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

Barbells and Bone Health: A Review of What the Literature Says on Building Strong Bones

header photo credit

People lift weights for varying reasons. Some want a big bench press, some want big biceps, and some just want to “look good naked” for that special someone.


But I’ll bet ya that nobody in the gym thinks about how lifting weights affects their bones.

Osteoporosis is a common condition that occurs when we break down more bone than we build up. This causes our bones to become thinner, weaker, and more fragile. Osteoporosis is often called "the silent thief" as many people don't know they have it until they fracture something. While a fracture may not seem like much to you or I, for an elderly individual, the consequences of a fracture are dire and can include anxiety, depression, pain (1), and even death (2).

But thankfully, lifting weights can help to prevent these from happening. When we load our bones we provide a strain that causes bone cells to be stimulated. This leads to osteoclasts (bone absorbing cells) reabsorbing bones just like PacMan eats pacdots.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Afterwards osteoblasts (bone building cells) differentiate and lay down new, stronger bone which is almost like new, softer cement which hardens over time (3).

What Kind Of Training Program Do I Need To Do To Strengthen My Bones?

Linear and undulating periodization are the two programming styles that have been studied and shown to increase bone formation and bone mineral density (BMD) (4-6).

*Side note: Before I get any hate messages in the comments - this isn’t to say that the other great training methods out there (e.g. 10/20/Life, Juggernaut, 5/3/1, Westside, Cube etc.) can’t strengthen your bones, it’s just that they’ve never been studied in this regard.

Linear periodization is a method of training where you gradually increase the weight and decrease the repetitions over a period of weeks and "peak" for an athletic event. Note that it only applies to your main or “opening” exercise in a workout. There are many ways to cycle and train assistance work, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Below is an example of a 17 week linear periodization model.


In contrast to linear periodization, undulating periodization uses a repetition scheme that is varied from workout to workout.

Here's an example of an undulating periodization model which can be applied to almost all exercises in a workout:


Progressive overload in a training program is critical for improving bone growth. Low intensity training doesn’t have the same effect on improving BMD (6, 11, 13). A 5 or 10 lb dumbbell is appropriate for someone new to the gym, but past that it’s only appropriate for prehab, as a doorstop, or as a paper weight. It’s not gonna improve your bone health. Both periodization styles have similar effects on BMD in women (7) and have approximately the same effectiveness in improving maximal strength in beginner to novice trainees (8-12).

Do Men’s And Women’s Bones Respond The Same Way To Lifting?

College, adult, and middle aged men have all shown increases in their lumbar spine and hip BMD through lifting weights (5, 11, 14).

By contrast, premenopausal women respond more variably to lifting. Some studies show no effect of weight training on BMD (7, 15-17) while others (including a review) show a positive effect of lifting on hip BMD and bone formation (6, 18). Weight training (4), even explosive weight training (19), has been consistently shown to maintain or increase BMD in postmenopausal women (13) – a population at high risk of osteoporosis.

In my biased opinion, when you look at the effect of lifting on overall health, women can’t go wrong with lifting some weights. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.

Strength Sports and Bone Health

Several studies have shown that Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters have a much higher BMD than people who are untrained or train at a lower intensity (11, 20-23). Competing as a high level strength athlete comes with its own health risks (24) but focusing on getting stronger can help your bones, your muscle mass, your athleticism, and your performance (wink).

In the strength and conditioning world you'll be hard pressed to find a strength coach that doesn't recommend a squat variation. But how do squats relate with bone health?

Some research hypothesizes that ground reaction force and rate of force development are linked with bone development (25). When you push into the ground, the ground sends an equal and opposite force into you, that's what a ground reaction force is. Rate of force development refers to the speed at which you can apply force.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that in comparison to traditional squats and powerlifting squats, box squats have slightly lower ground reaction force but conversely have three to four times the rate of force development (26). This suggests that box squats may be a better choice of squat variations for bone development assuming you’re not a competitive strength athlete who has to do back squats in your sport.

What About Plyometrics And Bone Health?

The relationship between jumping and BMD hasn’t been thoroughly researched in young adults. Several recent studies have shown a positive relationship between hip BMD, maximal vertical jump height (27), and maximal broad jump length (28). Low-repetition jump training has been shown to increase BMD in female college athletes (29) and higher-repetition jump training has been shown to increase lumbar spine BMD in pre-menopausal women (30).

Assuming you have no injury history and can land properly, adding in a few sets of jumps (e.g. 2-5 sets of 1-3 reps) once a week before a full body or a lower body workout can be a great way to improve your athleticism & explosiveness. As an added bonus jumps help to improve muscle power, something we lose with age.

