5 Mistakes Advanced Lifters Make

There are situations where becoming proficient at a skill can be a curse.  Naturally, we tend to rest on our laurels and get comfortable with the results.  Working out is a stress and the gains are the adaptation to that stress.  The funny thing is, you will make gains doing virtually any type of workout program as a beginner.  You are introducing a new stress and your body is adapting and building muscle.  Most people don’t realize this and think that their way is the right way.  With that being said, here are five mistakes that even seasoned gym veterans make related to their workouts.


Not using periodization in their programs


How long are you going to do three sets of ten for every exercise?  There is a fear among bodybuilders about doing five reps or twenty reps per set.  What many don’t realize is that the relationship between reps and goals works as a continuum.  When you perform a set of twenty squats, it’s not as if there are zero hypertrophy benefits.  There are some hypertrophy benefits and some endurance benefits.  Proper periodization allows one to avoid plateaus.  There are various types of periodization protocols, all of which serve a specific purpose.  Some change on a workout-to-workout basis, others change weekly or even monthly.  It’s up to you to determine what fits your needs.



Changing for the sake of changing


I get a chuckle when people tell me that they are shocking their muscles by doing different exercises.  Correct, they will be shocked when you perform an exercise and feel zero tension as a result.  I’m all for experimentation, but it’s important not to be stubborn.  This is of particular importance when it comes to ‘popular’ exercises.  The classic example I give to my clients is myself and dumbbell tricep extensions.  Tricep extensions are a staple in the arm workouts of many individuals.  I simply don’t do it.  They feel awkward and I know I’m not getting a proper contraction.  There are plenty of other exercises that engage my triceps more effectively.  Don’t feel the need to do something just because everyone else is.


It's known that Ronnie Coleman only had an 'A' and a 'B' workout for every body part
It’s known that Ronnie Coleman only had an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ workout for every body part



Staying in the same gym


Most people don’t like change, especially when it comes to their surroundings.  It’s human nature to get comfortable in the same setting day after day.  The gym is no different.  Inevitably, you will make friends with the other patrons and the staff at your facility.  It’s important to be honest with yourself and determine if this is affecting your workouts.  The answer is probably yes.  Take a few weeks to check out a new gym.  Work out in a place you aren’t comfortable.  A place where you can focus on yourself.  Odds are you’ll find a piece of equipment you’ve never used before.  Even corporate gyms usually have different machines that vary from location to location.



Not taking time off


Habits, both good and bad, are hard to break.  An advanced lifter probably hits the gym five or six days per week.  It’s hard to give maximum effort when you’re training that consistently, no matter how good your intentions and mindset are.  Take a few days off.  Hell, take a week off.  You’ve spent years building a physique, it won’t disappear over a long weekend.  The time off will reinvigorate your passion for working out and give your body what was likely some much needed rest.  We all need a reset once in awhile.



Lack of a defined goal.


I want to get huge.  I want to get strong.  I want to get shredded.  If this is your goal, you will fail.  A proper goal can be quantified and has a specific time frame attached to it.  I want to lose ten pounds of body fat in twelve weeks is a clearly defined goal.  Seems simple, but this level of detail is rare.  If your goal is ambiguous, you’ll never truly know if you are making progress.  Ask a friend what their fitness goals are.  I’m willing to bet their reply will be one of the first three sentences in this section.

Why Do We Vilify Certain Athletes?

Let me say right off the bat that this blog is not necessarily about Colin Kaepernick.  But the situation did remind me of this topic, which I’ve been meaning to discuss for awhile.  I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the coverage Kaepernick got (late summer is a slow period for sports), but more so by the public backlash.  Perhaps patriotism isn’t as dead as I thought.  But, it’s very interesting how media and society pick and choose the athletes that they scrutinize.  There are athletes who do something wrong, yet the punishment in the court of public opinion doesn’t fit the crime.  They are destroyed for acts that, in the grand scheme of things, are not that big of a deal.  Then there are athletes that can do no wrong, where their popularity and charisma trumps all.


A-Rod vs. Big Papi


Alex Rodriguez

For much of his career, Rodriguez was the most hated man in baseball.  He was booed out of every stadium, at times even his home stadium.  A-Rod took steroids and damaged the integrity of the game.  He fought the system hard knowing very well he was guilty.  However, whether you cite the Mitchell Report or the Biogenesis scandal it’s clear that hundreds of players used performance enhancing drugs.  But Rodriguez, perhaps unfairly, became the poster boy for PEDs.  A-Rod supporters called it a witch hunt.  Rodriguez mentored young players like Robinson Cano and Aaron Judge.  He had an intense passion for the game and was known to stay up after games watching MLB teams on the west coast play. But tabloids like the one shown below would never mention that.



