I was always a chubby little boy, never much of an athlete, and that’s remained true over the last 35 years. Oh, I’ve had my moments – a bit of Tae Kwon Do and rollerblading in high school, some lifting / running in university, a marathon during my MBA, some Freeletics 2 years ago – when I was able to bring my weight down to an almost-healthy or just-barely-under-25-BMI level, but it was always short-term. I never held it, and anyway I never got to a point where I thought I was anything less than “overweight”, though I was closest just after the marathon. I was so proud that I managed to drop below 88kg…
It’s not like I’ve been avoiding the gym. I’ve probably averaged 80-100km a month running for the last year or so, while lifting maybe 3 times a week, but I wasn’t really going anywhere. People who know me will know I managed to lose an awful lot of weight in 2006 through enforced starvation (couldn’t afford to eat as a university student out here), and again a fair bit in 2016 while doing Freeletics, but I never got into this kind of shape. That’s because I was making some big mistakes, the kind I now see in people around me at the gym.
The first mistake, and not one I can actually observe in the gym, was nutrition. Eat clean, train dirty, right? It’s so easy to justify that Starbucks chai (it’s only 200 calories!) or the big dinner (hey, the carbs in pasta are good for the run tomorrow, and that steak is all protein!). But the fact is, no amount of training is going to overcome a poor diet. I’m now eating 6 times a day, and my average caloric intake has actually gone up, but my weight is lower than it’s ever been in my adult life because I don’t order pizza at night or have all-you-can-eat pancakes and syrup for breakfast. Eating clean works. Side benefit: you feel better, more alert, smarter and overall healthier when you eat right.
The second mistake was a lack of focus. So many people get to the gym, pull out there phones, and start putting their feet into repetitive motion. Maybe they’ll knock out a set and then watch the TV for five minutes, or chat with the guy on the next bench for a while. The gym is not a social hangout. You go there to sweat, to push yourself, not to relax. If you’re not pushing hard, you’re doing something wrong, and you’re wasting your time.
The third and final mistake for today was a lack of form. Like everyone else, I from time to time start concentrating on the amount of weight I’m doing, the number of reps, that sort of thing. I want to see those numbers grow, and I throw myself into it. But sometimes, that focus on moving up means a lack of focus on form. If the motion isn’t perfect, you might as well not do the lift. Poor form not only increases chance of injury – meaning you’ll be out for a long time and greatly slow down your overall progress – but it also means that you’re working muscles other than those you’re targeting. Remember, if you’re trying to squeeze out that last rep on the biceps so they totally collapse and come back bigger and stronger, it doesn’t help if you actually shift some of that load to the delts! I’ve adopted a mantra – when my form fails even slightly on a rep, and I can’t correct it on the next one, I’m done. Move on to the next set. I try not to even let it get to that point.
Anyways, that’s two months of (re-)learning boiled down right there for you. Hope it helps someone out there!
Updated on May 1st 2018 in order to add a link to the below video. I created it expressly so that I – and other helpful people on bodybuilding.com – can check my form on the big compound lifts. Thatâ€™s how important good form is – I took the time to record myself in the gym, then study the footage and ask peopleâ€™s advice. I recommend you do something similar!