5 Mistakes I Made Trying to Achieve My Fitness Goals

Learn from my mistakes — so you don’t make the same.

It’s been 7 years since I’ve started lifting weights. But I’ll be honest. The memory of feeling lost, intimidated, and overwhelmed beyond measure when I walked toward the weights area is still fresh in my mind. So many machines; so many ways to mess up!

Thankfully, I’ve somehow managed to get myself over the initial steep learning curve — and have even successfully achieved a number of my personal fitness goals along the way. Although … admittedly, ‘get myself over’ is quite a glamorized version of the story. ‘Fumble through’ might be a better way to put it.

After all, you know what they say: hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back now, it’s easy for me to identify the things I was doing wrong back then, which just made achieving some of my fitness goals way harder than was necessary; a waste of time and effort. Through and through.

To help you avoid making the same mistakes I did — and, in part, to share the cringe — here are all the things I wish I did not do when I first started.

#1 — Copying someone else’s diet

Please don’t judge, but I used to search for ‘What I eat in a day as a fitness model’ videos on YouTube.Then, I ate whatever or however the girls ate. Intermittent fasting? You got it. Stop eating carbs? Why not. But after a while (could be a few weeks, could be a few months, let’s not harp on that!), I realized that I still wasn’t losing weight — nor did I look anything like them. Pretty disappointing. Worst of all, I felt miserable about my restrictive relationship with food.

I knew things had to change. That was when I finally sat my ass down to learn the basics of nutrition. Before then, I had zero clue why I couldn’t put anything in my mouth after 9 pm or had to steer clear of all carbs. But now, with an evidence-based understanding of nutrition, I know better.

As it turns out, both intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet are just diet strategies that make sticking to a calorie deficit easier. Just because I ate like a fitness model didn’t mean that I’d look like her. She might have been eating right for her body’s dietary requirements — in turn, allowing her to reach her fitness goals.

But I definitely wasn’t.

My body composition calls for an entirely different calorie intake; my dietary preferences call for a more balanced macronutrient split. Once I figured all that out and made the necessary changes to my diet, I saw and felt changes. Immediately. That brought me one step closer to my fitness goals.

#2 — Going in too hard, too furious for my fitness goals

I blame Nike’s slogan — ‘Just do it’ — for this. Over-eager to achieve my fitness goals, I went to the gym every day for 2 hours each session. Worse still, I kept piling on more weights on the barbell. This was even before I’d gotten a firm grasp on the fundamentals: proper exercise execution, mind-muscle connection, and adequate bracing. It was so dangerous. And foolish in hindsight. Luckily, I didn’t pull or break anything — which is somewhat of a miracle.

Something did take a hit, though. My motivation. I burned out completely after just 2 months. I went from waking up excited about working out to absolutely dreading having to step into the gym. It soon became apparent that I was doing too much, too soon.

I knew I had to make changes — fast. So, I started by learning how to give myself space.

Space to master the movements. Space to schedule in light recovery sessions (and complete off-days!) And, on the whole, space for a saner, more sustainable approach toward fitness. One that made it much more possible for me to stay motivated for fitness goals.

Think about it this way. Which approach is most likely to give you better results? 1) 2-hour, high-intensity workouts 6 times a week, only to burn out after 3 weeks or 2) 45-minute, moderate-intensity workouts 3 times a week that you can actually stick to? Yep. The latter. Give yourself time to achieve your fitness goals. Your body — and future self — will be ever so grateful.

#3 — Treating fitness as a short-term goal

I used to have a pretty myopic view of what fitness meant. For a long time, one of my biggest fitness goals was to get visible abs. Understandable, right? The only problem being … I felt a little lost the moment I saw my abs peeking out. Now what? I’d already achieved my goal.

Truth be told, I stopped going to the gym for quite some time after; I felt like there was nothing else I wanted to work toward.

What a mistake that was. When I was away, I went through what you’d call a ‘mindset reset’ — it became clear to me that I can’t simply think of ‘fitness’ as a ‘milestone’ (or even milestones) to unlock. But that it is actually a long-term journey that takes consistency, time, and effort. Plus, there’s also the fact that I lost my abs rather promptly after a few weeks away from the gym.

So now, instead of framing my fitness goals as ‘deadlift 100 kg’ or ‘get a bigger butt’, I’ve made an effort to think about them with a longer time frame in mind. It’s now ‘get more efficient with the deadlift form to keep breaking past PRs’. And ‘take the time to understand glutes anatomy to put together a combination of the best science-based exercises for glutes’.

