Mike Thurston has been knocking about the gym for the best part of 15 years. He’s a qualified personal trainer who trained in gyms across the world and with some of the very best in the fitness space. Put simply, he knows a thing or two about the gym and common gym mistakes.
All these years in the gym have taught him a lot. In his early years and throughout his 20s, he made plenty of mistakes that held back his progress. Not one to gatekeep, Mike has shared them all in a recent YouTube video. Let’s see what he has to say about what to avoid if you want to see optimum gains.
Didn’t rotate through exercises
While it can be so easy to go into the gym and complete the same workout week in, week out with very little thought required, it could actually lead to every gym-goer’s worst nightmare: injury.
During his early years of training, Mike focused on the same movements. They allowed him to build strength, and he was beginning to shift a lot of weight from completing those same movements. So why did he change? The key culprits were wide grip pull-ups and straight barbell bicep curls. The result was an elbow injury that put curl movements off the cards until he could recover.
It’s not always necessary to completely switch up a movement, but switching up your grip every so often or switching from free weights to machines to complete a movement can help to reduce injury.
For pull-ups Mike switched his grip so he could still incorporate the movement, but without experiencing any elbow pain:
- Wide grip: When you grab the bar, your hands should be wider than shoulder-width apart, with your palms facing away from you.
- Underhand grip: When you grab the bar, your hands should be shoulder-width apart, with your palms facing your body.
- Neutral grip: For this grip, your palms should be facing each other and should be closer than shoulder-width apart.
Lifting as heavy as possible
There’s no prize for guessing this one. Ego lifting. Perhaps the most common gym mistake — training with more weight than your body can handle. By doing this there’s a very little likelihood that you’re focusing on which muscles are being used. Your form is also most likely trash, to put it bluntly.
These days, Mike focuses on which muscles are being used to perform the exercise rather than just moving the weight. It requires some mental focus, but it will also help to make sure your form is spot on for the muscle group you’re targeting.
Put the phone down
There are a few different types of people in the gym between sets. There’s the serial scroller, the poser, the dancer, the singer, and then there’s Mike. Let’s call him the thinker.
Between sets, Mike likes to assess the previous set. He’ll think about the weight — was it high enough, was it too low? He’ll consider how he’s feeling — has the movement caused him any pain? And by the time he’s considered the previous set, it’s already time to get moving on to the next one.
This wasn’t always the case. Mike used to be easily distracted by his phone. Between every set he’d take a seat and resume scrolling, posting, texting. But it took up all his focus and he enjoyed his sets less. Now he puts his phone on airplane mode when in the gym and focuses solely on his workout.
Attempting too many 1RMs
With powerlifters taking over social media, it’s easy to get sucked into the one rep max mindset. Don’t get us wrong, if you’re training to be a powerlifter, then you’ll need to perform one rep maxes. But Mike was never trying to be a powerlifter. He’d end up training with people with different goals as him and then injure himself trying to lift a particularly heavy weight for one rep.
Training to failure too often
Training to failure can be beneficial for a seasoned gym goer. But it’s not necessary to build muscle, especially not for beginners. A balanced approach would be to complete all but one of your sets using a normal rep range, and then give it all you’ve got on your final set and push to failure.
Not warming up
This won’t be a surprise for anyone on GymTok right now. Mobility movements are all the rage. And so they should be. When you’re on the clock and you’ve only got 45 minutes to fit in a great training session, it’s more than tempting to get straight into your workout. But in reality, your body will thank you for doing one fewer set and squeezing in some dynamic stretches before you get started — especially before a heavy session.
A question as old as the gym itself. What is the optimal split for building muscle? The “bro-split”, “push, pull, legs”? The jury’s back and they can confirm that it’s not the “bro-split”. This particular split requires you to train a different muscle group every time you go to the gym. In turn, this means that you’ll only target each muscle group once a week.
While for some this might be fine, Mike opts for a training split that allows him to target up to three muscle groups per session and allows him to target each muscle group twice a week. If nothing else, this allows Mike to focus on the muscle groups that might be weaker than others while still maintaining the strength of the other muscle groups.
No rest days
As the owner of a gym, I can imagine it would be pretty easy to fall into the trap of training daily. The hard bit is getting to the gym, and if you’re already there you might as well get a workout in. Right? Wrong.
Rest days are when your body recharges and during that time your body repairs the small tears in the muscle tissue caused by exercise. Without rest, you’ll struggle to recover and over time this will take its toll. Quality over quantity.
Take home message
And there you have it — the “what not to dos” from a certified gym pro. As with most things fitness related, if you’re new to the scene, speaking to a PT to find out what mistakes you’re making and how to improve your training is a worthwhile thing to do.