5 strength-training mistakes that are stalling your gains, and how to fix them

5 strength-training mistakes that are stalling your gains, and how to fix them
·4 min read
woman barbell shoulder press
Strength training can be great for building muscle, but several common mistakes can slow your progress. Getty/Corey Jenkins
  • Strength training can be a great way to build muscle and improve your fitness.

  • But some things, such as too much exercise or too little sleep and food, can stall your gains.

  • Get more out of your training by making your workouts more efficient and optimizing your recovery.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A new strength training routine can be a great way to build strength and gain muscle.

But if you're working hard in the gym and not seeing progress, you might be the victim of some common gym mistakes, such as inefficiently overtraining, undereating, or undersleeping.

To prevent rookie mistakes from stalling your progress, personal trainers have some small tweaks that you can make to your routine.

Working out too much or too hard can backfire

It can be tempting to go all-in on a new workout plan. But athletes who rush into it can end up slowing their progress, burning out, and increasing the risk of injury, Chris Duffin, a world record-holding powerlifter and co-founder of Kabuki Strength, told Insider.

"More is not better. You want to do the least amount to get the result you want," he said.

Overtraining can include working out too often, too intensely, or both. For fitness newbies, 45 minute workouts, three times a week is a good start.

Aim for a level of intensity at which you can feel the target muscle groups working, but don't reach muscle failure (in other words, when you can't do another repetition), said Jessica Mazzucco, a New York City based personal trainer.

Not sleeping enough can prevent muscles from growing

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when starting a new workout routine is waking up too early to work out, Duffin said.

Sleep is the time for muscles to repair and adapt. So, skimping on shuteye can reduce the benefits of your gym session and leave you feeling exhausted and possibly injured.

The general consensus among sleep researchers is that at least seven hours of sleep is healthy for the average adult. Some studies suggest up to nine or even 10 hours of sleep is best for some elite athletes.

Poor nutrition can sap your strength and gains

You need to fuel your body properly, personal trainer Bryan Goldberg told Insider.

To build muscle, you must be in a calorie surplus, eating more calories than you burn off. Losing fat requires the opposite.

In either case, it's important to prioritize nutritious whole foods with a good balance of macronutrients like carbs, fat and protein for best results.

You can plateau if you don't gradually challenge yourself

To keep seeing gains in your exercise program, you need to add intensity over time, a principle known as progressive overload.

The simplest ways to do this are by increasing weight or adding repetitions. Duffin recommends an increase of about 10-15% over a period of four to six weeks.

For example, if your initial routine for deadlifts is four sets of 10 reps at 100 pounds, you might gradually move up to four sets of 10 reps at 110 pounds.

If you focus on isolated movements, that can mean more work with less progress

Newbies to strength training may also make the mistake of relying on isolated movements instead of compound exercises for their workouts.

Examples include focusing on crunches for abs, leg extensions for thick thighs, or curls for bigger arms. These are all exercises that are great for building a single muscle group, but they're not very efficient for overall strength and muscle.

Instead, exercises like deadlifts, presses, squats, and pull-ups can work multiple muscle groups at once so you're getting more gains out of your time in the gym, Noam Tamir, founder and CEO of TS Fitness, previously told Insider.

Still, any exercise is better than none at all. The biggest factor in making strength gains is consistency, Duffin said, so finding a program you enjoy and can stick to is more important than worrying about specific exercises.

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