Just the other day one of my favorite strength coaches made a social media post that went like this,”If you look at your [exercise] programming from 5 years ago and don’t facepalm, you probably need to reconsider your continued education approach.” Facepalm could easily be replaced with, “what was I thinking!?” What Eric is really saying is that as a Personal Trainer, your philosophy, style, programming and methods should be ever evolving as you learn and grow through experience and continued education.
Mike and I had some fun, sitting down and discussing how our own training style and philosophy have changed over the years, as well as recognizing some mistakes we now know that we used to make.
These changes have come about from our own trials and tribulations, new certifications we’ve received over the years, and coaches/mentors that we’ve learned from. With a combined total of over 30 years of experience in the weight room, our philosophies have changed for the better -- and we continue to develop them every day.
Here are the top 10 mistakes we used to make:
“Thinking everyone needs to eat 6 meals per day” - Katie
My early experiences with health fitness was as a Bodybuilder. I listened to bodybuilding coaches, friends that I considered mentors and read up on what every elite female athlete was doing to be successful. One thing that remained consistent was that this population was eating small meals very often. I was able to get my own body fat down to as lean as 9% by using this 6 meals per day while I was doing this. If you read any weight loss articles during the early 2000’s they were likely to tout the same eating strategy. Naturally, early on in my career as a trainer , I thought everyone would benefit from eating 6 meals per day… turns out, I no longer coach this way. Here is why...
It’s not practical for a lot of people. Try convincing a nurse, a teacher, a lawyer or any other professional to stop their work day 4 different times to eat. At this point I’m grateful if my clients stop once to eat lunch…and this can be just as healthy for them.
There is no evidence to support this method even works the best. Overall caloric intake is what determines a healthy body weight, whether that is in two meals or six meals. Either of these strategies could be successful depending on what is more feasible for your lifestyle, calorie intake and food choices.
Often times, weight loss does not occur because people are eating too much. You could see why telling someone who is already eating too much to each 6 times a day, you are giving them an opportunity to overeat at 6 meals a day...see the problem here.
“Neglecting cardio” - Mike
Early on in my working out days I NEVER did cardio. I think the first time I used a piece of cardio equipment was after 8 years of going to the gym, and this was when I decided to train for a bodybuilding competition and it was part of my program. If you asked me at the time I would have told you I was in shape and fit. Truth was, I wasn't. Also, at some point in the bodybuilding community, someone came up with the idea that doing cardio meant that you lost muscle. This was probably an excuse for the heavier guys not to cardio and couldn't be further from the truth. Strength alone does not make you fit and conditioned.
My current philosophy now is that at any given time, someone should have the aerobic capacity to complete a 5k without severely struggling, which is why I challenge myself to do them regularly. That’s about 25-35 minutes of cardiovascular activity and any able bodied person should be able to do it. This has to do with the importance of developing a more well-rounded approach to your workouts. They should include both strength days and conditioning days (conditioning can involve running, rower, stairmaster or a more metabolically active strength training circuit that gets the heart rate up to 70-80% of max heart rate).
“Not prioritizing mobility” - Mike
In my younger years, I never really considered mobility an important part of being strong and fit, probably because I thought big arms and ripped abs were more easily comparable to the next guy. However, five years ago I go I did an intensive course in Functional Range Anatomy, which focuses on training individuals through a complete range of motion, so that they can maintain and get back some of the mobility they have lost. I was motivated to get a better education in this area because I really noticed our sedentary population and even young kids who specialize in only one sport, have increasingly limited movement patterns. If you talk to any physical therapist, chiropractor, or anyone who treats injuries, they will 100% tell you the major cause of the non-contact injuries they see is due to a lack of mobility. I always tell my clients, it's easier to keep the mobility you currently have than to try and get what you've lost back.
In addition to making mobility exercises a MUST for my clients, I now spend 5-10 minutes every single day getting in my mobility work. Since this addition, every one of my lifts has improved and my joints feel way healthier and less restricted then they did in my younger years.
”Under utilizing rest days” - Katie
I feel like I spent most of my early 20’s being sore, injured, overtired and with my hormones out of whack, but also totally unwilling to take a rest day from the gym. I had the mentality of “Go big or go home” and “No pain, no gain.” It took me years to learn that rest days or even “deload weeks” are a crucial part of the training process both physically and mentally.
When I started training for a Powerlifting meet in 2013, I got introduced to “deload weeks” which was a new concept to me. Every 4 to 6 weeks, I would take an entire week off and just do extremely light movements (50% of less of my actual effort). This might sound counter-intuitive to take a week off from training if you want to be stronger, however at this period of my life I was actually the strongest I’ve ever been, benching 175lbs and deadlifting 300lbs. I was also able to do this training entirely injury free the whole time—deload weeks worked wonders! Scientifically, rest is a necessary part of the exercise cycle because when we break down muscle during exercise, we then need resting to allow the muscle to rebuild stronger. Over-training and skipping this rest period leaves us in a constant state of breaking down with not enough time rebuilding.
Now-a-days, I do not necessarily program in rest days to my week but I rather let them naturally occur when my life gets hectic. I leave my rest days to the days of the week that I wind up being the most busy and I am still able to get quality workouts in on the other 5 days per week. I also listen to my body. Extreme soreness, fatigue or needing a mental rest are all feelings I honor and allow myself a pass on a workout.
