Weight training is a fantastic way to boost your strength, improve your body composition, enhance your heart health and even preserve bone density. It’s a type of exercise for everybody, whether you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before or consider yourself a weight training expert.

However, even those who lift weights regularly can struggle to see progress or hit their fitness goals – usually because of one of these common mistakes.

I’ll explain how to ensure you get an effective workout every time and extract the full benefit from your weight training programme.

1. Weight Training With Poor Form

It’s an obvious one but impossible to ignore. Any exercise you do, from running to yoga, can cause injuries if you use bad technique – but the potential damage you can generate through poor form when weight training is among the most severe.

Strength training should challenge your muscles, but if you’re deadlifting with a rounded back, performing half-reps or simply loading your bar with plates that are far too heavy, you could do some serious damage. The secret to any great strength and weight training regimen is this: you don’t have to lift a massively heavy weight to make progress.

Instead, lifting the same amount but for more reps, with fewer rest periods, or with a pause at the top or bottom of a compound movement can make a tremendous difference because you’re boosting time under tension without causing stress on your body.

New to weight training? Book yourself in for a couple of sessions for some personal training to check you’re using good form; a trainer can teach you how to lift safely and correctly with light weights and keep an eye out for sloppy form that could see you out of the gym for weeks or months.

2. Ignoring the Benefits of Bodyweight

People commonly think you only get stronger by lifting weights, be that dumbbells, kettlebells, equipment like the Smith machine, or barbells. However, your progress will likely be slow if you haven’t got the basics down.

Make no mistake – bodyweight exercises can be tough and help you activate and engage the right muscle groups for those bigger, possibly more impressive-looking lifts!

Using body weight or bands to create resistance is a good way to perfect your form; ensure you have a good range of movement and are comfortable performing decent sets of at least ten reps before you challenge yourself to perform the same exercise with weights.

There are workarounds, such as using a leg press if you find that a back squat hurts your knees, but bodyweight routines can help you identify those weak points and ensure you weight train sensibly.

3. Focusing on Quantity Over Quality

Many exercise programmes are about speed – completing the workout as quickly as you can or as many times as possible. Muscle building is different and isn’t something you need to rush.

If you’re short on time, a few rapid-fire reps aren’t likely to be effective, so it’s important to train smart, and use your limited time wisely. Speed and weights do not mix and trying to rush means sacrificing form and relying on momentum rather than strength.

Have you seen trainers working through exercises such as pause squats? They’re considerably tougher than a regular back squat but work well because they increase the time under tension I mentioned earlier. Slow, controlled reps provide a much greater benefit, avoid repeatedly misusing the same muscle group, and help you maintain your breathing, form and focus for maximum muscle growth, even if you only have time for one or two sets.

4. Solely Performing Isolation Exercises

There are two general types of weight lifting: isolated exercises and compound movements. The clue is in the name, because:

    • Isolation exercises target one single muscle or joint, such as a quad extension or bicep curl.
    • Compound exercises engage the major muscle groups throughout your whole body – think back squat, deadlift or bench-press.

Now, isolated movements can be a good way to achieve specific fitness goals or aesthetic aspirations, but one of the common training mistakes is to think you only need to perform bicep curls to get bigger biceps; without paying attention to your overall strength and fitness.

Compound movements make all your major muscles work, strengthen your posterior chain, and give you a full-body workout rather than targeting one individual muscle. Plus, if you incorporate big compound lifts into your workout routine, you’ll soon see how this enhances your total fitness, mobility and core strength, and means you can perform your favourite isolation movements more effectively.

5. Not Prioritising Recovery

Rest days are often the subject of memes and jokes, but the ‘no days off’ mentality isn’t compatible with a healthy lifestyle. If you want to see real gains from weight training or hope to build muscle mass, you need to take a more holistic approach, looking at the following:

    • Eating enough calories and checking your macros are sufficient to support muscle growth.
    • Sleeping enough at night to give your body time to rest and heal.
    • Drinking plenty of water, so you are adequately hydrated.
    • Taking days off to reset, recover, and come back stronger.

Overtraining can be disastrously bad, and set your goals back significantly, where you aren’t giving yourself the nutrition or rest to recover properly. Outcomes can include an increased likelihood of injury, lack of progress, fatigue, and a plateau, where your body cannot do what you ask because you haven’t rested it.

Don’t skip rest but build in active recovery to keep your body moving, which speeds up the recovery process and keeps blood and oxygen flowing through your tired muscles, so any soreness or inflammation disappears more quickly.

Light exercises such as cycling, walking or jogging are an excellent way to keep moving, or you can use less weight in your next gym session as a cardio workout to ensure you’re primed to go big on your next lifting day.

6. Working Out Without a Plan

Programming is a fine art and helps you make steady, quantifiable progress, rather than repeating the same workout day in, and day out, without pushing yourself, or feeling like you’re getting any stronger, fitter or healthier. Weight training programmes incorporate workout splits, specific lifts, combinations of movements, and other factors such as mobility, rest days and stretching, all of which help you get closer to a new 1RM.

Consistency is key, but your body will soon adapt if you’re not challenging yourself. Keep it fresh, fun, exciting, and sometimes a little ambitious, and you’ll reap the rewards!