Gym Mistakes (Pavel and Andy Bolton interview Part 2)



Last night my athlete Lynn, and this morning my athlete Bernice both hit new personal records on their lifts.  They got the high-fives and props, I sneaked in the barbell bro hugs when they weren’t looking.

I have readily admitted to my athletes and here on MyTrainerChris the fact there are weight training machines that I have no idea how to use.  I am not so emotionally attached to my free weight / body weight methods that I refuse to learn them, but I haven’t had any major need to seriously look into them beyond the few machines that I sometimes use.  


Pretty close to my facial expression when looking at some weight training machines.

My last gym was a large, high-traffic commercial gym staffed with more than 20 personal trainers and had machines for nearly every body part (oddly no neck machines or Glute-Ham Developers.)  Off hand, I believe I only used 9-10 of them, which I felt were enough to address the needs of the average beginner client.  

I am convinced that without a doubt I was the LEAST machine using trainer in the gym…quite possibly the least in the gyms entire Las Vegas franchise.  I never questioned why I don’t often use them, but I have wondered to myself why some trainers relied on them so much, to the point where 100% of their clients training was machine based with occasional doses of calisthenics. 


I’d need to hire a trainer to teach me how to use this thing, but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to swing it or try putting it over my head.  

Is machine training inherently safer than free weight / body weight training?  No, and I challenge anyone to provide me a reputable research article or study proving machines to be a safer training method.  

Are machines easier to instruct? Yes, I believe they are, they are certainly quicker to use when changing weights and there is no re-racking or chalk applications involved.  I might be creating more work for myself, but I have my athletes focus on their breathing, timing, body position and how to properly tense their body despite the fact that the machine has predetermined the movement pattern for you and removed the need for stabilization. 

Are machines effective? In the beginning stages of training nearly anything will work. For bodybuilding and rehabilitation machines are particularly effective for building local hypertrophy. 

On one hand, you could say that I am limiting myself and what I can offer my clients.  To this, I would agree. They may not be my preferred method, but there is nothing inherently bad about machines and in some cases they are possibly a better option.

On the other hand, I believe I do a pretty good job of putting together what I feel is a safe and well planned program that has proven effective across a wide-range of athletes with a variety of needs, using a minimum of equipment and often a fairly small amount of floor space.  


If personal trainers had to wear shirts that gave a realistic indicator of what you could expect from them then the great trainers would make a whole lot more money.  Honestly, would you hire a shirt that said “Will often forget your appointment/name.”,  “Will oogle women/men/both while you workout?”  “Will get in my own sets in-between your sets”   

The mistakes, as I see it, are that there are trainers using methods that are either ineffective or inappropriate. Not in my opinion, but in the scientific, historical  and common sense.


(Left) The Client and (Right) The Program

I once witnessed a trainer copy workouts from a dated bodybuilding magazine to a sheet of paper, presumably meant for a bodybuilder, only to see it given to an out of shape, slightly overweight middle aged woman wanting to get rid of her belly fat.  On that day it was nearly a 100% machine upper body program with a number of light dumbbell exercises done to what seemed to be 3 sets to failure each.  What made this matter worse, since the workout managed to “kick the clients a$$” it was also used on other clients with dissimilar needs.    


Looks legit to me.

I have zero issue in the fact that the workout was unoriginal, I have a huge issue in the fact the workout did not include any form of assessment, did not follow any sort of logical progression and was inappropriate for the clients goals and physical abilities. Minimally it was shady, if not potentially dangerous.

 But enough of my ranting, let’s hear from a couple of very strong coaches on the subject of gym mistakes….


Pavel Tsatsouline and Andy Bolton

The below interview originally appeared in Muscle and Fitness UK and is the second part of an interview series with Pavel Tsatsouline and Andy Bolton.   STRENGTH EXPERTS ANDY BOLTON AND PAVEL TSATSOULINE DISCUSS THE MOST COMMON GYM MISTAKES 

Muscle & Fitness UK : What are the three biggest mistakes you see strength athletes making in the gym?

