In the relentless pursuit of more muscle, we can often become our own worst enemies. This is particularly the case when we hear that something worked for … well, anyone: a friend, a pro, a guy in an ad, or the biggest guy in the gym. Ask them—they’re usually begging you to, right?—and you’ll get a crazy answer about two-a-days, double-dough pizzas, and twice the recommended dosages.
The truth is that many of these guys succeed in spite of their excesses, not because of them. Here’s a list of what I believe are the eight biggest mistakes that bodybuilders make—all of them a case of doing more when less would have been better. Take a look and see how you could be wasting your time, money, and energy.
1. Taking Too Many Supplements
Supplements are called supplements for a reason. They are supposed to fill the gaps in your whole food diet and help you get more from your efforts in the gym. They are not, nor will they ever be, a replacement for a proper diet or hard work.
Time and time again, I’ve talked to people who blow most of their monthly food budget on overhyped supplements when what they really need is steak, sweet potatoes, and other basic whole foods supported intelligently with basics such as protein, fish oil, creatine, and pre-workouts.
Make sure that your diet is nailed down before you start adding anything more than those to your routine. You’ll get better results by mastering basic nutrition than if you have a subpar diet with superior supplementation.
2. Adding More Exercise Volume and Workouts
In my opinion, people spend way too much time online arguing about whether or not overtraining is a “thing.” Focusing on that dodges what I feel is the real question: Is it possible to train too hard, too often, and for too long? The answer, I can say from experience, is yes!
The “more is better” mentality that has permeated bodybuilding is not beneficial, especially when it gets applied to the length and frequency of workouts. Why? Because, your muscles grow outside of the gym, after your workouts.
If you train hard enough, the work you perform in the gym will cause microscopic tears and trauma to your muscles. The work you do outside of the gym—eating, drinking water, stretching, supplementation, and especially sleeping—repairs this damage. When you train a muscle hard again before the repair process is complete, you not only rob yourself of growth, but you open yourself up to more injury and unnecessary pain.
If you want your muscles to grow bigger and stronger, you need more recovery time, not less. Let your muscles fully heal before training them again, and you’ll enjoy faster, injury-free gains.
3. Setting More Elite Expectations
Chances are you have an image in your head of what you’d like your body to eventually look like. Perhaps it’s someone you have seen before. That’s how a lot of people communicate their fitness goals: “I’d like to look just like him. He looks great!”
Maybe it’s a personal trainer at your gym, a professional athlete, or just a random picture you saw somewhere. Regardless of whom it is, I bet that person spent years, or even decades, building his or her body.
Please don’t think I’m saying you can’t achieve what you want. I’m simply recommending that you set realistic expectations about your progress and the timeframe required to achieve it. If you don’t, you’ll get discouraged, and that can take all the fun out of your lifestyle. Because, don’t forget, it’s the overall lifestyle—not a certain lift, program, or dietary trick—that creates lasting results. Enjoy your progress, and take satisfaction in setting and reaching your realistic goals. Then set new ones and get back to work!
4. Eating More Dirty Calories
By now, we’ve all seen enough “It’s OK, I’m bulking” memes to last a lifetime. In real life, the joke isn’t on some random baby or squirrel, it’s on that guy we all know (or are) who pounds pizzas, burgers, and ice cream until he could be mistaken for a fat person—if not for his incredibly developed forearms and calves. All kidding aside, I see way too many people with offseason diets that are—shall we say—loose. They end up blowing their body composition and nearly dying on the stair mill when they finally decide to get cut. Not only is the excess weight unhealthy, but they end up spending massive amounts of time dieting away the body fat they put on, and as a result, lose more muscle than if they had just stayed a little leaner.
Would you rather take three steps forward and two steps back, or two steps forward and one step back? I’m going to go with the option two, because it’s a whole lot less walking—both figuratively and literally—to go the same distance. So, the take- away her is, limit dirty calories and instead opt for more ‘clean’ foods. It’ll also feel far better along the way.
5. Performing More Pro-level Training Routines
What better way to get legs or arms like an IFBB pro bodybuilder than to copy their workouts from their latest article in a bodybuilding magazine, right? Wrong! While there are plenty of great technique tips you can learn from the pros, you should hesitate before following their actual workouts on a regular basis.
Why, you ask? The athletes performing these workouts have been training at a high level with near-perfect diet and supplementation for a long time. They have coaches, nutritionists, and years of muscle growth to support everything they do. Put it all together, and they’re simply more acclimated to perform heavier workloads than the average person.
If you want to learn from the pros, study their principles, not their workouts. Follow their training tips or exercise recommendations, NOT their overall workout volume and duration. Otherwise, it’s a recipe for the type of overtraining mentioned earlier.
6. More Exercise Routine Changes
You’ve no doubt heard that you have to change things up to continue making progress in the gym. I agree with that statement, but it’s how people change that I often disagree with. Instead of modifying the amount of weight used, the rest between sets, or the set-rep scheme, they’ll completely change exercises, or they’ll swap their training splits on a dime. I have a couple of issues with this.
First of all, in bodybuilding, there are certain movements that are irreplaceable for gaining mass, such as the squat and deadlift. These lifts require an immense amount of skill and practice to perform properly with a strong mind-muscle connection. If you’re not practicing them regularly, you’re probably leaving gains on the table.
Second, many programs feature loading and de-loading phases, or alternating light and heavy weeks, that can’t simply be plugged into another program. Bouncing back and forth between routines can cause some parts of your body to get overdeveloped while others remain undertrained.
Do yourself a favor and give your program a chance to work. Follow it all the way to the end, especially if you’ve never done that before. You’ll be surprised how well it works!
7. Listening to the Wrong Advice
You know what they say about opinions right? If you’re going to seek training or supplementation advice from someone in your gym, make sure the person knows what they’re talking about. And until you make sure, be suspicious! I’ve witnessed bad advice being doled out plenty of times, but more importantly, I’ve heard stories about people looking terrible for their shows, causing personal health problems, or just not progressing like they should, all because they were taking bad advice from the wrong person.
No one knows your body better than you do. And if that’s not the case, I’d recommend you spend time getting more in tune with programs, workouts, and stacks that are built around the fundamentals. That way, you’ll know what straightforward heavy training feels like for you, so you have a benchmark to compare to when the time comes to start cutting, getting ready for a show, or making huge offseason gains.
8. Pushing More Weight
Sure, that single you did with 495 on the deadlift sounds awesome when you tell the story later. But was it more beneficial to your physique than pulling 405 for 8 reps? That’s debatable, particularly if you had to break every form rule in the book to get the bar above your knees.
When you get to the gym, leave your ego at the door. Lifting heavier than you should opens you up to injuries, chronic soreness, and slower progress than if you perform your exercises with an appropriate training weight. When was the last time you saw a bench press on a stage during a bodybuilding contest? How about a leg press contest on the sideline of a football field? You haven’t, because weights are simply tools to help athletes get better at their sports. Exercise is not the sport in itself unless you’re a powerlifter or weightlifter. And if you are, then you already know that big round numbers only matter in specific settings.
9. The Takeaways
If you’re looking for a unifying takeaway from all of these ‘mistakes’, it’s this: think more, follow less. Analyze your training, nutrition, lifestyle, and mindset ruthlessly, and don’t be afraid to question what anyone says. Over time you will develop the program that works to help you improve your physique.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.