Any gym-goer wants to lift as much weight as possible and maximize their body’s potential. Progressive overload is a strength-training principle that any serious gym-goer follows. This is the idea of increasing the difficulty of a workout over time to further stimulate the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. However, it is common to try to push yourself beyond your limit and develop bad habits which then give you the perception you are making progressive overload. Here are some common habits and misconceptions I have seen in my time as a gym owner that give gym-goers the illusion they are making gains:

Mistake: Quick thrusting and rapid movement of weight (aka “throwing it”).

Fact: You are using momentum to move the weight, not the target muscles. Pause at each end of a movement to ensure you are using your muscle to move the weight and not momentum.

Mistake: Using large compound movement exercises as posture-improving exercises. 

Fact: Posture training starts with the small, deep structural muscles of the neck and spine. In fact, doing large compound movements can make your posture worse if you are using poor form. Master these two exercises in an isolated setting and then incorporate them into your other exercises.

Mistake: Incorrectly pacing pyramid sets. 

Fact: An effective pyramid set needs to tax your capacity. Too often they are started way below capacity and even at the peak set do not tax capacity. Write down your weights and how many reps-in-reserve (RIR) you had after each set. Then the next time you do a pyramid set, look back on your notes and adjust accordingly to ensure you are taxing yourself with each set.

Mistake: Lack of complete, full-range, controlled repetition into the program.

Fact: Reps should be intentional and in a full-range to fully engage a muscle and stimulate its growth. Anyone can do a half curl with an extra 5 lbs, but true progressive overload is shown through a full curl.

Mistake: Arching your back.

Fact: By distorting your hip and back position, you are not engaging the target muscle as much as you could. You are using your back to compensate for the added weight. Lower the weight and focus on maintaining Pelvic Tilt. Once you have mastered this posture, continue increasing the weight without an arched back.

Mistake: Thrusting your head forward.

Fact: You are using momentum to lift the added weight the target muscle cannot lift. Lower the weight and focus on engaging Chin-to-Throat with your exercise. Once you have mastered this head and neck position, continue increasing the weight.

Mistake: Feet turned out with knees turned in.

Fact: Again, this is a distortion of good body position where the accessory muscles of the legs are compensating for added weight. Lower the weight and focus on keeping your knees stacked over your feet without twisting them. Once you have mastered this alignment, continue increasing the weight.

Mistake: Using heavy weights without base control.

Fact: You want to have a neutral spine with good neck and hip control when lifting heavy. This will truly engage the target muscles and prevent injury. Lower the weight and focus on good form. Once you have mastered this alignment, continue increasing the weight. This might take you longer to see gains but you are preventing injury which sets you up for long-term success. 

Mistake: Using contortions with the intent of muscle isolation but introducing orthopedic inefficiency.

Fact: Similar to arching your back, contorting the body means that another part of the body is compensating for the added weight. Again, lower the weight and work on form. Once you have good form, increase the weight without compromising form.