Osteoporosis is a common condition that will change the face of the health care system as we age. But doing some periodized weight training & jumps can improve your physique, improve your athleticism, and keep your bones healthy for the long haul.

Practical Takeaways

1.  Both linear and undulating periodization programs have been shown to improve bone mineral density in young adults

2.  To maximize your bone development in a training program, progressive overload must occur while maintaining good form

3.  Assuming you can do them correctly and pain free, adding in a few sets of box squats and jumps into your training program may help to increase your BMD and keep your bones healthy for the long term

Disclaimer: Every training program must be fit to the individual and scientific research is ever-changing. Therefore, I encourage you to take what you read in this article with a grain of salt and shape it to your training needs and goals. I disclaim any liability for injuries or illnesses resulting from use or misuse of the information in this article.

About the Author


Eric Bowman is a BSc in Honours Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He worked as a research assistant in the UW Bone Health laboratory where he studied exercise and osteoporosis. He is currently in the Physical Therapy program at Western University and is studying to become a CSCS. His areas of interest are orthopedic rehab, exercise for special populations, and strength & conditioning. Add him on Facebook or email him at



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The Canadian Sensation: An Interview With Dean Somerset

I am beyond pumped to have Dean Somerset on today for an interview.

He's without doubt one of the nicest people I've ever met, and someone I look to up as a coach and as a person.

I don't want to waste one more second of your time though, so let the dropping of knowledge bombs commence:

1.  Dean, it’s great having you here today.  Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to help drop some knowledge bombs.  Besides being a bad ass, Canadian, voodoo magic strength coach, tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

I work as an exercise physiologist in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, which means I’m used to watching really bad hockey and throw the occasional “eh” into conversation. I train out of a big box gym called World Health, where I’m also the Medical & Rehabilitation coordinator, running all the medical referrals into and out of the clubs to make sure the patients and medical professionals are happy with how we’re doing things. Essentially, I make sure people coming in to us are able to feel better when they leave, regardless of what’ holding them back.

I work primarily with medical management and injury post-rehab clients, which I’m sure sounds just about as sexy as watching Gary Busey floss for half an hour, but it’s something I seem to be pretty good at. I can even get insurance companies to cover the cost of training in some situations (depending on the injuries or conditions of course).

On top of that, I write a kick-ass blog at, have written some articles for,, Men’s Health, and also a couple informational products with some big names.

2.  So like Ron Burgundy says, you’re kind of a big deal.  Anyways, how did you get into strength and conditioning?

Like a lot of strength coaches and personal trainers, I was a competitive athlete in high school and university, but I was pretty bad. Seriously, I sucked. I spent more time in the physio’s office than in practice. As a result of finding a way to injure pretty much every part of my body, I began to take a shine to rehab, initially setting my sites on getting into physiotherapy. Along the way, I realized I wanted to work with people through the entire continuum of health, not just in the clinical side of things, so I got a degree in kinesiology and chased some of the clinical certifications that could help expand my scope of practice.

3.  From our discussions, I know you work with an extremely diverse range of clients, and see a lot of unique cases.  What do you think makes your approach to coaching/training so effective?

In all honesty, I’ve had some real gems of clients to work with. Heart attacks, hip and knee replacements, spinal issues, diabetes, torn muscles, cancer patients, elite athletes, pro hockey teams, chronic pain, surgical repair, and pretty much everyone else you could think of. That’s a typical day worth of client issues, but the really cool thing is that basic biomechanics applies to each of them, and it’s amazing to see that very basic and simple movement patterns can be used with everyone.

Because I have so many unique clients, I always have to ask myself if the normal system of training will apply. If not, it could seriously hurt the individual, and if it does, they could get some significant improvements in their health and function. For most people, they will exhibit some form of limitation in one parameter or another, which will inhibit their ability to do specific movements. Let’s say it’s breathing. By identifying that element and trying to re-set it, you can have a profound effect on everything. This means being somewhat deductive and willing to think on the fly, scrap your own programs and try something different if what is conventional isn’t working.

4.  All good points.  Having an open minded approach definitely sounds like the way to go.  On the training front, what are 5 mistakes you see a lot of athletes and beginning lifters make?  Or, in other words, what are 5 things most people need to spend more time working on?

5 things? Damn, I normally get paid by the word. This is gonna cost you. KIDDING!!!

I think the biggest mistake is one seen in pretty much every athlete, coach and organization out there, which is not spending time paying attention to the fundamentals. Everyone wants to be the next Youtube star or do the crazy visually stunning move in the gym, even if it means they squat like a rusty hinge. Imagine if people treated a squat or a deadlift like a basketball player treated a free throw, meaning they engaged in meaningful practice, outside of competition, on a daily basis. Working on mechanics, set up, follow through, alignment, etc. We would probably have a lot more productive lifters, fewer gym related injuries, and a lot of pretty yoked out beasts running around.