Remember that we workout in order to live, we don’t live to workout.
“Believing all cardio needed to be in a fasted state” - Katie
Fasted cardio means doing your “cardio” workout while you are in a fasted state. This usually means hitting the treadmill first thing in the morning before breakfast or it could be anytime that you haven’t eaten in the last 4-8 hours. While this was deeply rooted in my bodybuilding upbringing, the truth is that the evidence supporting fasted cardio is kind of spotty. Some studies show that people actually burn more muscle when they are in this state and not as much fat, which is the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish —not that I would have believed that 10 years ago.
To be honest, I do cardio now whenever I can fit it in my schedule, fasted or not. I tell my clients to do the same. I allow them to decide whether or not they feel better doing it fasted or whether they feel like they need something in their system first. When working with a busy schedule, getting a workout DONE, is more important than whether or not we can squeeze it in depending on if we are fasted or not.
“Spending 2+ hours in the gym” - Mike
I used to believe that spending more time in the gym meant more results and bigger gains. I’d do one or two muscle groups and spend two hours lifting weights. I didn’t realize until years later how counterproductive this actually was. The key is to stimulate the muscle enough to cause an adaption but not too much that it can’t recover from the last workout before you’re at it again, especially when back in those days it seemed that chest and biceps were usually next up on the list. It is also a good indicator that you're not training hard enough if you can spend two hours training. Currently, I spend no more than an hour per lift day. I’ve even had really great lifts when I’m limited to 30/45 minutes. Each set is challenging and focused and I choose compound exercises that give me the biggest-bang-for-my-buck. When it comes to fitness quality over quantity is not only important for your results but it is also important to keep you in the game by allowing you to recover properly and preventing overuse injury.
“Thinking yoga was too easy“- Katie
When it came to yoga, I used to think it wouldn’t be challenging enough to include into my vigorous routine. Now that I take yoga regularly, I can clarify three things:
1) Not every workout needs to be extremely hard, nor should it be. In actuality, we should be fluctuating the intensity of our workouts weekly — light, medium and heavy days. With the correct instructor, yoga can have a place in your routine to supplement your medium and lighter exercise days. Low intensity yoga can even be great for an “active-rest” day.
2) Depending on the type of Yoga you take, it can be crazy challenging! I see improvements in my balance, mobility and core strength.
3) I’ve also learned that despite all the exercising that I have done over the last 15 years, I actually suck at breathing, which is the most important thing. Yoga has helped me to better connect my movement and my breath and become a much better “belly breather” (check here for more on belly breathing). There is both a physical and mental benefit to work both your inward and outward being in yoga and this is what fitness is really all about.
“Not paying attention to ingredients in supplements” - Mike
This is one that I see a lot of people still struggling with --- reading and understanding labels on your supplements. I hate to admit it, but I used to buy whatever supplement was on sale or had the best looking labels or marketing. I never flipped the bottle over to look at the ingredients or facts panel. Now it's always the first thing I do. Most of the stuff bothered my stomach but I believed it was necessary and just dealt with the consequences.
After working in the supplement industry for the past 5-6 years I will tell you that the most popular supplements are NOT always the ones that are made with the most quality ingredients. Rarely are they the same. For more on reading labels, start with avoiding proprietary blends (Check out our Blog on this to learn more) and make sure the protein your buying is mostly protein and not filled with fillers.
Needless to say, my supplements no longer make me feel like shit. They simply support me in my workouts. I am so glad that I figured out how important this was and I am not incredibly choosy and limited with what I will used because of the quality standards that I have set for supplements I am willing to use.
“Using too much gear” - Mike
If you would have run into me 15 years ago in the gym, there is a good chance I was wearing a weight belt, gloves, wrist straps, and possibly knee wraps (if it was leg day). I see plenty of people doing this still. All this gear might have its place in a Powerlifting meet but it shouldn't in your daily workouts. Every one of those items is an aid or crutch that assists you and creates weaknesses. For example: wrist straps help do the work your grip should be doing and therefore prevents your grip from adapting and getting stronger to accommodate you. As I always say, “you can’t be strong with a weak grip.” Now, I am a total minimalist, “raw” lifter.
“Underestimating my own strength” - Katie
I don’t think I am alone with this one because I work with a lot of people who fall into this category. I see it most with female clients. Personally, I have always loved lifting heavy and was always striving to be as strong as I possibly could, however I never would have dreamed of a 300lb deadlift. Reaching this milestone was a huge lesson for me. It made me realize that I had been underestimating my own strength for years.
What really changed was when I had friends and coaches start to help me with exercise programming. I also changed my mentality. Just because I haven’t done it before, doesn’t mean that I can’t get there. Having someone else in charge of my workouts helped hold me accountable to increase my weight load each week. I was able to see how heavy I was lifting the week before and had the confidence to continue to make safe and small incremental increases. Let me tell you…those small increases add-up big time. For years I was limiting myself to weight ranges in my head that I thought were heavy enough but was definitely selling myself short. Just because you’ve never been able to do a certain weight or exercise before, does not mean that it is not attainable with the right strategy and mindset.
In conclusion, the key to your lifelong fitness journey is just that...to choose activities that will be lifelong. With an ever evolving industry like fitness, there is always an opportunity to learn, grow and get better. That’s partly why we love it!