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10 Common Bodybuilding Mistakes that Grind Progress to a Halt

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Let’s say you want to stop growing. Maybe you don’t want to buy bigger clothes or you’ve become leery of the increased attention your constantly improving physique is receiving. Our fail-safe plan for stagnation focuses on the 10 most common training mistakes. Follow these poor choices and we can virtually guarantee you won’t get any bigger; you may even get smaller.

1 TOO MUCH WEIGHT

Occasionally, you can have too much of a good thing. “Go heavy” is an excellent training mantra, but as size-gaining advice, it leaves out the necessary instructions. Here’s the unabridged version: use the heaviest weight you can with good form for six to 10 reps and emphasize basic compound exercises. Unless you’re as broad as Dennis Wolf, that printed advice is not going to fit very well on your T-shirt, which brings us back to “Go heavy.” Too many bodybuilders focus on hoisting maximum weights by doing fewer reps and/or using sloppy form. If, set after set, exercise after exercise, you’re doing fewer than six reps, it’s unlikely you’ll gain much but sore tendons and joints. Likewise, if you’re always using weights that force you to cheat throughout the set, it’s a certainty that you’re not truly stressing the target bodypart. If you don’t want to get bigger, always use a weight that’s so heavy you can’t get six good reps on your own.

2 SLOPPY FORM

Sometimes an excessively heavy weight is the culprit, but very often, too much “body English” is used to move even an appropriate weight. The truth is, even some bodybuilders with years of experience don’t know the most effective method for executing a lift to target the desired area; they’ve always done a lift wrong and never think to change. Others progressively develop bad exercise habits. If you don’t want to get bigger, cheat the weight up, use momentum and enlist stabilizers, such as your lower back, as much as possible. Not only will this dramatically decrease growth, but it’s a terrific way to injure yourself.

3 LACK OF INTENSITY

To prevent rapid growth, never push a set to full-rep failure or beyond. Never continue grinding out reps when your muscles are in agony. Do not consistently go beyond what you’ve done before. Quit your sets the moment you feel a twinge of pain; fear going to failure, and avoid techniques such as supersets, forced reps and descending sets. Without intensity, it’s a good bet you won’t gain much except frustration.

roland bodybuilder

4 EMPHASIZING STRONG POINTS

If you want to have the most unbalanced physique possible, spend most of your gym time emphasizing your strongest bodyparts and little or no time on your weakest. The same holds true for exercises. If you’re especially strong in the bench press and weak in the leg press, the surest way to increase this imbalance is to focus more on your bench and the ancillary lifts that can boost your bench, and stop doing leg presses altogether. Your strong points will continue to get stronger, your weak points will never change, and your physique will morph into something increasingly less aesthetic and more abstract.

5 TOO MUCH VOLUME

To halt and even reverse growth in a hurry, we recommend you keep training and training and training. Consistently do 40 intense sets for your quads twice per week and watch your legs shrink. Shopping for jeans will become a snap, as you’ll be able to stop donning the most relaxed-fit baggies and start slipping into some so narrow Dave Chappelle could wear them. Overtrain with too much volume and you can almost guarantee you won’t grow. Do it to an extreme over an extended period and you’ll actually lose muscle.

6 SKIPPING WARM-UPS AND STRETCHING

Many bodybuilders think of warm-ups and stretches in the same way they do advertisements at the beginning of a DVD. They want to skip them or speed through them as fast as possible and proceed with the main event. This is advised only if you’re eager to strain or tear a muscle or tendon. If you want to injure yourself, and thus reverse your progress, and thus reverse your progress, train all-out without first warming up and stretching.

7 OVERRELIANCE ON MACHINES

Machines are your friends, but just as talking on your cell phone, watching TV and listening to music all while driving your car is a recipe for disaster, relying exclusively on exercise machines is a good way to slow or bring your gains to a screeching halt. In most cases, free weights provide a freer range of motion than machines. They are also the most effective way to perform heavy basics, such as bench presses, deadlifts and squats. Of course, machines are also necessary bodybuilding tools, but always choosing the mechanical version of lifts over the barbell or dumbbell versions will almost certainly limit your gains.

lee priest

8 INSUFFICIENT RECUPERATION

The more you train, the more you’ll grow is one of the most enduring fallacies of bodybuilding. It’s rarely stated so boldly. Most bodybuilders recognize that they break down muscle in the gym and grow only via sufficient nutrition and recuperation. Still, it’s difficult to do less to make ourselves grow more. The inclination is almost always to do more: more workouts, longer workouts, more cardio, more, more, more. If you’re doing a typical routine for a typical training split, odds are, doing more will make you grow less.

9 NEGLECTING SMALLER MUSCLES

So much of the emphasis on gaining size focuses on lifting big in the biggest lifts (deadlifts, bent rows, leg presses, etc.) that many bodybuilders tend to undertrain, or even skip, hamstrings, calves, abdominals and forearms. It seems logical that to gain the most muscle, you should train most muscles, but logic escapes those who think the “big lifts” are all that matter. If you’re not interested in having a complete and maximally developed physique, segregate some bodyparts as “incidentals” and don’t bother working them at all.

10 NO GOALS

The surest way to get nowhere is to have no planned destination. For some, bodybuilding is the equivalent of starting up their cars knowing where they want to go. Set no short-term aspirations (such as a new strength best for your next workout) or long-term targets (such as gaining 10 lean pounds over the next 10 months) and, when your progress stagnates, you won’t feel any anxiety about missing your personal marks. Without goals, you can blissfully run in place, never challenging yourself to race ever further.

THE RIGHT WAY

Now that we’ve demonstrated the surest training methods for not growing, you simply need to avoid each of these 10 misguided premises to progress. What many of these mistakes have in common is they make things easier. We can’t promise that gaining muscle will be a breeze. However, if you train correctly, gains will come steadily. Do the opposite of what the size-adverse do, turn these negatives into positives, and be wary of shortcuts. You may eventually have to buy bigger clothes and you may be pestered with doltish questions such as “How much can you bench?” or “How big are your arms?” but those are small prices to pay for growth.

Author: by Greg Merritt
COPYRIGHT 2006 Weider Publications
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning
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