The next mistake is pushing to the temptation of muscular adaptation. We always hear about the importance of de-load weeks or periodizing time off of intense lifting, which means having periods of time where you may feel like lifting until your face falls off, but you have to cool your jets because the program says so. Esentially, muscles adapt to physical stress really quickly, whereas other connective tissue doesn’t. Muscles have satellite cells, which help to remodel the muscle tissue following stress and strain, allowing it to bounce back quickly and with a larger propensity to resist strain. Ligaments, tendons, fasica and other connective tissues do not have these cells, and they’re much less vascular, which means they remodel and recover from stress at a much slower rate. It’s pretty easy to see this when you look at the number of overuse injuries that hit the tendons, fascia, and non-muscular connective tissue.

Third, over-coaching. Training is a process where the individual has to learn. Being the external feedback mechanism that they come to rely on defeats the purpose of trying to get people to learn how to move, control their bodies, and understand what good alignment feels like and to replicate it themselves. Have a client see and understand a movement, then try it on their own. Correct as necessary, and work on one or two big rocks to fix up, and allow them to build through the process. I see all too often trainers trying to coach the living hell out of a movement, then pick their clients apart when they try it themselves, and leave them feeling deflated. Of course they won’t know how to do it if it’s a novel movement. Teach them, slowly and step by step.

Penultimately, trying to kill your clients is not beneficial. It’s one thing to see how much they can tolerate, which has its role in military service and during training camp or selections for sports teams, but for Joe from accounting, he doesn’t need to go AMRAP and leave the gym unable to move for three days, especially after HIS FIRST SESSION. Training should be additive, not negative, meaning it builds on previous successes, and doesn’t reduce the ability to function or see positive adaptation. Simply doing work does not equal training. Training equals getting better.

Finally, trying to fix everything in fitness by focusing on what’s wrong with the industry. We have amazing coaches who see fantastic results with their clients every single day, and get no play. This is the same as the evening news only focusing on the murders and politicians causing mayhem, yet forgetting the stories of the young gusy who helped the old woman across the street, or the volunteers who help someone’s life become immeasurably better while living below the poverty line. There’s always negatives, so let’s focus on the positives. Everything mentioned above is immediately actionable to see positive change in trainers, their clients, and the industry as a whole.

5.  I can’t agree with you more.  I know I fall victim to the over-coaching mistake from time to time.  Well another hot and somewhat controversial topic in the training world is corrective exercise.  What’s your take on the craze?

I think the corrective exercise “trend” is going to be kind of the completion of the training circle. You initially had Arnold and the bodybuilding and strength training world. Then people wanted to train, but were so banged up they needed a more specific program not for bodybuilding, but for doing other things, which is where “functional training” came into play. This was not meant to be standing on a bosu while pulling an elastic, pressing a dumbbell and reciting the trade deadline action from the NHL and saying because a lot of stuff was going on that it was somehow “functional.”

Now you have a version of corrective exercises that talk about getting people strong, but acknowledging the individual nature of the person, how they move, where they have issues moving, and designing a program that will help them move better, feel better, and still get strong. This model builds off of powerlifting concepts, kettlebells, bodybuilding, physiotherapy, elite sport performance, and finds the common denominators in each and how they can apply to the individual in front of you.

We’re also asking a lot of new questions and finding new methods for achieving success with our clients. For instance, we previously were told that stretching increases flexibility. But what about when it doesn’t? Why does it work for some and not for others? Should muscles not respond to normal stretching, what could be the reason, and how could you get through it?

Essentially, focusing less on the muscles themselves and more on what drives them (the nervous system), how they operate together (biomechanics), and adaptive stressors (periodization), we’re now just beginning to apply basic concepts of exercise physiology to a wider breadth of clients, and as a result of it not fitting the paradigm of classic strength training, it’s called “corrective exercise.” I would venture to say that all exercise is corrective in one way or another, working to increase strength, mobility, power and endurance where it didn’t exist before. This is just different, and a means to an end of becoming jacked and tanned.

This is one of the reasons I put Post Rehab Essentials together. I wasn’t seeing some of the basics applied well, especially when it came to injuries or problems that would lead to injuries, so making it as clear as possible and showcasing how the basics could be applied across the board, with adjustments here and there, was the primary goal, and I’d like to think I did a good job of it based on feedback from the close to 500 people who have purchased it. 

6.  Post Rehab Essentials is definitely an awesome product worth checking out.  As far as particular lifts go, if you could do one lift every day what would it be and why?

