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11 things that even experts did wrong and what they would do differently today

11 Dinge, die selbst Experten falsch gemacht haben Und was sie heute anders machen würden

We asked 11 experts from different areas of weight training the following question:

What was the biggest mistake you made as a beginner - and what would you do differently today?

I tried to do what the best did

I've always had a pretty good bullshit detector and decent common sense, which has meant that I've luckily always sought out intelligent teachers. There's a saying that goes "success leaves its mark", which is why I always tried to surround myself with people who knew more than I did.

But as a beginner, I should have asked the more advanced guys how they built their fundamentals and strength base. What works for advanced exercisers doesn't necessarily work for beginners and vice versa.

For this reason, you should seek out the people who have achieved what you want to achieve, but instead of just imitating and copying them, you should ask them how they started and how they achieved what they are achieving today - and then do just that.

- Ben Bruno - Strength coach

I didn't use frequency to my advantage

I was convinced that there was a magical combination of sets and reps that I hadn't found yet. I therefore searched endlessly in bodybuilding and weight training magazines to find the answer to my question. The real problem, however, was that I was not training my stubborn muscles with sufficient frequency.

During one week I tried high reps and during the next low reps. Then it was triple descending sets or training with inhuman intensity and partial reps. All of these failed because I didn't realize that even the best combination of sets and reps during a single training session will only stimulate a minimal amount of muscle growth, even at best. Adding more intensity and volume to a training session that already included more than enough of both was like trying to add more gasoline to an already full tank.

It wasn't until I increased the frequency of training for my stubborn muscle groups (by four times or more) that I started to see growth.

However, after a month or so, I started having problems with overtraining. It took me even more time to figure out that the increased frequency needed to be limited to a few muscle groups at a time and that the exercise parameters needed to change systematically every few weeks. Fortunately, I figured this out in my early years so that my clients didn't have to suffer as much as I did.

- Chad Waterbury - Strength and Conditioning Coach

I was doing the wrong exercises

As a lanky teenager, I couldn't perform many of the most effective exercises like barbell squats, bodyweight pull-ups and dips. As a result, I didn't do these exercises for the first four years of my training. During this time, I had no idea about regression and progression.

When I finally added barbell squats to my program (this was the time before the advent of the internet), I was performing quarter squats and deadlifts with a rounded back because I simply didn't know any better.

Had I started with a simple regression like goblet squats, band-assisted and eccentric pull-ups, band-assisted and eccentric dips, and Romanian squats, I could have performed variations of these exercises from the start. I would have progressed quickly and within six months I could have been doing deep squats with a barbell, pull-ups, dips and clean deadlifts and I would have seen much faster progress in my body development as well.

- Bret Contreras - Strength coach

I was doing too many finetuning exercises

Before strength and conditioning coaches got a voice in the popular media, we could only rely on information from bodybuilding magazines. This meant that most of us were simply copying the pros. Practical experience is important, but it also made us short-sighted.

For example, I bought a book by bodybuilder Bob Paris. In this book he recommended toe lifts. This is something like reverse calf raises, where your heels stay on the floor and you lift your toes. I was firmly convinced at the time that my overall body development would become unbalanced if I left this little exercise out.

The problem? I was doing all these silly toe raises instead of exercises like deadlifts and pull-ups. It's kind of like polishing the rims of your car but forgetting to fill it up with gas and do regular oil changes.

Today we see much the same thing. Too many young people spend too much time focusing on the little things. Excessive corrective exercise. Excessive flexibility training, working on balance...even though their real goal is simply to lose fat and build muscle. All this stuff has its place, but you shouldn't forget about throwing heavy weights around and doing things that get you out of breath and sweating.

And that's the core problem: all this accompanying stuff is light, which is why people tend to favor it. But light doesn't force your body to adapt and change. Light won't make you strong and it won't make you look good naked.

Chris Shugart - T Nation Chief Creative Officer

I was looking at food in isolation

I was an overworked, health-obsessed, exercise junkie with a carb phobia who used to think "To hell with this diet. If I don't get something to eat right away, I'm going to start chewing my own arm off. Surely I can treat myself to the occasional hamburger or pizza." And so I gave in to my cravings.

What were the results? A 100-inch waist, 30 pounds overweight and a thyroid condition. This type of overly stressed thinking always caused me to go extremely overboard in one way or another.

