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Avoid These 5 Common Training Mistakes

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

One of the issues with being a fitness professional is that you're always conscious of all things health and fitness. Other professionals may experience the same thing, editors may always be on the lookout for grammatical errors, handymen may be silently judging building work and salespeople might be listening to a sales pitch and thinking "hmm, I would do that differently!" It is in our nature to judge - and advisable we keep our judgement to ourselves - so there are always going to be times we judge others if we feel they could be doing things better.

In the world of personal trainers, this is clearer when we are ourselves training or watching others train when we aren't working. Now, it is unfair to judge others' exercise choices or how they perform said exercises without first knowing the specific needs, goals and considerations of the individual, but there are some universal constants that should be followed by anybody exercising.

So, for the following points, I will try to remain as impartial and non-judgemental as possible - and probably fail miserably - whilst presenting determining factors that could explain why the mistake is being made.


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1. Squatting Incorrectly

The squat is one of the most ubiquitous exercises found across many programmes and exercise plans. It seems pretty straightforward - stick a bar on your back and bend your knees and hips to lower your bottom to the floor and stand up again - yet it is the most commonly incorrectly performed exercise I see!

Poor depth, knees caving in, lower back hyperextension, incorrect movement patterns, butt-wink, upper back hunching, foot instability and incorrect breathing are all very common and, more often than not, there is a combination of many of the above issues at play.

The problem stems from the fact that the back squat is one of the most technical exercises around and is vastly overprescribed as part of generic exercise programmes. As a consequence, the exercise becomes more dangerous and less effective which diminishes results.

The solution? Learn to squat properly and safely progress from an easier alternative to the back squat. I suggest mastering the Goblet Squat first before moving on to a front squat then, after mastering that one too, progressing to a back squat. A correctly performed goblet squat is a fantastic exercise that targets all the muscles of the back squat whilst ensuring you safely learn the correct movement.

2. Scared Cat Deadlifts

I think we have all seen this one; the ego lifter who wants to prove how strong they are by yanking a barbell loaded with far too much weight from the floor whilst seemingly trying to herniate a vertebral disc.

Again, this all boils down to a lack of technique and impatience on the part of the exerciser. Taking the time to properly learn how to perform the big lifts - squat, deadlift, overhead press, pull-up, bench press, bent-over row - before adding a lot of weight carries over much greater than trying to figure it out as you go along (unless you enjoy the A&E department.)

Now, there are times this "technique" is acceptable. Top-level powerlifters tend to have a rounded upper-back when performing very heavy deadlifts and this is safely achieved through years of training, strengthening and a great understanding of their own body. These people are very few and far between, however, so chances are the "technique" is a result of poor execution and not top-level ability!

How to rectify the problem? Simple, take the time to learn the movement correctly! Leave your ego at the door, strip the weight back and learn to move correctly. If you want to get really strong, the wisest way you can invest your money is with a professional coach who will teach you how to lift.

3. Overtraining the Pressing Movement

Bench press, shoulder press, dips, dumbbell press, push-ups - all very common and all very effective movements to help train your pressing movement pattern. Now, this is all good and well if this is balanced with an equal amount of pulling movements to ensure no imbalances and potential injuries occur.

Consider, however, the impact of sitting in a hunched over position for a prolonged period of time combined with the overtraining of the pressing movement. These two factors lead to tight pec muscles, upper body muscular imbalance and poor posture.

This situation is far too common for a lot of people. The good news is that there is a pretty simple solution. Train your pulling movement pattern more frequently than your pushing movement.

If you are following a simple body-part split, add some pulling movements into your chest/shoulder or push day and keep a day for pulling exercises separate. If you are following a different programme, ensure you have plenty of pulling movements across the weekly cycle. I aim for a ratio of 1:1.5 pushing vs pulling exercise sets.

4. All the Gear and No Idea

It is easy to be suckered into the latest and greatest gym gadget which promises to improve your ability instantly. Let's be honest, who doesn't love a magic pill! The truth is that exercise isn't meant to be easy. There is no magic pill are there are no "legal" shortcuts.

Weightlifting belts are advisable for experienced athletes performing deadlifts, squats or Olympic lifts with near maximal weights. Weightlifting belts are not advisable for novices learning the lifts as this can inhibit proper core stability and may be counterproductive to correct exercise function. We have core muscles for a reason, to help stabilise the spine! Learn to use your core before using a belt. Also, take your belt off when you're doing bicep curls; you're not fooling anyone by strapping your gut in!

Fitness trackers are a good cue to keep you active but will not actively improve your fitness, altitude training masks do not simulate training at high altitudes, you don't need wrist wraps to perform bicep curls unless you are ridiculously strong and chances are you won't benefit from that BCAA or isotonic sports drink (so much for being non-judgemental)

Training can be frustrating when you're not seeing the results you want or you are dealing with a niggling injury. The solution isn't to be found in gadgets, the solution is to ask a professional for their advice. The knowledge of good personal trainers, physiotherapists, osteopaths and coaches is invaluable when it comes to training safely and effectively. We are here to help so reach out if you need guidance.

5. Judging Others Unfairly

Pot, kettle? Look, as I have said before, everybody judges others. I have picked on squatting and deadlift ability, people pressing too frequently and the over-reliance on gadgets. These all stem from my professional view on the mistakes some people, unfortunately, make through no real fault of their own. This point, however, comes from a professional and personal point.

It is difficult for some people to exercise in public. Using a simple example of someone who, for whatever reason, is extremely conscious about the way they look, the prospect of exercising with other people around can be a very daunting and exposing prospect. The last thing anybody wants is to feel like they are being judged for trying to improve their health and fitness or trying to feel and look better about themselves.

Not everybody is born the genetics which makes it easy to maintain a "good physique" and some people have other reasons for not feeling confident in public spaces. I have the utmost respect for anyone who is in the gym actively trying to improve their life. Health and fitness is all about feeling better, not just in ourselves, but towards others too.

Everyone makes mistakes, including me. The journey to improvement of any kind is riddled with mistakes and pitfalls and in order to improve, we must be aware of them and learn from them. Extend this to everyone. Don't laugh at someone for doing something wrong or simply for trying to be better. We are all in the same boat so let's not sink it with negativity.

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John Maitland is a personal trainer with over 15 years of experience. He has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEO's, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.

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