The most common mistakes with strength training to build muscle

mistakes strength training

Why you are not seeing any progress

You want to build muscle, you go to the gym regularly, but just are not seeing any progress? If you look around in the gym, at every corner you will see people working out with poor technique, weights that are too heavy, and doing exercises that make no sense at all. Such mistakes not only cost you your success but in the worst case can even cause serious injuries. Many simply do not know how to do strength training correctly or put more emphasis on using heavy weights than proper technique. In almost no other form of exercise is it so important to avoid mistakes as in strength training: first, so that you do not harm your body and second, so you can achieve maximum results. We will uncover the most common strength training mistakes and show you how to work out correctly! (Tip: Our Muscle Building Bundle from the Upfit Shop provides you with a Workout Plan for Muscle Building and guides regarding dietary supplements and sugar)

Strength training mistake 1: Too many repetitions

When you are not seeing any more progress, you may think you should be doing more repetitions per set i.e. “more must be better”. However, you should be aware of the differences between strength-endurance training and hypertrophy training.

Hypertrophy training Strength endurance training
Training intensity* 60-85% 30-50%
Repetitions 6-15 15-25
Time under Tension** 20-70 seconds 70-120 seconds
Break between sets 1-3 minutes 30-90 seconds
Regeneration time 1-2 days (per muscle) 3-4 days (per muscle)

* Maximum power range in percent
** The time under tension states how long the muscle trained in each set is under tension. It is an indicator of the speed of movement.

You don’t have to do countless repetitions, spend two hours a day in the gym, or invest money in supplements to get your dream body. If you want to build up as many muscles as possible, you will want to start training to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. That means you should work out with a relatively high training intensity and work in a performance range of 60-85% of your maximum power. This corresponds approximately to a repetition range of 6-15 reps. If you cannot do more than 5 reps, you need to reduce the weight. However, if you can do more than 15 reps, you should increase your working weight. However, within a strength training plan, you do not move “somewhere in the range of 6-15 repetitions”, but usually within the window of 3 repetitions. This window changes from plan to plan, as variation is also an essential key to success, as you will find out below.

What exactly is muscle hypertrophy?

Trainingsfehler bei Bauchmuskeltraining
  • Muscle hypertrophy is the technical term for muscle growth, more precisely for the growth of the size of your muscle cells.
  • Regardless of your genes, the composition of your muscle fibers, and the number of muscle cells you have, you can increase muscle growth significantly by working out and eating properly.
  • The best way to increase muscle hypertrophy is to get as strong as possible with basic exercises like bench presses, squats, deadlifts and pull-ups—and also to eat slightly more calories than you burn i.e. to create a small calorie surplus.

Why you should train to stimulate muscle hypertrophy

Thanks to hypertrophy, your body learns to activate and use your muscle fibers. In the first phase of hypertrophy training, your body learns to use more muscle fibers and to properly coordinate the existing muscle fibers. Once your body has learned to use more muscle fibers, your muscles start to grow and hypertrophy sets in. A prerequisite for all of these processes to begin is that you push your body to its limit during your workout. When strength training, this usually means muscle failure in the last set of an exercise, or the inability to do all the repetitions of the set. After some time of hypertrophy training, your muscle growth will stagnate again unless you adjust your training accordingly. To continuously make progress and set new stimuli, you should have a good medium and long-term training plan, which also includes endurance and strength training from time to time.

Training mistake 2: Too many isolation exercises

An isolation exercise is an exercise that mainly works out one muscle group i.e. the respective muscle group is then trained in isolation. For example, a dumbbell front raise is an isolation exercise that hits your front deltoid. The opposite of an isolation exercise is a complex exercise (multi-joint exercise) that works out several muscle groups at the same time. Complex exercises are essential for building up many muscles as quickly as possible. Isolation exercises can also be integrated into your training plan, but complex exercises—regardless of whether you are a beginner or advanced—should form the basis of your strength training plan and, because of their higher requirements, should always be performed before isolation exercises (an exception is special training methods such as pre-fatigue training).