Pavel Tsatsouline:

1. Failing to understand that strength is a skill. And a skill must be practiced—frequently and to perfection.

2. Failing to cycle—periodically push and back off. No matter how tough your mind is, it is your body that calls the shots. Your nervous and endocrine system will abruptly pull the plug on your progress if you fail to back off periodically. Your glands will run out of hormones and your nerve cells will become less responsive to your commands in order to protect themselves. Cycling is not an opinion; it is a biological law.

3. Failing to follow the 80/20 principle. In any human endeavor, including lifting, most things do not matter or matter very little. You get 80% of the results from 20% of your investments—and sometimes the ratio is as skewed as 90/10 and even 95/5. The most productive strength exercises are well known and few in number. Give them all your effort and stop worrying about “hitting all the angles.”

Andy Bolton:

1. Lifting with lousy form. Do this and you will never maximize your true strength potential and will invite injuries.  Lift with great form and you give yourself a chance to reach your true strength potential while also minimizing the chance of injury. Simple as that. Yet most people continually choose to lift with bad form.

2. Maxing out too frequently. Maxing out is a great thing to do once every two to three months to see where your strength is at. But doing it weekly (or more than once a week) like many lifters do is asking for trouble. Maxing out too frequently is a recipe for many problems, including: joint pain, lack of motivation, plateaus, injuries and possibly regression of strength.

3. Majoring in the minors. The guy who spends all his time doing curls and pushdowns is ‘majoring in the minors.’ He’s wasting his time on movements that don’t lead to much in the way of strength gains. On the contrary, the guy who spends most of his time in the gym squatting, benching, deadlifting, overhead pressing and doing the Olympic lifts is focusing on the right things and should make great gains. Bottom line? Choose your lifts wisely.

M&F UK: What is the difference between finding the ‘perfect program’ and simply ‘finding a program you believe in and sticking to it’?

PT: Andrey Kozhurkin, a Russian coach who has done 60 strict, dead hang, no kipping pull-ups in competition, compares reaching a high athletic goal to climbing a tall mountain. You can take a beaten path and reach the summit slowly but surely, or you can take your chances and blaze your own trail. There is a small chance that you will reach the top quicker, but most likely you will spend your life circling the base camp, hopelessly lost…

By now effective training methods have been firmly established. It is extremely unlikely that they will be noticeably improved. Do not waste your time searching for the new and unique; look for what has worked time and time again. My colleague David Whitley, a master kettlebell trainer with StrongFirst, stresses: “Don’t get hung up on the differences in champions’ training; look for commonalities.”

In other words, do not try to reinvent the wheel; just follow in the footsteps of Bolton, Coan, Kravtsov, and so on.

AB: There is no such thing as the perfect training program. Every program has strengths and weaknesses. But ultimately, there are plenty of proven programs out there; programs proven by champions in strength sports. My advice is to pick a proven program and stick to it. Don’t chop and change. Choose one proven training method, stick with it and really get to know it over the course of several months. This is how you’ll make your best strength gains.

M&F: What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants a stronger squat, bench and deadlift?


1. Flexibility. Develop flexible hips and hamstrings to own the perfect position on the bottom of the squat and the deadlift. Until then you have no business loading your squats and deads.

Develop a great arch for the bench—not by jamming the lumbar spine but by mobilizing the thoracic spine. This will make you stronger by shortening the bench stroke and will go a long way towards keeping your shoulders healthy under heavy loads.

2. Tightness. Master the skill of getting tight. It is an art form and without it great strength is impossible.

3. Skill. Learn championship technique for the big three from a professional and keep polishing for the rest of your lifting life.


1. Master your technique on the squat, bench and deadlift. This will lead to faster strength gains and lower your chances of injury. You know the score!

2. Use a great training program, not one you dreamt up on the back of a napkin.

3. Train in the best possible environment you can—this means having the right equipment and the right training partners.





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