In the busy world we live in, it can be hard to dedicate time to a regular workout routine. No matter how little time you do have, the importance of training is paramount. The benefits of performing strength training multiple times a week are more beneficial to your health then you may believe.
Regular weight lifting may reduce all of the following health risks:
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Risk of breast cancer
- Risk of osteoporosis
- Stress and anxiety
- Colds and illness
Strength training also increases overall body strength, which allows easier performance of everyday tasks, such as taking care of the kids, carrying groceries, and yard work.
Lifting weights allow for greater flexibility due to an increase of range of motion through the muscles, as well as reduces the risk of common injury by strengthening the muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones.
Not convinced yet? Strength training changes body composition, meaning an increase in lean body tissue and reduction in fat mass. An increase in lean body mass means you burn more calories a day by doing absolutely nothing. So, in other words, when you gain muscle, you get to eat more food and your body does a better job of burning it off so it is not stored as fat.
The most important benefit weightlifting offers is the mental aspect. Strength training has been shown to offer a host of psychological benefits such as better quality of sleep, mental sharpness, as well as being one of the best tools for stress management.
With all that being said, if you are not doing some type of regular exercise routine, hopefully, strength training, start now. For those of you who are doing strength training, it is important to look at what habits you have developed in the gym and analyze them from an outside perspective.
Being a personal trainer, I see habits in the gym all the time; granted, there are good and bad gym habits, but let’s focus on the not so good right now. Habits are so common, I can almost predict exactly what weight each person will start their exercises off with, regardless of sets and reps. I can predict which people will be drenched in sweat at the end of a workout, and which people will say to me “that wasn’t too hard today”. We all have habits, but when it comes to the gym, it is important to break bad habits and get out of your comfort zone.
Specifically, I want to talk to you about some specific habits in the gym that could be stalling your progress or even causing more harm than good.
- Always doing the same type of training
- Always doing the same workout routine, even if it is well rounded
- Always using the same weight, reps, and sets… no progression
- Always doing exercises you like, or are good at
Now that we know what some of our bad gym habits are, let’s discuss how we can turn these into positive actions, that can benefit our health.
The most common “bad habit” I see when it comes to someone’s fitness is only doing one specific type of training. What I mean by one specific type of training is only doing strength training, or cardio, or yoga. Often, I will see meatheads in the gym, like myself, only lifting weights. You can identify these “bros” because they can’t turn their neck from side to side because they are so inflexible, or if you put them on a treadmill for more than a minute they are ready to pass out.
I can’t just target the “bros” out there, I also see too many “cardio queens”. You have heard it before, “I don’t want to get too bulky, so all I do is cardio”. You can find these people glued to an elliptical machine while they scroll through their Instagram feed. Yeah, they may be able to run for an hour straight without getting tired, but they may break their arm if you ask them to carry a gallon of milk.
Yoga is great for your body, and your mind too, I cannot argue that. However, a mixture of strength and cardiovascular training needs to be added to this regimen as well. It’s great if you can touch your head to your knees, but what would happen if you were in an emergency and you needed strength and endurance as well, all of those headstands wouldn’t do you too much good.
All three of these types of exercise have their own health benefits, and when all of them are included in a regular exercise routine, the benefits are endless. The important idea to take away from this is the balance, don’t just stick to the training styles that you like or the ones you are best at. A balanced week of exercise may look like the following:
- Monday- Strength Training
- Tuesday- Conditioning
- Wednesday- Strength Training
- Thursday- Conditioning
- Friday- Strength Training
- Saturday- Yoga/Mobility
- Sunday- Rest
A balance of all these styles of training will lead to the most health benefits, the best performance, and the lowest risk of injury. So, when you are considering your workout routine, try to avoid just doing the same old thing. Mix it up, add in things that make you uncomfortable because most likely, they are the things you need the most.
