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The Dos and Don’ts of Successful Strength Training

man doing dumbbell curls

Do Use Compound Movements

Compound exercises involve the movements of several joints. They allow for maximum muscle fiber and motor neuron recruitment. Don’t waste your time with isolation exercises. For 90% of fitness individuals, compound exercises will be all they need to be successful. Isolation exercises are fun but unnecessary in most cases.

Read more about why compound exercises are the key to building muscle.

Do Allow Enough Time For Recovery

You grow when you rest, not when you work out. Working out tears down your muscles so that you can build them up bigger and stronger while you’re resting. If you don’t allow enough time between workouts, you’ll be limiting your strength potential come workout time.

A minimum of 48 hours of rest should occur between strength training workouts that use the same muscles. In addition, your central nervous system needs a rest too. Don’t burn yourself out. Your mind and body both need rest.

Do Work Out at a High Intensity

If you’re using compound exercises, you’re already on the right path towards boosting your intensity. Recruiting a large majority of muscles forces you to work harder.

In doing so, you stimulate the release of all kinds of favorable hormones that will help you build muscle and lose fat. There are many other ways to boost your intensity such as cutting down rest times between sets, and employing the use of drop sets or super sets.

Here are 9 reasons why you should boost your exercise intensity.

Do Change Things Up From Time to Time

Your body is a very adaptive machine. Do the same thing over and over again, and it will become very efficient at that movement. That sounds good, but not if you want to make progress.

Motor neuron adaptations take place very quickly. A large portion of your strength gains are not only from muscle growth, but better motor neuron recruitment too. Change your routine up every few months. Try implementing some sort of periodization.

Read more about how to implement periodization to keep progress moving forward.

Do Use Proper Form

I’ve seen it all. Legs flailing, rounded backs, flared elbows, and turned heads to check out the mirror. You aren’t doing yourself any favors using bad form. My own personal experience has shown me that the majority of my injuries occurred towards the end of the set when my form started wavering.

Injuries are a huge killer to moral, and can throw you into a downward spiral. Do yourself a favor and do a little research before attempting exercise. Hire a trainer, read a book, or watch some YouTube videos for exercise instruction.

Here are the 6 biggest exercise mistakes nearly everyone makes.

Don’t Stress Out About Bulking Up

This one is directed at both men and women, but especially at women. Most people overestimate how easy it is to build muscle. If you put on a 1/2 pound of muscle in a week, you’re doing pretty good. That’s 26 pounds of muscle in a year.

For many people though, they’ll never hit that number. Building muscle requires calories, and unless you’re eating an excess of them, you aren’t going to grow much at all. Your nutrition is the biggest determinant of your size, not your exercise.

Fear of bulking up is 1 of these 10 fitness myths people usually fall for.

Don’t Do the Same Thing You Did Last Workout

You need to provide a stimulus to your muscles if you want them to grow. More weight on the bar, an extra rep, or more work in a given time, are all ways to make progress.

If you went to the gym and lifted 135lbs for 10 reps, and then did the same exact thing the next workout, or even 3 workouts later, why would your body think it needs to adapt? It already has the size it needs to perform that activity. If you want to grow, you need to beat your last workout.

Here are 50 tips for building muscle the right way.

Don’t Put Your Ego Over Your Muscles

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I see people exercising their egos instead of their muscles. What does that mean? It means that you’re so concerned about how much weight you have on the bar that you end up sacrificing your form so that you can lift heavier weights and feel better about yourself.

I see this a lot with people doing squats. They load up the bar and then only go down 1/2 or even just 1/4 of the way. Lower the weight, get your butt to the ground, and work out your muscles – not your ego.

Don’t Forget to Squat

I actually see this more with men than I do with women. I call these men “beach bodybuilders”. They go to the gym and work out their chest and biceps nearly every single time, and that’s it. They end up with a decent looking upper body stuck on top of toothpick legs.

With the exception of maybe the deadlift (maybe), the squat recruits more muscle fibers than any other strength training exercise. It, or a variation thereof, should be a staple in everyone’s strength training routine.