Squats, no question. However, it wouldn’t be the maximally loaded powerlifter squat. Traditionally, the squat movement was not a strength exercise, but a resting posture, used by civilizations across time. To be able to squat well now and through the life cycle means an increase of available movements, postures, positions, and athleticism that can’t be found by others. The key though, is getting depth and making it easy. Once you can do that, do it often, and never lose it. Once you’ve lost the ability to move, you will have a struggle to get it back.

7.  So a recurring them so far is that movement and moving well is actually kind of important…interesting.  On another front, the fitness and performance industry has really blown up over the past 5 to 10 years, in your opinion, what separates the elite coaches and trainers, such as yourself, from the masses?

I think it’s just a question of hustle. I didn’t learn about this thing called exercise by working a 9-5 schedule Monday to Friday. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on the go. In high school I went to class, played sports, and then worked part time to pay for sports and save money for university. In university, I went to class, lifted, and worked part time to pay for groceries, text books, and bus passes so I wouldn’t be broke by student loans when I graduated. After school, I worked 16 hour days 6 days a week for close to a decade. I’ve only just started reducing hours to 50-55 per week instead of the average (AVERAGE) of 70+. These weeks involved training 50 plus client sessions, researching or reading up on different techniques to help with problems that weren’t being addressed, writing programs, and testing them out. On top of this were the courses, workshops, seminars and extra classes I’ve taken to better myself, even though to attend many of them I’ve had to travel to the other sides of the continent.

If you look at the best of the best, they have no off switch. When everyone else is out partying with friends on Friday night, they’re reading, working on programs, trying to get some new articles written for different publications, networking or building new products, and essentially doing what is necessary to be successful. Success is therefore a byproduct of hard work and consistency, not something that simply falls in their lap.

Even looking outside of training. Lawyers typically work the same hours when they’re looking to step up to partner. Accountants, same thing. Doctors are insane with their hours, typically working triple shifts and sleeping at work, then being on call when they get home. You don’t learn how to exceed expectations by working the average day and week. You absolutely can’t knock the hustle.

8.  So glad you said that.  Wish more people understood the value of some quality hustle and hard work.  On a more personal note, what’s been one of your proudest moments as a coach?

I don’t know if I could pick just one, but there is one that stands out to me.

Jessica had a bunch of things working against her. First, after having two kids, she got a divorce. Single with two young kids, she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. After 16 surgeries and complete reconstruction of her shoulder (including complete removal of her pectoralis major, and re-sectioning her latissimus dorsi to provide some anterior stability to her shoulder), 6 months of chemotherapy, 4 months of radiation, she was T-boned by a car and crushed her wrist on the opposite arm. She spend 18 months off work, couldn’t move her hand more than a few degrees, and had some serious pain issues from it.

We started with basic shoulder stretching to break up scar tissue that was restricting her shoulder movement, some metabolic work without stressing her arm and shoulder, and some nutritional work. Did I mention the chemo fried her thyroid and lead to a complete hormonal shit storm through her entire body? Yeah, that was there too.

Months of intense focus and hard work later, she dragged my ass across the gym floor.

The feat itself wasn’t all that amazing, but what she had to overcome in the meantime was mind numbing. Most people would have just given up and called it a day, but she’s a fighter in every aspect of her life. She got a settlement from the guy who T-boned her, is now 5 years in remission, owns her own home, and is dating a new guy who seems to be a good fit for her and her kids. All I did was direct her energy to the right places and let her loose. She did the rest, and I couldn’t be more proud to work with her.

9.  Seeing as everything we’ve discussed thus far has been training related, let’s mix it up a little.  If you could give yourself one superpower what would it be?

I’d probably want the ability to speed up and slow down time at will. It would come in really handy with deadlines and paychecks.

10.  Lastly, and perhaps the most important question of the interview:  favorite professional wrestling move you’d like to be able to perform on innocent bystanders?

This is going way back in the day, but it would be the C.M. Punk Pepsi Plunge. Youtube that shiz and see what happens when it gets too real.

Dean, just wanted to thank you again for your time and an awesome interview.  I didn’t know so many knowledge bombs could be dropped so quickly.  People, be sure to check him out if you haven’t done so already.

Dean and Tony Gentilcore (two of my mentors) are putting on a workshop in Los Angeles on November 22-23 that is going to be out of this world.  I was lucky enough to attend the first ever Excellent Workshop, and it was without question one of the best two day workshops I've ever attended:  content was great, presenters were entertaining, and it proved to be an exceptional networking opportunity.  If you're a trainer looking to get some continuing ed credits, learn cool stuff, network with some of the biggest names in the industry (the rumored guest drop ins are pretty ridiculous), or just want an excuse to go to California, then this is your ticket.  If I've already sold you on it already, then here's a link to the checkout page.  If, however, you'd like to read more about what the weekend will entail, then go here.