You’re hitting the weights hard, yet you’re far from where you expected to be with your training program. And worse, your performance is lacking on the field when everyone else seems to be getting better.
So, what's the deal?
Just because you’re training doesn't mean you’re training right. One seemingly small mistake can derail your entire program.
We surveyed eight elite strength coaches to determine common mistakes you need to avoid. Here’s what they said:
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Mistake 1: You’re pressing too much
You want a big Bench and strong chest. And that’s OK. But you can’t press too much or you’ll throw your upper body out of whack.
According to elite performance coach Mark Roozen, “Most athletes do three pressing exercises for every pulling exercise.” This causes an imbalance between your chest and back strength, which can lead to a forward rounding of the shoulders—a familiar sight in gyms—back pain or worse, a shoulder injury.
The Fix: It’s simple—build a stronger back. “Perform a minimum of one pulling exercise for every pressing exercise,” advises Roozen. Next time you do the Bench Press or another pressing move, follow it up with a pulling exercise, like Pull-Ups, Dumbbell Rows or Inverted Rows.
Mistake 2: You’re lifting the same weight over and over again
It’s great that you’re lifting weight in the first place, but failing to vary the weight will lead to poor results.
“Most players don’t put enough emphasis on actually progressing,” says Alan Stein, owner of Stronger Team and head strength and conditioning coach for the nationally renowned DeMatha Catholic High School boy’s basketball program. “For example, athletes come in every workout and slap 45-pound plates on the bar and do a few sets of Bench for as many as they can. And they repeat that for weeks on end.”
The Fix: Stein recommends adding 5 to 10 pounds when you hit the top of the rep range you’re working in. So, if your set calls for 8 to 12 reps, add weight to your next workout once you hit 12 reps to increase the challenge. If you’re striving for a specific number of reps, increase the weight when you can exceed that number by two reps.
Mistake 3: You’re doing too many Curls and lifting like a bodybuilder
Curls and other isolation exercises may build big muscles, but you’re not a bodybuilder. “Don’t duplicate bodybuilding routines out of some muscle-head magazine,” says Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training. “High school athletes need to develop their foundation.”
Training for Warriors Boston co-owner Stan Dutton sees the same problem. “[Athletes] spend countless hours trying to get massive biceps, while forgetting the bang-for-your-buck exercises that will carry over to their respective sport,” he says.
The Fix: “Stick to big exercises that develop a solid foundation before you worry about isolation,” says Scarpulla. His favorite exercises include the Box Squat, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Back Squat, Front Squat, Military Press, Deadlift, Clean and Press, and Pull-Ups.
Dutton recommends following the 80/20 rule. “You get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of what you do. Figure out what that 20 percent is and stick to it.”
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Mistake 4: You’re doing speed work in only one direction
Sprints will make you faster. But sports are played in multiple directions, except perhaps track. “Guys tend to do a lot of linear work, but oftentimes neglect lateral training—even at the pro level,” says Roozen.
Training speed in only one direction limits your ability to cut and change directions when, for example, running a route or juking a defender. You need hip strength, hip mobility and core stability, which can only be developed with multi-directional training.
The Fix: “Just like lifting, improving agility must follow a progression of patterns of movements, making sure the body can handle the stress and load we're putting on it,” says Roozen. He recommends doing two weeks of speed drills where you change direction at a 45-degree angle. Then after another two weeks, progress to 90 degrees and continue progressing until the change-of-direction angle is 180 degrees.
Mistake 5: You’re only working one muscle group at a time
Athletes rarely use a single muscle group or part of the body exclusively. For example, running and jumping are mostly lower-body skills, but the upper body plays a critical role in generatinge power and balance. So, why is it so popular to focus only on one area of the body—like the chest or back.
“Athletes often make the mistake of viewing the body in segments,” explains Pete Holman, a physical therapist and creator of the TRX Rip Trainer. “The body is a functional integrated machine and needs to be trained as one.”
The Fix: Focus your workouts on your entire body rather than breaking it into segments. Rather than the Bench Press, Holman suggests a Single-Arm Cable Press in a split stance to active your core, challenge your balance and build pushing power you can use on the field. This concept can be applied to many of the exercises you perform that only work one area of the body.
Mistake 6: You’re performing exercises that may be uncomfortable or painful
Strength, size and power get all the attention, but the primary goal for every training plan should be to prevent injury. You should never get hurt from something you do in the weight room.
The problem is, many athletes don’t listen to their bodies and end up performing exercises they can’t handle. “Humans come in all shapes and sizes,” says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University. “It's unrealistic to expect a guy who's built like a football running back to move the same as a guy who is built like a football lineman.”
This can cause a number of problems, including poor form, which limits how much you can get from an exercise, or may cause injury. Also, if you have a previous injury, it may only make it worse.
The Fix: Tumminello references a large variety of exercises to choose from, so find one that works for you. Here are his criteria:
- Comfort: The movement is pain-free and feels natural.
- Control: You can demonstrate the movement technique and body positioning as provided in each exercise description. For example, when squatting, you display good knee and spinal alignment throughout, along with smooth, deliberate movement.
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Mistake 7: You think you’re a bigger deal than you really are
Some exercises are pretty cool. Olympic lifts or Squats with chains will certainly impress everyone around you. But they may not be such a good idea if you don't have a solid foundation of strength.
“One major mistake I notice a lot of athletes make is thinking that they're a bigger deal than they really are,” says Tony Gentilcore, co-founder of Cressey Performance (Hudson, Mass.). "They [think] they don't need to concern themselves with mastering the basics.”
Bryan Meyer, owner of B Meyer Training, agrees with this assessment. "Athletes have a tendency to add weight too quickly to their lifts," he says. "This is the last thing you should do, because it ignores proper progressions, creates faulty movement patterns and can cause an injury."
Focusing on the basics may not be sexy, but Gentilcore asserts that it’s critical to take the time to learn the proper technique and master movement patterns with basic exercises like Goblet Squats and Push-Ups before moving into advanced variations.
“It’s about doing what's going to help you go from Point A (suck) to Point B (less sucky) to Point C (dominating your competition) in the safest, most efficient manner possible,” he adds.
The Fix: You need to change your mindset and know it's OK to perform simple exercises. “Athletes as a whole will oftentimes view a regression as a shot against their ego, when the opposite is true,” adds Gentilcore. “If you take the time to fix faulty or aberrant movements, it's only going to make you better in the long run.” To do this, Meyer recommends mastering control and technique with bodyweight movements before progressing to weight-bearing or advanced exercises.