by Rob Wise
Today I want to highlight my top mistakes I have made along my fitness journey. Having walked this earth for 38 years and with fitness encompassing almost 24 of those years, I feel like I could write an entire book on the lessons I have learned!
I have had the pleasure of interacting with thousands of patients/clients along my journey and one question I always like to ask is, “if you could change one thing when you started, what would that be?” For most, the answer tends to be ‘I wish I had started sooner’, but I started to hear a lot of the same statements about things people wish they could go back and change. Whether it’s starting earlier, avoiding bad lifting techniques or spending money on useless products, I think all of us have been down this road, and I wanted to share these important lessons with you.
Mistake #1 Relying too much on supplements/quick fixes.
I think this has been the most prevalent answer among my peers when I was getting started; it was hard to not pick up any fitness magazine (internet was still a new concept) and be overwhelmed by the in-shape, athletic models selling you on the next magical supplement or product. Do you remember the Shake Weight, Sketchers Step-Ups or sauna suits? I haven’t met one person who found success using those products. For me, it was relying too much on supplements which now, looking back, could have had potentially dangerous ingredients! Outside of losing a lot of money, I didn’t lose many pounds or gain pounds of muscle. I get it, those articles can really sell you, but take it from someone who has worked in the supplement industry: if they are selling you a quick fix or if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably best to move along and save your money!
Mistake #2 Not listening to expert advice.
I felt confident at 14 just going in and heading straight to the bench press machine. I loaded a 45lb plate on each side, combined with the bar weight came out to about 135 pounds. I un-racked the bar and it immediately came straight down on me, just missing my neck. Instead of yelling for help, I rolled the bar (painfully) down my stomach and legs until it dropped off. Keep in mind, the director of the gym, a graduate student in Exercise Science had directed me to start with dumbbells, light weight and get the feel down first. Or, at the very least just use the empty bar to get the feeling first before you start adding weight. Sadly, this wasn’t the last time I wouldn’t listen to advice. I have experienced everything from a torn hamstring to a slipped disc by ignoring the wisdom of those who understand the body and the mechanics of proper lifting. I have also come across a lot of bad advice from “supposed” experts, so my advice is to really look into who is dispensing this advice. Someone with a background in exercise science and who has been able to successfully apply their information and has a solid track record are probably some of the best people to listen to. The last thing you want to do is go directly into the gym and just “wing” it. You might just end up crawling out of the gym like I did.
Mistake #3 Working out every day/not enough.
You could technically file this under number 2, but I think it is one of the most common things I hear when I ask someone about their training is it is one of two extremes. Too much or not enough. I wish I could workout everyday and get my results quicker. So many times, I hear people joke about wanting to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, and even though they say they are joking I know there is a level of desire that comes with that thought, like it will happen. The reality is, whether you’ve been training for 10 days or 10 years, your body needs rest, to recover and build muscle. That doesn’t happen when you continually beat your body and muscles up. You’ll need to accompany that rest with proper nutrition for the body to heal too, including the consumption of adequate protein. You’ll run the risk of injuring yourself and guess what will happen if you get laid up due to injury? You’ll suffer a set-back which won’t be a motivator at all.
Now let’s talk about the opposite of not training enough. So many times, people will make exercise a low priority when your health should be number 1. It’s not necessarily exercising enough times in the week, but the motivation you don’t have when you go to the gym. Leave those distractions at home! Put down your phone, focus on the workout. That workout should be about focusing on the movements and lifts. Not only for the safety aspect but for the most effectiveness! Yes, my phone is with me when I work out, but I have a good playlist of music going and ignore those emails and messages until I’m finished. That way I know I have given it everything I have got.
Mistake #4 Not documenting anything. Not planning. Not goal setting.
I remember when My Fitness Pal came out the first time and people were scanning and logging their food calories and exercise in. I thought how about game-changing this was, so I downloaded the app and proceeded to set myself up. Fast forward 2 weeks and the app looked like I have not eaten or trained in days. My motivation was not there anymore. I see that common issue with fitness/nutrition trackers a lot. However, I did find that writing it out, meal planning, writing down my workouts not only for that day but for weeks out was the absolute best thing for me. Not only did I stay committed but I saw progress in the mirror. My greatest success and advice have always been to plan and set goals. Have you tried meal prepping? Give it a shot! I am a creature of habit and can prepare a high protein casserole for the week and freeze another week, so I don’t have to cook or prep for two weeks. There are even great meal delivery services out there (they are pricey but can work). I will usually spend a Saturday or Sunday for 3-6 hours getting two weeks’ worth of meals ready, something I can freeze and pull out as needed. I also account for times I might be out at a restaurant and how it may fit into my calories for that week. I always change what I am eating after a few weeks too, so I do not get bored. This way, if I have a long, stressful day, I am not anxiously going (then regretting) ordering a pizza with breadsticks. My workouts are always programmed 12 weeks out, which is called periodization. This is just a fancy way of me saying my workouts are structured in 4 week intervals of endurance, hypertrophy (aka muscle building) and strength, followed by active rest (walking/stretching/etc.). I can modify my rep/weight scheme at that workout, but at least I know the trajectory I am on as well as the progress I am making!
Mistakes will always be made along our fitness journey, but it’s what you learn from those mistakes that will make you that much better. If I had someone telling me this advice when I started (and if I would have listened!) I would have avoided serious injuries and money wasted, as well as progress never met! If only I would have just listened to those who were telling me to learn from their mistakes 😉