For example, I would give up bananas because they contained "too many" carbohydrates, but as a result I would end up enjoying a burger or cheesecake binge a few days later. After observing this phenomenon occur continuously patient after patient, I gave it the name "the banana effect."

And here's what I had to do differently: first, I recognized the concept of buffer foods. There are certain foods that we need in our diet for no other reason than we love them and they satisfy our cravings. I loved bananas. Eating bananas gives me the sweet taste I crave, but at the same time, bananas don't lead to the binge eating that eating French fries can do.

Bananas are my buffer food. When I include bananas in my regular diet, it results in me eating better overall and feeling more satisfied. Bananas are able to keep my hunger, energy and cravings under control.

Another example of a buffer food for me is wine. If I can have a glass of wine with dinner, it allows me to feel satisfied with just salad, steak and vegetables and keeps me from overeating carbs or needing dessert.

Looking at food in isolation, as if it had nothing to do with my other food choices, was a big mistake. Now I eat what allows me to make better food choices at subsequent meals - even when those foods might not be the most desirable choice in isolation.

Jade Teta - Integrative physician, naturopath, coach

I spent too much time on the lifting phase and not enough time on the lowering phase

When I started training in 1959, nobody really paid attention to the lowering/eccentric phase. It was the lifting/concentric phase that was important to us. In each set of 10 repetitions, the concentric phase became progressively heavier from the seventh or eighth repetition until I had to deviate a little - or sometimes quite a lot - to get through the last one or two repetitions.

After I had lowered the weight on the last repetitions, did I then lower the weight slowly, evenly and in a controlled manner? No. I just dropped it and hoped that it might bounce a little at the bottom to give me the momentum I needed to perform another concentric repetition. My training partners and I focused on concentric training. The question we were concerned with was, "How much weight can you move up?"

In 1972, I read an article titled "Accentuate the Negative," by Arthur Jones in IronMan magazine. Jones had found that the negative part of the movement was more important than the lifting phase. He proved that the average exerciser is about 40% stronger during the negative phase than during the positive phase. In other words, this means the following: If you can perform a strict repetition barbell curl with 50 kilos, then you can perform a controlled negative repetition barbell curl with 70 kilos.

Jones spent the next two decades trying to develop machines that allowed more resistance during the negative phase of the movement than during the concentric phase, but he was never really successful - at least by his standards and desires. The guideline he had was simple: allow twice as long for the negative repetition as for the concentric phase of the movement. So if the concentric phase lasts 2 seconds, then you should allow 4 seconds for the negative repetition. Such a guideline is better for free weights than for machines, as machines involve friction, making the concentric movement harder and the eccentric movement easier.

Since 2000, exercisers have gradually returned to more concentric and less eccentric training. If you visit serious bodybuilding gyms today, you may not see anyone performing heavy negative reps or anything else along those lines.

In 2009, a groundbreaking study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on the subject. The scientists looked at 66 studies from the last 50 years that compared resistance training in the form of negative training with concentric resistance training. The scientists used the data from all these studies to carry out computer-calculated meta-analyses. The results showed that negative training was significantly more effective for building muscle mass and strength than purely concentric training.

I wish I had known more about negative training during my early days of training.

- Ellington Darden - physician, bestselling bodybuilding author

I was doing too many tricep kickbacks

I also trained too many leg extensions, wrist curls, reverse curls and other exercises that gave me too little value for my efforts. I was big and pathetically skinny at the time and shouldn't have wasted my time on such useless exercises.

I should have had a plan. I should have focused on squats, lunges, deadlifts, overhead presses, rowing, pull-ups with added weight, and maybe at least considered that unless a person is an NFL offensive lineman, frequently finds himself in the woods with oak trees falling on his chest, or pushing cars out of the snow for a living, he doesn't need to spend half of his workouts bench pressing.

I should have built a strength base first using progressive programs where I would have focused on one or two strength exercises at a time and maintained performance on the others.

I should have done exercises like Loaded Carries and pushing a weight sled as "cardio" instead of working out on the bike ergometer or jogging or doing silly workouts on an elliptical.

I should have hired a trainer for at least a couple workouts to teach me the Olympic weightlifting drills. I shouldn't have tried to copy hour-long workout programs from steroid-filled bodybuilders. I should have had a life outside of the gym. I should have known what a woman's touch felt like. Can anyone tell me if her skin is really as soft as the seats in my aunt's Lexus Coupe?

