Five Lessons I Had to Learn the Hard Way in the Gym

I’ve been training myself for about 10 years now and I want to share 5 lessons that I had to learn the hard way so you don’t have to. Let’s get right into it…

  1. Eat According to Your Goals

    For me, I didn’t pay attention to my nutrition as much as I should have when I first started training and it definitely showed after the first 4-5 years. I made a lot of strength gains in this time period but I never really looked better. I knew I wanted to get bigger and build more muscle but I never ate according to those goals. I didn’t eat enough protein and I definitely never tracked my food intake properly.

    Nowadays, I am very aware that I need at least 120-160g of protein in order to build muscle and get that lean look that I’m going for. Side note - my bodyweight is around 175lbs and I definitely subscribe to the 1g of protein per lb of lean body mass. I think for most people, this is a good place to start because you can always increase or decrease as time goes and you see how your body reacts to your intake. Protein intake and total calories are the two main factors. Get these two numbers down and let the fats and carbs fall where they may depending on your preference and goals.

  2. More Volume for Upper Body

    I definitely neglected my upper body during the first 3-5 years of training. I was too sold on the squat and deadlift and didn’t give the bench press enough attention. I am paying for this years later as I struggle to bring up my upper body mass. For those of you who are on beginner strength programs like starting strength, 5x5, 5/3/1, etc, definitely add more upper body volume.

  3. Neglecting Accessory Work

    In addition to not giving my upper body enough attention, I also neglected accessory exercises like single-leg work, core work and upper back work. All 3 of those things are SUPER important when it comes to building strength AND stability. These 3 things would have prevented a lot of low back and knee injuries that I sustained during those first few years.

  4. More Core Work

    I’ve never enjoyed doing core work too much and this probably contributed to injuring my lower back multiple times. I wish I did more rollouts, plank variations and pallof press variations. Also, more loaded carries would have helped as well. Those are my top core exercises nowadays for myself and my clients.

  5. Chasing PRs

    I wish I didn’t put so much weight into hitting PRs. No doubt, it’s very fun to have something to work towards and eventually hit that goal. But I’ve noticed that PRs can be a double-edged sword for me. Either I risk injury getting to that goal OR I hit the PR but I fall off the wagon soon after hitting the PR. These days, I don’t chase 1-rep maxes as much as I used to. I still have a few numbers in my mind that I’d like to hit but I’ve shifted my focus a bit from hitting x amount of weight to knowing what the minimum weight I’d like to be able to do. For example, my minimum standard these days is a 500lb deadlift and a 315lb squat. I’ve done a lot more than this in the past but at this point in time, if I can hit these 2 numbers on any given day, I will be happy with that.

These days, I’m a bit more focused on being healthy as a whole. My goal is to be strong via my minimum standards for the barbell lifts. I am working on a few KB moves right now - KB Swings, TGUs, Clean and Press and the Snatch. I am also working on improving my ground-based movement abilities. Outside of the gym, I am working on being consistent with my sleep and nutrition so that I can bring better energy to the people and the world around me.