Mistakes and lessons from 20 years at the gym


At first I just wanted to get “in shape”. I’m sure you’ve used that phrase at some point.

After I achieved that vague goal I started training to get bigger muscles. Mainly chest and arms.

Over the next two decades training in gyms, I worked on building size, strength and getting lean. Sometimes all at the same time.

In that time, I made all kinds of mistakes.

It’s my hope that I can share with you those bonehead choices so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

Spending too much time on machines

If I would have known then, what I know now, I would have trained in a different way from the beginning.

Dad showed me a few exercises but most of them were on machines.

In my opinion, machines are for bodybuilders. I don’t think many people need to use them.

For every exercise you use a machine for, you can do a free weight or bodyweight exercise that will target the same muscle groups.

My body changed quite a bit in those first couple years (newbie gains) but it wasn’t until I was carrying a kayak with a friend that I realized my machine strength did not carry over well to real-world situations.

My friend who was overweight and didn’t work out (but was a wrestler), had no trouble with the kayak, while I struggled with it.

That was my first lesson.

You may look muscular, but that doesn’t mean you are strong for life.

No squats or deadlifts

When I first started working out I never saw guys doing squats or deadlifts. If guys trained their legs at all, it was on the leg press or leg curl machines.

When I did start squatting, it was on the smith machine. Another mistake.

After I found the stronglifts5x5 program, I started to teach myself the barbell squat. I was in for a world of shock.

The strength from a smith machine squat did NOT carry over to a barbell squat.

When I went to learn deadlifts, I was amazed how weak I was at something so basic and primal.

Picking weight off the ground should have been much easier but since I didn’t deadlift I had no strength in that movement pattern.

It wasn’t that I avoided these exercises, at the time I had no idea what they were or how important they could be.

You live and learn.

Hopefully you will learn from my mistakes.

No bodyweight exercises

I hated chin-ups.


Because I couldn’t do them!

I avoided chin-ups, dips and pushups as I mainly used the machines at the gym.

I thought I was beyond pushups and dips I just never did before.

When I started learning about strength training programs I read about chin-ups, dips, lunges being a big part of the routines.

I was humbled when I tried them.

It was embarrassing not being able to do a single chin-up. Thankfully I stuck with it and improved over time.

If I could go back in time, I would’ve dominated the bodyweight training before I ever touched a machine.

Too Much Barbell Training

When I started I did too much machine training.

Eventually I found the benefits of barbell training and I began to limit everything else.

At one point I wouldn’t do anything in the gym without a barbell.

I took it too far and it led to some avoidable injuries.

That’s not to say that the barbell caused the injuries, but me being overzealous and careless did.

The solution would have been to mix in some more dumbbell and bodyweight training.

I never liked dumbbell training but they can serve a purpose here when taking time off from the barbell or switching up some of your barbell work for dumbbell exercise variations.

Not training outside

What do you think was the first machine I used when I joined the gym?

The treadmill.

I ran on that thing and then did some lat pulldowns and bicep curls, and finished with more running on the treadmill.

If I could go back in time I would get outside more for my cardio/conditioning. Hill sprints, sled dragging, calisthenics..

There are benefits to conditioning outdoors that you just don’t get inside a climate-controlled gym.

Especially hill sprints and stairs.

It would be a decade or so until I found the joy and the pain of running hills and stairs.

Worrying about what others think

The final mistake I made (I’m sure there are more) was worrying too much about what other guys at the gym were thinking.

Did they think I was weak?

Should I try to do more weight to show them I was as strong as they were?

SO many dumb ideas I had in my head back in those days.

WHAT was I thinking?!

No one cares about you at the gym. Everyone is worried about themselves.

Eventually I learned to block out any noise in the gym and focus on becoming the strongest version of myself.

That’s the key.

Forget what anyone else can lift or how much bodyfat they have or how much progress your friend has made compared to you.

None of that matters.

What’s important is you improve. You today vs. the old you.

That’s it.

It took my a long time to learn this but when I did it was a big relief.

Don’t concern yourself with what anyone else is doing.

You’re on a journey that only you can envision.

Focus on that and everything else will work out accordingly.


Overcoming adversity is the key to becoming the strongest version of yourself.

I believe we all have much greater potential than we realize. Often, we need just one breakthrough to give us insight into our true inner strength.

I am committed to help you gain strength for life. You have a purpose. I want to help you achieve it.

Improving your life takes much more than knowledge.

It’s a constant battle in your mind.

I’ve been through it.

For over two decades I’ve trained in gyms, learning from my failures.

If you want to fulfill your potential, you don’t have go alone like I did.

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