THE TOP 7 BODYBUILDING MISTAKES I’VE MADE
One of my readers recently asked me the following question…
“What is the one thing you wished you knew when you first started lifting?”
They say that hindsight is 20/20, and after sitting down to really think about it, I was quickly able to come up with not one, but seven different things I wish I had done differently in my earlier years when it comes to bodybuilding training, nutrition, supplementation and overall mindset.
In this post I’m going to share what those seven bodybuilding mistakes were so that you can benefit from my experience and apply it to your own fitness program moving forward.
If you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter who has made these same mistakes yourself, then you can simply treat them as a reminder.
So, here they are in no particular order…
The Top 7 Bodybuilding Mistakes I’ve Made
Bodybuilding Mistake #1
Overly Aggressive “Dirty Bulking”
The body can only build muscle at a very limited rate over any given period of time, and a huge mistake I made in my earlier lifting days was the typical overly aggressive “dirty bulk”.
In other words, having the goal of wanting to be as huge and muscular as humanly possible, and then proceeding to cram down massive amounts of food under the false idea that “more calories equals more muscle growth”.
Most guys who get really serious about bodybuilding have probably done a solid dirty bulk at one point or another, and I was definitely no exception.
I currently weigh in at around 174 pounds at 5’9 feet tall, and during my “get huge or die trying phase” I somehow managed to balloon up to a thoroughly flabby 228 pounds. For a smaller framed guy like me, that was quite simply a ridiculous amount of weight to be carrying.
I had thought I was packing on a bunch of muscle during this phase as I watched the number on the scale steadily climb, but the sad reality is that most of it just turned out to be fat.
When I finally came to my senses and realized how out of control my bulk had gotten, I then had to switch gears and burn off over 30 pounds of fat before I began to look even half decent again.
Aggressive bulking is one of the most common bodybuilding mistakes there is, and in most cases it’s just not a wise approach. Get excessively fat during your bulk and you won’t look good, you won’t feel good, and you’ll then have to go through the whole tedious cutting process in order to get rid of it.
Remember, any calories that you take in beyond what your body can utilize for muscle growth will simply be stored as fat. Eating more food beyond the point of maximum daily muscle growth is only going to expand your waistline rather than the muscle on your chest or biceps.
If I could go back, I would have just stuck with a small to moderate calorie surplus and focused on making gradual, lean gains over time rather than trying to rush things.
Some basic guidelines you can follow for this are to maintain a net surplus of around 250-350 calories above your maintenance level and to shoot for a total monthly weight gain of no more than 2-3 pounds if you’re still a beginner. (For every year of consistent proper training, your rate of muscle gain should decrease by about half)
Bodybuilding Mistake #2
Not Treating My Joints With Enough Respect
When I first began lifting, I basically thought I was invincible.
Injury prevention was the furthest thing from my mind and I simply wanted to pack on size and strength at whatever cost and in the fastest way possible.
As a result, I ended up pushing the envelope way further than was necessary in terms of overall training intensity and just figured “the harder I train, the more muscle I’ll build”.
This misguided way of thinking eventually caught up to me and led to several injuries in my lower back, shoulders and elbows that still affect me to this day.
High intensity techniques such as forced reps, heavy negatives, rest pause, cheat reps and one-rep maxes are fine to include from time to time, but they should be used both carefully and sparingly or they can very easily lead to real problems that are sometimes irreversible.
If I could go back, I would have been easier on my joints and connective tissues by performing more thorough warmups, including regular mobility work in my plan, and dialing back the overall intensity, since training “all out” during every workout is completely unnecessary and downright dangerous.
Injury prevention should actually be treated as a primary concern, because your ability to train and build muscle hinges on the fact that your joints are healthy enough to do so in the first place.
Bodybuilding Mistake #3
Too Much Concern Over Meal Frequency & Meal Timing
In the first few years when I was getting into bodybuilding, it was “common knowledge” that meal frequency and meal timing were “critical steps” in the process of gaining muscle size and strength.
Not only were total calories, macronutrients and micronutrients considered important, but just as essential were highly specific nutritional strategies that most lifters thought were “musts” if they wanted to build muscle and lose fat at the fastest rate, such as:
- Eating 6 meals a day spaced every 2-3 hours in order to “stay anabolic” and keep the fat burning metabolism boosted.
- Consuming whey protein and simple sugars immediately after training to take advantage of the post workout “window of opportunity”.
- Getting in “slow release” protein before bed to prevent muscle breakdown during sleep.
- Avoiding carbs in the evening and later hours of the day to prevent excess fat storage.
These are just a few of the many nutritional techniques we used that have now been scientifically debunked in research and shown to be unnecessary.
When it all comes down to it, the vast majority of your bodybuilding results will simply be determined by meeting your overall nutritional needs for the day as a whole. Obsessing over exactly how your meals are spaced or which specific foods you eat at different times is highly unlikely to make any noticeable difference to your results.
If I could go back, I would have just laid out my daily meals in the way that I enjoyed most in terms of appetite and schedule (rather than forcing myself to eat when I wasn’t hungry or when it wasn’t convenient) and missing a meal or eating the “wrong food at the wrong time” wouldn’t have caused me any unnecessary stress.
I have would have gotten the same muscle building results, but my eating plan would have been much easier to follow and I wouldn’t have had to revolve my entire day around food as much as I did at the time.
Bodybuilding Mistake #4
Labelling Foods As “Clean” And “Dirty”
My thought process used to be:
“I’m a bodybuilder, and bodybuilders eat canned tuna, chicken breast, brown rice and veggies, and they don’t eat pizza, chocolate or ice cream, and therefore I should only eat ‘clean foods’ and I should avoid all ‘junk foods'”.
