energy system

The Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make that Limit their Gains

You’ve been training for a while now. You’ve noticed gains in strength, size, and body composition. So have your sex partners. But progress has come to a screeching halt. Personal records (PRs) are few and far between. Training is fun and all, but it seems to be going nowhere.

I’ve been there. Years back, I remember having read a few training articles on and thought I was the shit. Kept working out, pushing my limits, only to get hurt what seemed like every week.

Man, if I could have those days back…

Now that training other people is my career, it is my goal is to prevent you from making the same mistakes I made. Here are the five most common mistakes I see intermediate lifters make.

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Everything you do in the gym should have a purpose. To find out what that purpose is, you first need to have an end goal in sight.

Set a goal

I used to bounce around from program to program, spinning my wheels and never making progress.

Find something you’re good at—powerlifting, strongman, intramural co-ed volleyball, whatever—and start heading down that path.

Focus on building strength instead of testing it

You’ve already realized your newbie gains. PRs will not come as easy anymore. They will be hard fought… and much more satisfying.

Your training needs to be planned over the long-term. The term we use in the fitness industry for this planning is “periodization”.

The idea is that you figure out when you’re going to compete, then you work backwards from there.

When your next competition is far away, your training should be focused on building up general qualities that transfer well to all sports, such as work capacity, aerobic power, and general strength. As you get closer to a competition, your training should become more and more specific and focused. Specificity is one of the guiding principles of smart, effective training, but spending all your time being specific with your training doesn’t give you a foundation upon which you can build. You have to do the things that you don’t like to do if you want to get better.

You have to go back to basics.

Track your progress

If you’re not making progress that you can track, then whatever you’re doing is not working.

Talk to a professional to figure out how to accomplish your goal

If you remember only one thing I say in this post, remember this: If you’re serious about your goal, you need a coach.

If you broke your leg, you would go to the doctor. Why would you not refer your training out to a professional who spends all of their time trying to get better at what they do?

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Quality movement is absolutely essential for long-term gains.

Learn how to squat and bend

When squatting or bending under load (like when you’re deadlifting), keep your spine stable and load your legs by “pushing” through the floor instead of trying to pick the bar up. Avoid leading with your shoulders and arching your back.

If you need to relearn how to squat and bend, try a Kettlebell Deadlift.

Learn how to press

When pressing (like with a bench press), keep your shoulder blades stable and elbows tucked. If you don’t do this, it’s like you’re trying to shoot a cannon from a rowboat. A good exercise to try is the Dumbbell Floor Press.

Learn how to row

When rowing, always lead the movement with the shoulder blade. You should feel the muscles in your upper back working. A good exercise to try is the 3-point Dumbbell Row.

Learn how to be move on one leg

Single leg work isn’t fun, but it IS important. A good, albeit difficult exercise to try is the Single Leg Rufus Deadlift.

Do more reaching exercises

If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to remember how to reach. This is especially important for those general phases of training we were discussing earlier.

When doing push ups, think about pushing your hands “through” the ground (all the way to China) before you finish your rep.

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Training hard is only effective if you can recover from it. Restful sleep is essential to the recovery process.

Sleep quantity

Shoot for 7-9 hours each night.

Sleep quality

Avoid electronics before bed. Try to get on a schedule so that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you have sleep apnea, go see a doctor.

*Here's a good post by our buddies over at Precision Nutrition if you want to read more about sleep.

Mistake #4: They forget about their nutrition

In addition to sleep, nutrition is also essential to your recovery. Quicker Recovery → Harder Training → More Progress.

Become conscious of what you eat and why you eat it

I like prescribing a 3-day food log. Record everything you ingest, when you ingest it, and what you were doing at the time of ingestion. This is all the info you need to determine the number one change you can make to optimize your food intake.

Fill your gas tank with premium, not crap

If you’re trying to make your body a high performance machine, you should fill it with premium fuel, not sludge.

*Further Reading:  Nutrition:  How to Pick a Plan that Fits Your Goals

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Improper conditioning is a pet peeve of mine. Coaches everywhere run their athletes into the ground, making them worse instead of better.

What are you training for?

There are three basic systems in the body that produce energy. Determine the ones that your sport uses and then train those systems.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing conditioning simply because it “feels hard”. Any coach can make you puke, but can he or she make you better?

*Further Reading:  How Do You Train For the Long Haul?  Develop an Aerobic Base

Summary of the Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Mistake #4: They forget about their diet

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Don’t fall into the same traps that I and so many others have fallen into. My goal is to teach, so if you know someone who you think would benefit from this, please forward it to them.

P.S. I made a whole 16-week program that is great for these intermediate lifters who need some guidance. You can even get the ebook, presentation, and first month of the program totally free of charge.

about the author

Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at

How Do You Train For The Long Haul? Develop An Aerobic Base

Note from James:  Today's guest post comes from a friend of mine Mike Sirani.  Mike does great work, and I was pumped when he agreed to put this post together.  Enjoy!  

P.S.  If you'd like to be considered for a guest post, then go here

Be honest with yourself, when is the last time you had to wait for something you wanted?

In today’s world, waiting is a thing of the past, and patience is foreign to most 20-something year olds.

Want food? Let’s go to the drive-thru.

Need to deposit a check? Take a picture of it.

Want to talk to girls? Just swipe right.

In a society that wants results fast, fitness has followed suit. High-intensity training has become an everyday staple in the workout routines of many young adults.

You see, the human body is extremely efficient and it will do what it has to in order to adapt and survive when placed under stress.

