3 Novice Weight Training Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Updated December 17, 2012

By Kuytrider from the Muscle and Brawn forum.

As this article doesn’t have a fancy title such as ‘6 weeks to huge arms’ or ‘12 weeks to being ripped’, it probably won’t generate as much interest as much of the dross that is endemic in this industry. I’ll also come straight out and say I am not an advanced lifter, a bodybuilder nor have I entered a competitive powerlifting meet.

So what could I possibly tell you about the iron? I can tell you the mistakes I have made and help relative newcomers to avoid wasting frustrating months if not years from following the same path. As such, this article is for newbies so if you are advanced, the information you will read falls into the ‘obvious’ category.

Nonetheless, you may read along, shaking your head all the while and acknowledging that you have also made these errors. Below are 3 basic mistakes I made and what I would do if I could start over.

3 Novice Weight Training Mistakes

Program Hopping

If you’re new to the gym, you’re probably guilty of this sin. It may seem strange, but too much information can be detrimental to your progress as a beginner. The industry’s multitude of magazines has bamboozled iron worshippers for decades. Ever since Joe Weider began his empire, young lifters have been hit from all corners with terms such as ‘muscle confusion’, ‘feeling the burn’ and other such assorted nonsense. Therefore, Joe Lifter tries a ‘Big Arms’ program for 4 weeks, attempts to create a ‘barn door back’ in 6 weeks and looks for ‘chiseled pecs’ for 7 weeks. All of the above occurs while he is also trying to get the sacred 6 pack.

I was guilty of this as much as anyone. They say that the novelty factor of a new program lasts around 4 weeks. Thereafter, the lifter looks for the latest fad. For me, it was a sad case of getting to a certain point, stalling and changing up. This change would involve going ‘back’ a few kilograms and ‘work my way’ towards a new PR. Sound familiar? Every time I hit a wall, the program changed. This has led to subpar progress and boundless frustration. Eventually, the penny dropped and I am now dedicating myself to a single program for a minimum of 6 months.

Lifters who have been there will tell you the importance of grinding through the sticky patches because you will be stronger on the other side, both mentally and physically. So after 4-8 weeks on a new program when you inevitably hit a bad patch, miss a few reps or have a couple of bad sessions don’t blame the program. If a program aims for progression and has basic compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses as its cornerstone, it WILL work.

Just be patient, work your ass off and it will work! If you change to a new and exciting program every time you get stuck, you’ll be on the roundabout to failure forever. Next time you train, take a look at the regulars in your gym. How many of them have made discernible progress? Not many! Most will continue lifting the same weights with the same crap form. Don’t be those guys; be the person that gets the best out of themselves.

Trying to be Advanced

It finally hit home that I am, in strength terms, barely an intermediate. Yet I wasted quite some time training like an advanced lifter. I was considering entering a powerlifting meet and trained thusly with lots of singles and so forth. However, this was a grave mistake in hindsight because I had not yet built up the requisite strength base.

Yet again, this is an error being rectified as I finally follow a program based on reps rather than singles. Singles have their place in terms of testing your strength, especially if you have intentions of entering a powerlifting meet, but if you are a novice or barely an intermediate, you need to inure yourself to reps first and foremost.

Once you reach a more advanced strength level, you will have to chop and change your programming to suit your individual needs; until then however, I would advise sticking with one of the many tried and trusted strength routines you will find online. There are many on this very website. “But Ed Coan and these other guys don’t do cookie cutter routines.”

First of all, Ed Coan and other uber-strong powerlifters did (and do) include lots of reps (sets of 8-10 reps in some cases) in their programs. Secondly, you are not Ed Coan and cannot deadlift 903 pounds so shut up and lift! Seriously, if you can’t squat 275 to depth, bench 185 paused or deadlift 315 off the floor for example, you are in no position to question the effectiveness of well-known strength training programs.

Wanting It all

In this instance ‘all’ means gaining strength while losing weight. This can happen when you’re a raw novice but is NOT happening at any other time. Earlier this year, I hit a number of PRs but gained sloppy weight in the process. I was fat at 207 pounds and could either stick with it and go to 230 while gaining more strength and fat or drop the weight, get better conditioning, sacrifice some strength and get after it in 2013. For far too long, I did neither.

This meant blundering along lifting unimpressive weights, not getting any stronger because I was afraid to get too fat! Eventually, after holiday pics showed me looking particularly out of shape, I elected to go with the getting in shape option. I am down to 187 at the time of writing and am in the best condition I have been for years. My strength has predictably dropped but it will be regained and surpassed in 2013!

The lesson here is: Make a choice and stick with it. If you’re overweight and out of shape, dedicate 16 or so weeks to trimming the fat and increasing your gas tank. If you’re 6 feet tall and weigh 150 pounds, want to get stronger but are terrified of losing your abs, grow a set, gain some weight and lift heavy! Once you have packed on size, you can then elect to trim and regain those abs. FYI, most guys that pack on size are in NO hurry to lose it!

If I Could Do It all Again

I would go with Starting Strength, one of the best beginner strength building routines out there and follow it to a tee. If you are an undersized novice, this is the route I would take. If you are an oversized novice, I would trim the fat first. During this time, I would learn how to squat to depth, bench so reps touch the chest and get my deadlift form down pat.

After following Starting Strength until I stalled 2-3 times, I would then go for Madcow 5×5 which involves ramping weights to one top set. You can probably get 2 years out of these programs and potentially be close to advanced in strength terms. I would then follow a more specialized program with a powerlifting meet in mind.

This has been a long and possibly verbose article but if you have derived any valuable information from it, the time spent was worth it! I will undoubtedly make more mistakes but hopefully, they will not be as damaging to my progress as all of the above and I will continue to learn from them.

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