Archive for the tag - strength training

Top 9 Strength Training & Lifting Mistakes.

Improper form is just one of the many mistakes that exercisers tend to make.

I’ve been going to the gym long enough to have seen it all. And though I often have the urge to point out the mistakes of the gym-goers around me, I resist the urge to be that guy. But since you’ve actively solicited my advice, there’s certainly no reason to hold back.

Here are 9 of the most common strength training mistakes that I’ve encountered.

  1. Using momentum. This is huge, and I see it all the time. When you perform a movement for an exercise, it creates momentum. When reversing directions, this momentum can be used to cheat. Unfortunately, it’s not using muscle power – and so this type of cheating should be eliminated. A simple trick is to pause for a second or two before reversing directions – this will absorb the momentum.
  2. Wrong number of reps. The number of reps that you perform for an exercise is entirely dependent on your fitness goals. If you want size, you should probably aim for 4 – 10 repetitions of each exercise. If you want definition, increased endurance or strength (and not size), then you should probably shoot for 10 – 15 repetitions. Whether you are going for 4 or 15 repetitions, you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. And that brings us to our next mistake…
  3. Improper weight. Using the right amount of weight is important. Unless you are just looking to maintain what you’ve got – and not progress – then you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. If you feel like you could do another rep or two, then the weight is too light. Bump it up.
  4. Not progressing. If you’re looking to increase your size or strength, it means you’re going to need to progress to higher levels of resistance over time. Muscles don’t grow unless they are forced to grow – and doing more of the same will only get you more of the same. I recommend the 2 for 2 rule to help know when it’s time to increase the weight.
  5. Doing the same workout each day. A lot of exercisers try to train every muscle group each time they hit the gym. While this is an especially poor practice if you go to the gym often (it can result in over-training), all people will benefit from focusing on different muscle groups on different days. Instead of trying to train every muscle in 45 minute (and not really hit any of them hard), focusing on just a muscle group or two can give you an effective, deep workout.
  6. Not adding variety. Many of us get into workout routines that we like, and then we stick to it. Unfortunately, our muscles adjust to our routines – and stale routines make plateaued results more likely. Try switching things up – change the base of stability, order of your exercises or even try something new.
  7. Improper form. Improper form goes beyond the momentum-based cheating mentioned above. It covers anything from incorrect postures to not using a full range of motion. Compromised form means compromised results. If you think you may be using improper form, then work with a personal trainer – or, at the very least, perform an internet search to see the exercise performed properly.
  8. Resting too long. For most of us, 45 – 60 seconds of rest in between sets does the trick. But those seconds tick by quickly, and it’s easy to take a bit of a cat nap. Watch the clock to make sure you’re not resting too long – it will make your workout much more efficient.
  9. Exercising during pain. If it hurts, stop! Delayed onset soreness is good and healthy – but if you’re experiencing pain while lifting, something isn’t right. Continuing to exercise while in pain is a recipe for serious injury. Moreover, if a muscle is still sore from a previous workout, then it is too soon to train it again. Hold off until the muscle heals.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!

Answered: How Many Repetitions of Each Exercise is Best?

Dear Davey,

I’ve been told by multiple people, including my yoga teacher and friends, that there is a max number of reps one can do in one set. I’ve been told it’s somewhere between 21 to 25 reps. Is this true?


Dear Ryan,

There isn’t a magic number from a scientific standpoint, but there certainly are some ranges to target. Whether you’ll target a low rep range or a high rep range depends on your fitness goals.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Low reps (1 – 6): Builds strength
  • Medium reps (7 to 12): Builds size and strength
  • High reps (12 – 15): Builds endurance

Keep in mind, you want to be fully fatigued on your last repetition. Obviously, you’ll have to adjust the weight accordingly.

Swinging a weight around 20 or 30 times won’t do much for muscle growth, but it may get your heart pumping – as is often done in aerobics classes! It can certainly be part of your cardiovascular training, though you’ll still want to seek out some strength training exercises to balance your workout.

The number of reps that’s right for you really just depends on your goals and what you’re looking to accomplish.


New to the Gym and in Need of Help?

Hey Davey,

I’m new to the gym and i just wanted to ask a few questions to get me going and get me on the right track. I weigh about 190 lbs. and am 5’11”.

I am mainly going to the gym to turn all this fat into muscle. I go to the gym 5 days a week, and the first thing I want to know is how long will take for me too see results? Also, if I am looking to turn this fat into muscle should I be doing any cardio exercise or should I just focus on the free weights?

Thanks for the great questions – and congratulations on joining a gym. You’ve already taken the hardest step: The first one.

