Read part one and two of this strength training series here.
#1. You don't warm up properly
While it can work, 5 minutes on the stair master isn't what one would call a "warm up of champions". A great warm up balances your movement patterns and muscles, gets the blood pumping, and focuses the mind and nervous system. It doesn't need to be very long, just 5-10 minutes if you know what works for you. Consider this progression: foam rolling/tissue work, dynamic stretches, functional movements, then lifting with a warmup set.
*Speaking of movement patterns: stretching randomly to just loosen up is not recommended. Stretch with a purpose for the day and to help improve the quality and safety of the strength training movements you are planning on doing. Sometimes this means stretching asymmetrically. Static stretching is more specific but not a warm up, dynamic stretching is more general but also gets you warm.
#2. All you care about is weights and reps
The most fun part of strength training is hitting new highs, so it's easy to throw form and muscle focus out the window in pursuit of a new PR. The thing with strength training, though, is that gains need to be made week after week. Prioritizing form and feeling the muscles work throughout the entire movement not only helps you build strength with less weight, it is the most healthy way to strength train. If you feel a burn, your putting the stress on your muscles and doing it right. If you feel sharp pain or excessive pressure, you're compromising your ligaments and joints.
#3. You don't rest enough between workouts
Training fatigued doesn't help you build strength, it just wears out your body and stops progress. How long of rest is enough between workouts? It's a bit complicated, especially if you're a bodybuilder or an athlete. But, for general workout programs, rest around 1-2 days before working the same muscle group again.
#4. You have no idea what progressive overload means
A very powerful training tool is progressive overload: the concept of continually challenging your muscles to grow and become stronger by slowly adding on more weight. You do this from workout to workout as well as from set to set. Learn more about this concept here.
*the key point is to continually challenge yourself for sustained strength gains.
#5. You ignore muscle imbalances and your individual build
Don't back squat if you have FAI and it hurts, instead try single leg strength exercises, significantly drop the weight, and/or do less ROM. Don't bench press all day if you've got a rounded back and shoulder pain, instead try an exercise that will help fix the problem (like Y's, T' & W's). Each exercise is medicine for your body, use each one with caution and respect. Get it? Most people don't, though, it's easier to do the "sexier" strength exercises than to take a step back and assess if what you're doing it right for your body type and health.
*quick tip: if you choose to squat, deadlift, bench or do any exercise that just feels hard to "fit in to" because of your body proportions, go lighter with pain-free ROM and use BRF bands at higher reps ONLY with perfect form to get the same benefits without the injury risks.
#6. You've been doing the same workout for years
This is huge strength training error and is all to common. Why? Because it's easier not to change. In addition to progressive overload, make sure to switch up your exercises every month (30 days) for new ones that build upon your past month's strength gains.
*regardless of how difficult or easy your strength program is, ask if your actually getting you stronger or are just wasting your time.
#7. You train your strengths instead of weaknesses
Once again, it's just easier to do things that come easy. But, you're only as strong as you're weakest link, so why not train it? The point of strength training should be to elevate your entire body, not just one part. It's in your best interests to work the less strong areas of your body, especially if you're planning on lifting really heavy in the future, as muscle weaknesses and imbalances can become even more pronounced as your strength builds.
#8. You don't eat enough protein
You want to eat 2 kilograms of protein per pound of body weight for peak, peak strength gains. Checkout this amino acid and this protein powder to help you meet this goal.
#9. You don't pay attention to rest time between sets
Workouts will instantly become harder and more effective when you stick to a scheduled rest regimen between sets. Go here to see how much rest you need between sets for your strength goal. If you're not ready to go after the recommended amount of rest, you may be lifting too heavy.
#10. You just use machines
Machines have a place here and there for specific goals, especially when going really light to help recover from injury and/or for the geriatric population. But machines, in general, make your body, muscles, and joints move and take on stress in a way that is very unnatural. Machines do nothing for your athleticism and most only work one muscle at a time, too.
*the exception to this rule are cable machines, there are tons of creative, functional movements and accessory exercises to do with this machine.
