Your body and mind enjoy taking shortcuts. They’ll always choose the path of least resistance. While necessary for human survival, these shortcuts will kill your fitness progress. However, some of these “cheats” aren’t actually cheats at all. They’re only viewed as such because of pride, social pressure or lack of information.
We went over some of these cheats last time, but there are many more. Here are some more examples of what to avoid and what to implement.
Cheat: Avoiding cardio
Folks avoid cardio for a lot of reasons. Beginners may avoid it because their current health doesn’t allow it and intermediates may avoid it because it burns muscle mass and harms gains.
These are valid reasons to avoid certain kinds of cardio, but not reasons to avoid it all together. Everyone should strive for good cardiovascular health, especially important for those who want to gain muscle or otherwise become more fit.
A lot of this hesitation comes from an ill-informed mindset. To many, exercise is a way to “burn” calories. For example, you eat 200 calories, so you run to burn off those 200 calories. This is unhealthy, though understandable.
The only way to lose weight is by using more energy than you take in every day. In vice versa, the only way to gain weight is by taking in more than you exert. However, you want to create these caloric deficits/surpluses through nutrition, not exercise. Don’t eat what you always eat and make up for it by exercising. Instead, eat less than your base caloric output and supplement it with exercise. Nutrition creates the deficit and exercise ensures that you maintain/gain muscle mass. You can even gain muscle and lose fat at the same time if you eat the right things — though the process would be slower.
Cardio supplements your exercise, not your nutrition. It’s meant to increase cardiovascular strength and improve your blood flow. This enables your heart and lungs to move oxygen more effectively, making every lift much easier.
If you haven’t already worked cardio into your training, please do so at your earliest convenience.
Not a cheat: Short cardio
Many see cardio as running for miles at a time. However, this technique is most useful for distance sports. That type of cardio can harm muscle gain if done improperly. Short and high intensity cardio sessions are just as valuable a fitness tool.
Forty to 60 minutes of cardio a — week — is the golden spot for those looking to gain muscle mass and strength. If you’re lifting competitively, that goes up to 30 through 40 minutes of cardio three to four times a week. The key is workout intensity. You need to be more intense if you’re decreasing length. You don’t need to go overboard, but running a little faster for 30 minutes will do you better than jogging for an hour.
For more information about cardio, consult this article. Cardio doesn’t have to kill your gains. You just need to know how to do it right.
Cheat: Avoiding exercises because they’re hard
It’s not just cardio your body hates. We all have exercises we avoid because they look hard. These exercises range from Olympic lifts like power cleans to simple bodyweight exercises – varying from person to person.
However, danger — whether or not an exercise can damage your muscles and joints — is the only reason you should avoid an exercise. Difficulty isn’t the same as danger.
If you literally can’t perform an exercise, that means you have to work toward the ability to perform it.
You shouldn’t avoid pull ups if you can’t do one. That just means you need to build back strength using exercises like rows and bar hangs. You don’t have to perform a lot of burpees, just enough to reach overload. If you can’t do leg raises, start with crunches and work your way up.
Give it enough time, and “difficult” will become “routine.”
Not a cheat: Avoiding dangerous exercises
When I say that “no pain, no gain,” is true, I mean that you can’t create muscle overload without some level of discomfort. If you’re doing it right, pain will always be a part of your workouts as something you have to work past, and you must not stop once you achieve it.
I don’t mean that all pain during an exercise is good. Fitness is a very old idea, so there have been plenty of mistakes made getting to our current level of understanding.
Exercises once thought beneficial can actively damage your muscles and joints. Upright rows move your shoulders in a way they were never meant to and could damage your rotator cuffs. Dumbbell flies put more strain on your shoulder and arm joints while adding little of the desired stretch to your chest. Leg extensions strain your knees while providing little quad activation.
One could argue these issues come from bad form. However, the consequences of form failure should be limited to muscle imbalances and improper muscle activation. The consequences here are permanent damage to your joints, ligaments and muscle fibers. The form for these exercises is so specific it’s near impossible to perform correctly every time. Fitness requires effort, but the benefits here are outweighed by the potential cost.
Research exercises you never want to perform and find safer alternatives. You shouldn’t need to risk your body in your journey to improve it.
Cheat: Never altering your routine
Humans love routine. Fitness only becomes effective when made a routine. However, certain routines can hold you back.
If you keep performing the same exercises in the same order with the same reps and sets performed the same way week after week for months, your body will adjust. Progressive overload becomes harder at best and impossible at worst because the routine is no longer challenging the muscles. It will stop being effective, and you’ll make less progress because of this.
That’s why you want to leave room to grow. There are plenty of slight alterations you could make. Increasing weight, switching the exercises you perform while keeping it within the targeted muscle group and altering your rep and set numbers can all boost your performance.
You can also change how you perform each rep. Instead of simply moving the weight up and down, you could pause mid-lift before lifting the rest of the way. Instead of letting the weight drop down after your lift, flex your muscle and control the weight as it drops.
Novelty creates overload, and overload is the goal. You can’t make progress by doing the same thing over and over again.
Not a cheat: “Sissy” exercises
Gendered exercises don’t exist.
The mindset that some exercises are more “feminine” and some are more “masculine” is complete hokum.
Yet this belief is still pervasive, with beginners avoiding exercises — not because they don’t have the muscle development for them — but because they “look” easy and they’d feel embarrassed for performing them because it’s not “masculine” enough.
Believing and spreading this idea holds you back from better muscle development. Every exercise has a purpose, “sissy” exercises included.
Knee push ups can teach form and build a chest, shoulder and tricep muscle base. Light weight shoulder raises let you focus on form and flexion. Corrective exercises develop overlooked muscles, increase mobility and fix bad posture. Rear leg raises and hip thrusts directly target your hip and gluteus muscles. Rubber balls practice core stability.
In the same way you don’t ignore exercises that look “too hard,” don’t ignore ones that look “too easy.” You’d be passing up some valuable tools.