By Jeremey DuVall, M.S., CPT Men's Fitness
In the pursuit of a ripped six-pack and bulging biceps, more might not always mean better. In fact, working harder in the gym may set you farther back from an ideal physique. Overreaching, a state of fatigue caused from several weeks of training too hard, can result in poor recovery from workouts and a sharp decrease in hormones that help to build muscle. Those that keep pushing may move into the more severe state of overtraining, which is characterized by lack of motivation and depressed mood. To avoid falling in a slump, stay clear of the following mistakes.
1. Too Many Exercises
The quest for the perfect physique leaves many guys packing their workout with a plethora of exercises designed to hit their muscles from every angle. In reality, most lifters would make far more progress focusing on the basics than attempting five different chest exercises. In general, compound lifts allow for greater loading and therefore place a far greater growth stimulus on the muscle. Rather than packing your routine with a few sets of a ton of exercises, focus on 4-5 heavy hitters and perform multiple sets to perfect technique.
2. Too Much Frequency
Hitting the gym every day is a quick way to drop into an overreaching state and see an immediate decrease in performance. Your body needs rest days in order to recover from the constant muscle breakdown in the gym. Beginners will see tremendous results while only hitting the gym three days a week. Intermediate and advanced lifters can bump up their training to four to five as long as they continue to focus on recovery. The days in between shouldn’t be sedentary. Going for a walk, foam rolling, and practicing some yoga or light stretching are all great alternatives to move your body while still allowing your muscles to recover.
3. Too Much Cardio
With the current state of the U.S. obesity epidemic, cardio certainly shouldn’t be demonized, but if your main focus is building strength and size, it shouldn’t form the backbone of your training. Steady state cardio at a moderate pace helps to build heart strength, but it also tailors your body towards type I muscle fibers – those with the least potential for growth. Your cardio training should mimic your strength training. That means the bulk of your time on the treadmill should involve intervals that feature brief periods of intense activity followed by recovery periods of light jogging or walking. The high intensity intervals allow you to increase muscle-building hormones and hit the bigger type II muscle fibers all while offering a great cardio workout.
4. Intensity Overload
The “Go big or go home” mentality that pushes many guys to leave it all in the gym may actually cause a decrease in performance. Similar to working out too often, constantly pushing your body to the limit each workout neglects the need for recovery. A proper program should include periods of high intensity with alternating weeks of lower activity commonly referred to as deload weeks. These deload weeks shouldn’t consist of complete rest. A week of light work in the gym is the perfect time to catch up on soft tissue work and stretching that you may have neglected. Plan out deload weeks in advance around your work and family schedule so it falls at a time when it would be tough to maintain your normal routine. Lee Boyce, trainer and writer at LeeBoyceTraining.com, recommends having a deload week in your program every eight weeks to maintain performance.
5. Time Wasting
With lack of time being a major factor keeping many people out of the gym, it’s amazing how many guys waste time on their cell phones and chatting with lifting buds in between sets. According to Lee, the average individual should be able to complete a full workout in 45 minutes not including warm-up and cool-down. To make the most of your time in the weight room, focus on timing your sets. Immediately upon finishing a set, start a timer. For general conditioning, give yourself 60 seconds before preparing for the next set. Those looking to increase size and strength should wait two minutes before attacking the weights. Start as soon as the timer goes off. Also, have a plan of attack when you hit the gym rather than making it up as you go. Writing out your exercises beforehand can save you a lot of headache when you hit the gym floor.