First things first, I don’t mean to split hairs… but, you will never turn any of your body fat into muscle. Fatty tissue and muscle fibers are totally different. When you exercise, you’ll lose the fatty tissue and build muscle. It’s a technicality, but it’s important to understand how the process works.

Secondly, it’s great that you’re feeling ambitious enough to exercise 5 days a week. I generally advise my clients to start with 3 days a week for 30 – 45 minutes. Small changes are sustainable changes, and people that go all out tend to burn out. As I’ve said before, getting into shape is much like running a marathon. You’d never start a marathon by sprinting, and in the same way it’s important to pace yourself and ease into your new lifestyle.

Third, the time line for results varies from person to person. The first changes you’ll notice may be internal. You might have more energy, better sleeping habits or more focus. These changes can happen very quickly – even within a few weeks. You may also notice that you’re less winded when exerting yourself in life – be it climbing stairs, running after a bus, etc. And of course, you’ll notice changes when you look in the mirror, too. The muscles in your arms build fairly quickly, so you’ll probably start noticing a difference with you biceps in as little as 6 weeks. Since most of the changes happen slowly over time, I always advise my clients to take “before” and “after” pictures on a regular schedule. Some changes may be too slow for your eye to notice, but you can easily compare pictures from different months.

Last but not least, it’s extremely important that you do both strength training and cardio. Cardio has a zillion tremendous benefits that you won’t want to miss out on, and in many ways the cardio will complement and improve your performance in the weight room – not to mention overall health. And don’t worry: Moderate cardio does not result in muscle loss.

Again, congratulations on opening this new, healthier chapter in your life! Keep us posted on your success.

What is Progressive Overload?

Many fitness enthusiasts are fairly committed to the gym and working out, but often perform the same routines with the same weights over and over again. They don’t see any changes in their bodies or increases in strength, and often excuse their lack of results with the mistaken belief that it takes many years to see any real changes.

As it turns out, the human body doesn’t change unless it is forced to do so. If your body doesn’t need to adapt by getting bigger or stronger, then it won’t.

Enter a concept known as progressive overload. Developed by Thomas Delorme, M.D. to help rehabilitating World War II soldiers, progressive overload is the the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise training.

The concept is beautifully simply and scientifically proven: In order for a muscle to grow, it must be overloaded. Doing so activates the natural adaptive processes of the human body, which develops to cope with the new demands placed on it. In addition to stronger and larger muscles, stronger and denser bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage are all resulted through progressive overloads.

There are 7 techniques to incorporate progressive overloads into your workout:

  1. Increase resistance. This means lifting more weight. If you normally do 8 repetitions, but are now able to do 9, it may be time to increase the weight. If you are new to working out, you may be able to increase weight by 5% – 10%. If you are more advanced, 2% – 5% may be more appropriate.
  2. Increase repetitions. If you normally do 6 repetitions of an exercise, try for the 7th rep. Once you can do the 7th rep, try for the 8th.
  3. Increase the sets. If you normally do 2 sets, try for a 3rd set. While the first set will get you a majority of the results and benefits, there are some additional benefits that can be yielded from additional sets. I generally don’t do more than 4 sets.
  4. Increase frequency. If you train your legs every 10 days, perhaps you can train them more often. It’s generally unwise to train a muscle that is still sore from a previous workout, but there may be an opportunity to hit certain muscle groups – especially those that are lagging – more frequently.
  5. Increase intensity and effort. Instead of going through your workout like a zombie, really crank up the effort. Sometimes working with a good partner or trainer can be a big help. Push yourself – or find someone that can do the pushing for you!
  6. Increase exercises. Maybe you do 3 different exercises for your biceps, or any other muscle group. Try introducing a 4th or 5th exercise to yield increased results.
  7. Decrease rest time. By doing more exercises in the same amount of time, your body will have to work harder and more efficiently.

You’ll need to map these 7 techniques to your exercise goals. For example, increasing the resistance is great for people that want larger muscles. Increasing the repetitions or decreasing rest time may be better suited for people that want increased definition or endurance training.

Whatever your goals, make this powerful time-tested technique work for you.

Please Don’t Try to Lose 5 lbs By Tuesday.

Starvation usuallys has the opposite effect than what is intended: Long-term weight gain.

Last Sunday, I was talking with a young man who insisted that he wanted to drop 5 pounds by Tuesday.

My first reaction was, “What happens on Tuesday?” I figured that there must be an impending tropical vacation, or perhaps a gratuitous photo shot or something of the sort. “Oh, nothing,” he replied. “I just want to lose a few pounds fast, so I’m not going to eat.”

I suggested that it might be wiser to drop the weight over a period of 4 weeks rather than 3 days, and to use a more effective technique than starvation. But there was no persuading him, and it wasn’t my battle to fight.

