An error occurred! What’s the biggest training error holding back your progress? Here four top bodybuilders reveal the basic mistakes they made early on and how they finally overcame them.
LEE BANK’S MISTAKE: Training Arms Too Often
I was 17 when I injured myself in karate. I could hardly walk, so I started working with my upper body I didn’t know anything about training in the beginning so I’d train my arms four or five days a week! Because I was so young I didn’t really get that sore so there was nothing to indicate that I was doing something wrong.
I was doing high reps — around 25 per set. Arms are like a signature bodypart that everybody sees and every guy wants a nice set of arms. That’s what you see at the gym, a lot of big arms and hardly any well-built legs. I trained that way for about two months, and then I began seeing some growth — that’s when I started learning.
The Fix: Limiting Bodyparts to 1-2 Sessions a Week
Once I got back to walking again, then I could go out and work with more pieces of equipment and it just got better from there. If I could talk to a young Lee, I’d tell him about the importance of training the whole body. It’s important to train every body part for total development. Maybe train your arms once or twice a week — but 4-5 times is just unacceptable and downright unproductive!
I talk to most young guys I work with about core movements like the bench press, squats, and deadlifts so that they don’t get too caught up in overtraining any one body part. Your biceps and triceps are small body parts and if you train them too often, you’re defeating your goals of gaining muscle. Most pros may do three exercises for biceps, and three for triceps. Doing anything more will overtrain them. Some guys are in the gym six days a week. You don’t grow in the gym, you grow at home.
Give yourself time to recover between workouts. Hit each body part hard once per week and then allow ample recovery time because that’s where new muscle is born.
SANTANA ANDERSON’S MISTAKE: Lifting Huge Weights
When I was just starting out, my biggest mistake was just lifting weight and not really concentrating on muscle contraction as much as I should. I was just trying to lift heavy for the sake of lifting heavy, which of course makes you prone to injury and ultimately limits growth. I was in high school and everybody wanted to have a big bench, big curl,s and a big squat. At 16, it’s a kind of competition when you’re in the gym. At first, even when I graduated high school, I was 170 pounds or so but I was strong for my weight.
The Fix: Focus on Technique
The volume I was doing was appropriate for my age and my experience, but if I’d performed the reps a lot cleaner and with a better range of motion, I would’ve progressed much more. I grew up in rural Nova Scotia, and there were no bodybuilders in my town, so I moved to Ontario my first year out of high school and started working at a supplement shop. The owner was a bodybuilder and he showed me the proper way to do things. These days, I let people know that it’s not what you’re lifting, but the way you’re lifting.
Make sure you’re working through the full range of motion. Watch your form and take your time with your reps. Remember, it’s not a race.
ARMON ADIBI’S MISTAKE: Neglecting Major Bodyparts
When I first started training, it was to get in shape for soccer when I was 16. I played on the club and high school teams, which made for a year-round commitment. In high school, we had a football coach also serving as the soccer coach, and he really didn’t know much. So eventually, I ended up neglecting my backside. I’d go every day and hit my chest and shoulders and arms. I loved training my quads but I didn’t do anything for my hamstrings. Nothing was happening, and I was still playing soccer so although I was running a lot I wasn’t making any gains at all.
The Fix: Don’t Focus on What You See in the Mirror
It wasn’t until I started researching that I realized training each bodypart once per week was the way to grow. I’d neglected my back and hamstrings because I never saw them, so all of my other bodyparts came to dominate those. My shoulders and arms are a pretty good size and since I wasn’t genetically blessed with a good back, I have to do more now to get it caught up. I really have to concentrate on using my back. I’ve tried once, twice a week, with deadlifts and without. I wish I’d done a lot more rowing-type movements instead of focusing so much on arms, legs and chest.
Don’t neglect any bodypart. You’ll regret it in the future.
EVGENY MISHIN’S MISTAKE: Following “Any” Routine
One mistake I made early on was following someone else’s routine. I had a nutritionist and I started following his routine. But it wasn’t working for me. It required me to do a lot of cardio with no carbs. You can do that for a while and it’ll work. Doing that much cardio will help you get leaner but it won’t get you bigger and fuller. It can also end up backfiring on you no matter how much you train.
The Fix: Watch, Evaluate, Learn
After I went back to my routine, I started making progress again. Since then, I’ve placed third at the 2010 Europa and the 2011 Orlando, and I’ve competed in two Olympias. It may sound silly but you should do what’s good for you, not what some guru says because trainers can be wrong. You have to learn what feels better and what works for your body. Yes, you have to make some mistakes along the way.
Nobody wants to make mistakes because it costs a lot of time and energy, so that’s why it’s important to get input from people you know you can trust. See how a program works for them. If some guy at your gym is benching 400 pounds but uses bad form, he may not look any better and the only thing he’s setting himself up for is an injury. That’s a mistake you can learn from.
Do what works for you and nobody else. Watch and learn from others, learn from their mistakes, but realize that what works for someone else may not work for you.
5 Most Common Bodybuilding Mistakes
A closer look at some of the mistakes that befall beginners looking to add size and shape to their physiques.
- 1 TRAINING TOO OFTEN
If once per week is good, then three times per week must be three times as productive, right? Wrong. Weight training merely provides the stimulus for growth. By breaking down muscle tissue you put your body in a position to grow stronger and bigger (with rest and proper nutrition, of course). Hitting a bodypart too frequently interrupts the process of muscle building and keeps you from making improvements. Your best bet? Train every bodypart hard once per week.
- 2 DOING TOO MUCH CARDIO
Some beginners make the mistake of wanting to be a total-pack-age, stage-ready contender from the get-go. And since cardio creates that lean, finished look, they run until they can’t run anymore. The problem is that the huge caloric deficit that’s created leaves your body scrounging for materials with which to rebuild muscle. Yes, cardio helps to shed bodyfat but adding lean muscle is what’s going to make the biggest, long-term effect on your physique. As a beginner, 2-3, 20-30-minute cardio sessions per week are adequate for fat-burning and cardiovascular health benefits.
- 3 LIFTING WITH EGO
Lifting progressively heavier weights is the only way to add strength. There’s no getting around that. But by foregoing patience in favor of ego, many newbies start piling on the pounds too soon, using bad form, bouncing the weight, going through a very short range of motion, and using cheating techniques (bad form). This can be a recipe for injury or, at the very least, overwhelming discouragement. Instead, aim for small, incremental increases in weight on key lifts from workout to workout.
- 4 NOT TRAINING TO FAILURE
Lee Banks trained his arms five times a week but never to failure, which is why he never had that crippling soreness — the hallmark of growth. You simply can’t go through the motions and expect success. When a workout routine calls for 10 reps, there should be 10 challenging reps in which you definitely couldn’t have done 11. That’s what training to failure is all about. But limit intensity-boosting techniques like forced reps to the last set of an exercise — doing more has little proven benefit and can actually result in overtraining.
- 5 SKIPPING LEG DAY
Wanna get big? You have to squat. End of lecture. At the very least, you should train your legs using heavy weight and compound movements such as the leg press and Smith-machine squat once a week. By avoiding your legs you’re neglecting the biggest, most growth-prone muscles in your body, and you won’t get the hormonal boost that lifting heavy weights for large muscle groups can deliver. Many lifters find they can add 10 pounds or more in very little time by simply adding one hard leg day to their training split. By adding mass to your quads, hams, and glutes, you’re also sharpening your metabolic mettle — more muscle means more calories burned at rest. Like Armon Adibi, making sure to train your back — another large muscle group — hard and properly can also help you add size in a hurry.