Having started my journey in the gym as a young, clueless fifteen-year-old hobbit, I can almost promise you that I've made every mistake there is; from curling in the squat rack to not eating carbs after 6...
Now, after 8-years of trial and error, extensive research and plenty of hours in the gym, I'm compelled to share my mistakes with you all and hopefully let my experience create a smoother path for you on your fitness journey.
And there lies the conception of this series:
"Essentially, what I wish I could tell my passionate, eager fifteen-year-old self."
I will be covering a LOT of topics in this series, but what better way to dive into it than addressing the top 5 mistakes that I made in my teen years (and yes, I'll try to keep it fitness related).
JUST INCASE YOU'RE IN A PUBLIC PLACE, YOU'VE FORGOTTEN YOUR HEADPHONES, OR THE SUN'S TOO BRIGHT TO ACTUALLY WATCH THE VIDEO...WE GOT ZAC TO WRITE DOWN HIS TOP 5 MISTAKES...
MISTAKE #1: Unnecessarily Dieting
The desire for single digit body fat and shredded abs is probably what sparked my interest in the gym in the first place...
It was this obsession that had me haphazardly starving myself in the hope of getting "shredded" and looking like The Rock in 4 weeks.
Little did I know that all this would do is limit my ability to gain muscle (which I so very needed) and delay any progress in the gym.
It was only after I stopped unnecessarily dieting and changed my diet in favour of gaining muscle that I was able to make progress in the gym AND further down the track build the abs and shape that I wanted.
MISTAKE #2: Bulking Too Hard
The story doesn't end there...
My newfound quest for muscle growth left me in a permanent state of bulking. I had no idea what was in the food I was eating; I just thought I had to eat a lot of it. So, I would annihilate whatever I could get my hands on. Hundreds on grams of sugar and drinking thousands of calories of weight gainer shakes definitely delivered the gains...just in the wrong areas.
"I had a belly and no arms to show for it."
This only led me to rebound with an aggressive cutting phase and potentially losing the muscle I set out to gain. What I should've done is eaten healthy unprocessed foods and used my time to educate myself on what is actually in the foods I consume.
Research macronutrients and instead of eating at a 2000 calorie surplus, maybe I should've at a 300-calorie surplus instead. This way, I would've given my body the fuel it needs to grow, perform and recover without looking like a walking blimp that needs to take a break to tie his shoes.
MISTAKE #3: Neglecting Form
This was probably my worst mistake of them all...
I would go into the gym and aim to lift the heaviest weight for what were probably the poorest excuses for reps. I remember thinking form didn't matter and what mattered was the ego that congratulated me after lifting the 'big dumbbells'.
Not only do you put yourself at a higher risk of injury, but you are not optimising muscle growth.
"Use your time in the early stages of the gym to learn the ropes and practice perfect form."
Dedicate a whole year if you must, but know that if you put the work in to learn it early on, it will pay significant dividends in the long run!
MISTAKE #4: Working Hard and Not Smart
Let's pretend for a minute that my form was acceptable...
Even if it was, I was of the mentality that more is better. This meant walking into the gym with the goal of doing as MUCH as I physically could to tear my body apart.
Dropsets after supersets after forced reps left me unable to recover and actually set my training back. I thought rest days were for the weak and I would only rest when I physically could not make it to the gym.
Knowing now that the body grows at rest after stimulating the muscles and not destroying them, I would recommend that you employ the use of rest days at least once per week and use the principles of progressive overload in the gym, not just a goal of leaving your soul on the gym floor.
MISTAKE #5: Not Tracking Anything
This is where it becomes slightly more complicated...
I remember not knowing how many calories I was eating per day or what I had lifted the week before and just leaving it all up to chance. I was HOPING I was eating enough for muscle growth with the HOPE that I was progressing in the gym, but my laziness prevented me from actually knowing these things.
So, this leads me to my final piece of advice; to track everything. Track your bodyweight, become friends with your food scale, download calorie tracking apps and log what you're eating, write your workouts in your notes. Be meticulous about training and nutrition.
In the early stages, it might not seem crucial as your body will probably grow from lifting a pencil. But, the further you get into training, the more critical these details become.
"So, track as much as you can with the goal of constant progression driving your every move."
So, in conclusion, whether you decide to take my advice or not, please don't make the same mistakes that I did in starting your fitness journey.
Work hard, but work smart with the goal of being slightly better today than you were yesterday. If this means you set a goal of perfecting one exercise form or learning about the nutritional contents of your favourite cereal; aim to improve and set yourself goals of continually being better.
After eight years of doing that, I can promise you a lot more gains than this twenty-three-year-old hobbit as I sit here and write this!