I fear that his mindset is fairly widespread – that most people don’t know why dropping weight quickly is so detrimental… and that the detrimental effects are amplified by starvation. While it may produce temporary results, starvation does a huge amount of damage to one’s metabolism – and almost always results in a weight gain that is equivalent to (or larger than) the amount of weight originally lost.

When you starve yourself (generally 1,000 calories or less for most people), the body responds. Through eon’s of evolution, the body has built a starvation response that aids in survival. The metabolism of the starving person slows to a crawl to conserve calories. This will ensure the body’s survival as long as possible. So even though the number of calories in has decreased, so too has the number of calories out.

Starving yourself, obviously, is not sustainable. Eventually the fasting individual will resume their original diet – but the slowed metabolism will lag. Calories are packed on as fat, and the result is a weight gain that often exceeds the original weight loss.

Moreover, starvation can result in the loss of muscle mass, hair loss, decreased energy and increased tiredness. There are also psychological implications of starvation, including irritability and depression.

To achieve real results, realize that the changes must be long-term. If you want to lose some weight, it can be achieved over time by boosting one’s metabolism (though, among other things, an exercise program that combines strength training and cardio) and making healthy food choices.

The bottom line: Starvation doesn’t work – whether it’s done for a few days or a few weeks.

Is Your Cardio Killing Your Results?

Results like these don't come from endless cardio sessions. Just saying...

There is a delightful older woman at my gym who spends 60 minutes on the treadmill each day. She walks at a moderate but steady pace, and complains endlessly about the lack of results she is getting from her workout. And yet she continues to do more of the same. Like many gym goers, her cardio program is killing her results.

There are a few reasons why endless cardio sessions don’t serve you well:

  1. If you’re doing more than 45-minutes of cardio, you’re entering into the “danger zone” at which point your body will start burning muscle – not fat.
  2. Since long sessions of monotonous cardio result in muscle loss, the effect is a decrease in the body’s metabolism (as muscle is a large driver of your metabolism). In other words, the body will burn fewer calories throughout the day because of muscle loss. For some people, this could even mean gaining weight.
  3. It’s time consuming! 60-minutes on the treadmill is time better used elsewhere… like in the free weight or strength training section of your gym. Or even time better spent doing some fitness research, like reading this blog. 🙂

There are two quick fixes for endless, monotonous cardio sessions:

  1. Interval training. I keep my cardio sessions relatively short – but extremely effective – by using interval training. In a nutshell, it’s all about varying between intensities on cardio machines – from medium intensity to high intensity. I jog for 90 seconds and then sprint for 60. After 15 minutes, I’m totally beat! It burns more calories than long cardio sessions, and has a huge positive effect on metabolism.
  2. Strength training. I can’t say it enough: Any comprehensive fitness program needs to include both cardio and strength training. If you are just doing cardio, then you are killing your results. Everyone needs to hit the weights as well – especially if your goals include weight loss.

Are you in a long, monotonous cardio rut? Tell us about it in the comments below. And I hope this post can be a light at the end of that results-killing tunnel!

And note: Today is the last day to save 25% off of my Ultimate Guide to Working Out – and it’s the last chance to get Underwear Yoga as a free gift. Through my program, we’ll create a fitness program that is customized to your results. Use discount code “buddy” during checkout to save 25%.

Does Cardio Result in Muscle Loss?

Hi Davey

I was just wondering if doing a lot of cardio adversely affects muscle growth?


Hey Kyle,

Yes, doing excessive cardio can cause you to lose muscle. But you’d have to do A LOT of cardio to see any real reductions in muscle size. There’s no cut and dry definition for what “a lot” means – and it’s different for different people – but unless you’re doing more than 45 minutes – 60 minutes of cardio, you probably have nothing about which to worry.

Don’t let the fear of losing muscle prevent you from enjoying the many benefits of cardiovascular exercise including:

  • Fat loss
  • Stronger heart and lungs
  • Increased bone density
  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer
  • Temporary relief from depression and anxiety
  • More confidence about how you feel and how you look
  • Better sleep
  • More energy

Moreover, cardio can actually help with your strength training – it improves blood flow and oxygen transport to your muscles, which helps with muscle growth and recovery.

Muscle loss more often occurs if:

  • You’re not eating enough protein. Protein is the building block of muscle. Find out how much you should be eating.
  • You’re not eating enough carbs. Yup. Carbs are needed in the creation of muscles. This is why I recommend eating a slice of bread with a protein shake since so many shakes are low carb.
  • You are not eating enough calories. If you’re starving, your body will remove the tissue that burns the most calories: muscle.
  • You are not training with weights or strength training machines. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!

