I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again: I think one of my best “qualifications” as some dude giving diet/workout advice on the internet is that I’ve done a lot of things wrong and screwed up quite a bit.
Basically, I’ve been a dumbass when it comes to most of this stuff at some point and I’ve made a lot of the common mistakes most people end up making.
The good news is that I’ve fortunately been able to overcome my, uh – dumbassedness – and learn from those mistakes. And, even better, move past them.
That’s awesome for me, but my vast “I-used-to-be-a-dumbass” experience also puts me in a wonderful position to help prevent you from making those same mistakes or maybe stop you from making them now if you already are.
So, here now are the 5 biggest diet/workout mistakes and regrets that come to mind. If I could, these would be the first 5 I’d go back and change…
1. Training Like An Idiot As A Beginner
With the exceptions of steroid use and a situation where you’re regaining lost muscle, the best progress you’ll ever make in your life will be when you first start working out.
That’s the best part about being a completely untrained beginner. Progress is capable of happening at a faster and more consistent rate than it will ever happen again in your life.
Unfortunately for me (and MANY others), I never fully took advantage of it. Granted, I did make SOME progress during that beginner period. That’s part of the magic of being a beginner… damn near everything will work at least a little no matter how poorly designed it is and how stupidly you execute it.
But, the more intelligently it’s all designed and the more correctly you put it into action, the better it will work.
And let me tell ya, if I could go back and do it all over again, my first 6 months would have been spent using a basic 3 day full body routine comprised of a few big compound lifts and a huge focus on learning proper form and making progressive overload happen as often as possible.
You know, something like my beginner routine.
But alas, that didn’t happen. Instead, my first couple of months in the gym were spent with no real plan or routine of any kind and mostly involved randomly walking around doing a bunch of chest and biceps exercises.
And the next year or so after that? A typical low frequency, high volume, blast-the-crap-out-of-your-muscles bro split style bodybuilding routine.
In the end, the 1-2 years when I should have been maximizing my body’s ability to make “beginner gains” in strength and muscle were spent training in a way that very obviously minimized them. If you’d like some more specifics, I actually go into better detail about these laughably ineffective workouts right here.
2. Training Like An Idiot As A Teen
This is somewhat related to the previous regret, but it gets even worse. See, many people start lifting in their 20’s and wish they started in their teens. Others start in their 30’s and wish they started in their 20’s. Some start in their 40’s and wish they started in their 30’s. And some start on their 50th or 60th birthday and wish they started on their 40th birthday instead.
Wishing your started sooner is a regret most people have when it comes to most aspects of diet, fitness and overall health.
But nope, not me. That’s not a regret I have at all.
I was somehow smart/lucky enough to start doing push-ups in my bedroom when I was 12 or 13. At 15 I begged my parents to buy me some cheap weight bench and equally cheap barbell/weight set (the plastic coated non-regulation crap you’d buy at Walmart)… which they did buy me even though you could no longer fit more than one person in my bedroom at a time.
At 16 I finally took the next logical step and joined a gym with a friend of mine.
So, as far as my timeline for starting to lift goes, I don’t really regret much at all. I started pretty much as early as I could have ever hoped to start. The problem, yet again, is that I just didn’t take advantage of it.
As we all know (or eventually find out), our body gets worse and worse at doing just about everything as we get older. Muscle growth is no exception. The prime time for building muscle during your life span is during your teens. Second best? Your 20’s. Third best? Your 30’s. And so on.
Hormonally speaking, training during your early/mid teens is almost like doing a natural steroid cycle. You just need to eat and train intelligently enough to take advantage of it. I didn’t.
3. Doing Stuff That Eventually Led To Injuries
I’ve been lucky enough to not have had any truly serious injuries during the years I’ve been working out.
What I haven’t been quite as lucky about are the less serious but still set-back-causing minor weight lifting injuries. I’ve had a handful of those.
Both shoulders have given me issues at different points. A variety of shoulder injuries really. An impingement here, a possible rotator cuff issue there, maybe some bicipital tendonitis over here, a partially torn labrum over there. Fun times.
I’ve also dealt with a surprisingly long lasting brachioradialis issue at one point, as well as medial epicondylitis (aka “golfer’s elbow“) which may very well have been the most stubborn injury of them all.
And looking back at each injury in hindsight, I think most (if not all) could have either been significantly minimized or avoided completely if I just made a few small adjustments and better decisions along the way.