Once again, proper nutrition is all about the big picture and your body only recognizes your nutritional intake as one “complete package” for the day as whole, rather than viewing it in the context of individual food items.
As long as the bulk of your intake is coming from nutrient dense, minimally processed whole foods such as high quality proteins, unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, it’s not going to negatively affect your results if you include some “junk foods” in your diet in moderation.
If I could go back now, I wouldn’t have sat around eating tuna straight out of the can, or choking down certain protein shakes that I really didn’t want to drink, or thinking that a slice of pizza or bowl of ice cream was going to destroy my physique.
I would have simply figured out what my daily calorie and macronutrient needs were to support my goals, and then selected foods that I actually enjoyed in order to meet those numbers.
If I had realized back then that bodybuilding nutrition is basically just a numbers game and that it absolutely IS possible to eat delicious foods and get into great shape at the same time, my eating plan and day to day life would have been made a lot more enjoyable.
Bodybuilding Mistake #5
Over-Emphasis On Supplements
This is an extremely common one on the list of typical bodybuilding mistakes, and as a beginning lifter I definitely fell victim to it as well.
At one point in my late teens my bedroom basically looked like a miniature supplement store. The shelves behind my door were completely packed from top to bottom with an endless number of different “muscle building formulas”, most of which I eventually learned were nothing more than useless garbage.
Glutamine, nitric oxide boosters, testosterone boosters, amino acid supplements, over-priced pre-workouts, various “high tech” protein supplements to be used at different times of the day…
As a teenager working part time with not a lot of money to spare, I wish I had known back then that the supplement industry is basically just a big marketing machine, and that only a very select few supplements out there are even worth using at all.
I certainly like the idea of popping back a few pills and seeing an immediate boost in muscle growth and fat loss as much as the next guy, but it just doesn’t work that way, no matter what that supplement ad with the photo-shopped fitness model on it told you.
If I could go back, I would have just stuck with a few basic supplements, saved the thousands of dollars that I wasted over the years, and placed most of my focus on what really mattered, which was proper training and nutrition.
Your muscle building and your fat burning results are going to be decided by what you do in the gym and what you do in the kitchen, and even a proper supplementation plan is only going to make up a very small portion of your overall results.
Bodybuilding Mistake #6
Not Being Skeptical Enough Of “Expert Advice”
When most people are new to a subject, they’ll tend to just accept at face value what the “experts” in that area tell them without really questioning it too much.
As a young “skinny guy” who didn’t have the first clue about how to pack on muscle size and strength, I was no different.
If the “buff guy” at the gym gave me a piece of advice about working out, I assumed it was true.
If I read something online or in print about proper nutrition, I assumed it was true.
If the guy working behind the counter at the supplement store spoke highly of certain products, I assumed it was true.
After well over a decade of dedicated research and experience, I finally realized that the fitness industry is actually full of misinformation and misleading advice, most of which is perpetuated by self-proclaimed “experts” who simply don’t know any better or who intentionally spread untruths as a way of selling products and services.
A huge percentage of what you read on blogs, see on YouTube channels or come across on social media is simply inaccurate advice that is regurgitated and passed around from person to person without any real evidence behind it.
If I could go back, I would have been more “scientific” with my approach rather than just blindly following what someone else told me simply because they were in good shape.
I would have questioned things more deeply and held the advice I was given to a higher level of scrutiny, looking for logic, evidence and research to back up what I was being told. This applies not just to bodybuilding but to all areas of life.
Had I done that, I probably would have been able to avoid many of the bodybuilding mistakes I’ve outlined up until now and would have achieved the same or better results in less time, and with greater efficiency.
Bodybuilding Mistake #7
Taking Bodybuilding And Fitness Too Seriously
Being committed and working hard toward a goal is one thing, but in hindsight I feel now that I took the whole bodybuilding thing a bit too seriously in my earlier years and should have strived for more overall life balance.
I was the guy who would turn down invitations to go out because I was afraid it would cause me to miss a meal…
I was the guy who would be in the gym training alone at 10pm on a Saturday night…
I was the guy who would get stressed out going on trips with friends or family because I wouldn’t be able to get to the gym…
At the time I just thought I was being “hardcore” and that this level of obsession was necessary to get into great shape, but looking back now I can see that it was just unnecessary in terms of achieving the actual goals that I had.
If I could go back now, I wouldn’t have taken it to such an extreme and would have allowed bodybuilding to be something that revolved around my life, rather than having my life revolve around bodybuilding.
Don’t get me wrong… I love working out and being in shape, and it is a lifestyle that has brought me a lot of satisfaction and has improved my life greatly.
However, unless you’re a high level competitive athlete or someone who directly makes a living from their physique, bodybuilding and fitness doesn’t actually demand a huge amount of time or sacrifice in order to get the body you want.
It only requires a few hours of training per week and a reasonable conscious effort to meet your nutritional needs in the big picture, and once you fall into a routine with it, it just becomes a habit that you don’t need to think about too much.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have gone out more in my late teens and early 20’s and just enjoyed myself rather than avoiding social events because of my bodybuilding plan…
I would have been more flexible with my diet rather than being as obsessive and overly rigid as I was…
I wouldn’t have stressed out so much if I temporarily fell off track with my program for whatever reason…
And I would have just been easier on myself in general and realized that the whole thing isn’t all that serious in the first place and that it should ultimately be fun at the end of the day.
This is just my personal view, but I find that I’m happier and more content with having fitness as something that enriches my life as opposed to being the sole focus.
It’s fun to look back and see how much I’ve actually learned and evolved since I first started lifting, and hopefully you can benefit from my experience and apply it to your own fitness program.
I hope you found this list helpful, and if you have a “bodybuilding mistake” you’d like to share that wasn’t mentioned here, feel free to leave it in the comments below.
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