I’ve made mistakes, a hell of a lot. I’m going to share the top 3 mistakes I first made when I started lifting so you don’t have to
Where it all started
I first started lifting about 5 years ago back in high school, in the picture on the right I was weighing about 45kg with very little muscle mass; granted I was quite lean though. At this point I was driven to make a change; only to realize that I looked the
exact same a couple of years later. Frustrated and vexed as to why I was making very little progress; I began to look at everything I was doing and it was pretty clear to see that I had everything all wrong. First of all; I figured it would be a walk in the park; Boy, was I wrong. These are the 3 things that I never took into consideration (but know now) in the first place.
1. Nutrition is Key
Fueling your body the right way is essential to reaching your muscle building or fat loss goals (see my article ‘How to lose fat – your definitive guide‘ for a full breakdown on the nutrition protocols I recommend). This is probably the worst sin I could have committed in pursuit of my personal goal of building muscle. I was under eating some days; and binge eating the next. Of course this lead to very little, if any progress.
My recommendation to you is:
Track your calories: Tracking your calories is vital…period. If you don’t know exactly how much you are consuming and in what quantities in relation to your calories, then how do you expect to be able to monitor and adjust your food intake? Track your calories! If you don’t know how, then I invite you to read my previous article How to lose fat – your definitive guide. This article serves as a very good starting point for the majority of individuals
Learn your body: “I eat broccoli and chicken breast, my diet is so hardcore”… Well good for you man. For most people this is simply not sustainable. Eating food that you enjoy whilst staying in your calorie and macro nutrient guidelines is perfectly fine, in fact I suggest getting around 80% of your food from whole, unprocessed foods like chicken, veggies and fruit etc. The other 20% can be from processed foods such as ice cream, cereal etc. “But James, that food is bad for you!!”. Yes, whilst these types of foods are deemed by society to be unhealthy; if your calories and macro nutrients match up to your respective calorie and macro goals by the end of the day, then having this kind of ratio is perfectly fine if it helps you adhere to a structured meal plan.
Prep your meals: I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. Well, this is especially true when it comes to your nutrition. By prepping your meals and having them ready on the go; you are instantly negating any possibility of binge eating which can quite quickly undo all of your hard work
Eat mindfully: I’m not saying to eat rabbit food all day, but rather be mindful of your eating. Eating because you are bored or because you think you’re hungry is a great way to over spill your calories. Think of your body as a car, a car needs fuel. Your body needs fuel, but be careful not to over spill. Fuel your body…nothing more, nothing less.
Be gentle on yourself: I want you to understand, we are all human, we all make mistakes. What I don’t want you to do is beat yourself up about having a piece of cake at a birthday party or going out to dinner with your friends. Enjoy yourself! live life. In the end, your rising cortisol levels due to stressing about over spilling because of a party or a dinner; is going to do more harm towards your body composition than that little 200 calories worth of cake. Don’t sweat it…enjoy yourself, then get back into gear the next day.
Without proper nutrition and mindset when it comes to your food intake; you’re likely t be spinning your wheels
2. Form is just as important
When I first stepped foot in the gym; I would immediately put as much on the bar as I literally could not lift. Yeah no wonder why I wasn’t growing… I was using every muscle to get the weight from A-B with no initial thought about the muscle I was actually trying to target.
I remember my first set of weights (I used to work out in a 2mx2m shed). The set I had used polypropylene weights with a pipe barbell which was rated to hold 50kg max. My first lift was a 40kg deadlift (not very impressive, but I only weighed 45kg at this time). This was one of my very first times deadlifting so I should not have been using anywhere near the weight that I was. In fact, I highly recommend just using the bar until you perfect the movement patterns necessary to complete the lift.
Anyways, I ended up lifting this 40kg and this is what happened: I popped my back which put me out of commission for at least 2 months, I also injured my rotator cuff from rolling my shoulders forward throughout the lift.
A few takes from my experience:
Leave your ego at the door: Its natural for us young dudes to want to be the strongest guy in the room… I get it… I really do. But, it will serve you better in the long run dropping the weight and perfecting your form. Yeah it sucks just lifting the bar but I believe it is essential to your overall development as a weightlifter/bodybuilder. I can now deadlift 140kg with near perfect form…so learn to humble yourself.
Lifting is a marathon not a sprint: I know you probably don’t want to hear this but, everyone starts somewhere ( take my deadlift example above). Take your time to learn the lifts and fall in love with lifting and the rest will come in due time…permitted that you work hard!
3. Supplements are not a substitute
As I stated earlier, nutrition should always be your number one priority. Without proper nutrition; supplements are a waste of your hard-earned money. Supplements (it’s in the name) are designed to supplement a well-designed, well executed nutrition and training program.
I used to take every supplement known to man, with little results. Why? because I hadn’t corrected the holes in the two most important components: nutrition and training. There are a few supplements I would consider essential, when and only when these two critical requirements have been met:
A good multivitamin: A good multivitamin will fill nutritional gaps that may have been missed through our food intake.
A good Fish oil: A good fish oil will aid in keeping our joints and heart healthy
Protein Powder: Whilst not necessary, a good clean protein powder can help us reach a high protein intake associated with muscle building or fat loss regimes. It can be very hard to obtain all of our protein from food intake alone, this is where a protein supplement can come in handy.
Learn from my mistakes
In writing this article I hope that you now have a comprehensive understanding of what to focus on and what to avoid when starting your fitness journey. I have made these mistakes myself so you don’t have to. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop them below and I’ll answer them the best I can.
Until then remember, we rise together!
Me now at 82kg