And then - after I would have built a solid strength base, mastered the Olympic weightlifting exercises, and learned at least a few finer points of strength training - I should have added a few curls for the girls to my program and started training for specific muscle groups.

And I probably wouldn't have had to worry about those stupid isolation exercises if I'd done everything right from the start, as I wouldn't have needed them in the first place. All that hard stuff would have gotten me exactly where I wanted to go from a body development perspective.

- TC Luoma - T Nation Editor

I tried to force-feed my muscles

When I was 18 years old, I wanted to gain weight to play football. So I started eating tons of junk food every day. I ate junk food at least twice a day and drank multiple servings of high-calorie shakes that contained weight gainers, ice cream, peanut butter, eggs and whole milk. I must have eaten around 6000 kcal a day. I did everything I could to make the weight on the scales go up.

One summer I increased my weight from 84 to 100 kilos and honestly thought it was all muscle, as my pants hadn't gotten any tighter. Little did I know that my mom was making my pants wider while my belly was growing! In reality, my belly had gone from 82 to 105 centimeters.

When football training camp came around, it took me a pathetic 5.31 seconds to run the 4 yards, which was slower than most. I was kicked out of the starting lineup after only two games because I just couldn't keep up.

After that season I decided to lose fat, only to end up back at 85 kilos. So over a period of 9 months I had achieved virtually nothing in the prime of my bodybuilding potential. This was the point where I learned that you can't force muscle growth by eating. Of course, eating too little is one of the best ways to limit muscle growth, but the concept of the mass-building phase died for me that year.

I also learned that unless you're already lean to begin with (and have a body fat percentage above 13%), it's hard to judge purely by visual difference whether you've increased your body fat percentage by 5 or 6 percentage points. There is an area of body fat where it is difficult to see a difference. If your body fat percentage is between 14 and 20 percent, then you're not lean enough to be defined and not fat enough to look like crap. You may well be building 10 to 15 pounds of fat and THINK you're building muscle.

When it comes to building a muscular body, there are no shortcuts. Unless you have amazing genetics for building muscle, you're going to have to accept that achieving your dream body is going to be a long-term project. And trying to force Mother Nature to do something can have the exact opposite effect and make achieving your dream body even harder.

The best thing you can do is to get your diet on track: eat plenty of high quality foods and avoid the junk food route. Choose a training philosophy that fits your goals and work hard. And consider a good supplement protocol to optimize your training sessions (here you should first get your nutrition around your training on point before considering anything else). Do this consistently for several years and you will get a little closer to your goal every day.

Christian Thibaudeau - Strength coach

I thought that isolation movements trumped

If I had to do it all over again, I would use the following simple guidelines for training with weights:

  • Pick it up off the floor.
  • Push it up over your head.
  • Carry it over a distance.

When I first started training, I did everything from the floor. Every exercise, every repetition and every set started from the floor. When I got to the advanced level, we did the same:

  • Power Transfer
  • Standing shoulder presses
  • Front squats
  • Bench press

Bench press from the floor? Yes, we had benches without a rack and your training partners grabbed the bar at both ends and brought it to you.

Then the ascent of the machines began. Now we lay down, sat down and strapped ourselves in. I trained bench presses on machines! It took me three years to realize this mistake.

- Dan John - weight training coach

I followed the "eat a lot to get muscular" philosophy

I thought that as long as I met my protein needs, I could eat whatever I wanted. This approach led to me getting bulkier, but it wasn't good bulk. I got so fat that my heart rate and blood pressure would spike to unhealthy levels when I tried to tie my shoes.

This led to a longer, more demanding competition diet where the end result of all the suffering was very little net muscle gain of competition quality.

After 23 years of competition experience, I know that it is more effective and healthier to stay closer to competition form during the off-season. This also makes dieting much easier as you are always within striking distance. The quality of off-season gains is significantly more important than the quantity of gains on the scale.

- Mark Dugdale - IFBB Pro Bodybuilder

I would do absolutely nothing differently

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have great people guiding me and I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and listen to those people. So I did most of the things that everyone should do: eat well for years, jump, do squats, run and play multiple sports.

One thing I left out for the sake of time and energy was training for upper body hypertrophy. But that's really splitting hairs, as I wanted to be strong and fast and achieve my goals rather than worry about horseshoe-shaped triceps.

The lesson from this is to keep your mouth shut, open your ears and listen! There are mentors everywhere, as long as you leave your ego and your 4 months of sporadic training experience out of it.

- Jim Wendler - Strength coach


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