David Ortiz

Ortiz’s name was also linked to steroid use .  For whatever reason it is overlooked by most fans.  Big Papi is retiring at the end of the season and in the meantime is enjoying a farewell tour when visiting opposing ballparks.  This particular steroid user is being showered with gifts as he bids adieu to the game of baseball.  Ortiz is a beloved baseball personality and appears in numerous commercials.  But in the end, is he any less guilty than A-Rod?



Lebron vs. Kobe


LeBron James

LeBron will never live down The Decision.  The Decision was a special ESPN broadcast in which LeBron would decide where he would ‘take his talents.’  After carrying the likes of Larry Hughes, Mo Williams, and Daniel Gibson deep into the playoffs, he announced that he would now play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.  For this he was considered a traitor to his hometown of Cleveland and arrogant for making his choice on live TV.  This led to infamous jersey burnings and backlash among many fans, not just those in Cleveland.

When you step back and analyze the situation, the hate for Lebron is outrageous.  The talent around James in Cleveland was absolutely horrendous, so he decided to play with his All-Star buddies in Miami.  By the way, The Decision TV broadcast raised $2.5 million for charity, but that’s not an interesting headline or news story.  Lebron married his high school sweetheart and has three kids.  You never hear about adulterous behavior or quite frankly any bad behavior with Lebron.  He is one of the most charitable and philanthropic athletes in the league.


Kobe Bryant

The Kobe Bryant sexual assault case and the Kobe-Shaq feud each have their own Wikipedia page.  But again, it’s another example of athlete scandals that are forgotten.  He wasn’t always considered the best teammate, perhaps a victim of his own work-ethic and competitiveness.  But that’s not what we remember.  We remember 81 points against Toronto, 60 points in his final game, five NBA titles, 18 All-Star appearances, and a slam dunk title.  It’s clear that Kobe’s transgressions greatly outweigh Lebron’s, but wouldn’t you agree that Kobe is by far the more popular athlete?




T.O. vs. Marvin Harrison


Terrell Owens

T.O. was loud, obnoxious, polarizing, and a bad teammate.  Say what you want about Owens, but he never got in trouble off the field (sans for child support payments, apparently the dude is broke).  No DUIs, no domestic violence, no drugs, always showed up in shape and ready to perform.  Football players like Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger are often praised for their toughness, but what is often forgotten is that Owens caught nine passes in the Super Bowl just weeks after breaking his leg.  He was killed by fans for his tendency to drop passes, choosing to ignore the fact that he often played games with broken fingers.


Marvin Harrison

I originally had Ray Lewis as the opposition for Owens, but I’m going to do you one better.  The Ray Lewis murder story is well-documented, but not everyone knows about Marvin Harrison’s troubles.  Marvin Harrison has been linked to the murder of Dwight Dixon, which was chronicled in this ESPN E:60 piece.


Harrison and Owens are linked because both are elite wide receivers that were eligible for the hall of fame this past year.  Harrison was elected despite being widely considered the inferior player.  Owens has more receiving yards and touchdowns than Harrison, and played with lesser Quarterback talent.  Numbers aside, the ‘eye test’ would show that Owens was a more dominant and game changing player than Harrison.




DC vs. Bones Jones


Daniel Cormier – Criticized for a boring style of fighting.  Respected by his peers, talented analyst for Fox Sports, but guaranteed to be booed if his face is shown during an event perhaps due to his rivalry with the next man on this list.


Jon Jones – Hit a pregnant woman’s car and fled the scene.  Failed drug tests for cocaine and PEDS.  Refused to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice which led to the cancellation of UFC 151, the first event to ever be cancelled.  Yet still one of the most popular fighters in the sport.




Tebow vs. Manning 


Tim Tebow – One of the most polarizing figures in sports due to his faith and unusual style of play.  Someone unfamiliar with Tebow may assume that he is polarizing because he pushes his Christian beliefs to the public, but he really doesn’t do that.  He is the MVP of intangibles; great person, teammate, charitable, hard worker, and leader.  Let’s be honest, Tebow probably should be on an NFL roster.  The read-option formation is still heavily used, and despite not having the greatest mechanics Tebow is still a threat to both run and pass.  However, the media coverage that comes with Tebow scares most teams away (aside from perhaps the Atlanta Braves).


Peyton Manning – Everyone loves Peyton Manning.  He’s one of the best Quarterbacks ever.  He’s funny, charming, and in every TV commercial known to man.  When he was accused of having HGH sent to his house under his wife’s name, it got ZERO attention.  Whether it’s true or not is almost irrelevant, but this is a perfect example of how the media controls what we deem as important.  If HGH was sent to Tom Brady, do you think it would be ignored?

Weight Loss is Easy, Life Screws Up Our Diets

Eat less, exercise more.  It’s the answer nobody wants to hear, but any successful diet pretty much boils down to that principle.  Is there a little more to it?  Of course, but that’s not what this blog is about.  70% of the U.S. population is overweight or obese, and if you think that statistic is overblown just take a look around you.  We know how to lose weight, it’s not as if obesity is this incurable disease like some cancers.  Why the hell can’t we just stick to a weight loss program?

Willpower is often compared to a muscle, in the sense that the more you exhibit willpower the stronger it will become.  This is true, but only to a certain extent.  Willpower has its limitations.  Think of it like a gas tank; some cars have big tanks and some don’t.  The point is, your tank will eventually run empty.  The book ‘Willpower’ by Baumeister and Tierney gives real examples of willpower’s limitations.  It’s a pretty good book, you should check it out (not getting any kickbacks or anything so relax).  They tell the story of a guy who hates his boss, and every day at work he holds back from ripping him a new one.  Consequently, when he gets home he’s short-tempered with his wife and kids.  He has to exhibit so much willpower at work that he has nothing by the time he gets home.

Stress works in a similar fashion.  We can handle stress to a certain degree, but eventually it will break us.  I’m not saying that you’ll necessarily have a nervous breakdown or anxiety attack.  However, we will look for something to help us relax.  We will look for pleasure.  We will look for relief.

Pleasure comes in many forms and we all have our individual preferences.  But when push comes to shove and life is kicking our ass, we want a form of pleasure that is easily attainable.  Sex?  Not always easily attainable (speak for yourself Sean).  Even if you’re in a relationship, you’re relying on the other person to be right here right now and in the mood.  Drugs?  You may have them in your possession, but as far as I know it’s frowned upon to snort a line at your desk.  Vacation?  That requires planning, time, and money.  Food?  Oh, there it is.

Food, the perfect form of pleasure.  It’s everywhere and obtaining it is completely within your control.  It’s inexpensive and there’s no limitations on consuming it.  It’s accepted by society.  No one will look at you funny if there’s a bagel on your desk.  You won’t turn any heads walking down the street eating a snickers.  Food creates a vicious cycle of ‘feel bad, eat, feel bad about eating, repeat.’

Diets fail because life happens.  I need to preface this next statement by saying that I’m only 28 and am completely making an assumption.  But life seems much more difficult and complex than it was twenty, thirty, forty years ago.  Depression is a major issue in modern society.  Experts are trying to pinpoint what is causing obesity, citing things like processed foods, high carb diets, and saturated fats.  No one wants to bring up life.  Life is fucking hard sometimes.  Find the real stressor in your life and change it.  You are in control of almost every aspect of your life.  If your job sucks then leave.  If you’re in a bad relationship then leave.  If you have a problem with someone talk to them about it.


Is Becoming a Personal Trainer Too Easy?

I get the question of how one becomes a personal trainer quite often.  The answer surprises nearly everyone.  Buy the book, pass the test.  That’s it.  There’s no practical application or hands on work.  This was the exact process in getting my NASM certification, which is a highly regarded certification.  Personal trainers deal directly with a client’s physical well-being, shouldn’t there be more to it than a multiple choice exam?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the ease of the certification process.  If it wasn’t that simple I may still be sitting behind a desk staring at a screen all day.  I was able to make a complete career change in my mid-twenties, years after college.  But to be honest, the personal training certification process really should be more rigorous.  I’m good at my job solely from experience and being a practitioner in the gym myself.  That book and that test didn’t change a damn thing.

I’ve seen some crazy shit at the gym.  Frankly I’m surprised more people don’t get injured, which goes to show how much the body handle.  But the wear and tear will eventually catch up and the body won’t be able to cope with it.  If you get bad advice from the beginning, you’re screwed.  Habits are hard to break.  A book worm that can memorize some vocabulary words won’t always be able to properly explain tension, posture, and form.  One-on-one interaction is a completely different ballgame.

The solution is simple.  Keep the textbook bullshit, it’s still somewhat relevant.  And make no mistake, I’m not trying to make this a four year college degree.  But every prospective trainer should have to complete an internship.  Shadow an experienced trainer for awhile, perform a few sessions yourself, and work with different people with different levels of fitness.  Get in the gym yourself as well, there’s no reason to not ‘walk the walk.’

Another controversial topic is the concept of out-of-shape trainers.  One argument is that a knowledgeable and successful trainer doesn’t necessarily have to be in shape.  The other argument is that the trainer should set a good example and maintain a high level of fitness.  I certainly favor the latter.  You don’t have to look like Phil Heath, but to me it’s hard to take an overweight trainer seriously.  There’s an overweight trainer at one of the gyms I frequent.  I’m sure he knows his stuff, but dammit when I see his pudgy ass shouting instructions I can’t help but shake my head.  And as I’m writing this I just had a spontaneous thought; a trainer should have to pass a physical qualification test similar to the police academy.

Being a personal trainer is a noble profession.  You can really improve the quality of someone’s life by getting them into shape.  There is a bit of a stigma with trainers though, and I think much of it has to do with the simplicity of becoming one.  If we change the process we can change the perception.

UFC Will Surpass Baseball or Completely Flame Out

Most young sports fans, myself included, were not around when boxing was king in America.  But it was.  Ali, Foreman, and Frazier were must see TV in the 60’s and 70’s.  As the heavyweight division became weaker, baseball reclaimed its place at the top.  It’s called ‘America’s Pastime’ for a reason.  Now, football has the country’s attention by a landslide with baseball falling to second or third.

Point is, sports are cyclical.  The UFC is at the height of its popularity and Major League Baseball is struggling in the post-steroid era.  Mixed martial arts is a unique sport, in the sense that it’s only been around for about 20 years.  In the early years, it was regarded as a freak show due its no holds barred nature.  Now, it’s getting more attention and becoming a fixture on Sportscenter and Fox Sports.  Can it take the next step in terms of popularity?



Argument in favor of UFC


Today’s youth will gravitate towards mixed martial arts

This applies to both men and women.  Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey showed that you can make serious money and become a national star as a mixed martial artist.  I feel that young women in particular view female professional fighters as strong and even heroic.  For the boys, there’s now something to strive for after high school wrestling.  High school wrestling is a big deal and amateur wrestling is considered to be the best skillset to have for MMA.  This is how sport popularity transitions take place.  A great young athlete will most likely thrive in any sport they choose.  The question is, what sport will that be?


Aside from the NFL, all professional leagues are vulnerable

Baseball is dying.  It lacks the stars, personalities, and home runs that draw in the casual fan.  Who is the face of Major League Baseball?  Bryce Harper?  Mike Trout?  Ask the average person if they know who those guys are.  Then ask them if they know who Tom Brady or Lebron James are.  Speaking of the NBA, it too is in an unusual position.  Super teams like the Warriors and the Lebron/Wade Heat teams make for drama in the playoffs, but destroy the intrigue of the regular season.  Last year the Warriors broke a regular season wins record that seemed untouchable, yet it was considered one of the most boring regular seasons in recent memory.  When stars are stockpiled on three or four teams, there is a lack of competitive matchups.




Argument against the UFC


The UFC is TOO unpredictable

There have been six title changes so far in 2016, and it’s only August.  The volatility of every fight makes it interesting, but it can be difficult to develop stars if the title is passed around like a hot potato.  Last year Holly Holm was on top of the world, now she’s lost two straight fights and is reportedly taking some time off.  Certain fighters can survive a losing streak and remain a draw, but they are few and far between.  The unpredictability of mixed martial arts and punching with 8 ounce gloves can be both a blessing and a curse.  As strong as the UFC brand is, you still need individual stars.


The C word

We can thank the NFL’s mishandling of the concussion issue for bringing it into the public eye.  Hell they even made a movie about it.  I mentioned earlier that every league aside from the NFL is vulnerable, and I’m sticking with it.  Concussions and the resulting brain trauma are for real, but I think that the system for dealing with them is evolving and improving.  Any contact with the head is basically illegal and there are new precedents in place for penalizing teams that do not diagnose concussions properly.  The NFL is not a noble organization by any means, but the new safety precautions are better for player health.

Fighters know the inherent risks of the sport, but is the juice worth the squeeze?  There is a huge gap in pay from a main eventer to a guy on the prelims.  Brock Lesnar made $2.5 million at UFC 200, Enrique Marin made $13,000.  An NFL practice squad player still makes six figures.  Can the UFC grow fast enough to satisfy the needs of an average fighter?



Final Thoughts

The good news for the UFC is that it does not yet have the Muhammad Ali or Junior Seau-like figure that illustrates the dangers of its sport.  As mentioned earlier, the sport itself is so new that it really hasn’t had the opportunity to show the long term dangers.  It’s safe to say that it has surpassed boxing, but catching a sport like baseball is a much larger task.  The UFC was recently sold to WME-IMG for four billion dollars.  They have to keep the momentum going and develop new young stars while Conor carries the torch.  Jon Jones’ suspension was a killer for them, as he is considered the best fighter in the world and a polarizing figure.  UFC 200 was a letdown, they need to capitalize on the New York card in November.

Sean Felenczak, CSCS