter is a good athlete. And, 2) to not hold the delusion that becoming a gym stud means that I’ll be a stud in field, court or combat sport competition.
The lesson here, which is something I talk about often as a trainer is that is improving as an athlete in the field of competition is not just about upping your conventional deadlift numbers and thinking that takes care of everything.
Remember, as my friend and iron-game legend Richard Sorin says, “athletes (and athletic-minded individuals) are not in the gym to become weightlifters; they’re there to be athletes made stronger in the weightroom.”
The biggest mistake I made was not tracking my progress.
Now I quantify my progress in the gym by writing down my reps and weights into my training log. My training log has become my personal trainer. It tells me what I need to do to up the ante each week.
If you don’t log your workouts, you will be stuck in a constant state of guessing. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If you can’t measure it, then you can’t improve it.”
Furthermore, by clearly defining what constitutes a win in the gym, you will be more motivated to make weekly progress.
I was 25 when I started lifting, a poor graduate student, so I didn’t have the money for a trainer.
What I mean is, I wasn’t willing to cut into my beer budget to get some basic advice before I started just jumping in balls deep and believing stuff like going to failure on every single rep. At 47 I’m certain I’m paying for some of the youthful dumbassery now with various aches and pains.
I wish I’d taken the time and patience to get some basic advice about how to train in a way that would preserve my body and prevent injury.
As ridiculous as it sounds to me now, I played into my natural quad dominance (super common among women) and neglected my posterior chain. I just didn’t know better, and unfortunately, neither did my trainer at the time.
Not surprisingly, that neglect eventually led to knee problems. Now I’m a huge fan of a superior posterior! Deadlifts variations and hip thrusts galore!
By far the biggest mistake I first made when I first started working out was thinking the length of the workout, rather than the quality, mattered the most.
I’d spend 45 minutes to an hour on the elliptical machine then spend 20+ minutes doing some lame ab exercises and leave the gym thinking I got a good workout in (yet I’d never get any results!).
Now, I know that even if my workout is over with in under 20 minutes but I worked as hard as I possibly could, it was truly a good workout.
The biggest mistake I made as a beginner was not taking nutrition more seriously.
As a kid I was always used to eating whatever I want, whenever I wanted, and in whatever quantity. When I started training, I was quick to look to supplements and weight gainers as the prime course of action for adding size, rather than having good, well scheduled home-cooked meals, and I also almost completely disregarded macronutrients (that weren’t protein, anyway) at the time. I think this cost me in the long run.
What you put into your body will always reflect the way your body looks on the outside.
My biggest mistake was definitely not finding a coach.
I’ve written my own training plan since I was 14 years old and thinking back at some of my choices, at 14 and 15 particularly, I cringe.
From benching with partial range because I thought going to my chest may hurt my shoulders, to squatting in the smith machine (yes you read that correctly) there were a lot of things I could have done by just asking some questions or finding a mentor.
The biggest mistake when I first started working out was nutrition.
I was very fortunate to start lifting weights from a very young age but even during my military career I never guessed that nutrition would have such an impact on your physique.
I remember looking in magazines thinking “I Train harder than that guy how come he looks so much better” and it didn’t really click until I left the Army and started bodybuilding”.
The biggest mistake I made when I first started working out was not seeking out the help of a coach.
I basically went into the gym and just did what I saw other people doing. There was no rhyme or reason as to why I picked an exercise other than “I just felt like doing it.”
My first experience with coaching came in college where I played soccer. I began to realize here that I had no idea what I was doing. With some earlier coaching I may have been a little bit stronger and faster for my sport.
At least I have learned my lesson and even though I possess a Master’s degree in the field and a wealth of experience, I have a whole team of coaches.
I wish I knew the “Car Analogy” earlier.
The “Car Analogy” is understanding that muscle growth requires gas pedal, which is the equivalent of training harder; steering wheel which is the equivalent of optimal movement and execution; and brakes, which is the equivalent of rest and recovery.
Early on, the only tool I knew was gas pedal, gas pedal, gas pedal. If I wasn’t growing, hit the gas pedal harder. It wasn’t until I discovered the brakes and steering wheel that the gas pedal become an effective tool again.
So the biggest mistake I made was not learning how to use the steering wheel before I started hitting the gas pedal.
Whether you’re enhanced or drug-free, focusing on mastering the steering wheel must come before anything else or else it’s only a matter of time before you crash and burn.
The biggest mistake I made was in “learning too much”.
I spent my early days scouring message boards, reading papers, reading Supertraining and its ilk, developing complex training protocols, and trying to fine tune my training before I’d even mastered the basics.
It was a classic case of majoring in the minors, jumping around from program to program, changing accessories, switching my daily split, and thinking that these tweaks would make the difference. They did not.
I needed more time under the bar- I would have traded nearly every minute I’d spent with my nose in clutter for a single afternoon with a good coach. This hurt my development tremendously.
I had the physical training age of a rookie, yet the complexity of my approach was staggering. Even now, at 35 years old, having spent all but a few years of early childhood and four years in college engaged in some form of sport or athletic pursuit, my training programs are relatively simple and uncomplicated.
I wish I had those years back!
When I was training in college, I didn’t take a day off for YEARS. I’m not joking. Not a single day off.
It wasn’t until I got a little distance from my competitive days that I began to appreciate the true value of regeneration, rest, and recovery.
Going too hard, too often.
Once I followed a solid periodized power lifting program my improvements were remarkable.
So now that you’ve read all 37 responses, what should you do now?
Well reading them is a great start, but unless you’re prepared to take action this will be a massive opportunity missed.
Don’t do what I used to do when I read an awesome article. I’d think to myself “what a great article, I’ll definitely implement this” before closing the article and forgetting it ever existed.
As I mentioned earlier, save or bookmark this article so you can refer back to it in the future.
Take some time to analyse what you’re currently doing in your own work outs against the mistakes outlined by the experts. I guarantee that there is at least one change you can make today that will help you in the long run.
With all this great information, it can be tempting to try and change 20 different things in one go. Don’t do that as you’ll just get confused and overwhelmed.
Instead, just pick one area that can be improved and focus on it for the next week. If you’ve successfully implemented that change, come back to the article and work out where the next improvement can be made.
What one change are you going to make to your workouts to avoid the mistakes highlighted by the experts?
Let me know in the comments below!