Multi-joint exercises Isolation exercises
Squats Flys
Deadlift Bicep curls
Bench press Leg extensions
Pull-ups Side lateral raises
Shoulder presses Front raises
Barbell row Sit-Ups

Muscle building: multi-joint exercises vs. isolation exercises

Your body releases growth hormones during strength training, and the larger the muscle, the greater the hormone release. With complex multi-joint exercises, such as deadlifts or squats, a large part of your total muscle mass is involved, so that your body releases more hormones and consequently muscle growth is increased. A further advantage of multi-joint exercises is that you save time: you train several muscle groups at the same time with multi-joint exercises and therefore take much less time to work out your entire body. You also train your cardiovascular system with multi-joint exercises: supplying all of the strained muscle mass with energy is a challenge for your body, which forces it to increase the performance of the cardiovascular system. Multi-joint exercises are also functional, i.e. they make your body stronger for everyday life since they work out all your core muscles and muscle chains—Resulting in more strength and vitality for your life outside the gym.

Isolation exercises also have some advantages: with isolation exercises, you can target certain muscle groups so that the specific growth stimulus is as powerful as possible. Three small examples:

  1. You are pretty satisfied with your body, but you find your shoulders too narrow. In this case, it makes sense to train the shoulders in a targeted manner—for example with side lifts—in addition to the multi-joint exercises to add a more intense stimulus here and thus shape your shoulders.
  2. Let’s say you try to do the multi-joint bench press exercise and can’t manage another repetition. This may be because you have put maximum strain on your triceps. However, this does not automatically mean that your chest muscles, for example, are also being fully utilized. In this case, you can then perform an isolation exercise like the butterfly for your chest muscles.
  3. If you have a specific weak point in a complex exercise that limits your progress, it makes sense to include an isolation exercise for this weak point. For example, targeted training of the external rotators in your shoulder often helps to overcome a bench press plateau and an isolated training of biceps and shoulder retractors helps to learn and improve your pull-up.

To build and maintain mass sustainably, you must include complex multi-joint exercises in your strength training plan. On top of this, you can also perform isolation exercises to compensate for weak points and to fully exhaust every muscle, Optimally, you start your work out with multi-joint exercises and end your training with isolation exercises.

Strength training mistake 3: Not resting long enough between sets

As mentioned, it is necessary to push your existing muscles to their limits to get larger muscles and more strength. Sufficiently long rests in-between your sets are equally important: to get the most out of each set and thus stimulate muscle growth. Not resting in-between will make you unable to continue working out with as heavy weights or do as many repetitions. The number of repetitions is important, however, because the total volume of your workout (total number of repetitions per workout session) is a fundamental influencing factor when it comes to causing muscle growth.

If you train with heavy weights and your main goal is to build strength and muscles, you should take a break of about 2.5 to 4 minutes between sets. If you do between 8 and 12 repetitions per set, you can shorten your rest period to 90 – 120 seconds. If you combine two exercises for opposite muscle groups in multi-station weight training, for example bench presses and pull-ups, you can reduce the break after each set by about 30% and save some time.

Strength training mistake 4: Poor technique

Trainingsfehler beim Ruderzug

The top rule in weight training is: “Proper technique comes before heavy weights.” However, many people tend to train according to the motto “more weight brings more gains”. If you perform exercises improperly due to overly heavy weights or a lack of knowledge, you usually will not work out your muscles optimally and thus will see fewer muscle gains. Worst of all: the risk of injury increases enormously when you work out with bad form. You can do serious harm to your body that could make it so you are unable exercise for a long period of time, which definitely does not promote your muscle growth. So get informed about how to do exercises correctly beforehand and leave your ego at home. Do not increase your training weight until you can perform the exercise with proper form! It helps immensely to watch yourself performing an exercise in a video recording or the mirror (by the way, this is why mirrors hang in fitness studios—they are not just for flexing). We have detailed the correct execution of 20 popular exercises—start informing yourself now here:

Strength training mistake 5: overtraining

How often should you exercise? Surprisingly, less often can bring you more results. It usually takes between 48 and 96 hours for your muscles to fully regenerate after a hypertrophy specific workout. The exact duration also depends on exactly how you trained ate, and slept—not to mention other factors such as your hormones and genes. Furthermore, larger muscles usually need more regeneration time than smaller ones and older people need more regeneration time than younger ones. It is therefore advisable to train each muscle group 2 to 3 times maximum per week. And listen to your own body: If your muscles are still sore, you should not train the respective muscle group.

