Jen Rulon

Wikipedia tells us that strength training, when performed properly, can “provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being.” I call it the “Fountain of Youth.” Train correctly and you can expect bigger and stronger muscles, less fat, better joint function, and reduced potential for injuries of all kinds, as well as greater heart health.

However, to experience the benefits you need to do it the right way! I am a HUGE advocate of making sure you know what you are doing. Today, in no particular order, you will find the “10 Strength Training Mistakes 🏋🏼.” This is NOT only for triathletes and runners, but also for athletes that have been doing strength training for quite some time. And here we go with Dave Letterman’s version of

“Top 10 Strength Training Mistakes 🏋🏼”

10) Comparing Yourself to Others

This is probably one of the biggest causes of injury in the gym. Whether weightlifting, strength training, or enjoying an aerobic workout, never compare yourself to anyone else. There are always going to be people who are bigger, stronger, and leaner than you are. No two people are identical, and when you start allowing someone else’s superior gene pool, diet, and workout program to affect your attitude and expectation of your personal results, you are headed down a path of endless frustration and injury.

As a triathlete, if you start comparing yourself to other athletes in the pool, the road, and the gym, this could cause injury.  For example, you need to develop and follow your own plan as a triathlete, and be proud of your efforts, because only you know what to expect from yourself. I tell my athletes, leave the EGO at the door!

9) Not Eating Enough

Poor diet and nutritional habits are the culprits here. This is especially the case with beginners to strength training. They want to cut down drastically the amount of fat that they intake, because they erroneously believe that zero fat in equals zero fat out. Our bodies need fat to function properly, and while everyone’s metabolism is different, you cannot maximize muscle mass and strength without enough calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients.

And you will obviously need more daily calories than you are currently taking in when you begin working out. This is something that should be discussed with a coach, gym owner, or a nutritionist, so you will know the perfect diet and calorie count you should be aiming for. I see this “epic fail” too often in the triathlon world as well.

8) Eating Too Much

Yes, you do need protein to build up those muscles that you tear down when you are strength training, working out, and lifting weights. But do not overdo it. Several studies have shown that extremely high levels of animal protein in a diet over a lifetime can significantly lead to your chances of contracting cancer. Aside from that, your body needs a specific amount of fuel: Not too much, and not too little.

Just as you are not eating enough, do not go overboard on food. Just because you worked out and lifted heavy, you don’t always have to “reinforce” yourself with a donut or two, or an excess of poor choices.  Consult an expert for the nutritional aspects of strength training, form a plan for eating just what you need for your strength training, and you will be ingesting just the right amount and the correct levels of proteins and carbohydrates to deliver the best results possible. I am a HUGE advocate of counting macronutrients, which consist of fat, protein and carbohydrates! Check out my OWN Macro Calculator HERE and I would recommend the “Zone Option.”  

7) Entertaining Unrealistic Expectations 

Strength trainers, triathletes, bodybuilders, and other fitness-minded individuals frequently make a mistake in this area. By their very nature, people who push their minds and bodies further with every workout are always striving to become better, and that means expecting more and more. This attitude lies at the very foundation of a successful strength training regimen, but there is a fine line you have to tread when measuring results. For example, in the triathlon world, you have been doing triathlon for almost two years and training for your first Ironman Triathlon. You want to go under 10 hours. Something you may want to think about: Is it attainable? Can you do the the prescribed distance at that pace? Same thing in the gym! Leave the EGO at the door!

Remember, you should not expect to go from being a 90-pound weakling this week to Mister Olympia next week. While that is a drastic example, you may have suffered from some level of unrealistic expectations yourself in the past. By talking with coaches and experts in the strength training and fitness fields, and by being honest with yourself, you will know exactly what to expect given a specific time-frame, your current diet, and the type of workout schedule you keep.

6) Not Getting Enough Sleep

When you strength train, you are tearing down your muscles. Proper nutrition and proper rest help those muscles repair, and as you increase the amount of weight you use in your training regimen, your muscles will grow over time. You simply cannot function properly, and your muscles will never grow to their maximum size, if your body is not well rested.

The typical human being does not wear down their body during a normal day anywhere as much as a triathlete, a strength trainer, or a bodybuilder does. This means that if you are used to getting by with six hours of rest every night, you are doing your body a huge injustice if you believe that that will be enough sleep when you begin strength training.

Check out my recent blog HERE about sleep.  

Multiple studies have shown that sleep deprivation will not only keep you from attaining your fitness and strength goals, but it also makes subtle changes to your hormone levels, and can increase levels of stress dramatically. You need sufficient sleep for so many healthy reasons, so make sure you are getting enough of it.  See blog above. Seriously: Crucial!

