Trainers like to say that the most important part of any training program is consistency. If you don’t hit the gym regularly, you’ll never see results.
“But consistency can work both ways,” says BJ Gaddour, creator of Men’s Health StreamFIT. “Science is finding more and more habits that can slow your gains or halt them altogether—from how you monitor your recovery, if at all, to which muscles you focus on or ignore.”
Indeed, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a weightlifting neophyte or a seasoned ironworker; odds are your routine is peppered with missteps that are holding you back. In fact, we’re willing to bet that the following five are among them.
The more bad habits you do away with, the faster your gains will be. In the gym, knowledge is more than just power—it’s strength.
1) You Don’t Listen to Your Heart Before You Work Out
Monitoring your heart rate during exercise is a smart way to gauge effort and optimize rest. But measuring your heart rate variability (HRV) between workouts can be even more effective for guiding training.
“HRV is the fluctuation in time between heartbeats, and it indicates your level of recovery,” says Bill Hartman, C.S.C.S., owner of IFAST in Indiana.
Low variability means you’re still recovering. High variability means you’re primed for action. “And you can use where you are in that spectrum to fine-tune each workout,” says Hartman.
2) You Don’t Eat Enough
“Fitness-minded guys often undereat on purpose, thinking it will help uncover their abs,” says MH nutrition advisor Mike Roussell, Ph.D. “Or they unwittingly develop a calorie deficit while attempting to eat more healthfully.”
Either way, the result is the same: “Not eating enough slows your metabolism and makes it easier for you to overtrain because you don’t have enough nutrients to fuel recovery,” says Roussell.
3) You Ignore Your Glutes
Strong glutes are useful for more than just filling out a pair of jeans; they’re the strongest link in your body’s posterior chain, the string of muscles running along your back side that drives acceleration and generates explosive power.
“Deadlifts and squats activate your glutes indirectly,” says Bret Contreras, C.S.C.S., the author of Body-weight Strength Training Anatomy. “But doing exercises that target those muscles directly will hit them more thoroughly, helping you crush more calories and boost total-body power.”
And that, in turn, will translate to greater strength and performance both inside the gym and beyond it.
4) You Skip Cardio
Hang around the weight rack long enough, and you’ll hear guys talking about the “interference effect”—a bro-science term referring to cardio’s supposed inhibitory influence on muscle building. Ignore those guys; the weight of scientific evidence suggests otherwise.
Indeed, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that cycling for 45 minutes, in addition to resistance training, resulted in a 14 percent increase in leg muscle volume. Doing strength training alone—without cardio—resulted in a gain of only 9 percent.
5) You Improvise
Men who follow fitness programs, whether with a trainer or from a book or magazine, often tinker with what’s being prescribed.
“Guys just can’t seem to help themselves,” says Dan John, the author of Mass Made Simple. “They add more sets or exercises, they hop over to another program when they don’t see results in a week or two, or they do additional workouts on days they should be resting.”
Trainers call it “exercise ADD,” and the result is often a training plateau. “Improvising exercises or doing extra sets or workouts can leave you too exhausted to succeed with the program at hand,” says John. “It’s the primary reason why so many guys never progress.”