Jonathan Byrd writes about Mistakes in the Gym

Posted on 19 Aug 2015 12:00


Jonathan Byrd of Power Rack Strength wrote an article on 5 of the dumbest things he has done in the gym. I feel a lot of these points are things we strength trainees can relate to even if we do not compete in powerlifting.

You can check out the article by clicking HERE.

Mistake #1: Not enough warm-up and acclimation sets

Like a lot of meatheads, Jonathan did not spend much time warming up for his big lifts. I have observed that a lot of top level powerlifters do not employ much warm-up work for their big lifts. While some of them have bounced to the other end of the spectrum with too much indulgence in foam rolling and the like, the bulk of powerlifters love big jumps in their warm-ups. A typical warm-up for a 605 deadlift work set is:
45 x 5
605 work sets begin

This is ridiculously impractical and opens the gateway to injuries because you are making big jumps. One of the many ways you can reduce or minimize injuries is to work within definite weight ranges. In short: you don't want many weights to be "hits or misses" for you. So a good warm-up and acclimation will involve quite a few sets even if a lot of them are just singles, doubles and triples (at the most).

I was asked how someone should warm-up for a 500 pound deadlift max attempt when their current 1RM is 475 pounds. Here's my recommendation and this is subject to individual tweaks:
barbell x 5 reps for 1-2 sets depending on how the trainee feels
135 for a few reps
155 for a single
185 for 2-3 reps
205 for a single
225 for a few reps
255 for a single
295 for a triple
325 for a single or a double
365 for a single or a double
395 for a double
425 for a triple
455 for a single or a double depending on how strong the trainee feels. He can even do 2 singles as separate sets instead of a doube.
475 for a single (current 1RM)
500 for a single new 1RM

This is subject to be tweaked to fit the trainee but for the most part these are my broad general guidelines. As you can see: the jumps between weights are very low and even though there are many warm-up sets, the total volume is reasonable. In fact, if you look at it, the overall volume is somewhere between 33 and 40 reps including your 1RM attempt at 500 pounds. This ensures a good transition from light weights to heavy weights when you compare it to conventional warm-ups when you cycle through 135 to 405+ using jumps of 25 lbs and 45 lbs at a time.

Mistake #2: Neglecting back training

You know, I have a different stance on back training. I think it is crucial, yes; but how crucial? That's hard to answer. See, if you want to improve your squat, bench press and deadlift, then the only exercises you absolutely must have are the squat, bench press and deadlift. Anything and everything else is purely on a "faith" basis. The only way you can know for sure whether back work will help or not is to experiment by removing everything else and keeping back work and then testing your deadlift.

But despite this critical way of thinking, I also believe that building a big strong back is important. A strong back is crucial to being able to lift big and working on various rows and pull-ups is a great way to get the job done. One of my favorite movements is the weighted pull-up and following that is an old combination of exercises that Eric Troy taught me many years ago. I believe this should be an article of it's own but the gist is: you must work your rows through various planes. It becomes a combination of 3 exercises done for as many sets as you like:

  • Dumbbell or Barbell or Machine or T-Bar Rows for sets of 3-5 reps - these are your heavy movements
  • Cable or Pulley Rows done straight or high to low angle or low to high angle for sets of 8-12 reps - think of this as "to failure" training for mass
  • Facepulls or Chest supported dumbbell rows for sets of 15-20 reps - this is your prehab / rear delts type work to work the movement from a disadvantage and get the traps bigger as well

Mistake #3: Eating more food equals a stronger you

This is a really old school mentality and I have seen a lot of fitness certification programs and academies really push this concept that you must shovel food down your throat if you want to get strong because only a bigger you can be stronger than you are right now. The truth is that staying at a fixed bodyweight makes you a more efficient lifter. Sometimes once you really plateau out you might need to go up in weight but to constantly be of the mindset that your bodyweight will determine your strength is very backwards as a concept. Additionally, not everyone is built to walk around at 300+ pounds of sheer bodyweight. Elite level powerlifters are able to do this and get away with it for some time but even they end up dropping weight once they have hit their records. Removing anecdotal observations of PRO lifters, constantly trying to get bigger and thereby eating food constantly is not a comfortable lifestyle choice nor is it sustainable. You will most likely end up swinging from extremes of over-eating to being disgusted with food and under-eating and with this pendulum like shifts you end up just spinning your wheels and getting no traction on the strength wagon.

Mistake #4: Avoiding exercises just because you do not like them

I think this is a great point. There are lots of lifts we do not like because they are not as appealing to us. But this is a state of mind. Once you strip away the logic that you must have certain lifts to improve other lifts and you recognize that this might not be true, you can juggle lifts in a more efficient manner because you will have the freedom and honesty to select lifts based on their attributes. Everything we do is a tool to get us stronger - closer to our goals. Getting overly attached to anything is like a carpenter insisting on using just one type of hammer to hit every nail: it is laughable. There are plenty of "faith" exercises that should be done from time to time like unilateral romanian deadlifts or even rows, but it is important to understand that ALL accessory or secondary exercises are "faith" based to a large extent. The only way you can definitely know that heavy dumbbell rows help your deadlift is to experiment by removing everything else from your training and just leaving dumbbell rows on your to-do list. If your deadlift improves over time, it meas your hypothesis is correct. Otherwise it is largely faith based.

Mistake #5: Insanely heavy curls

A lot of us strength guys want to pack on some muscle and we resort to employing strength training techniques to bodybuilding goals. Big biceps are made with volume and loads of reps. They are not made by hitting one rep maxes on curls. The strength training mindset and the bodybuilding mindset are poles apart. What you see in bodybuilding videos of Phil Heath, Kai Greene, etc is the real deal: you need to worry about the pump and blood flow when it comes to trying to pack on mass. Insanely heavy curls will have their place but they cannot be a constant.


Jonathan Byrd has compiled a good list of points that need to be rectified for some people and the overall message of warming up correctly, acclimating to the heavier weights, training the back exclusively, eating the right amount of food, doing exercises that help you despite their lack of appeal and avoiding heavy isolation movements are all great points that can be incorporated into your training immediately.

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