8 Strength Training Mistakes Wasting Your Time (fix them)

I compiled this list of 8 strength training mistakes using two sources. I’ve had decades of observation and from a recent study. The study reviewed 25 prior studies pertaining to resistance training in older adults. Researchers deduced the most effective practice in resistance training programs for healthy older adults.

This list is derived from assessing both best protocols and what’s typically missing in programs – whether you’re on your own or following someone else’s. If you’re lifting weights and you wonder why you’re not seeing results, check out these 8 strength training mistakes for clues. Find your mistakes?

If you’re just getting started or restarted, here’s to doing it right from the start!

1. You expect results right away – in the wrong place.

Are you still looking at the scale to tell you if you’re stronger or have more muscle and less fat? She’s lying. Weight changes slower than percent body fat does if you’re exercising correctly and you’re supporting your own hormone balance.

On average weight loss for beginners in a well-designed strength training program can expect a loss of 4 lbs. fat and a gain of 3 lbs. lean muscle. According to the scale that’s a measly 1 lb. loss. But you could be down a dress size or full of energy and doing the stairs without knee pain.

The longest duration programs (53 weeks in the study) reaped the best results. Subjects continued to improve over time as long as they stayed involved in regular exercise. Make it a lifestyle habit.

2. You lift too light too often.

Researchers found higher intensity programs got the best results. Lifting a weight you can only lift 10 -15 times is better than lifting lighter weights for 20 or more times or never reaching fatigue.

What often occurs is nothing. So you feel as if you can exercise, in fact lift weights, go to another class, the next day and the next.

A couple things go wrong in this scenario.

(1) You never creating enough stimulus for the muscle to be “overload” so the muscle changes.

(2) You never rest between those quality overload sessions. Rest between is the time you actually get fit. A muscle adequately stimulated “overcompensates” when it’s given rest and adequate nutrition (protein and micronutrient dense foods). A muscle never adequately stimulated or rested between sessions is constantly broken down and weakens or wastes.

3. You hurry through the workout to just get it done.

The length of time you spent in each repetition matters. The amount of time a muscle is under tension influences the ability to change that muscle. For the most optimal results, 6.0 second per repetition got the best results.

That’s 2 counts to lift and 4 counts to lower, traditionally. You can play however!

  • Lift in 1 second, lower for 5.
  • Lift for 2, hold 2, lower for 2.

4. You randomly go from exercise to exercise.

I know this one is hard to avoid sometimes! You’re at the gym and may not have a plan. You’re trying to work in with other exercisers who may or may not be parked on equipment taking selfies.

You may need to interrupt that little photo op and get what you need!

The optimal time between sets of exercise for the same muscle group is between 60 seconds and 120 seconds.

That means do a set of chest press and then a set of squats each taking a minute. Alternate them or add one more exercise (a plank for instance) and you’ll get enough rest.

Optimal time between sets varies for beginners and more experienced weight lifters. If you’re more experienced and lifting a bit heavier, prior studies have shown that 4-5 minutes before challenging the same muscle group again is optimal.

A sequence in your workout could look like this:

  1. Chest press
  2. Squats
  3. Pullover
  4. Plank
  5. If a set of exercises for each took a minute, and you include transition time between them, you create the best time between

5. You still think you need to lift weights three days a week.

That is the most common of strength training mistakes regarding frequency. But it’s not the only one.

You may think you should be lifting four or five days a week. You may be lifting just when it’s convenient and averaging once a week, sometimes, or mistaking Pilates and yoga as resistance training.

First, the optimal frequency for best results (including lean muscle gains, fat loss, overall strength and endurance) is two sessions a week. Ideally, you rest at least 72 hours between those two sessions.

That means you ditch that 1980s Monday/Wednesday/Friday weight day routine (or abandon group fitness set up the same) and you lift weights Monday and Thursday. Or if you’re a Pilates fan, put that into your Wednesday workout. You’re not exhausting your muscles enough to get to fatigue to count as weight work, but it’s a good alignment session. Other more functional and corrective exercise also work between heavy weight days.

6. You have no idea how many sets you need or don’t think it matters.

Some days you do too much some days too little. This is of course after you’ve had a period of adaptation beginning a program. Most adults should (but don’t) start with one single set.

Ultimately, however 2-3 sets per exercise is optimal. Each set should result in muscular fatigue. If you’re doing three sets, don’t fall into the trap of “saving” your energy for those latter sets. If you don’t fatigue on a set you’ve missed an opportunity to give the muscle stimulus it needs to change.

7. You don’t plan the number of repetitions you’ll do.

The right repetition range is determined by your experience level, body type, and by your goals.

Everyone beginning should focus on lighter load (weight) and more repetitions. The reason for improvement in the first 6 weeks of a strength training program are neural. That is, they’re not dependent on weight or load. They’re about the brain connecting to the muscle. You’re also then safely able to prepare a good foundation in ligaments and joints for the future.

If your body type is more muscular you’ll respond well to anything. You also may want to stay away from the “bulk building” protocol (3 sets of 10 reps).

On the other hand if you’re losing muscle mass and don’t have any weight to lose, that bulk protocol is your best friend.

For older adults collectively however, the review of 25 studies showed 7-9 repetitions per set allowed optimal strength, lean muscle improvement, and fat loss. If your joints will allow safe use of heavier loads, power, or slow lifting technique, do it.

One of the biggest of these 8 strength training mistakes women over 50 make is asking, “how much weight should I lift”? the question assumes anyone else can tell you. The question should be, how many repetitions should I do? When you’re given a repetition range, that tells you how to select a weight. You want one that causes you to fatigue within that range. You’ll have to try a few weights to get the feel for them.

8. You get those reps cranked out fast and move on to the next exercise.

I watched men (faculty and staff) on a college campus exercise for decades. They shrank over time. They went from machine to machine going as quickly as they could, often completing a circuit of 8-10 exercises in five minutes. They spent the remainder of their time doing cardio exercise. Their bodies aged with muscle wasting not unique from adults who don’t strength train.

Muscle strength doesn’t require “hypertrophy” (or size) but some amount of muscle mass maintenance is the goal! You will naturally lose muscle mass from 30 to 70 if you don’t perform resistance training. However, the wrong type of resistance training won’t help muscle maintenance.

You need to go slow enough not only during the exercise (see #3 above) but potentially between repetitions. The research suggests that a 2.5 -4.0 seconds rest between repetitions increases muscle strength and maintains lean muscle mass.

Prevention of sarcopenia (loss of muscle) with aging is crucial for avoiding frailty that results in falls and loss of independence. Sarcopenia also contributes to weight gain and obesity due to a slowing of metabolism. “Sarcobesity” is a loss of muscle combined with an increase in fat that leads to increased health risks. 

Avoid these 8 strength training mistakes for a better second half

The message is it all matters. The details matter. It is about so much more than doing a series of exercises. It is about so much more than choosing an exercise for each major muscle group.

“Training period, intensity, time under tension, and rest in between sets play an important role in improving muscle strength and morphology and should be implemented in exercise training programs targeting healthy old adults.”

A little planning goes a long ways toward making “less exercise” more effective.

Serious about results? Want support? Start with one of our most popular strength training programs:

Or get on the wait list for notification when STRONGER I, II, and III doors open again (only open 4 times a year).

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You might also like:

Why Protein Recommendations After 50 Are Confusing (post-exercise protein needs)

Flipping 50’s Ultimate Recovery Day Guide


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