If only I would have never done stuff like dips or heavy straight barbell curls. If only I would have focused just as much (if not more so) on training my back as I did on training my chest and shoulders from the very beginning. If only I would have taken a week or two off at the first sign of pain rather than continuing to work through it and make it worse. If only I would have been smart enough to realize that certain supposedly “required” exercises just weren’t ideal for my body (for example: 6 Good Exercises I Will Never Do Again) and stopped doing them completely in favor of others that were.
4. “The Bulk We Shall Not Speak Of”
My least favorite subject of all time.
I’m pretty sure this was my first real attempt at bulking and cutting. Not the smart way, of course… but rather the old school “eat whatever isn’t nailed down,” GFH (get fucking huge) approach you commonly see recommended to super skinny ectomorphs and hardgainers.
So, being someone who fit that description perfectly (5’11, 120lbs), I followed all of the advice that was supposedly ideal for someone like me.
I ate a ton (only “clean foods” too). I aimed to gain 1-2 pounds per week. I drank a bunch of milk despite not really liking milk (or digesting it well). I did low volume ‘anti-bodybuilding’ style training focused entirely on a few basic compound lifts (pressing, squatting, deadlifting, etc.) and nothing more.
And I just got fat… as… hell.
I’m honestly much too disgusted and embarrassed to even go and look at the pics now (those pics were put on an external hard drive years ago and thrown in the back of my closet in hopes that the hard drive fails or I accidentally lose it), but let’s just say I easily ended up above 20% body fat. Let’s just say an even 25%. Maybe more.
Just fat and gross and bloated and horrible looking. And horrible feeling too. Turns out there’s a direct correlation between looking like shit and feeling like shit. Who knew?
I’m still not sure exactly how I let it happen and continue long enough to reach that point. I mean, I was definitely getting bigger and stronger pretty quick (which, on paper, was nice), but I should have clearly been able to see that it was mostly just me gaining a ton of fat.
This one might not just be my biggest diet/training regret of all time. This one is up there as a potential biggest overall life regret. Seriously.
Just to waste that much time and effort doing something so stupidly and end up with nothing to show for it. Hell, if I only ended up with nothing to show for it, that wouldn’t have been so bad. To try to improve something and fail is one thing, but to try to improve something and end up going so far in the opposite direction… that’s a whole other level of fail.
I’m gonna guess this was about 12 years ago. And if you think it would bother me a lot less by now… you’d be wrong.
(By the way, I created Superior Muscle Growth to be the exact opposite of this terrible “bulking” experience. I highly recommend it.)
5. “The Cut We Shall Speak Of, But Only A Little“
Guess what happens when you reach the end of the bulk I just described and are in that physical and mental state I just described? You want to get the hell out of it ASAP and lose all of the fat you stupidly gained.
And I did.
Along with most of the muscle I built.
If I remember correctly, it went something like this. My joke of a bulk ended and I immediately switched to a low carb diet and dropped my calorie intake by about 1000 calories. I also added in a bunch of fasted steady state cardio 4 times per week on top of that as well (speaking of regrets, I regret the treadmill I bought specifically for this purpose… getting that thing up the stairs in my house was torture… my dad still brings it up).
And best of all, I switched to a lighter weight, higher rep weight training program. You know, because light weight/high reps is for toning and cutting. Right?
And from there I proceeded to lose almost all of the fat I gained bulking like a moron right along with most of the muscle I had gained during that previous bulk (which wasn’t much to begin with) and the entire “beginner” period before it.
And where did I end up after this lovely chain of events? I’ll tell you.
I went from small and skinny… to fat and disgusting… to finally reaching that perfectly ideal end point we all strive for… skinny-fat.
Or non-sarcastically, the complete opposite of success.
Don’t Make My Mistakes
This is by no means a list of every diet and workout mistake I’ve made over the last 14 or so years. Nah, we’d need a much bigger list for that.
These are just the 5 most significant and the 5 that still annoy me the most to this day.
My advice? If you’re someone who…
- Wants to maximize their beginner gains, or…
- Wants to take advantage of training while in their teens, or…
- Wants to prevent injuries, or…
- Doesn’t want to gain excess fat while trying to gain muscle, or…
- Doesn’t want to lose muscle while trying to lose fat…
Then I’d highly recommend learning from these mistakes and doing the complete opposite of everything I did. I was an idiot. Do everything you can to not be one.