Hope that helps – and keep up the cardio!

How Many Sets Should You Do?

People and fitness clients often ask me about the number of sets that they should be doing while exercising.

A “set” is the number of times you perform a group of reps or repetitions. Here’s a quick video with everything you need to know:

The number of sets can largely be influenced by your goals and the amount of time you have available. More than 70% of the benefits of an exercise are realized after just the first set. If you are pressed for time and your goals don’t have you wanting to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, this is great news. After two sets, you’ve realized almost all the benefits you stand to gain. The gains on the third and fourth sets are fairly minimal, and are only important to fitness enthusiasts that are looking for maximized results.

Cardio or Strength Training First?

Yeah, this doesn't really have much to do with the post. But I'll use any opportunity to inlcude a picture of Tyler Davin.

We know that to get the most of your workout, you should do a combination of cardiovascular exercise (i.e., swimming, running, jogging, biking, etc.) and strength training (i.e., lifting weights, push-ups, etc.). But which should you do first? Does the order matter?

It’s one of the most frequently asked fitness questions of all time.

And, as it turns out, the order does matter. But probably not for the reasons you think.

The old school conventional wisdom holds that strength training should come first. Cardiovascular exercise is taxing, and though it is largely about endurance, it does place resistance on muscles – especially if you’re moving at an incline. If you wear your muscles down from cardio, the theory is that you’ll be less effective in your strength training. This is especially true for your various leg muscles. Cardio can also leave the body fatigued, making it harder to lift weights.

However, recent research from Brigham Young University has demonstrated that performing cardiovascular exercise prior to strength training is more beneficial in post-exercise energy consumption. In other words, if you do cardio first, you’ll burn more calories during the rest of you day. This is an attractive benefit for most exercisers.

So, if your focus is muscle size only, then it may make sense to do cardio last. But if you’re concerned with weight loss or definition, it may make more sense to do it first.

But really, the biggest variable in the equation is personal preference.

I dread my cardio routine. It’s grueling. I want to get it done early, so that it’s not hanging over my head during the workout. Other people enjoy cardio – and they take the mindset of saving the best for last.

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the whole idea – I think it’s much more important to do whatever works for you.

Do you do cardio or strength training first? Why? Let us know in the comments below.

8 Tips: How to Make Strength Training More Fun!

Dear Davey,

I love doing cardio because I have so much fun with it – I even teach a Zumba class. What can I do to make weight lifting more fun? I can’t stand just staring at the walls and just repeatedly lifting weights.


Randall, you certainly aren’t alone in your disdain for the monotony of weight lifting. And as a fitness instructor, I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you about the importance of doing both cardio AND strength training. So, here are a few tips to make your strength training program a bit more enjoyable:

  1. Bring your iPod! If you’re just staring at walls and repeatedly lifting weights, at least do it to some good music. Create a strength training playlist with your favorite tunes. For a while, I was on an audio book kick – I love listening to stories while at the gym.
  2. Lift with a friend! In Toronto, I have the luxury of exercising with my boyfriend. The time goes by so much faster when you have someone with whom to chat.
  3. Join a class! Since you love Zumba, you may also enjoy a strength training class – most gyms have them! Generally, the lifting is fairly light (so you won’t be building a ton of muscle), but it’s a great class for beginners or people looking to get toned.
  4. Strength train in front of the TV! There are plenty of great strength training exercises that you can do from the comfort of your own home (like push-ups, for example). Do 30 push-ups during commercial breaks while watching Glee.
  5. Try something new! Sure, lifting is repetitive by nature. But it doesn’t mean that you need to do the same exercises over and over again. Search on Google for some different exercises to try. Breathe new life into your fitness program.
  6. Set goals, and then achieve them! Why not get competitive with yourself? Challenge yourself to reach a goal (i.e., bench pressing 120 lbs for 8 reps) and then slowly build up to it. You’ll enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when you finally reach your goal.
  7. Just do one or two sets! Did you know that the vast majority of strength training benefits come from the first set? The added benefit of each additional set is relatively small and diminishing. Limit yourself to two sets (or even one) if your attention span is short.
  8. Lift in between cardio intervals! Since you enjoy cardio, why not break up your workout and add a strength training exercise or two in each 5-minute cardio interval? It just may be enough to keep you interested.

At the end of the day, working out isn’t really about it being fun. Though throwing a few weights around is more fun than living with diabetes or debilitating back problems (the risks of both are minimized by strength training).

If you can enjoy your workout, great! But it’s really more about the benefits of being healthy and fit than it is about fun.

Blog buddies, if you have any tips for making exercise more fun, then please share in the comments below!