You’re bound to make mistakes in your pursuit of fitness, but you don’t always have to learn things the hard way.
I’d like to help you avoid as many mistakes as possible by sharing part of my journey.
Each of these mistakes comes with a personal story, so you can learn more about me, as well as what NOT to do.
1. VHS Tapes
One of the first things to catch my eye in the fitness world was an infomercial for a popular exercise program… on VHS.
There were all kinds of testimonials, before/after pics, etc. I just knew it would give me the body of a Greek god in a matter of weeks.
The program was designed to make me feel like I was getting a good workout, rather than actually being a good workout.
I never finished the program. It was too much. I’d jump back on it every once in awhile, thinking the third, fourth, or fiftieth time might be the charm. Besides, I didn’t know what else to do.
Truth be told, it wasn’t the worst program I’ve ever tried. It just came nowhere near accomplishing my goals.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking one program is the answer. You need fitness strategies that are right for you, and that can be used for longer than while your motivation is at its peak. If you’ve tried the same thing multiple times and never get lasting success, it’s time to move on.
2. 100 Push-Ups
I went from one extreme to another.
No more long, grueling workout sessions. I would just do 100 push-ups in the evening. No matter how many sets it took for me to get there.
I had to build up to it, but I eventually got to where I could do them consecutively.
I was so focused on getting those 100 reps in that I would go as fast as I could. Screw good form and full range of motion. I had to do 100.
In other words I was shortchanging myself.
I improved a little, but mostly I just figured out how to convince myself I was actually doing 100 push-ups.
It isn’t a terrible idea for how to get started with fitness, but 20 really good push-ups is better than 100 crappy ones. Then you can build on that with more exercises, rather than more reps.
Don’t make the mistake of getting so wrapped up in your goal that you sacrifice real, lasting progress.
3. Health Magazines
As success eluded me, I sought the advice of gurus by subscribing to a major fitness publication.
There’s nothing wrong with reading a health magazine, or browsing fitness websites. You do have to be careful because they tend to be filled with “popular” tips rather than scientifically valid direction.
But the main problem lies in how the information is used.
I would cherry-pick the advice I liked and put my workouts together piecemeal. There was no rhyme or reason to anything, no natural progressions or efforts to create a well-rounded program.
It didn’t work.
Don’t make the mistake of trying too many different ideas, especially if they’re all focused on your “pet” exercises (like a bunch of ab work). Try to find a sensibly designed program that hits your favorites, and your not-so-favorites.
4. Shirt Off and Oil Up
Around the same time I was into the fitness mags, I started exercising outside while using nature’s finest performance enhancement drug… tanning oil.
We can learn two things from this obvious mistake:
1. Don’t be a douchebag.
2. Tanning oil on fair skin is more accurately called “sunburning oil.”
5. Here We Go ‘Round the Machines
Eventually I graduated to an adult gym where they make you keep your clothes on.
The “trainer” there gave me a clipboard, told me what order to use the machines in, and sent me on my way. I’m sure it’s the type of hands-on training professional athletes are accustomed to.
Clearly I was equipped to become a master worker-outer.
I made my way around those machines several times a week. I got in moderately better shape, but not where I wanted to be.
Machines aren’t inherently bad. But making them a core part of your workout is a mistake. You’re better off using free weights for the bulk of your routine.
Perhaps the bigger lesson here, though, is that not all trainers are created equal. (For more info on this, read “Should You Hire a Trainer.”)
6. Magic Beans
After putting in all that hard work with those machines and still not getting results, I figured I just needed a little boost.
I had a bag of pills for the morning, a handful of pre-workout pills, a powder for my workout drink, some post-workout pills, and another bag of pills for the evening.
What did all of this do for me?
If anything it was probably really bad for me.
I’m not anti-supplements. I take a couple specific ones now. But they won’t take a bad diet or exercise program and magically make it work.
Don’t make the mistake of taking unnecessary supplements. Make adjustments to your diet first (like eating enough protein and veggies) and that could be all you need.
7. All Cardio All the Time
Sprinkled throughout this timeline, there were several seasons where I took up running.
It usually didn’t last long, but even when it did, I was never happy with my results.
The problems with only doing cardio are many. Here are three big ones:
It doesn’t help you burn fat. (That lies in your diet.)
It can work against another aspect of health: muscle.
If you want to get toned, it ain’t gonna do it.
Cardiovascular health is important. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the only piece of the puzzle. For most goals I suggest focusing your efforts on building strength, and then a little cardio goes a long way.
8. Call Me Arnold
At some point I realized I would like to put on some muscle, and that running wasn’t helping my cause. So I started a bodybuilding program.
Chest and triceps one day, back and biceps another day, a dreaded leg day, and maybe another day for shoulders.
There was only one problem: I didn’t want to be a bodybuilder.
If you just want a little muscle to tone up and see some definition, why would you follow a program for someone who wants to become as big as humanly possible (typically with the assistance of an illegal substance)?
Most people are better off doing 2-3 full body workouts a week rather than following a bodybuilding plan.
Don’t make the mistake of doing what someone else does if it doesn’t make sense for your own goals. That’s what I did. And, of course, it didn’t work.
9. The Cheap Gym
I had exercised off and on for years — failed attempt after failed attempt.
At this part of my journey, I was more committed to working out regularly than ever before, and I needed a new gym membership.
I joined the $10 a month gym down the road.
It didn’t take me long to realize that, although the supposed vibe of this gym was one of acceptance, it was actually designed to keep people out.
Unless you are all about machines or a ton of cardio (and I’ve already mentioned those mistakes), this place is not for you. Which means most people go for a little while, don’t get results, and then stop going (but continue paying).
Their business model is designed that way.
Don’t get me wrong, if it’s your only option, you can get a decent workout in. That's just not what they’re about.
Don’t make the mistake of not investing in yourself.
Spend a little more on a decent gym membership, home gym setup, or a good personal trainer. Your health and fitness are worth it.
10. The Scenic Route
If I were to go back and do it all over again, would I change anything?
Actually, yes. Yes, I definitely would!
After years of trial and error, I learned a lot and ended up where I am now. (Not that I’m finished — I’ll never be finished.) But if I could skip those years of making massive efforts with little reward, you bet I’d rather do that.
It wasn’t until I found a trainer who understood my goals, my genetic makeup, and actually knew what to do about it that I got on the right path.
If I could have started there, I’d be a good decade ahead of my progress right now.
The biggest mistake I made was not getting the right help. I listened to anyone and everyone rather than finding one person who knew how to make a difference.
You have a choice to make. You can do it on your own and learn from your mistakes as you go. Or you can get the help you need and get ahead of the game.
Helping with this is what we do. To apply for our online coaching, click here.
What mistakes have you already made that you learned from?