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There are plenty of articles telling you how to improve your training and increase your gains, but not so many that point out where you might be going wrong. People don’t like to be told they are wrong, but they need to know. The cardinal sins laid out below are not just tiny problems, they […]
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People don’t like to be told they are wrong, but they need to know. The cardinal sins laid out below are not just tiny problems, they are bad habits and big mistakes that can bring your development to a complete standstill. Maybe you don’t even know you’re doing them, perhaps they’ve become the norm, but one thing is for sure, fixing these issues will do a whole lot more for your training than any new fangled superfood or exercise.
So here we go, the dirty dozen, how many of these offenses are true of you?
Let’s start with a simple one, not even bothering to turn up! It’s plain for anyone to see that you’re not going to see any results from your training if you don’t even get yourself to the gym. There is no magical iron fairy, muscles don’t train themselves. You have to get your butt in gear and train. Whatever your regular excuses are, they’re not good enough. Before long it will become a habit, you will start skipping more sessions, and you’ll barely be doing enough to maintain, let alone build muscle. Start by analyzing your excuses and either dismissing them as boloney or looking for a maintainable solution.
Do you struggle to find time after work, or does work sap your motivation? Try training in the morning.
Do you often get tempted to hang out with friends instead of training? Restrict yourself to what days you will do this and work your training around it, or again, train at a different time of day.
Do you feel too tired to train? If this is just a psychological tiredness, see suggestions above, if you genuinely are tired, you may be overtraining, take a week or two off completely, then return with renewed vigor.
The only excuses you may use for not training are emergencies (genuine!), injury and illness. There is no point training if you even have a cold. Rest up and let your body mend.
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Don’t expect to transform your physique in a matter of weeks. Be realistic about what you expect from your training and your body. Wanting a chest like Arnie’s by the summer is an exercise in delusion, as well as a surefire way to disillusion yourself and fail. Don’t constantly run to the scales after every session either, expecting to see the needle creeping up. Assess your physique quarterly, then pick target areas and goals for the future.
Throwing weights around that are far too heavy is the perfect way to build an unimpressive, injury riddled body. Proper form is the key, and will always remain the key. You know the guy who always lurches a ridiculous amount of weight around, doing partial reps and using his legs to generate momentum? Every gym has at least one.
Well as impressive as his numbers may appear to be, there’s a good chance if he actually performed those exercises correctly he’d struggle with two-thirds of that weight. But, at least, his muscles would be effectively stimulated. Jerking weights around only serves to reduce the range of motion and place massive strain on joints and fragile connective tissue, don’t do it!
No, there’s no contradiction coming here, a lot of people go the other way and don’t lift heavy enough. Sure, you must perform your lifts with as close to perfect technique as you can muster, but the muscles need stress to grow. Your big sets should be in the 6-10 rep range, or even lower, and must go to failure, and beyond if possible. It is these heavy sets that lay down the foundations for growth.
Even more important than lifting heavy is ensuring your workouts are intense enough. Pushing a 6-8 rep set to failure, then playing with your phone for 5 or 6 minutes before going again is not going to build muscle to your full potential. Keep rest time down to 45-90 seconds, maybe slightly longer for big lifts like squats and deadlifts.
During your rest period, you should be catching your breath and gently stretching and shaking the working muscles. It is high-intensity workouts that build muscle. If this means you have to lower the weight slightly, so be it. Your body feels strain, but it can’t read the numbers on the dumbbells!
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Know what your goals are.
Are you trying to bulk up right now? Maybe you’re training for strength? Are you on a mission to burn fat?
Whatever your goal, focus on it and adapt your training and nutrition to suit. Keeping a training diary is extremely helpful for monitoring progress and ensuring you’re on track.
Don’t get stuck in a boring routine of performing the same old exercises in the same order, on the same day of the week. Mix things up a little! Changing your training routines not only keeps things interesting, it also keeps your body on its toes. If you keep throwing the same stresses at your muscles, they will adapt, and progress will slow to a halt. Add in new exercises… perform them in a different order… switch up your rep range from time to time… and add in new techniques like German volume training. Don’t get stuck in a rut.
So you do 12 different exercises on back day, but you don’t deadlift. Well, you had best have a note from the doctor!
The big, core exercises should form the backbone of your workouts:
These exercises are indispensable. They are tried and tested, they build stacks of muscles, and there are no effective substitutes. Sure, muscles need to be hit from all angles, the fancy exercises do have their place, but never neglect the core lifts in some form.
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When you first start training, you can get away with eating more or less what you want, and you will still see results. However, your body very quickly adapts past this initial shock development and begins to be more demanding. You now need to train harder, sleep more, and eat the right foods at the right times to reap the rewards. The bigger you get, the more you are pushing the will of your genetic code, so you have to tighten the screw. Remaining true to your diet is essential for growth. Allow one cheat meal per week, and stick to it! Filling your body with rubbish is like trying to build a house out of takeaway wrappers!
You need to face up to the fact that bad days happen in the gym sometimes. Every now and then you will walk into the weights room and struggle like hell. Your lifts will drop, you will feel tired, and you will just want to go home. Well, if it’s just a one off, go home, don’t worry about it! Rest up and come back fighting! If it seems to be becoming a common occurrence, you may be overtraining, take a week out.
This is a biggy, and not one that is hugely popular amongst certain crowds in the gym.
Alcohol wreaks havoc on your physique. Sure, everyone likes to let off some steam every once in awhile, but partying all the time will seriously hamper your gains. Alcohol not only zaps your strength and dehydrates you, it also shuts down testosterone production.
It’s like the opposite of taking steroids. Drink occasionally and only in moderation if you want to keep growing.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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