We all do it. We all compete at the gym. Maybe it’s for your own self-motivation, or maybe it really is an outright competition! Either way, we’ve all tried to out-do someone at the gym. That girl who just got on the tread mil next to you… She’s at 6.5mph. You think ” I can do that” and push yourself to 6.7, hoping she can see your screen before you cramp up and call it quits early.. Or the guy curling 45lb dumbbells… you usually do 30, but you’re stronger than him right??? So you bust out 3 sets of 7 using every muscle in your lower back along with some erratic hip motions… Just to wake up with a sore lower back in the morning.
Motivation and competition are GREAT! But sometimes those of us who are a little too competitive or want to show off can really ruin a workout with this type of mindset. Honestly, no one cares about the weight you are lifting. It is much better to lift a light weight with perfect form for the proper amount of sets and reps as opposed to lifting a heavy weight improperly and missing your target number of reps. Here are 5 ways you might be sabotaging your own workout without even realizing it.
1. Not keeping proper form.
Sometimes people are so worried about the weight that they completely dismiss proper form and lift the heaviest weight they can move. Form is important because it requires a strong core (I’m referring to core as the midsection being able to coordinate and stabilize movement between the upper body and lower body), proper posture, and sometimes isolation of a specific muscle group. When improper form is used in order to push a heavy weight, or just pure laziness, people get injured. You are one careless heavy squat away from a debilitating back injury. Pay attention to your form! If you cannot lift a weight without breaking proper posture or form, it is too heavy (yes, I know you are so strong and you can lift it) but it is too heavy to see substantial results from that particular exercise. With weights, bigger isn’t always better
2. Full range of Motion
This is directly related to number 1. If you cannot perform the full range of motion of an exercise, it is too heavy. An easy example would be a leg extension.. If you cannot full extend your legs from at least 90 degrees of flexion at the knee, it is too heavy and you are setting yourself up for injury. Not only that but our muscles act in a full range of motion, when you only work a partial range of motion, you are only working the muscle partially. A lighter weight with a Full range of motion produces more results than a heavy weight with a limited range.
3. Can you breathe?
You should be able to breathe throughout the exercise. Holding your breath is a way your body compensates for a lack of core stability. I usually ask my clients to breathe out at the start of the concentric phase (if thats what we are concentrating on). and breathe in during the eccentric. If you put your hand on your stomach and breathe out, you SHOULD feel your abdomen go in because your abdominals are engaging… If you can breathe out while lifting a heavy load this engages your abdominals and your diaphragm. Also try to pull up your pelvic floor. You have now engaged the core cylinder. The top is your diaphragm, bottom is the pelvic floor, and the abdominals and back stabilizers are the cylinder. Once you get this… (and stop lifting overly heavy weights) You won’t need to hold your breath anymore.
4. Did you hit your goal sets and reps?
A good program should include calculated sets and repetitions. When you lift too heavy and you can’t meet these set/rep goals, you are only cheating yourself. Quick breakdown… For pure Strength you might want 3-5 reps, hypertrophy 8-12 and muscle endurance or the ever so popular “TONED” 15-20 reps. Of course there is more science behind it but thats the quick and dirt… If you want to build muscle and you have a goal of 4 sets at 10 repetitions, but you cannot get past 6 or 7, you will not achieve the results you want. This goes both ways. If you want to build muscle and you can perform 20 reps with the weight given… you will not achieve the results you want! Your goal reps are meant to be a challenge. The last repetition should be difficult, and if you can do another, do another. If you can’t come within 2 reps from your goal, you are using too much weight and will not meet your goals. Side rant: Big weights don’t always mean big muscles. Your body is smart. If you can only lift a weight 3-4 times your nervous system will create a neurological pathway to make that movement easier before any type of muscle growth. That is why repetitions for muscle growth are higher.. (8-12) because you need to fatigue the muscle to inspire protein synthesis, muscle growth, and all the magic 😉
5. Did you get that protein:carb supplement within 45min?!
Yep, we all know we should take protein after a workout. But did you know you should technically have roughly a 2:3 protein to carb ratio for optimal results? Did you know the best window for protein uptake and therefore protein synthesis is within 45 min? Well it is. A protein shake is great but did you know chocolate milk also has this ratio? So does plain yogurt with granola, and cheese and crackers. Of course that all depends on your ultimate goals, diet, meal plans. But please.. don’t forget to get some carbs and protein within 45 min so you can take full advantage of all the work you did in the gym!