Consequences of overtraining

“Too much exercise combined with too little recovery time can lead to overtraining and weaken your performance.”

Overtraining is a vicious cycle. You train hard, but your performance deteriorates and your body is tired. Most athletes then think they are not giving enough and continue to challenge themselves. Unfortunately, this is exactly the wrong reaction. The effects are:

    • Performance impairment
    • Constant fatigue
    • Sluggishness
    • Depression
    • Increased or decreased heart rate
    • Restlessness
    • Insomnia

Overtraining can, therefore, lead to your body going on strike at some point and forcing you to take a break. This effect does happen overnight but is a gradual process. How so? After every workout unit where you push yourself to your limits, you are functional overreaching. Functional overreaching is a form of overtraining: your muscles are heavily stimulated causing your physical systems to tire.

This process is essential for your strength training success and is harmless as long as you plan enough regeneration time. If, on the other hand, you don’t give your body enough rest, functional overreaching becomes non-functional overreaching. That means your body is constantly overtaxed.

“Muscles do not grow during strength training, but rather during the rests in-between.”

Strength training mistake 6: You are not warming up properly

Trainingsfehler Aufwärmen

Your warm-up should prepare you mentally and physically for the upcoming challenges of your work out. Many exercisers ignore this, and by doing so, risk injuries and negatively affect their performance. Your muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, and even your heart muscle all need appropriate preparation. Warm-ups also prepare you mentally to get the most out of yourself. However, you can overdo it: Too long and intensive warm-ups can lower your energy level for your actual workout and increase the risk of injury due to your lost energy and decreased coordination skills. You should avoid both extremes.

Instead, your warm-up could look like this:

  1. General muscle warm-up: e.g. 5-10 minutes of cardio on a rowing machine/stepper/treadmill etc.—slowly and loosely
  2. Mobility and stability exercises: Work with targeted exercises on your mobility and posture.
  3. Mental preparations: Focus on calming yourself, breathing deeply, and giving the upcoming workout your best while warming up!
  4. Local muscle warm-up: you should do 1-2 light warm-up sets of each exercise before the actual full power set

Training mistake 7: Unhealthy nutrition and lifestyle

So you want to change your body? This may come as a surprise: strength training will only give you 30% of your results. The remaining 70% are nutrition, sleep, and regeneration. Another equation is better because it comes closest to reality: If you want 100% strength training success, you need 100% targeted strength training, 100% suitable nutrition and 100% good sleep, and regeneration. It’s that easy. You will only get the most out of your body if you take all of these factors into account. You can find a variety of healthy muscle building recipes in our recipe database—and in our muscle building guide, you can find even more concentrated muscle-building wisdom. Another option is to let us take away some of the stress of muscle building: we will create you an individual Nutrition Plan for Muscle Building — that will guide you to your goal quickly and sustainably.

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Frequently Asked Questions

To effectively build up as many muscles as possible, you must eat more calories than you burn. You can calculate how much that would look like for you with our free calorie calculator. Of course, not all calories are created equal: the correct macronutrient distribution is also important. You can find everything you need to know about macronutrients here. You can also use our free recipe database to get inspiration for the best recipes— and even filter for suitable muscle building recipes. Meal prep can also offer you an advantage to eat healthily: it is perfect for people with little time and thus particularly popular with athletes. Find out everything about meal prep here.

It makes sense to exercise each muscle group at least 2 but not more than 3 times a week. So you get enough regeneration time but still give your muscles the necessary new stimuli. If you don’t make it to the gym often, a full-body workout plan is best. If you work out 4 times or more a week, you can also choose a 2-day workout split (e.g. upper body – lower body) or 3-day workout split (e.g. push, pull, legs).

Almost without exception yes. The female body basically responds the same to strength training as the male body does—at least if the goal is to build muscle. Heavy weights and excess calories are required in both cases to get the best results. The difference, however, is that it takes women significantly longer to build muscle because they have less testosterone in their bodies. For this reason, as a woman you shouldn’t be afraid of looking less feminine when you start building muscle: it’s simply not possible.

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