Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and as my grandfather taught me, a wise man learns from his mistakes, and even wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. In my 9 years in the gym has been a continual evolution, and learning experience…
My approach to training and nutrition now, when compared to when I first set out to get jacked and shredded is, extremely different…
I no longer blast my muscles into oblivion, and eating ice-cream is not ‘failing’… Oh, and you won’t catch me dead on a treadmill…
I am not one to ignore my short comings or pitfalls, and when I make a mistake, I’m the first to admit it, and learn from it. As a coach, my role is to teach, and educate, and helping others avoid making my mistakes is how I roll, and I am confident, that almost every novice in the gym has made these 6 mistakes!
1. There Is Such Thing As Max Recoverable Volume.
As a 16 year old, I would hit the gym in a rage of fury. Built up aggression, testosterone peaking, Eminem blaring…
I would blast a single muscle group with as many reps, sets and training modalities as possible…
More is better, right?
Volume is an important factor in muscle hypertrophy, sure, however there is a point of diminishing returns, as there is only so much tissue that you can break down within a given workout, and still recover.
Fortunately, after many years of trial and error, and educating myself on the scientific principles of resistance training, I discovered Max Recoverable Volume and the importance of fatigue management in strength and hypertrophy.
Training hard is great, but too much, for too long causes what is called overreaching, which is what I was constantly doing as a teen…
When you overreach without taking adequate measures to recover, your body is constantly fatigued, so much so that performance and gains diminish.
I was doing for so many years without realising, and I never understood why I would always burn out and why my strength wasn;t increasing even though I was ‘pushing myself to the limits’.
I soon realised that working hard is great, but not if you aren;t recovering…
Functional overreaching, deliberately pushing your bodies recuperative abilities, is necessary to overload your muscles and make progress. However, fatigue MUST be managed, and a subsequent reduction in volume and intensity AKA deload is necessary to allow for supercomensation and adaption.
Take Home Point: Train hard, but train smart. Too much volume and intensity without a structured de-load is a recipe for injury, and weakness!
2. You Don’t Need Cardio For Fat Loss
When I first wanted to get lean, I thought cardio was the answer. I would wake up every morning and perform 30-40 minutes of fasted cardio. Go train, and then have a protein shake after my workout.
Can you imagine?
Waking up every single day and dragging your sorry arse to the streets or treadmill to ‘burn fat’…
Boy, I am glad to have discovered thermodynamics and physics… In a nutshell, physics dictates how much fat we gain and how much we burn, via our daily, weekly and monthly net energy balance.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with energy balance, the equation is as follows:
If energy IN exceeds energy OUT, you gain weight.
If energy OUT exceeds energy IN, you lose weight.
If energy IN equals energy OUT, you maintain weight.
Basic physics really, and understanding this meant that I did NOT have to perform cardio to lose fat, if I controlled my calorie intake, and ate below maintenance… I even got onto the bodybuilding stage only performing cardio 1-2x per week, in comparison to a few years earlier when I was hitting the cardio daily…. Not to mention, I was a hell of a lot leaner too!
Take Home Message: Cardio can increase the energy out side of the equation, however if you control your energy intake accordingly, cardio is NOT necessary for fat loss.
3. Carbohydrates Aren’t Foe.
I used to avoid carbohydrates like the plague.
My diet consisted of nothing but meat, salad and vegetables. Lucky didn’t know that even vegetables had carbohydrates, because I probably would have eliminated them from my diet too.
I wouldn’t eat anything processed in fear that any spike in my insulin levels would make me gain fat immediately.
As mentioned, understanding physics was crucial to me overcoming my fear of carbohydrates. All macronutrients provide energy, and although carbohydrates do have a different metabolic property to protein and fat, they still have 4 calories per gram.
With knowledge comes power, and as my knowledge of nutrition improved, carbohydrates slowly entered my diet again. This was an extremely challenging period, and one filled with uncertainty. However, I am extremely glad I stuck it out, as not only do I now look better than ever, I get to eat ice cream on the daily…
Take Home Message: Avoiding carbohydrates sucks. Not only are they not fattening, but they are crucial for energy, performance and sustainability.
4. Being Shredded 24/7 is Unrealistic
When I first started my fitness journey, I wanted to look like Greg Plitt. I thought, if this guy can do it, so can I. I’ll admit, I’m pretty relentless, and when I want something I will bust my arse and do whatever it takes to get it.
This was no exception.
So there I was, eliminating carbohydrates, destroying myself in the gym with an abundance of volume, smashing cardio daily, and I’ll admit, I looked pretty good…
But at what cost?
As time went on, I started to fatigue, lose motivation, lose my mojo (if you know what I mean), and I hated everything and everyone…
I soon realized two things:
A) There is more to life.
B) Looking like a ‘fitness pro’ year round is unrealistic for most.
You see, there is only so much fat you can lose, and there is only so long you can sustain it, whilst maintain your health anyway.
I realized that there would be phases in my training career where I simply, wouldn’t be shredded. Not only is this ok, but it’s a necessity to build muscle, improve strength, increase metabolic rate, and enjoy the finer things in life. All of which are crucial for continued progress and longevity…
Take Home Point: Be realistic with your physique expectations , and understand that there are periods of your training career that involve being hefty, and there are times where you will be shredded. Both are ok!
5. Frequency Is Key
Back to my training as a rookie, and I’m certain many of you reading this have made or are still making this mistake…
My workout routine was simple – smash one muscle group as much as humanly possible in a workout, and wait until the following week to train it again…
My schedule looked like this:
- Monday – Chest
- Tuesday – Back
- Wednesday – Legs
- Thursday – Shoulders
- Friday – Arms
- Saturday – Conditioning
- Sunday – Rest
Whilst there are a number of problems with this, the frequency at which I was training each muscle group was not conducive to making gains.
Science dictates that muscle protein synthesis (muscle recovery) is almost back to baseline after 36-48 hours since training. What this means is that 2-3 days after stimulating the muscle, it’s almost fully recovered, and I was waiting until the following week to retrain the same muscle.
This means that there were 2-3 days of gains wasted!
Fortunately, good old science taught me that by spreading the volume of my sessions across the week into multiple sessions is far more beneficial for muscle development.
Take Home Message: Training muscle groups multiple times per week, provided volume is equated is far more beneficial for size and strength than blasting them once per week.
6. There Are No Fat Loss Foods
If it had carbs, it was a no go.
If it had fat, it was a no go.
When I was trying to get shredded, I would essentially eliminate any food that wasn’t protein. I had a list of foods that were ‘good’, probably about 5-10 foods, and the rest were on my ‘naughty’ list. This made eating out a nightmare. This made being social a nightmare. This made life a nightmare.
I thought I was being hardcore, and that if I gave in, I was weak, and my knowledge of nutrition was obviously skewed… Thankfully, I bought a few science based nutrition books, subscribed to Alan Aragons Research Review…
My world, and diet were both revolutionised, and I got back my life, and my sanity…
All of these words that I previously knew nothing about soon became concepts that would turn my previous understanding of food upside down. I quickly realized that all foods have calories, macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, and that you could get fat eating chicken and broccoli…
I removed my food lists, and started to adopt a much more flexible approach to my diet, that was inclusive, not exclusive…
Sensible eating, moderation, and balance were all things that helped me not only improve my physique, but the quality of my life..
Take Home Message: There is no such thing as good and bad foods, only good and bad diets, and the bad diets are the ones which are restrictive or excessive…
Mistakes are inevitable, and they are an important part of our fitness journey, provided you learn from them.
The key is to continually learn, improve and ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice!