Having trained quite a lot of women for the past 9 years, (in addition to making these mistakes myself earlier in my training career) here are my top 4 mistakes most women make at the gym:
1. Lifting too light
If men lift too damn heavy, women are on the other side of the spectrum and tend to go easy on the weight they use.
I don't know if this is because of shit trainers like Tracy Anderson who popularize the myth that women shouldn't lift more then 3 lbs if they want to have 'long lean muscles', or it's simply due to the fact they are afraid to get hurt..
Either way, if your goal is to get toned , lean, and strong, you need to push some serious weight ( whatever this means to you). Muscles grow out of discomfort, not when you train like you're walking in the park..
2. Thinking exhaustion = an effective workout
This is such a common belief among women, that I already know to address this when I first start training new lady clients.
You do NOT need to perform high intensity style workouts to the point of almost throwing up and complete exhaustion, if your goal is to be fit and lean. If your goal is to work on your endurance, do cardio. But stop chasing the runner's high when you're lifting. Save that for when you run , if you like running.
When you strength train, focus on getting stronger and do more *work* in a workout session.
More work can mean more reps; more sets; more weight; or simply having a better form!
Depending on your workout style, anywhere between 60-120 seconds rest between sets is sufficient.
3. Not chasing performance based goals
This point is connected to my previous one.
Instead of focusing on weight loss and aesthetics ( not that there's anything wrong with it ..), focus more on performing better & getting stronger. Performance based goals can mean performing one BW pull-up or 10 pushups, or maybe squatting your BW for 10 reps.
If you focus on performance based goals, the aesthetics will come. I promise you that.
4. Focusing only on isolation exercises
This prevalent mistake is really missing the forest for the trees. Because women focus so much on specific problematic areas they want to improve, they neglect the 'big bang for the buck' movements, and instead chase 'the burn'.
Compound movements are exercises that involve working on several muscles at a time, so- deadlifts, squats, and lunges would fall under this category. Whereas isolation exercises like a glute kickback or a hamstrings curl, only target one muscle group.
You can lift heavier weights when you perform compound movements, and provide a better stimulation for your muscles to grow. Now, this doesn't mean you should stop performing isolation exercises, but focus on getting stronger in compound movements, and only accessorize with isolation exercises. So a workout example might be: Sumo deadlifts, reverse lunges, Side lunges, hip abduction, and glute kickback.
When most people think of working out, their perception of an effective workout is usually flawed. They think that the more fatiguing the workout is, and the more they feel like they're about to collapse, the more effective it is. Unfortunately, many times, this false perception leads to many injuries, dysfunctional movement patterns, and frustration with the lack of progress.
An ineffective workout would be composed of a bunch of plyometric exercises, done in no specific order for whatever amount of time, for the mere goal of elevating one's heart rate and feelings of exhaustion. Jumping jacks, burpees, jump squats, jumping in place with dumbbells held over head etc.
There is absolutely ZERO logic for the sequence above.
This is NOT quality training.
This is "I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing-but-it-increases-my-heart-rate-so-I-just-keep-doing-it".
A safe and effective strength training program shouldn't put an emphasis on an elevated heart rate. If it does, it's more cardiovascular in nature. The goal of a strength training program shouldn't be to burn as many calories as possible, and get to the point of wanting everyone to see what you had for lunch.
The goal of an effective strength training workout should be to improve your performance at the gym & getting you strong in a safe and efficient manner.
There are few key points you'd need to focus on:
1. Your program should focus on variations ( dependent upon the individual) of the compound movements; squats, deadlifts, horizontal and vertical push, horizontal and vertical pull, carries etc. Your program should also be supplemented with single joint, accessory exercises, focusing more on the smaller muscle groups such as triceps, biceps, rear delts and so on.
2. On most exercises you'd want to aim to get to 1-2 reps short of failure.
I like to use a rule my professor from college days had taught me--> last 3 reps should feel intense (intense= about a 7-8 on a scale of 1-10)
3. The progressive overload principle. Progressive overload means doing more 'work' in a given workout. Add more weight; more reps; more sets and get *better* than your previous session.