1. Resting too long
The problem It’s easily done: a fiddle with your song choice here, a jog to the water fountain there, and suddenly your 60-second rest morphs into 90. For fat loss, you need to be strict; for hypertrophy there’s some wiggle room; and for strength you can afford two-minute rests. Use what you need.
The fix Sort out your water/tunes before you start your sets, and get a workout app, gym timer or stopwatch to keep your rests strict.
2. Doing too many moves
The problem It’s easy to think that you’ll grow your pecs by doing every chest move imaginable – but in reality, you’re doing a tonne of junk volume, and not attacking any single move hard enough.
The fix According to researcher Brad Schoenfeld, about ten sets per body part is the sweet spot for hypertrophy. Split that between two to three movements – bench presses, dumbbell flyes and dips, say – and hit it hard.
3. Warming up badly
The problem You might think it a waste of time and energy, but if you aren’t getting all your motor units firing by your first “work” set, you’re going to lift less than you’re capable of.
The fix Warm up with specific movements: do eight to ten reps with 30% of your target weight, five reps with 50%, three with 70% and two with 80-90%. Have a quick rest, and you’ll be ready to go.
4. Letting form go
The problem It seems to make sense that getting more reps done with bigger weights will lead to gains – but if you do, say, curls with your whole body, you’re losing out on their key benefits.
The fix Sure, keep some rep records for key lifts – bench press and back squat, say – but for accessory moves, focus on form and tension over weights and reps.
5. Getting competitive
The problem You’ve gone in with the best intentions – sensible progressions, smart intervals – but then you’re in the rack or on the treadmill next to someone going faster than you, and that goes out of the window. Next stop: form breakdown, stalling and injuries.
The fix Go in with your goals, weights and sets for the day written down, and stick to them. You’re competing with yourself, not anyone else.
6. Poor workrate
The problem Not much in life prepares you for doing your very best at something, with no excuses – so when you’re new to the gym, it’s tempting to go in with the same attitude. After all, you can’t fail if you’re not really trying… right?
The fix You don’t have to pound the walls and eat chalk – but you should go into every session focused, and remembering how good you feel when you finish a tough workout.
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.