Now that we have discussed the three major specific training styles, I want to focus more in-depth on strength training. One very common “bad habit” I see from many “lifters” is doing the same routine over and over again. It is like the movie Groundhog Day, the person comes in to train,
I can predict to the exact minute what exercise they will be doing. Now following a program is good, but that program needs some variety. Say Monday is your “chest” day, a common workout may look like the following:
- 3×10 Barbell Bench Press
- 3×10 Incline Bench Press
- 3×10 Chest Fly’s
- 3×10 Push Ups
- 3×10 Tricep Extensions
This routine is repeated over and over again, until the end of time. Soon the trainee will notice they are no longer making any progress, and then they just give up. They were making no progress because they had no variability in their training routine. A simple way to still have your “chest day” and make progress would to have a program that looked more like this (that would change every couple of weeks).
- 3×10 Barbell Bench Press
- 3×10 Incline Alternating Dumbbell Bench
- 3×10 DB Chest Flies With 3 Second Eccentric
- 3x Max Rep Push-Ups
- 3×20 Rope Tricep Extensions
You can see, by just making a couple small adjustments every couple of weeks, the lifter will still make progress and have their beloved “chest day”, without making anything too complicated. The key to breaking bad habits when it comes to specific workout routines is to not have one specific routine. Always be switching things up, whether it is the exercise, the equipment used, or the way the exercise is performed.
Another common “bad habit” I see as a trainer is no progression when it comes to the amount of weight being used or the number of reps being performed. Often times, when people strength train, they make really quick progress at the start of their training, but then plateau as they become more seasoned. The plateau comes from a comfortability with the weights being used for an exercise.
For example, if the exercise is dumbbell bench, no matter the reps most women go straight for the 20 lb. dumbbells, because that is their “habit”, that is what they are comfortable with. More experienced lifters will go by feel, rather than what weight they have used before. They will perform a warm-up set to see what weight they could use that day. After the first set is performed, if it was easy they will move up to the next size dumbbell.
Always pushing the boundary of what feels comfortable is the only way to progress through weight training. Progression is the number one thing to focus on when it comes down to getting stronger and a better lifter. Instead of going to your comfortable weight and forming a habit, start training by how your body feels. Start pushing a little more and get into that uncomfortable zone where you may need a spot, or fail on a couple of reps, that is the only way to progress.
A saying you have heard before is, “you are only as strong as your weakest link.” This saying could not be any truer when it comes to weight lifting. While performing a squat, you are only as strong as your weakest link, such as your core strength or hamstring strength. To get stronger, you must build strength in your core and hamstrings to build the amount of weight you can squat. Now that we know the only way to get stronger is to build your weaknesses, it is important to understand what those weaknesses are.
Something I see in the gym frequently is people only training their strengths. Think about a “gym bro” that has huge hunching shoulders, but when you look at his legs they look like broomsticks. Most likely you will see that “bro” hitting chest, or arms, or shoulders, but almost never you will see him train legs. You may also see this behavior with women. I am sure you have heard, “I just want to get toned.” Typically, this is something you have heard from a woman who only trains her abs and with very light dumbbells. The fact is both of these types of gym-goers are only training their strengths, and avoiding their weaknesses.
Weaknesses also play a big part in the injury. Often, clients will discuss their knee pain with me, and typically they end up going to physical therapy. It is interesting to me when the clients report back to me that their therapist has them doing exercises to strengthen their glutes, such as clamshells, hip lifts, and band walks. Weak glutes, lead to the poor execution of squats and lunges, which leads to knee pain. If you strengthen your glutes, the movement of your squats and lunges become more efficient, and knee pain decreases.
Common weaknesses in most people are weak glutes, hamstrings, core, and back. These weaknesses lead to the most common injuries people face, such as low back pain, knee pain, and shoulder injuries. Priority number one in the gym should be your weaknesses after you train those hard, you can finish with the exercises you like and are good at. If you want to get stronger, have fewer injuries, and have a better quality of life, you must get in a habit of training your weaknesses.
Think about your habits in the gym. What are your daily routines? What weights do you use? Are you progressing? These are all important questions to ask yourself. When going into the gym, have a plan, a plan that makes you progress works on your weaknesses, and gets you uncomfortable. If you have a workout “routine” that is unchanging, you need to find a new routine. Find people who have done these things themselves, strong people, without injury, and learn from them. Do your own investigation and education. If you want to become stronger, healthier, have fewer injuries, and improve quality of life, improve your gym habits and good health will follow.