Today we get to bro out a bit. To talk shop in the gym. Covering the mistakes people could be making.
I often find that people could get way more from their training than they do with a few simple changes to their time in the gym.
That is literally why I created fitdesignbyannie years ago. Between going to school for fitness training and then exercise and sport science, I would go to the gym and watch women attempt to lift weights.
In watching them, I would think to myself, I presumably know what they want, but they’re not going to get it by training the way they are. The way I was observing them at LA fitness.
While it’s now five years later from starting fitdesignbyannie, the same mistakes still exist.
And that brings us to today’s episode on the biggest mistakes you’re making in the gym.
Context is important. So let us make clear that I am referring to strength and hypertrophy based training. This is for women looking to gain muscle and strength. Let us also make clear that if you want to look “toned,” you are in this group of humans. Being toned is literally the appearance of having muscle tone at rest. Which you can’t do without the presence of muscles. The more common issue is the layers of fat over the top of said muscles that can prevent you from looking toned or instead looking “bulky.” That’s all a topic for another time.
What I mean is that you’re using a challenging weight, 75% + of your 1RM and/or RPE (rate of previewed exertion) of 8-9 but you’re only resting for 30 seconds or so. The body and it’s systems take time to recover between sets.
You want it to recover if you’re wanting muscle growth or strength gains.
I guess we need to note what is actually needed in order to experience hypertrophy (muscle growth). Aka what has to happen to get your GAINS.
You need three components – mechanical tension (this is the loading of the musculoskeletal system), muscle damage (micro tears in your muscle fibers from the work being done) and metabolic stress (this is your glycogen and ATP depletion comes in).
At the very basic level, we need these three things to make gains. And then of course you need to be able to recover from your training, and eat enough macronutrients to elicit muscle growth.
But we’ll stick to what happens inside the gym.
So mistake #1 is essentially that you are causing the mechanical stress and likely the muscle damage but you may not be optimizing the metabolic damage. Or better put you could be getting more out of your metabolic systems if you took a full 90 seconds all the way to three minutes of rest between sets.
The two main energy systems used in the strength and hypertrophy type of training I’m suggesting will be your phosphagen and Glycolytic systems.
It’s important to note that our systems, just like our three types of muscle fibers are not robots. You’re not only using ONE system or ONE type of muscle fiber in these stages. But the body will recruit or depend more heavily on one system or type of muscle fiber over another. And there are natural progressions with factors like time, exertion and intensity.
The energy provided to our muscles in order to contract is something called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. This is how we power our muscles. And it is produced via the phosphagen system. Yay science. When the ATP is used, he loses a phosphate and becomes Adenosine diphosphate or ADP. And that’s where our friend phosphocreatine comes in to help create more ATP. As the phosphate in the phosphocreatine is added to the ADP, to take it from a di, to a triphosphate again. Yayyyy energy for more muscle contractions. That is my simplest and honest understanding of the phosphagen system.
But that shit takes TIME MY FRIENDS!
To fully re-synthesize your ATP can take 3-5 minutes. Now, I am not telling you to rest 3-5 minutes between all sets. This would be for maximal strength and power sets. 1-5 reps for max effort. We will get to my suggested rest in a bit.
This phosphagen system is applicable because it will def be used in strength sets seeing as it’s capacity is around 30 seconds. Then we transition to the glycolytic stage which we’ll get to in a moment.
When we get past those 30 seconds, we enter the bodybuilder stage as I like to call it – the glycolytic system takes the spotlight.
This system is prominent from 30 seconds to 2 minutes of work. That’s your set. Here, your muscles are depleting their glycogen stores, Yyaaaayyyyy carbs.
You’re not replenishing this during your rest periods. The goal for hypertrophy would be to deplete your glycogen stores as much as possible. That tends to be more doable with shorter rest periods around 30-90 seconds.
Thiiiiisssss is why I often give rest periods in the 90 second area for strength AND hypertrophy work. With higher rest for more strength focused sets, and shorter rest 30-60 for hypertrophy focus where I’m wanting them to really deplete the muscle group.
That was a VERY long and more in depth explanation than I was planning for why rest periods matter and you should pay more attention to them if you’re just moving willy nilly through your sets, not timing your rest.
Want strength? Or gains? Rest!!
When I say intent I am referring mainly to tempo, and the mind muscle connection.
I would bet most women that they could have better gains if they slowed down, squeezed harder and visualized their muscles contracting.
Call me crazy. It matters. And you will get more out of your program if you focus on these things with INTENT.
You’ll cause better neural pathways, and increase time under tension, leading to higher mechanical tension and muscular damage…which we need to grow muscles. And more muscle means more capacity for strength gains.
Are we grasping all of this?!?! I certainly hope so.
For number two, just slow the eff down, and be LITERALLY more mindful of your muscular contraction and activity. Watch, you’ll feel and see more gains.
And that might even result in you requiring less volume of work, because the work you’re doing now is of higher quality.
You’re not doing enough.
So many women do not push hard enough. If it’s not challenged it won’t change!
I am not saying go 110% all day everyday.
But I am saying that women have a tendency to hold back on load out of fear. Fear of being bulky, fear of not being capable, fear of who knows what!?
Well, ANNIE is here to remind you that if you want muscle growth and/or strength gains, you need to push your muscles.
That can happen in a lot of different ways. We’ve talked about progressive overload before. This can be volume, load, intensity, tempo, range of motion or angles used. But you’ve got to cause a new or harder stimulus to the muscle over time if you want gains.
So, I need you to push. You challenge yourself. That’s why I really enjoy RPE or percent effort. Generally speaking? If those last 2-3 reps aren’t a struggle, you need to up the weight, squeeze harder, slow down the tempo, SOMETHING.
But don’t expect gains if you’re staying under that 75% effort or load threshold.
That’s it my people!
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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