Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS is the author of six books, including Sculpting Her Body Perfect, 28-Day Body Shapeover, and Look Great Naked. He’s certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and by both the American Council on Exercise and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America; he’s also been named “master trainer” by the International Association of Fitness Professionals.

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Look Great Naked! with Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS

by Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS, Fitness Expert

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As a trainer, not a day goes by where I don't speak to people frustrated with their exercise routines. They'll invariably tell me they've been training for years without seeing noticeable improvement in their body. Or they'll say they did okay at the beginning but suddenly hit a training plateau.

Sounds familiar? So what derails a person's ability to get into shape?

After nearly two decades as a trainer, I've isolated five workout mistakes as the primary culprits.

If you're not happy with your results and perhaps are thinking of throwing in the towel, take a pause and see if any of the following mistakes apply to your situation. Remember, you can do a lot of things right, but it takes doing only one thing wrong to impair your progress.

Mistake #1: Performing cardio over weight training!
People tend to gravitate toward cardiovascular exercises like aerobics. They often avoid weight training because they think they shouldn't add muscle until getting down to their ideal body weight or, in the case of many women, believe it will make them too bulky.

Reality check: Aerobics do almost nothing to improve muscle tone. Only by lifting weights will you actually firm up your muscles and get that hard body you desire.

What's more, strength training is actually the best activity not only for losing weight, but also for maintaining your ideal body weight over time. Sure, cardio will burn more calories during the activity itself, but lifting weights does something cardio can't: it improves your body's ability to burn fat round the clock.

Understand that muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body. Add 5 pounds of lean muscle â€" which any person can do within several months â€" and you'll burn as much as an extra 1,500 calories a week... even while channel-surfing for your favorite TV show!

Mistake #2: Using weights that are too light!
This mistake is largely addressed at women. While men tend to lift for ego and go ultra-heavy, all-too-often women go in the opposite direction. Walk into any gym and you'll see a woman lifting a 2-pound weight while reading a magazine or talking on her cell phone. Sadly, she doesn't realize this is just an exercise in futility.

Fact is, in order to tone up you need to challenge your muscles beyond their present capacity. This is Exercise 101, the general adaptation syndrome.

Take home message: Make sure the last few reps are difficult to complete. If you're not struggling at the end of your set, the weight is too light! And trust me ladies, you won't end up looking like a she-male by pushing your body a little. It's simply not going to happen.

Mistake #3: Not having a game plan!
Training is all about strategy. Too many times, I see people walk into a gym not knowing what they want to do that day, so they end up doing a little of this and a little of that, but really not getting a whole lot out of their efforts.

It's like trying to writing a novel without having a plot in mind â€" you end up with an aimless journey that ultimately goes nowhere.

The important thing is to decide what you want to do before you start your workout, and then follow through on that game plan each time you train. Map out the muscles you want to work and the exercises that you intend to perform.

Better yet, write down your routine in an exercise log and take it with you to the gym. Guaranteed it will keep you more focused throughout your session.

Mistake #4: Training too frequently!
Here's something a lot of people don't realize - when you lift weights, you're not developing your muscles, you're breaking them down. That's right, each time you workout, tiny micro-tears form in your muscles as a result of the training process.

Once you finish lifting, your body needs rest to recuperate. This is when development takes place. Your body anticipates you're going to shock it at some point by lifting those obscene weights and reacts by getting stronger and harder.

It should therefore be apparent that training places a major stress on the body. Not only does it tax the muscles themselves but it also taxes your entire neuromuscular system while you're training. If you train too much, you'll short-circuit the recuperation process and can actually become overtrained where results come to a complete halt.

To avoid this malady, allow 48 hours rest in between weight-training sessions. This is the approximate time course of protein synthesis - the mechanism by which your muscles are repaired. Also limit intense cardiovascular activity (such as running or interval training) to no more than five days a week with two full days off.

Mistake #5: Expecting to see immediate results!
Unfortunately, exercise isn't an instant gratification process. Results happen over time. If you expect to see change in a few days or a week or two, you're setting yourself up for frustration and destined to end up demotivated.

What can you reasonably expect? If you exercise properly, you'll begin to see changes in the body in about four weeks. After about 8 to 12 weeks you'll see fairly significant changes. Keep it up for four to six months and you'll really start turning heads.

The key is to maintain perspective and follow through over time. You will see results if you have the right routine and remain dedicated.

Train hard and stay fit!


Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS is one of America’s leading fitness Continue

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@ 10:03am ET on November 24, 2008
Thank you for writing this article. It really gave me a new perspective on my workout routine.


@ 10:07am ET on November 24, 2008
Hey Maja5:

Glad you enjoyed it...

Stay Fit!

Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS

@ 5:02pm ET on November 24, 2008
Thanks for the info!! These are helpful things to remember! Patty

@ 6:45pm ET on November 24, 2008
you know i never thought of it that way and i'm always reading on different workouts. thanks alot for the info. now i kno what i have to do to actually hit my weight loss.

@ 9:02pm ET on November 24, 2008
I alternate weight training and cardio one day and then yoga or pilates the next.. is this too much training?

@ 11:01pm ET on November 24, 2008
That make my work out seem bad.. I hardly use weights coz I thought thy was made for weight builders. I guess body pump is a gud idea take up! Tho I do a lot cardio stuff 6 days a week for 3 months seen no real change except lose of few kgs thanks for th info..

@ 5:09am ET on November 25, 2008
Hey Zazelsmom:

It's hard to say what is "too much" as this varies from person to person. A lot depends on the intensity that you train with--the harder you train, the more recuperation you need. The best advice is to be in tune with your body and if you need more rest, take it.

Stay Fit!


@ 5:10am ET on November 25, 2008
Hey Fairyangels:

Weights are not just for "weight builders"! Lift some weights the right way and you'll definitely see a positive change in your body--guaranteed!

Stay Fit!


@ 10:47am ET on November 25, 2008
This may sound like a silly question: When I first started lifting weights (6 weeks ago) I would feel sore the next day especially in the abs and triceps. Now I don't anymore. Am I not working hard enough, or stretching better, or is it normal to not feel a bit of soreness when your body becomes used to the exercise?

@ 5:31pm ET on November 25, 2008
Hi Jil123456:

No such thing as a silly question when it comes to exercise :) And actually, it's a very good question that I'm asked a lot. Fact is, you will generally not be as sore as you continue with regular exercise. Realize that when you first training, your muscles aren't used to being taxed. But the human body is very adaptable and, as you continue, it adjusts by growing stronger. Bottom line: Don't use soreness as a marker of results. As long as you're training hard and smart, you will continue to see results.

Stay Fit!


@ 9:02am ET on November 29, 2008
I am a 60 yrs. old female who needs to lose at least 100 lbs. I'm under a ton of stress as the husband has been out of work for over 15 months now. I am somewhat limited as to excercise as I had double knee replacements a little over a year ago & a lot of excercises I just can't do. We don't have a gym for 25 miles. Is weight training enough to lose the weight (along w/diet) & if so where can I find a program???
Sorry for rambling on but I am desperate!!!

@ 5:41am ET on December 1, 2008
Hi Nanaof09:

Yes, weight training is enough to lose the weight, as long as you eat properly. The overriding factor in weight loss is caloric balance: if you expend more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. The beauty of weight training is that it maintains your metabolism while dieting so that you don't plauteau and ultimately regain the weight. There is also a high "after-burn" where you continue to burn fat after the workout is over. As far as a program, you can find lots of workout tips on my site...

Stay Fit!


@ 7:16am ET on December 7, 2008
What a fantastic article! I have been working out consistently (for the first time in my life) for 9 months. I love strength training the best and you are so right, it will take a couple of months to see the payoff. To everyone, don't give up, it's worth the wait! I'm glad you pointed out that it's ok for women to up the weights. I use 6lb.-12lb. weights depending upon what I'm doing. I won't be afraid to challenge myself now. Thanks for the great tips!

@ 4:48pm ET on December 8, 2008
Hey Vickim1114:

Glad you enjoyed the article. You speak words of wisdom! Keep it up :)

Stay Fit!


@ 5:13pm ET on February 27, 2010
Loved this article, thank for reposting it!

@ 3:19pm ET on March 1, 2010
I had gastric bypass 7/09. I have lost 80 lbs. so far. My biggest concern is the excess skin I have especially on my arms. Will weight lifting help to tone some of that? Thank you for your help.

@ 6:01pm ET on March 1, 2010
I'm a 45 year old woman - at my heaviest, I weighed over 100kg. Over the last 18 months, I've lost 28kg (61 lb).
I do combination weights / cardio 4 times per week, plus swimming, cycling &/or walk/run sessions 2 or 3 times per week. I love lifting weights, and alternate between lifting as heavy as I can more slowly, and lighter weights with faster reps. I can leg press 91kg, and shoulder press 20kg above my head. Should I keep trying to lift heavier and heavier, or stop at some point?

@ 7:24pm ET on January 30, 2016
I am currently doing interval running program for 8 weeks 3x a a week how many times can I incorporate my weight training, I do have dumb bells as well as Total body weight lifting machine .which is better

@ 6:37pm ET on November 15, 2019
Thanks for clarifying some misconceptions. I need to get in better shape to perform my job as a maid.

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