Fitness and exercise, like life, is full of trial and error. Fine-tuning your workout requires research and experimentation, which leads to inevitable moments of plateaus, stagnation, and the occasional sore shoulder.
Thankfully, you’re not alone. Anyone who’s picked up a dumbbell has had to modify their original plan to find their ideal routine—especially after earning the hard earned knowledge that comes only through experience. And you can learn from the experts who have put in that work to avoid making the same mistakes yourself.
If Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., could return to Day 1 of his training journey, he would start by eliminating these four fitness mistakes he made starting out.
This classic one body part-per day regimen always seems simple and easy to follow—and most guys have tried it at one point in their training days—but quickly you’ll begin to realize it’s not the most effective way to make gains. The problem with the bro split, Samuel says, is that this routine prevents your body from getting the proper amount of stimulus it needs to facilitate muscle growth and strength.
A better split would incorporate a wider range of movements each day. For example, pulling movements on Day 1 (think back and biceps). Chest, triceps and shoulders would make up Day 2’s push split, followed by legs on the third day. Take an optional rest day then redo the sequence for the rest of the week. It’s a much smarter seven-day cycle that's going to allow you to challenge your body more frequently—which should in turn help you to build muscle quicker.
In order to gain strength, you need to do core exercises—and keep doing them—because practice makes perfect (or at least makes you better, especially as your muscles adapt to stimulus). If you bench pressed on Monday, you can do it again two or three days later. The more you perform, over time you’ll continue getting stronger. When you’re getting started, it’s much better to get better at the basics instead of filling your training split with a rotating list of exercises.
When your goal is building muscle, most experts recommend trainees work out using sets of six to 12 reps— a.k.a. the hypertrophy range. However, Samuel says there's definite value in training with sets of lower reps, even down to just two to three reps. With these lower rep sets, you’re getting to build power and explosiveness since you'll be working with heavier weights. He recommends adding one exercise in the two to four rep range to your split to help push your strength and power. For the rest of your workout, it’s okay to go back and hit the six to 12 rep range.
Contrary to what you might hear, sometimes it’s better to take more rest time in between sets. Instead of taking about 20 to 30 seconds between sets, Samuel says you shouldn't sweat taking anywhere from 90 seconds to two minutes, especially when you’re moving heavy weight. The rest is going to help you expend max effort, which is key the muscle and strength building process.
Avoid all four of these mistakes, and very soon you’ll find yourself more confident in your plan and on the way to building strength and muscle, which will help you to do so much more with your body than just looking the part. Isn’t that the goal of your workouts anyway?