From the science-backed to the borderline superstitious, there’s no shortage of tips, tricks, and techniques that bodybuilders use to hit new PRs in record time, get more bang for their buck in the gym, and chisel their dream physique. And while there’s plenty of room for creativity on the journey to getting absolutely jacked (and no single right way to get there), there are some things bodybuilders do that make fitness professionals cringe, usually because they fall flat on ROI or put lifters at risk for a sidelining injury.
Here, experts share four of the biggest bodybuilding fails they see in the weight room, so you can make sure you’re not “that guy”.
The Problem: Assisted Reps
Spoiler alert: Finishing your reps shouldn’t be a group project. Getting a partner to assist you in performing several additional reps at the end of your sets because you can’t power through them alone is a big no-no, says trainer Rachel MacPherson, C.P.T., pain-free performance specialist at Garage Gym Reviews.
While common even among professionals, assisted reps don’t allow you to honestly track your progress, she explains. With another set of muscles giving you an assist, you have no real idea about how much work you actually performed and if you should do more or less next time.
“What’s more, you’re missing out on the most stimulative parts of the reps, especially the eccentric motion and full stretch under load,” says MacPherson. “Plus, time under tension is compromised when you have help.”
Do controlled sets and use techniques like myo reps or drop sets to add more volume if you need it, MacPherson suggests.
Quick explainer for the uninitiated: Myo reps are sets taken to almost failure, at which point you stop for a few seconds, then start again with the same weight to get a few more reps in, explains MacPherson. Doing this and approaching failure two to three times stimulates muscle growth. One note: “This is very taxing so you don’t want to do it with every exercise, just one or two for different body parts in a training session,” she says.
Meanwhile, drop sets are a reduction in weight during the same set. “So you would do as many as you can using your heaviest weight, then drop the weight by 10 to 15 percent and immediately perform more reps, approaching failure,” MacPherson says. You can do this two or three times, but the same advice as with myo reps applies: You don’t want to rely on drop sets for too much of your training! Think of them as more of a bonus you sprinkle in.
The Problem: Partial Range of Motion
If you’re looking to maximize your gains, avoid lifting with only a partial range of motion (such as lowering only halfway down during a squat). The deep stretch under load—which occurs at the bottom or the most extended point of an exercise—is where a huge part of muscle-building stimulus lies, MacPherson says. During a bench press, for example, this occurs when the bar is lowered onto the chest. Plus, when you lift through a full range of motion, you also increase your flexibility—and research shows that more motion range translates to more muscle mass.
If you want better results, check your ego and lower your weight so that you can use a full range of motion, MacPherson recommends. That means bar all the way to the chest when benching, and thighs parallel or below with squats.
“Not everyone can squat very deep or ‘ass to grass’ due to anatomical factors, including the depth of your hip sockets, femur, and torso length,” MacPherson says. “But most everyone can squat at least to parallel and should squat as deep as they can to fully stretch the muscles under load for hypertrophy.”
The Problem: Wonky Moves Like Behind-The-Neck Pulldowns
You’ve got to give bodybuilders points for creativity; some of the moves gym-goers come up with are straight-up funky. Thing is, sometimes going rogue with DIY exercises (like behind-the-neck pulldowns, behind-the-back shrugs, and behind-the-neck shoulder presses) is more trouble than it’s worth.
Take the behind-the-neck pulldown, for example. Sure, it may be trendy on TikTok, but the controversial back exercise makes trainers nervous because it requires you to push your head forward to make room to pull down the bar down to the base of the back of your neck. The potential for injury just isn’t worth it, says personal trainer Francis Fessler, C.P.T., the founder of F2 Wellness.
“They put undue pressure on your cervical spine as well as on your rotator cuffs,” he explains. Researchers have also linked forward head posture to headaches and neck pain.
Regular pulldowns activate the back muscles equally and are far safer, so go ahead and skip the behind-the-neck pulldowns—and any other behind-the-head moves, for that matter. While the desire to mix up your routine is certainly a valid one, stick with tried-and-true exercises.
The Problem: Spending Too Much Time on Isometric Exercises
Isometric exercises (think planks, wall squats, and other moves where you hold, hold, and hold some more) involve the tightening or contraction of a group of muscles, says Fessler. While they can be great for maintaining muscle, they’re not going to do much for building muscle mass. Sorry, folks, the four-minute planks and wall sits—impressive as they may be—aren’t going to do much if you want to bulk up.
Swap isometric moves for exercises like weighted sit-ups or cable crunches, Fessler says. (And, of course, actual weighted squats…)
You see, to build muscle mass, you need concentric and eccentric movement while stretching, he explains. In a concentric contraction, muscle tension increases to meet resistance and stabilizes as the muscle shortens. Eccentric training, meanwhile, is the lowering portion of weight training when the muscle lengthens. Think about the bicep curl: When you’re lifting the weight toward your shoulder, that’s a concentric contraction. Then, when you move it back toward your waist, that’s an eccentric movement. Both are necessary if you want to maximize the stimulus on your muscle and ultimately make gains.