The biggest strength training mistakes beginners make

Confession. I used to think that it was painfully boring AND dangerous.

I was (and am still) turned off by aggressive white dude strength culture. With all of my pain and injuries, I was pretty certain it would only make me feel worse, and frankly it made me feel inept, because I knew so little about how it worked.

However, when I shut out all the noise about what I was *supposed* to be doing, ignored all the dunb dumb trainers, and actually tried it at a pace that matched where my body was at, it turned out to be one of the most empowering things I’d ever done.

But none of that would have been possible if I hadn’t gotten started and with all of the myths floating around out there about what strength training looks like, it can be a huge barrier to entry.

So with that, below are 5 of the biggest mistakes I see that trip people up when they get started or stop them from getting started at all!

Mistake 1: Not picking a challenging enough level of resistance.

As women, we’ve been told all sorts of nonsense about why we shouldn’t venture beyond the 2lb pink dumbbells – namely it will make us bulky and we’ll hurt ourselves. So let’s talk about how to pick the right level of resistance and why it’s important. 

What is “heavy” for you will not be the same as what is “heavy” for me. When I say lifting “heavy” all I mean is picking a weight or resistance band that is challenging enough that you can feel the target muscle group (aka your glutes) after the third or fourth rep while still maintaining control and reasonably good form, which reduces the odds of injury. 

This accomplishes several things:

  • You’re doing more work with fewer reps, sp you can get more work done in less time / get stronger faster. This is also great if you’re hypermobile or have a sensitive nervous system, because a lot of us have more pain / discomfort from higher repetition, so this circumvents that issue. 
  • That heavy weight also gives you lots of feedback to your muscles, which means if you have a hard time feeling things, it may decrease pain AND increase stability + strength.
  • You know that “tone” that so many of us are after? Heavier weights are more likely to accomplish aesthetic changes. It’s more complicated than that, but it generally works better than tiny pulses with low weights and unless you’re doing 50 bicep curls a day with massive dumbbells, it’s unlikely you’ll get “bulky.”

Don’t be afraid to challenge your system! It doesn’t mean you have to move at a level that feels out of control or lift a weight that you’re not prepared for. You just want to be in that sweet spot where things feel “hard,” but you’re always in control!

Mistake 2: Going too hard, too fast, too complex, too soon.

Sometimes people come to me and they say, “But Nikki! I tried strength training or kettlebells and the more I did, the worse I felt!”

In this case, the issue is often that they did too much, too soon. This can look like a number of things.

It can be moving into kettlebell ballistics (swings, cleans, ect) and flows without first mastering the basic movements like squats and deadlifts with progressively heavier weights. Remember what I said about control? Strength and control take time AND progressive load to develop, so if you jump ahead to the “cool” looking stuff without spending a fair amount of time mastering the basics, it may not feel good.

They could also be doing too many strength workouts in a week. Some of us need more time to recover. If you have a history of pain or injury, don’t sleep well, or are hypermobile, you may need to start MORE rest and FEWER workouts and that’s okay. It’s about finding the right “dose” for you and that takes time to suss out. 

When things aren’t working, it doesn’t usually mean that strength isn’t for you. It usually just means that you need to go back to basics – either by simplifying the moves or changing how frequently or how much you lift!

Mistake 3: Getting bogged down in “math” and research.

When you start researching strength training, you’ll see all sorts of metrics for calculating where to start. It’s an overwhelming clusterfuck. 

The same goes for research. Start looking at all the protocols on the best way to strength train for bone density, hypertrophy (muscle building) and you’re so overwhelmed, you may never get started.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Unless you’re working at an elite level (you’re probably not) or you live in a lab (we don’t), you don’t need to worry about any of that.

Most strength programs are fine. Figure out the basic technique and pick a heavy enough weight to feel your target muscle groups (FYI, you do that by trying it!) and you’re good to start. 

Zero math required.