Over 21 years of training, I’ve seen a lot of different muscle building and fat loss programs. I did (and created) more exercise than I remember and tried some good and some bad nutrition programs.
And right now, I want to give you the rundown on some of the very worst mistakes I ever made while doing all these things.
I’m hoping by doing this, I can
help you avoid making those same mistakes, saving you from frustration and potential injury.
1. Too Much Barbell Curling
During the first year of training, I was always doing barbell curls. So what did I do? I bought some neoprene wrist wraps and kept rolling the barbell. stupid.
Of course, continuing to curl was the worst until I read one important fact about barbell curls. Exercise is most stressed because the hands are fixed to the bars and the arms are fixed to the shoulders. The part of the wrist arm that is easily damaged. Overreliance on barbell curls can lead to wrist pain.
Solution: dumbbell curl. Very easy. By allowing the wrist to rotate freely, it steals all its torque from the joint. The problem went away within a few weeks.
Do not overly rely on barbells for training. This kind of tension can occur in almost all barbell exercises, not just curls.
2. I Didn’t Eat Egg Yolks
This is actually one of the funniest stories about my first year of training (when I didn’t really know what I was doing but thought I did)…for 8 months, I refused to eat egg yolks.
I thought (correctly) that that was where all the fat in the egg wash.
What I didn’t realize is that it’s also where the vast majority of the beneficial nutrients of the eggs were. Yolks are also necessary to make egg protein complete (egg whites on their own are not complete in terms of amino acid profile – they’re good, but not perfect, like a whole egg).
The funny part is, I was eating fried cafeteria eggs at the time (6 every day)…fried on a griddle covered unidentifiable grease that I’m VERY sure contained at least 3 times the fat of those yolks I would cut out of my fried eggs (like an idiot). And by not eating the yolks, I wasn’t eating the lecithin found inside the yolks that would emulsify and help protect me from the effects of that terrible fried grease I was eating my eggs with. Live and learn.
Eating whole eggs unless you absolutely have to avoid fat. The cholesterol found in whole eggs is not going to raise your blood cholesterol…it doesn’t work that way. It’s the stuff your body makes itself that causes the problems, not the cholesterol you eat, which is why for those who have cholesterol issues, sometimes diet doesn’t help all that much.
Looking at this, it is estimated that in 21 years of training, we ate about 44,000 whole eggs. My cholesterol is okay.
The protein and other nutrients found in the yolks are going to do you WAY more good than eating just plain egg whites.
3. I Did a Hard Rotational Stretch as a Warm-Up
This was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done in the gym, and not in a good way. I was warming up on the incline barbell bench press and decided I need to loosen up my lower back and core.
While sitting on the seat (the lower body is basically fixed), I rotated my upper body, grabbed the bench and pulled my torso apart. A small muscle on one side of the spine, a small part of the lower back is blown away.
It was like getting stabbed in the back with a hot fireplace poker. I could hardly move…and I still had to walk home from the gym! Instead of 10 minutes, it took me almost an hour, and I had to wear a weight belt cinched up in order to not collapse from the pain (I had to wear it to sleep that night, too).
To this very day, when I get lean enough, you can still see three little round “buttons” where the muscle detached from the bone and bunched up. I was very fortunate that I didn’t completely destroy my ability to train my hips. They were just small pops, but people hurt them.
Do not stretch hard like a warm-up. Use general movements to warm your muscles, shed blood, and move on to more specific movements that target your first exercise. The warm-up can also include some mobility work. Do not stretch hard if your muscles are not warm.
4. Not Eating Enough Fat or Protein
After my first year of training, I gained 75 pounds of bodyweight…and I say bodyweight because it was NOT all muscle. So I decided to go on a fat-loss diet…and I did it completely wrong.
To reduce calories, I removed only all fat from my diet. That is mistake #1. I also reduced my animal protein intake (with the same effort to reduce my fat intake), which was mistake # 2. I lost some fat, but when I did this I lost a lot of muscle and strength. It literally took months to figure out what my mistake was (I read an article about it), fix it, and start regaining my muscles and strength.
I corrected it by eating whole eggs and not taking the skin off my chicken (…mmm chicken skin…)…and I suddenly begain growing like a weed, gaining strength and dropping fat. I felt so much better and realized exactly how I had messed myself up.
