Weightlifting garners a poor rep in certain circles which liken it to neanderthalic contests of manliness. Effort and devotion is belittled as ego stroking or peacocking for illustrious gym gals. But far be it from these contrived notions, weightlifting is an art and a discipline. Each session of grunts and sweats denotes another painfully attained episode of progress, progress that physically manifests on your ever-expanding frame. Courage is built over time, and masculine energy runs at its purest in the dedicated lifter.
Like any specialty though, weightlifting carries with it “weighty” nuances which welcome in grave results when ignored. Avoidable injuries, a lack of gains, and poor health conditions can all occur when bad habits are formed. But with the right knowledge, you can sidestep excess tragedy and keep the focus on lifting hard. So read on, and save yourself the grief of falling into these weightlifting pitfalls.
1. Adding Weight Without Proper Technique
Correct form on each and every lift is absolutely vital to a long iron pumping career. Failure to attain perfect technique will gradually erode joints and ligaments even at lighter weights. And when talking max loads, you’re looking at ruptured tendons and blown out backs.
Any athlete worth his salt knows this, but many fall prey to ego-induced amnesia when going big. Their deadlifts up to 300 lbs may display textbook posture, but the leap to 375 is met with a rounded back just to get airborne. They know it’s heavier than they can swing with good technique, yet they jump the gun regardless to prove how alpha they are.
But really, lying in anguish from a herniated disc is never worth slacking on form. If you can’t perform a lift without compensating technique, you’re lifting too much. Save yourself the extraneous, unwanted damages on your body and do it right.
2. Increasing Workloads Too Quickly
On that same note, you should avoid upping the volume of lifts per workout, or workouts per week, without careful consideration. Yes, training too often and too much carries adverse effects. See, every lift causes micro-tears in your muscles and actually damages them. To repair that damage, your body must be given adequate nutrition and recovery time. Hypertrophy occurs with proper rest between workouts, causing your muscle fibers to rebuild themselves bigger and stronger than before.
Insufficient recovery periods lead to muscle atrophy, promoting muscle fatigue and decreases in gains.(1) If you keep up the excessive workload over a long enough timespan, you’re at risk of overtraining syndrome; an ill omen for future progress you were hoping to make.
Atrophy and overtraining syndrome can both be prevented by adjusting your workouts to what you body can handle given your genetics, diet, and how long you rest between workouts.(2) Cutting certain exercises or smarter spacing of workouts throughout the week are smart choices for those feeling chronic fatigue.
3. Consuming Junk to Fill Calorie Deficits
It’s well-established that muscles need fuel to repair themselves. Protein, carbohydrates, fats; the building blocks for a powerful physique. However, the quality of that fuel matters. Post-workout chow downs on gas station junk food and meat lovers’ pizza may meet your daily requirements for those nutrients, but they’ll cause a host of unneeded issues down the road. It’s like filling your gas tank with watered-down gasoline. It’ll cruise, but eventually the rust and varnish will catch up to you.
Granted, it’s better to eat dirty than not at all to maximize muscle protein synthesis after training.(3) Likewise, glucose from junk foods can aid in meeting your pre-workout energy requirements.(4) But with processed foods—often made with corn syrup—you’ll also be ingesting large amounts of fructose. Unlike glucose, fructose carries zero metabolic functions and puts athletes at risk of diabetes and hypertension.(5)
4. Favoring Supplements Over Diet
Misuse of supplements is almost deadlier a sin than dirty bulking. “Supplement: something that completes or adds an addition.”(6) This says it all, supplements are meant to enhance your preexisting diet, not replace it. Substituting supplements for a wholesome meal is just begging for nutrient deficiencies.
For example, a diet rife with fresh fruits and vegetables is more apt to cover your bases than taking a variety of supplements which offer a high dosage of a single nutrient.(7) Similarly, an organic beef patty topped with lettuce and tomato on a sesame bun will not only net you protein, but carbohydrates and vitamin C as well.
That’s not to say supplements are useless, far from it. Rather, a strong foundation—formed via a healthy, well-rounded diet—is priority number one for aspiring weight lifters. Once that’s down pat, you’re ready to utilize the extra boost provided by dietary supplements.
5. Radically Uprooting Routines
Ever since the controversial P90X Workout program sent ripples through the strength training community, the concept of ‘muscle confusion’ blitzed mainstream consciousness. It basically states that regularly switching up exercises on a given muscle group will ‘shock’ the muscle and keep away plateaus. But the clincher? There’s no hard science behind muscle confusion.
There are, however, scientific studies backing progressive overload. The principle of progressive overload states that stress placed on the musculoskeletal system must be gradually increased over time to see continued gains. Essentially you must consistently lift heavier weights to get stronger. Plateaus aren’t a case of muscle adaptation to a certain lift, they’re more or less a symptom of greater problems; i.e. poor diet, lack of recovery, lack of effort.
When you mix-and-match workouts on the reg, you’ll be starting from ground zero again on that lift. Sure, you’ll be making fresh progress again since it’s a new lift, but it serves only to mask the original plateau, not overcome it. There’s also the issue of under-developing certain muscle groups with sporadic routine changes. Instead, solidify a weekly lifting routine and see it through for the next 6-8 weeks. Measuring progress is much more streamlined this way.
6. Mimicking the Pros via thesportster.com
Why not emulate legendarily intense routines of Olympic power lifters? Shouldn’t workouts of IFBB athletes light the way for your own chiseled torso? It would initially appear to be that simple. The pros have wisdom to spit in spades on all manner of skills. But when it comes to playing copycat on their routine, consider the following:
One, you lack an entourage of skilled coaches, medical professionals, and masseuses at your every bid and command. Their diet and implementation of supplements far surpasses that of the average lifter. Secondly, these guys have years of experience and muscle mass under their belt. They can likely take heavier and more frequent workloads than you can.
Rather than imitating their routines—a risky pathway to overtraining—you should learn from their creeds. Read their philosophy on weightlifting, discover their source of motivation. And most importantly, gain perspective on their early days of lifting. Everyone starts near the bottom, so study their ascent to the top.
7. Benching Over Squats and Deadlifts
Okay, we get it. Herculean pecs and broad shoulders draw women like a gnat swarm on a picnic. But how do you plan to lift your hysterically large torso with puny legs and a flimsy core? That’s where squats and deadlifts come into play to add unity to weightlifting’s holy trinity.
These bad boys cover your quads, hams, and glutes and are a must for ANY athlete. Your entire lower body will benefit greatly from explosive power gained from squats, especially deep squats. It’s proven that deep front and back squats will increase overall resiliency and vertical jumping ability.(8) Plus, they’re optimal for enhancing knee joint stability or even rehabilitating injured knees.(9)
The primary targets of the deadlift include the glutes, hams, and lower back. But deadlifts truly are the killer app in any lifter’s arsenal as they essentially touch upon each muscle group in at least some fashion. Aside from their status as voracious mass builders, deadlifts are also key to a strong core and preventing, or even curing, lower back problems.(10)
So, What’s This All Mean?
The real takeaway here is this: Never stop researching and learning. Weightlifting can be downright dangerous and isn’t meant to be taken lightly (pun intended). Short-lived trends will run their lifespan in ruling the dominant discourse of the lifting world, and enthusiastic gym goers will hastily recommend their own tips and tricks.
But at the end of the day, it’s your responsibility alone to educate yourself. The list above was just to get you started. From here on out, it’s up to you to sidestep the pitfalls of weightlifting and come out on top!