Are you making these top 3 strength training mistakes?
I asked three of my strong lady friends—Jen Sinkler, Diane Fu and Melissa Hartwig—to chime in with the three errors they see people (specifically women) make when they set out to move some weights in the gym.
Last week I posted about strength training as one of the keys to sustainable fat loss, and it sparked some great conversation across social media.
Many people said that they’re interested in basic strength training but they don’t know how to get started.
[Side note: If you’re looking for a top-notch powerlifting program that focuses on the squat, bench press, and deadlift, I want to tell you about Unapologetically Powerful. It’s a new program from powerlifting badasses Jen Sinkler and Jen Blake, and it’s designed to get you silly-strong and—if you’re so—ready to jump into your first meet.
The Jens have spent hours developing this resource, and it’s incredible. I’ve had a chance to go through their demo videos myself and apply them to my training. The cues are spot on, and I’ve every confidence they’ll help you get strongrrrrrrr (as Jen S says).]
Okay, on to the Top 3 Strength Training Mistakes.
Jen Sinkler — Unapologetically Powerful, powerlifter, & gym owner
1. Not getting proper instruction at the outset. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard women say that they stuck to the cardio section of the gym because they found free weights section to be intimidating, and I get that!
Even once you’re sold on the benefits of resistance training, it can be difficult to know what to do with the equipment. While some lifts are pretty straightforward, most have layers of cueing involved that both help keep you safe and maximize the effectiveness of the lift by recruiting the right muscle groups in the right sequence. Always, but especially when you’re just getting started, it can be invaluable to seek the guidance of an expert.
Either join a group fitness class where the instructors are well-qualified and attentive, or consider purchasing even a few private or semi-private sessions with a personal trainer to hammer home form for some of the main movement categories (such as squat, press, upper-body push, and upper-body pull, plus rotation and anti-rotation).
2. Not using progressive overload. I admit it, I’m a jock. All of my best friends are jocks, constantly pushing themselves and each other. Inevitably, everything turns into a contest, including how much weight they can lift, and it can occasionally get out of hand. With that personality type, reigning in the urge to give it their all, all the time, is the name of the game. With many others, the opposite is true: Rather than exploring their limits, I see people reaching for the same weights week in and week out. The problem with that strategy is that the body is too smart for that — it adapts to the demands you place upon it, and thus your progress stalls out.
So, it’s important to capitalize on the principle of progressive overload, where you very gradually increase the weight you use from session to session. That way you’re constantly making progress! That said, progress isn’t linear, and you won’t be able to add weight every single time until infinity.
When you get to the point you can’t add more weight, that’s when you change the repetition scheme (say you drop from 8 to 10 reps to 5 to 6) until your body adapts to that and you need to change it again. Generally speaking, you work from higher to lower reps, then start over with a higher rep scheme again with the brand new weight you can do for that many reps.
3. Not finding a training style they enjoy. Just as there are many different types of yoga (anywhere from sweaty, fast-paced power yoga to yin yoga, which is slow and still) and endurance events (from obstacle courses to 5Ks to ultramarathons), there are many different types of resistance training.
There’s powerlifting, which focuses on the barbell squat, bench press, and deadlift; there’s Olympic lifting, which homes in on the barbell snatch and the clean and jerk; calisthenics, which uses bodyweight only; various styles of kettlebell training, some of which focus on strength and others more on efficiency; the sport of strongman, which includes a number of timed challenges using various equipment; CrossFit, which combines a number of modalities from gymnastics to Olympic lifting; and various bootcamp-style classes that employ dumbbells only, just to name a few.
Here’s the thing I think a lot of people miss: you don’t have to do anything you don’t enjoy. More to the point, you probably won’t stick with a regimen if you don’t enjoy yourself — so it’s well worth your time to explore which training styles you like best. Take a class, drop in for a session, take a workshop. Make the pursuit of better fitness one of the grand experiments of your life, and that life will be a longer and more robust one.
Melissa Hartwig — Whole30, RKC kettlebell certified
1. Assuming heavy weights are for guys only. You’re not limited to the little pink dumbbells just because you’re a woman, and lifting heavy weights with a strength-focus won’t make you big and bulky like a professional bodybuilder. There are many benefits to picking up heavy stuff, including building strong, healthy bones; developing functional fitness that will serve you well in your everyday life (think helping a friend carry a couch, or picking your tantruming toddler up off the floor); and increasing muscle mass (and your metabolism).
2. Not learning from a qualified trainer. If you’re going to strength train, you need to learn proper form, and you can’t do that by watching Instagram videos. Seek out an experienced, qualified trainer to teach you to perform the movements effectively and safely, and teach you how to work them into an overall training routinte to suit your goals and context.
3. Testing, not training. It’s fun to pull 1-rep maxes and go up in weight every time you set foot in the gym. But strenth training isn’t just about setting PRs; it’s about building functional strength that stays with you and keeps you healthy (at the gym and in real life). This means doing the sometimes boring, not-so-sexy stuff like assistance exercises, mobility work, and technique work at lighter weight. You’ve got to pay to play, and all that training will really pay off when the time is right to test your new capacity.
Diane Fu — FuBarbell, olympic weightlifting coach
1. Not lifting heavy or often enough – Spending time in 85%+ range for weights and getting accustomed to heavy loads and frequently
2. Undereating – Not having enough resources to recover
3. Diffusing effort – Not focusing on the basic movements like Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, and Olympic lifts and too much on other ancillary exercises/conditioning
Time to get strong!
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Photo: Fresh Burst Photography