Think of starting a high-intensity, “no pain, no gain” training program as a crash diet. Drastically cutting calories will lead to rapid weight loss, but eventually the scale stops moving. You’ll begin to feel tired, have little energy, and let’s face it: you’re not going to be strong.

Continually training with a high-intensity program is quite similar. Results will come quick as your body adapts to high levels of stress. Next thing you know, you’re telling all of your friends how (insert name of training program here) is the best thing ever, and how you’re going to go even harder next week, striving for better results.

Eventually, sooner than later for most, the fun will stop. Successes will slow down or cease, you’ll become worn out, lose motivation, and/or get injured.

Developing a robust aerobic system will help to prevent the above scenario and allow you to better attack anaerobic training when the time comes.

An Aerobic Base, You Must Have


This is where developing an aerobic base comes into play. Picture your conditioning as building a pyramid. It is crucial to have a big sturdy base, and that base is something that can’t be built in a matter of days. It takes weeks and months of consistent work.

The base of your pyramid grows bigger through achieving eccentric left ventricular hypertrophy, better delivery of oxygen to working muscles, an increase in the number and size of mitochondria and greater capillary density, an increase in aerobic enzymes, and a shift of the autonomic nervous system to a more parasympathetic state (rest and digest).

The development of your aerobic system is paramount towards your ability to recover from intense training sessions.

Don’t get me wrong and think all I do is work on increasing the size of my mitochondria. If you want to be a stud, you better get in there and move around some heavy weight.  But, if you’re into being a monster for the long haul, it is crucial you’re able to recover better than anyone else.

Monsters can reciprocate between their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Monsters can deadlift 3x their bodyweight, but also have a resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute.

Monsters can turn it on and shut it down.

And without the ability to shut it down, you won’t be a monster for long.

Off Switches

Now that you understand the value of your aerobic system, I want to give you tools for building the base of your pyramid. Think of these tools as off switches. If you’re in the midst of training in an aerobic block, think of it as collecting off switches and making your pyramid base bigger. If you’re currently in a higher intensity training block, use these off switches in a more literal sense – as a way to promote recovery between intense training sessions.

  1. Cardiac Output Training

Cardiac output development is continuous activity. This is what you think of when someone tells you that they did “cardio.” It can be done by walking, biking, or on other pieces of aerobic equipment.

This type of traditional cardio can become very monotonous and quite boring, so consider choosing a modality, or combination of modalities, listed below:

Sled Pushing or Dragging

Medicine Ball Throws


Bodyweight Circuits

The important part here is that you purchase a heart rate monitor, and keep your heart rate between 120-150 beats per minute for anywhere between 30-75 minutes.

At Pure Performance Training, we’ve had a ton of success using low threshold developmental movements that promote reciprocal movement and abdominal strength. Below is an example of a circuit used during a cardiac output training day.

A1) Bear Crawl Box x10 yards/each

A2) Sled Push x40 yards

A3) Half-Turkish Get Ups x6/side

A4) Push-Pulls x10/side

A5) Supine KB Pullover x10

  1. Tempo Training

Tempo training will lead to hypertrophy of slow twitch muscle fibers.

Unlike cardiac output training, which focuses more on central adaptation, tempo training will lead to adaptation of specific tissues. The exercises that you can choose here are limitless. Below are a few of my favorites:



Split Squats

Push Ups

Landmine Presses

Focus on performing the exercise with a 303 tempo. Thus, 3 seconds on the way down, no pause at the bottom, and 3 seconds on the way up. It is key to keep constant tension throughout the entire set.

You can progress tempo training by either increasing the number of sets (ex. moving from 3 sets on week 1, to 6 on week 4) or by increasing the time of the set (ex. 45 seconds to 60 seconds).

High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT)

HICT training will develop the oxidative properties of fast-twitch muscle fibers. In other words, it makes you stronger and more explosive for longer.

Be warned though because this type of training is tedious, so I highly recommend finding a friend, doing it outside on a nice day, or making a sweet playlist – because you can get bored quickly.

Here's how to do it:

Using either a spin bike (set to a high resistance) or performing step-ups (with a weight vest on), explosively perform 1 rep, rest 3-5 seconds in between reps, and repeat for 10-20 minutes.  For example, do one step up as explosively as possible, rest 3-5 seconds, do another step up on the opposite leg as explosively as possible, rest 3-5 seconds, and continue for 10-20 minutes.

To progress HICT training, you'll want to increase the total amount of time you work for.  You can do this by by increasing the time of your set (moving from 10-15 minutes), or by breaking up shorter timed sets into a series (doing three 10 minute sets)


I wanted to touch on this briefly.

Just as aerobic fitness causes a shift towards the parasympathetic nervous system, exhalation does the same--fully exhaling will cause the parasympathetic nervous system to fire.

Living in such a go-go society, many of us are hyper-inflated and have no idea what it feels like to fully exhale. To compliment aerobic training, clients of mine also learn how to properly respire with an emphasis on getting air out.

Finishing the Pyramid


Once you’ve built a substantial base for your pyramid, you’ll be able to construct the above layers and really get after you anaerobic training.  Think of this this way:  the larger your base, the larger the subsequent layers can be on top of it.  This is primarily because you'll be able to recover like a champ from high intensity training, and thus be able to push it more often.

Ultimately, your ability to shut it down after going beast mode will be what makes you a monster for the long haul.

about the author

Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist. He works at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from the Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA. He was also a member of the Springfield College baseball team, and interned at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.  You can connect with Mike on Facebook and Twitter.