5) Not Working out Enough

One of the biggest and most common strength training mistakes is to allow your busy lifestyle to dictate when you work out. If you are serious about strength training for triathletes, you need to dedicate at least two days each week to a preplanned and tracked fitness regimen, along with your swimming, cycling, and running!

When you begin to lose fat, you must protect your muscle and bone by causing stress to it, since this is what causes lifting weights and strength training to kill fat and build bigger, stronger muscles. Make sure you are receiving pretty intense weight training workouts at least two days each week, and always, always, always, track your results. Off season would be ideally 3x a week for a triathlete.

4) Not Working Out with Sufficient Intensity

Once you dedicate yourself to at least two days a week in the gym, or wherever you are strength training, make sure you are sufficiently stressing your muscles or your efforts may yield little results. This means relatively heavy weights for each set that you perform. Here is a very easy way to maximize immediately your muscle growth by reaching the appropriate intensity levels with your weight training.

Figure what weight is equal to approximately 65% of your maximum lift (65% ML) during any exercise. Then perform 8 to 12 repetitions and either 3 or 4 sets each of this number to provide excellent stress and intensity, allowing you to accomplish the most in the smallest amount of time.

3) Waiting for Equipment To Become Available

Especially at the beginning of every year, the attendance at your local gym can sometimes dictate that you are waiting in line for a particular piece of machinery. Keep busy any way you can, because once your muscles rest and think that they are done working out, it is very difficult to get your body back to the “sweet spot” where you are achieving results in the most efficient manner.

If you depend on gymnasium equipment for your strength training regimen, avoid going during peak hours, and begin attending either early in the morning or after 7 PM in the evening. If your schedule dictates you attend the gym when it is busy, have alternate options and strength training procedures ready if you are forced to wait on a particular machine to become available.

Texting is getting pretty bad at the gym as well. Leave the phone in your locker. Grab an old school shuffle and get your workout on!

2) Using the Same Machines, the Same Weights, the Same Reps, and the Same Sets

Unless you just want to get fit and stay in shape, and that is definitely admirable, you need to push your body’s strength levels to improve them. If you consistently strength train on the same machine at the same weight level, and perform the same number of repetitions and sets, you will become very familiar with one of the most dreaded phrases in the strength training and weight lifting communities: Hitting a plateau.

You cannot simply tear down and rebuild your muscles and expect improved performance over time if you use the same weights the same way. Remember to constantly follow the 65% ML rule we mentioned earlier, and you will not fail to see improvements in your overall strength levels, as well as muscle mass and bulk.

And the Number 1 Reason Triathletes will STOP strength training is:

1) Quitting before You Achieve Your Desired Results

You have definitely heard the saying that, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” In strength training and triathlon training, the gains you see in your results and your performance are often very minimal over the short term. But when you quit because you did not see the results you expected quickly enough, you will never know if you stopped just short of your goal line.

Proper diet, proper rest, proper nutrition, and an intelligent strength training and weightlifting plan are all required to discover exactly what the maximum performance is that your body can deliver. But never forget that your attitude dictates everything you do, and the perfect all-around strength training regimen is absolutely useless on a piece of paper or on your computer’s hard drive if you do not put it into practice, and refuse to quit.

It seems that anyone these days with a blog or social networking profile thinks they are an expert, and that means that good, honest information about proper strength training techniques can become lost in a sea of bad and possibly dangerous advice. But there is no need to feel frustrated and confused.

Simply avoid the Top 10 Strength Training Mistakes listed above, and always use common sense if you are not sure what to do. A great rule of thumb here since your health is involved is to err on the side of caution, and seek professional advice. Never forget that whether you are just starting out or you are a seasoned veteran, everyone’s body is different. This means that your goals and level of progress should never be compared to anyone else’s, and as long as you are making improvements and contributing to your overall health, your strength training regimen can be considered a success.

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AUTHOR: Jen Rulon

I have been coaching triathletes, runners, and cyclists for over 21+ years; I received my Master's Degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Science. And as you may have learned, there is more to life than swimming, biking, and running. It is a lifestyle, and I am here to help you cross that finish line with a smile, whether it is an Ironman Triathlon or the Ironman of Life. You can find my knowledge shared in Triathlete Magazine, Runners World, on the TEDx Stage, the Health and Wellness Expo in San Antonio, TX, Southwest Research Institute Human Performance Summit, Training Peaks Workshops, "Self Motivation Strategies for Women" on Amazon, Men's Journal Online, and the New York Times. I also practice what I preach—she's a 15x Ironman Triathlete who participated in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, on October 14, 2017.

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