A lot more specific. And focused on mastery of knowledge for the long-term. This way, I’ll never feel lost when I unlock an achievement. There’s always more to learn. More to lift.

#4 — Blindly following fitness routines and workout plans

Remember how I copied and pasted a fitness model’s diet plan into my life? Yeah … so nutrition wasn’t the only thing I blindly followed. Unfortunately. I also followed her workout routine — right down to a T. 5 sets of 30 reps for the leg extensions? Gladly. 4 sets of 50 reps for the leg press? Plank for 10 minutes? Heck yeah. Well, no prizes for guessing where that got me: nowhere.

I didn’t understand why I had to do a particular exercise, nor why I had to do a specific number of sets and/or reps. I didn’t understand anything. And worse of all, I wasn’t training in a way that’d help me achieve my fitness goals. One of my biggest goals was to get stronger on the deadlift. But because the deadlifts (or anything related to it, really) were nowhere to be found on the fitness model’s workout routine, I didn’t do them. At all.

Huge mistake. Here’s the thing: one-size-fits-all workout plans don’t exist. Instead, what I should have done is to understand the underlying rationale behind workout programming.

In other words: I should have familiarized myself with all the nitty-gritty details of building a tailored training program — ranging from exercise selection to optimal training volume, from workout splits to periodization, and more.

It sounds like a lot of work. And it really was. I spent countless afternoons figuring out why certain exercises worked best for a muscle group, while others did not (did you know the squats fail to stimulate your quads fully?) But it was more than worth it. I no longer needed to depend on someone else’s workout plan.

Instead, I now have everything I need to build a sustainable and effective workout program to suit my ever-progressing fitness goals. And hey, a couple of hours invested in learning about something you’re going to spend years doing? Worth it if you ask me.

#5 — Overlooking the value of proper fitness coaching

“I don’t need a coach! Knowledge’s so accessible nowadays, I can learn everything from the Internet,” said Gene, as she struggled with proper squat mechanics.

Now … the first part is true: nobody ever needs (in the sense that it’s a necessary thing) personal training. But is having a personal trainer beneficial — and could it help you make quicker progress toward your fitness goals? Yes.

The truth is that reading about something is wildly different from knowing how to implement it in the gym.

Take this as an example. I knew I wasn’t achieving a full range of motion on my barbell back squats. My research pointed me to 3 probable culprits: ankle mobility, hip mobility, and thoracic mobility. Frustratingly, even after having worked on these areas for some time, I still found deep squats near impossible.

One day, I cracked. Not literally — but that I went ahead and got myself a strength and conditioning specialist. Guess what? Sure, my hip and ankles could do with a little more mobility. But the largest issue was my width stance and barbell positioning. As it turns out, my long femur length meant that I had to tweak quite a few things (e.g. wider stance, low bar instead of high bar, and heeled lifting shoes) about my squat setup.

I would have never known about this had I not approached a certified coach. Meaning? That I would have taken a much, much longer route — which, in my opinion, is full of winding routes and unnecessary struggles — to my fitness goals. After all, you know what they say: you don’t know what you don’t know.

Of course, I recognize that coaches can be expensive. That’s why I carefully planned out my coaching sessions — and divided them into 4-week blocks focused on one specific aspect that I wished to work on (e.g. squat mechanics). I would then work on everything I’ve learned on my own for 4 to 8 weeks, then go back to my coach again for the next steps. Doing so prevented me from burning a hole in my pocket while maintaining good progress toward my fitness goals.

My quads, for instance, were a muscle group I’ve always struggled to train. My hamstrings overpowered them, and this was setting me up for an injury. I needed to fix the issue, and fortunately, I had a coach to turn to. The few months of focused work on building quad muscles turned it all around for me as I could lift more confidently without pain or fear of getting injured.

Do these mistakes sound familiar to you?

If they do, don’t worry. It took me 7 years to recognize — and rectify these mistakes. What more, I believe that 10 years on, I might still be identifying a few more cringe-worthy missteps that I’m making right now that are sabotaging my progress toward my fitness goals. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I address my mistakes as soon as I come to know them.

Fitness is a marathon. Not a sprint. And you can be damn sure I’m going to appreciate it every step of the way.

Fitness & Nutrition | Evidence-Based | I write here: https://byehulla.com/