As the link between muscular fitness and disease prevention grows, more adults add Strength Training to their lifestyle. Despite this positive trend, many adults aren't getting the results they want from their workouts. Workout mistakes occur all too often. Here are five easy-to-fix mistakes to ensure you get the most out of every training session.
1. Frequent Workouts. Many people mistakenly believe that more is better when it comes to Strength Training. If more was better, you should get stronger and more muscular by working out every day. Of course, this doesn't happen because it prevents muscles from recovering—maximizing workout results requires training and recovery. Strength Training too often will eventually lead to overtraining and a lack of progress. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a rest period of 48 to 96 hours (two to four days) between intense full-body strength workouts. While staying active between workouts makes sense, you should avoid intense muscular work (additional Strength Training) that interferes with muscle recovery. It's important to realize that muscle growth occurs between workouts when you DON'T Strength Train – not when you're working out! Adding additional training to your schedule can decrease benefits by reducing the time your muscles have to adapt and grow stronger.
2. Long Workouts. Long workouts can also interfere with progress. Performing dozens of repetitions, sets, and exercises is one reason why the average adult makes little to no improvement when Strength Training. This high-volume approach prioritizes quantity over quality. Adding volume to strength workouts is problematic because it reduces intensity (effort). Lowering your workout intensity leads to less muscle growth, reduced strength gains, fewer calories burned, etc. In the end, workout benefits are directly related to intensity. The harder you work, the more you get. According to Dr. Wayne Westcott, Professor of Exercise Science at Quincy College, "people work harder when their workouts are shorter." If you want maximum results, keep your workouts brief, and work as hard as possible!
3. Unrealistic Expectations. Some Strength Training programs make promises they can't keep. An example is claiming to build long, lean muscles. Lengthening the muscle is supposedly achieved by focusing on specific movement patterns and stretching. While building long muscles sounds good on paper, it is physiologically impossible. First and foremost, stretching doesn't lengthen muscles. Muscles attach to bones at the tendon-bone junction (TBJ). The TBJ is a fixed point that never changes. Therefore the only way to modify the TBJ is through surgery. Programs promising to lengthen muscles are merely misleading consumers.
4. Muscle-Supplements. Many fitness facilities sell so-called muscle-building dietary supplements (i.e., powders, tablets, capsules, etc.). Despite the claims, there's no evidence that supplements alone will prevent age-related muscle loss (i.e., sarcopenia). The real question is whether or not they enhance muscle growth when combined with Strength Training. A 2017 meta-analysis of 49 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine provides insights into this question. It measured the effects of protein supplementation on strength and muscle gains in 1683 healthy adults. Adults who were Strength Training achieved some benefits from the protein supplementation (they built muscle and gained strength), while those that weren't Strength Training experienced no muscle or strength gains. It turns out the muscle-building formula is simple. Combining high-intensity Strength Training with adequate protein and sufficient rest is a proven formula. Unfortunately, most adults don't follow it!
5. Equipment Confusion. Modern Strength Training dates back to research at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1940s. Today, evidence-based Strength Training has evolved into a safe and effective way to make life better. Despite what scientists have learned, some people still get duped into unscientific approaches to Strength Training. A typical example is thinking Strength Training should be fun and entertaining. Taking this approach to your workouts leads to less effective and unsafe training methods. Examples include throwing objects across the room (i.e., oversized medicine balls, tractor tires, etc.) and hanging upside down as you twist and turn. When it comes to Strength Training equipment, common sense should prevail. In their latest manual for exercise prescription, the American College of Sports Medicine (the world's largest group of exercise scientists and fitness professionals) states that your Strength Training equipment should be user-friendly (safe) and comfortable to use. At MEDFITNESS, we prefer the safety and efficiency of modern Strength Training machines. Combining evidence-based training methods with user-friendly equipment ensures that every workout is productive and safe.
By Richard J. Wolff, RDN
MEDFITNESS is a Strength Training Studio that specializes in Small-Group Personal Training. Schedule a Free Trial Workout at www.medfitnessprogram.com.
Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. American College of Sports Medicine., Seventh Edition, 2006.
Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations., Med Sport 15 (3): 147-162, 2011DOI: 10.2478/v10036-011-0025-x
Wayne Westcott, PhD., The Essential Role of Resistance Exercise for Fat Loss and Fitness. Club Industry Conference and Exposition, Chicago, IL., 2011.
Robert W. Morton et al. Br J Sports Med DOI:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. American College of Sports Medicine., Tenth Edition, 2018.