Here’s a great explanation of how to do the squat.

Don’t Compare Your Numbers to Others

I think a lot of the mistakes people make are ego related. They’re afraid of people watching them work out. They’re afraid of doing something wrong, so they avoid it. They’re afraid of not looking very strong, so they sacrifice form for more weight on the bar.

When I used to go to a public gym, my headphones would go in, and it became me and the gym. I didn’t pay attention to other people, nor did I worry about what they thought. I knew that if I could best my last workout, it was a victory – regardless of how little weight I used.

You are only in competition with yourself. Don’t compare your numbers to others. Strength training is about personal development.

  • janita

    i…LOVE…this…site. every single post! thank you!!!!!!

    • Susan

      I agree! Great information.

  • Kat

    hi,
    I have been doing strength training for a while now and I can see some changes in my body but still I am not sure about the nutrition that should go along with the training. Any tips please?

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  • http://www.missfitnesslife.com Vix- Miss Fitness Life

    Hey Coach Calorie, great post about strength training.

    I think the best point for girls is to not worry about bulking up.

    Doing weights is what gives you that super toned all over look, and no amount of cardio will achieve the same toned look.

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  • Gina

    Loved this blog. Women should not be afraid of “bulking up”, especially after 40 or so. I am 46 and work out at least 6X week, and I can hardly build any muscle mass! I’m lean now, leaner than I was at 25, but my new goal is to build some muscle. Back to old school training this week. Thanks for your blog. I love all of your information!

    • Sandy Ellis

      I find that working out hard a few days a week is better than 6 days a week, its true muscles grow during recovery. It took me years to accept this and slow down in the gym. Unless Im doing cardio or shooting hoops, I am gonna try each body part hard once a week

  • WILLIAM

    Hello there – How do you rate standing military presses on the exercise scale ,I incorporate them in nearly all my workouts , sometimes light for high reps then heavy or my max for one or lower reps. Pleased to hear what you might have to say .Thanks and regards

    • Coach Calorie

      Hey William, I’m a big fat of military presses. I think they are a great compound movement for the shoulders.

  • Mike

    I rest all day Sundays on my couch and rest of the week I go hard for my workout sometime i do two workout a day. However should I do some sort of activity during sundays like walking?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      I try to get in some kind of activity daily, but every once in a while I take a complete day off. That’s my own personal preference, and I can’t say one is better than another. Just make sure you are recovering from your workouts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.doyle.3994 Michelle Doyle

    Hi Tony, love your posts/blogs. Can you give some examples of compound exercises? Also how can I incorporate into an already busy schedule with running/cycling/swimming, this is a real challenge for me. I’m currently taking some time off recovering from a throat and then a sinus infection. I really hate not to train but I have 2 kids and a job, finding it hard to get a balance in my life. thanks

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      I would find a way to do compound strength training at least once per week, and up to 3-5 depending on how you arrange your workouts. Squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, burpees, good mornings, and variations (both body weight and weighted) are ideas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizaveta.tarasova.3 Elizaveta Tarasova

    Have been reading your articles for a while now, Tony, great advice, thank you!

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Thanks Elizaveta, and thanks for reading ;)

  • Alejandra

    You’re amazing. Thanks!

  • Rebekah

    Hey Coach Calorie! I think I have a small cartilage tear in my left knee and right now I am opting to just watch it over surgery. It only bothers me when I kneel/put weight on it/crawl. I have been doing your suggested listed weight/cardio routine on “how to lose 10 lbs in a month” and have been making progress. (5′ 7.5″ female, 141 lbs, 22 percent body fat) Could you offer some suggestions on some exercises/routines I can do that won’t be as hard on my knee but will still keep me progressing towards a lower body fat?

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    I really don’t give advice on injuries without personally assessing them. That would be irresponsible on my part. However, you can work around them for the time being. There are plenty of one-legged variations to the exercises, and your upper body can always get a work out.

  • Noely

    Tony~~thank you for your common sense approach to fitness. At 58 I am discovering the joys of being stronger and healthier. Slowly becoming leaner too.