Improve strength by avoiding these five mistakes

Here are 5 things to AVOID when strength training.  By avoiding these mistakes, you will be able to increase your strength, improve your performance in your sport/profession and take your fitness to new heights.

Mistake #1.  

Only training upper body

Don't get too focused on how you look in the mirror.  Having big arms and a broad chest may impress the girls and look good on the beach, but it won't do anything for your athletic performance.  Your largest muscles are in your legs (including the glutes and hamstrings), and the more you strengthen them the more hormones you release to help build strength and size in your entire body.  Your legs are what provides the foundation to any sport-specific movement.  

Mistake #2

Always working on your strengths

It's easy to work on things you are good at, but that won't make you a better athlete.  In order to improve you have to eliminate any weaknesses, and that means probably doing things you aren't familiar with or good at.  When was the last time you did Deadlifts?  This exercise is one of the best compound,movements (targeting several muscle groups) to help build strength.  

Mistake #3

Lifting weights too slowly in the gym 

If you always lift weights at the same speed you are missing a key component to improving your strength gains.  According to Mike Boyle, of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, "lifting weights with explosive speeds activates more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which have the greatest growth potential".  You don't always have to lift weights with an explosive speed but it should be incorporated in your periodization training.  

Mistake #4

Doing too much slow and steady running

Running too many slow miles is a repetitive movement and your body will adapt quickly and stop making progress.  I'm not a fan of running miles just to get the miles.  There needs to be a purpose to each run and for most athletes 3 days of running a week is sufficient.  Start incorporating some intervals (short bursts of intense activity) in place of your slow runs, or run steep hills instead of always running on flat terrain.  You can sequence your interval work many ways, for instance using a 1:1, 1:2, 1:4 or even a 2:1 ratio.  Using the 1:2 ratio, this means that you would run hard for a length of time (say 30 sec.) and follow that with twice the amount of recovery time (which in this case would be 1 min.).  According to a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, interval training leads to gains in aerobic and anaerobic performance that are significantly greater than with steady state cardio.

Mistake #5

Not incorporating rest into your weekly workouts

I haven't listed these in any particular order, but if I did this might be the number one mistake.  It’s easy to push ourselves hard in the gym, or spend hours conditioning to improve endurance, but the most under-rated area of improving strength and performance is NOT allowing for enough rest each week.   The training you do breaks the body down and makes micro-tears in muscle tissue; it’s when you rest that you build back up and with proper nutrition get stronger.  The goal of “rest” is to help the body regenerate and bounce back the next day.  

Rest doesn’t have to be lying on the couch and doing nothing (aka: passive rest), it can be something that still makes you feel as though you are still exercising but without the stress to the muscles or mind (aka: active rest).   Simple “active” rest ideas include yoga classes, foam rolling and stretching, going for a walk with your dog, or doing an activity different than the particular sport you are training for at a light intensity.

The best type of rest is sleep.  Aiming for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night will help speed recovery of sore muscles from hard training days and allow you to perform at your best day after day.  Taking a 20-30 min. nap during the day (if possible) is also a good option if you are not able to get 7-8 hours of sleep at night.  Aim for at least 1-2 rest days during your weekly training schedule.

So to sum things up, train full-body movements, spend some time on your weaknesses, vary the speed of your lifts throughout your training cycles, do more interval runs or hill repeats, and make sure to get enough rest.  Remember, if you are not incorporating rest days your not training.  And if you're not training, you are just working out.