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You probably know by now that strength training isn’t just for athletes. In fact, everybody can benefit from strength training, no matter their age or fitness goals.
Not only will strength training decrease risk of injury and improve bone density and joint health, but it also can increase functional strength for better performance in daily activities as well as muscle mass and metabolic efficiency. “The more muscle tissue you carry, the higher your resting metabolic rate,” says strength and conditioning specialist Finley Funsten, owner of MADabolic Charlotte in North Carolina.
Trouble is, it’s easy to make mistakes when you strength train, especially if you’re not doing it under a trainer’s guidance. Below, trainers identify 10 of these mistakes to help avoid injury and keep your fitness program on track.
10 Common Strength-Training Missteps
1. Using Weights That Are Too Heavy
Weights that are too heavy could injure you, which could defeat the purpose of exercising, especially if you have to take time off, Funsten says.
The fix: Lighten your load. Pick a weight that challenges you but doesn’t cause you to use improper form.
2. Adding Weights Before You Have the Initial Movement Perfected
Think of a squat or lunge. Adding weights to these moves is a wise idea, but if you don’t have your form on these two exercises nailed down, you risk injury, says MacKenzie Rowand, CSCS, 9Round Fitness exercise specialist in Simpsonville, South Carolina.
The fix: Before you add weights to any bodyweight movement, practice the move first. Once you’ve mastered that, add weights.
3. Not Considering Modifications
Almost every move has an easier and harder version, and while your ego might tell you to go hard, if your body isn’t ready for that harder move, Rowand says you could hurt yourself. Plus, by not making modifications, you may not ever know what it’s like to do the full movement.
The fix: Know that there’s no shame in modifying a move. In modified positions, you can learn the basics of the exercise. Once you get stronger or fitter, you can move to more advanced versions.
4. Not Progressing the Weights
If you use the same weight every time, your body will get so used to those weights that it may stop working so hard. Funsten says this can make achieving goals harder.
The fix: Gradually progress your weights. One way you’ll know it’s time to move up? When the exercise begins to feel easy with the current weight you’re using.
5. Falling Victim to Unnecessary Distraction
Between counting reps, racing to 100 squats in spite of what the squat looks like or focusing on your smartwatch, it’s easy to get distracted. The problem? “This is often when form and technique break down,” Funsten says.
The fix: Make sure you’re committed to executing every movement with proper form. Funsten says you also might consider matching your strength training with intervals and time so you’re less focused on reps and more focused on moving well with proper form for a certain amount of time.
6. Not Eating Enough to Support Your Strength Training
If you’re following a low-calorie diet (like 1,200 calories a day), your strength training will suffer. “Without enough calories, you’ll be hard-pressed to sustain the results you’re looking for,” Funsten says.
The fix: Identify your total daily energy expenditure to understand how many calories your body needs. If you’re unsure, work with a qualified nutrition professional.
7. Using Weights That Are Too Light
Your body needs to be challenged to grow stronger, and if you’ve been stuck in a rut or you’re not seeing changes in strength or muscle definition, Rowand says you may not be using heavy enough weights.
The fix: If you can do 15 to 20 reps easily, increase that weight. You’ll know you’ve hit the right weight for where you are now if you can do eight to 12 reps and could potentially do one or two more but are “feeling it” or fatigued at the end of a set.
8. Doing Repetitions Too Quickly
Moving through strength exercises quickly, especially with heavy weights, can increase your risk for injury. Plus, if you move too quickly, you may not be recruiting and engaging the correct muscles or using the full range of motion, which will decrease the gains you’re hoping to make, Rowand explains.
The fix: Use slow and controlled movements by focusing on your breath. “Take a deep breath through the nose and exhale strongly as you explode out of the motion,” Rowand says.
9. Repeating the Same Strength Exercises Every Workout
If you’re not mixing those moves up, you may not be challenging your muscles enough. As a result, you might plateau.
The fix: Add variety to your workouts, knowing that how often you change the moves is subjective. “[However], if you’re not feeling challenged by the exercises during or after the workout, you need to mix it up,” Rowand says. Of course, you can always change rep counts and weights (for instance, using lighter weights for more reps or a longer period of time or heavier weights for lower reps or lower amounts of time), but you also can change how you do the specific move. Two examples: Instead of regular weighted squats, try bodyweight squat jumps or pulse squats; instead of regular lunges, try a split squat.
10. Skipping Your Rest Days
If you’re operating under the “more is better” mentality and skipping rest days, that’s a dangerous habit. “Many people incorrectly assume that muscle growth, personal records and weight loss (or whatever your goal) occurs during the act of exercise,” Funsten says. “On the contrary, strength training breaks down muscle tissue, and muscles repair and grow when they’re not expending intense bouts of energy.”
The fix: Take about two recovery days from strength training every week.