Don’t be afraid of fat…even when you’re on a diet, it’s not your enemy. Your body needs fats to function, especially from a hormonal perspective (testosterone comes from saturated fats). You certainly need to monitor your calories and there are nutritional techniques that require you to eliminate fat from your diet in a strategic way. However, in general, do not eliminate fat from your diet. Also, as a side effect of trying to lose fat, you definitely shouldn’t reduce your protein intake.
5. Stupid Stability Training
There were times when I did too much stability training… Looking back, I am now free to accept it.
Stability training, when done properly and for the right purpose, can be a very useful tool in the Training Toolbox. Unfortunately, don’t take it to the point of what I did or the stupidity that many trainers see taking it.
So here’s what I did…
Freestanding dumbbell one-legged squats while standing on one foot on the handle of a round-plate dumbbell (that could roll freely).
It was a circus act more than a useful exercise…I actually developed my balance to the point where I could do 3 or 4 full one-leg squat reps without setting Balance by putting your other foot on the ground or touching something.
Did it help me to get stronger with regular squats? No. There was pretty much zero carryovers to actual useful strength. And the potential downside of falling off the dumbbell while doing this insane exercise…I don’t have to tell you twice.
And here’s what else I did…
Handstand push-ups with my hands on top of the PLATES of two round dumbells set parallel to each other, so as I’m doing the handstand push-up, the dumbells had the potential to roll outwards (in addition to being very unsteady on their own). I did 4 reps of that and have never even considered trying it since.
Stability training is great, but it can go too far. Don’t put your luck trying to use it for a good reason and perform a trick to balance resistive circus levels. There is no carry-over to real-world strength, and risk does not justify it.
6. Too much chest dip if too much weight
A few years ago, I almost shed tears from a heavyweight dip. I know this because I could feel it starting and about to blow out. Luckily for me, when I do dips on my dip station, my feet are about 2 inches from the ground at the bottom. So when I felt that about to go, I immediately dropped out of the exercise, relatively unscathed (just a bit of soreness in the armpit area for a few days).
It’s a fact of heavy training that when you always push things, it you’re probably going to get an injury at some point. It comes with the territory.
For me, at that point, I was doing a lot of chest dips and trying to push my weight to see what I could do. When this happened, I was hanging out of my waist and working up to use an extra 160 pounds (3 45 pound plates and 25-pound plates). And, for the second time since that happened, I found out why I ran this exercise too often under a very heavy load.
I have occasional chest depressions that are not so heavy and not so often. As with other exercises, overdoing and overweight can result in injury.
You have to not only listen to your body…your body has to listen to YOU. Physically, I didn’t feel this near-pec tear coming but in looking back, mentally I knew I was probably pushing the exercise too hard, too often, and I should’ve backed off sooner.
7. I Stopped Training for a Month
It happens to everybody…you hit a patch where there are lots of things going on in your life and training just seems to take a backseat.
For me, it happened when my wife and I were in the process of moving to a new house…in order to best show the townhome for buyers, I had to disassemble my gym so the basement/family room showed like a room and not a gym. I moved all my equipment over to our new place, that we hadn’t yet moved into.
Well, with everything going on and not really having a gym to train in, I basically just stopped training…I didn’t even do bodyweight stuff.
And THAT was a BIG mistake.
By the time I got back to training, I had lost muscle, gained fat, and felt depressed about not training or doing anything really physical.
Life can get in the way, and you may need a break from intense training (especially if you get injured). Not every workout needs to be a blockbuster. From time to time, it may be sufficient to do a “punch clock” workout to maintain what you have gained and maintain your habits.
Even if you are injured, you can avoid them very often. If you hurt your shoulders, train your legs and move the uninjured side of your upper body.
If you’re short on time, do a 5-minute bodyweight circuit of push-ups, lunges, or other bodyweight exercises.
Training should be constant in your life. Even the small things do a great deal to help maintain strength, health and wellness.
And one last lesson from me…if you do slip when you DO get back into training and training hard, hold yourself accountable by taking a “before” picture. It’ll give you the motivation not to let it happen again.
I did this (not pretty – the picture on the left) then immediately did two cycles of my Metabolic Surge program, which ended up being 10 weeks of training. The result is the picture on the right.
Everybody makes mistakes the key is to learn from these mistakes and grow and hopefully not ever make them again. And I hope you learned from MY mistakes!