11. You just lift weights
Strength can also be gained from doing body weight exercises, manual labor, plyometrics, yoga, sports, hiking, kayaking, and plenty more fun activities!
#12. You do these exercises (with too much weight)
The big three are: squats, deadlifts, and bench-press. Other ones are: shoulder presses, biceps curls, ANY Olympic lift, leg extension, leg press & anything that just feels wrong or hurts (like exercises that impinge joints and/or put the body in a compromised, unnatural position).
If you're not hitting the gym with excitement and focus of Ronnie Coleman most days, you may be overtrained and/or losing sight of the benefits of strength training. Take some time to reconsider your goals, program structure (any recent, rapid advances in activity?) and health. If you're a man, loss of motivation can also be a symptom of low testosterone.
*When in doubt, rest more so you can train harder later.
#15. You don't listen to your body
Listen to how you feel before, during, and after each workout. For example, did your shoulders get wonky after doing bench press? Does the squat hurt when going below 90 degrees? Feeling a tug in the hamstrings before deadlifting? If so, maybe lay off and not do that next time and figure out what the problem is. Make sure you never continue doing something if it hurts and make sure to rest a bit longer between workouts if you need to. On the other hand, notice what makes your body feel good and what types of exercises rapidly advance your strength (this is different for everyone). There is no shame in working smart vs. working hard.
#16. You wear the wrong shoes
Solid strength training shoes should have close to a zero drop and a hard, flat sole. Cushy shoes with an elevated platform scream injury, lack of control, sprained ankle, and pain down the road.
#17. You frequently lift but have poor lifestyle habits
You can't run a sports car on stripped tires, feed it the wrong fuel, and crash it into stuff and then expect it to win a race (let alone drive).
#18. You don't listen to music
For billions of people, music instantly increases performance, focus, and enjoyment when exercising. Are you one of those people who doesn't like music? We just don't undestand.
#18. You don't prioritize mobility and joint health
If you're stiff and/or have unhealthy joints, you won't be able to build strength. Take the time now, while you're still young (or, at least, able) to take care of your joints for many years of strength training to come. See points 5, 7, 10, and 15 for more insights.
#19. You don't know how to breathe during reps (*or after sets)
Generally, you breathe in when the weight is going down and out when you push the weight up. Breath holding for very short periods of time can also help stabilize and protect your muscles (for experienced lifters only) during heavy lifts. When you're done the set, focus on slow and controlled breaths and slowing down your HR as much as possible.
#20. You train body parts instead of body sections
It's a better use of your time to do training splits: train lower body one day and then upper body the other day (or full body every 1 or 2 days) with more of an emphasis on complementary movements (like push/pull) that work multiple muscles at the same time. Training single body parts is also unathletic and has been proven to not be the most effective way of strength training.
#21. You don't mark you progress
Whether you write down your weights and areas of improvement after each set or just remember them, tracking progression let's you gauge how your strength gains are progressing and where/how you are heading.
*always make an effort to write down mistakes with your form!
#22. You don't train at the right time
According to ph360 genetic research, everybody has an ideal time to workout for maximum enjoyment and gains. In short, most people are not "designed" for a 6am or 10pm workout (though you can get use to it). A good window to start a workout, generally speaking, is from 8am to 4pm.
#23. You don't occasionally look in the mirror
The mirror is your best friend when it comes to correcting your form. While it's not advisable to stare into the mirror all workout long, glance over a few times to make sure you're still doing the movement right. This is especially important for new strength trainers and when learning new movements.
*random tip: put a piece of tape on the floor when doing squats to make sure your feet/toes are properly lined up.
#24. You don't train with others
Strength training with other people (especially those better than you) makes you put just that little bit more extra effort into the session. It's a bit easier to not go as hard or be as accountable when you're on your own, so if you have the opportunity to train with others, be thankful.
#25. You don't cool down properly
Give yourself a good 5-15 minutes to let your body cool down before going back into "daily life". Also, don't just sit down for hours on end after exercising. You must avoid extended periods of sedentary activity at all costs, especially after working out. It will tighten up your muscles, make you more sore, and hurt your recovery (plus other negative consequences).