Last month, I wrote a post about the five common training mistakes that runners make. Since it quickly became my most popular blog post to date, I thought I would do one for training in the gym. Over the years, I have seen every mistake under the sun be made in the gym. With excess of information available, of which a lot is contradicting and unreliable, I truly don’t blame people out there for being confused and overwhelmed with what to do.

Please note: This blog post is targeted at the endurance population training in the gym, and will describe the five most common mistakes this group of people make. These five mistakes are mostly similar to other populations (General population, strength athletes and bodybuilders), but a few will be more biased towards endurance athletes.

1. The absence of, generalised or incorrect programming

I can write a whole blog post on this itself (And I will next month), but the general gist for now is the lack of emphasis on having 1. A structured program to follow in the first place 2. A program SPECIFIC to your goals.

‘Runners’ can be branched under a big umbrella as a particular type of athlete, but within the broad category of ‘runners’, there are still many specific types of running athletes eg a 100m sprinter vs 10km athlete vs ultra marathoner. Each type of runner will have a training program that will look completely different to the next in terms of running frequency, duration, speed, reps, sets, terrain etc. You would never see an ultra-marathoner practising 100m sprints, nor would you see a 100m sprinter run anything more than 5km continuously. The training stimuli needs to be specific to the desired outcome.

Ultra-marathon training and competition is VERY different to 100m sprinting

Training in the gym is the same. You can have a list of exercises to do (Ahem The big 10 for runners), but whether you’re training for strength, power, endurance, hypertrophy will determine the type of program you do. All too often I see people in the gym performing exercises, sets, reps, weekly progressions that are simply too generalised or inappropriate for their goals.

The other major programming mistake I see that is EXTREMELY important, is the absence of structured PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD in gym training. Progressive overload is the process of gradually increasing the stimuli that the body is exposed to (Eg. Weight, volume, speed etc), which then creates the supercompensation effect and elicits adaptations in the body to become stronger. Too many people do general group fitness classes that change randomly week to week, or head into the gym to do the same thing all the time and wonder why they’re not getting results. Without progressive overload, the training sends INSUFFICIENT or CONTRADICTING messages to the body, and ultimately won’t lead to adaptation or improvement in any area of fitness or strength. Don’t train hard… Train smart.  Ok enough on programming- We’ll leave the rest till the next blog post.

2. Overlooking the correct breathing and bracing technique

Correct breathing is a skill that needs to be practiced- and ideally the lungs, diaphragm and abdomen are ALL involved to efficiently bring air in and out of the body. Bracing is the skill of ‘switching on’ the core muscles to create rigidity in the torso, which then not only protects the spine when lifting heavy weights, but also improves force transfer between the upper and lower extremities.

When combined, the correct breathing and bracing technique for each rep of heavy compound movements (Squats, Deadlifts, Bench press, Hip thrusts, Lunges etc) allows effective and correct execution of the lift, recruitment of the whole body, protection from injury etc. This is extremely overlooked in majority of people training in any given gym.

Powerlifters can have 200-300kg on their shoulders. Without breathing and bracing the core properly, this wouldn’t be possible.

3. Compromising technique and the mind to muscle connection

People love numbers. Comparing distances, pace, weight lifted etc is what people use to measure progress and to rank their standard amongst the norm. However, there is something else that is more important than the numbers.

Hands up if you’re (kinda) obsessed with your smart watch to track your numbers and progress

Correct technique outweighs everything else. Once technique is right, the exercise itself will be more effective and efficient, desired muscle groups will be recruited, injury risk will be reduced, and therefore the absolute weight lifted will automatically come.

However, too many people purely focus on their weight lifted in the gym. They compromise technique to hit heavy weights, which overloads incorrect body parts and they ultimately hit a plateau, face injury or are forced to track backwards to relearn the basics of correct technique. Technique is king. Training in the gym CANNOT be mindless activity similar to how going for a long run can be. Every rep needs to be performed with concentration, intention and awareness of the entire body.

4. Underestimating absolute strength that is required

Runners can often ask whether training at home with 5kg Dumbbells is sufficient, or whether doing a squat challenge of 50-100 bodyweight squats is counted as strength training. Although yes, doing something is better than doing nothing at all, it is still not nearly enough for sufficient athletic development for performance improvements and injury reduction.

The strength standards that are currently suggested for athletes is (In external weights):

  • Squat at least 1x bodyweight
  • Deadlift at least 1.5x bodyweight
  • Hip thrust at least 1x bodyweight
  • Calf raise at least 1x bodyweight
Hip thrusts should be performed with at least 1x bodyweight on the bar

Yes, it is a lot of weight, but that’s the strength standard you should be reaching for if you are serious about your athletic development as a runner!

5. Only seeing the human body as a chest, biceps, triceps, back, shoulders and legs

As athletes, I would assume the desired outcome in the gym is to improve qualities such as strength, power, speed, rather than building shapes and tone in each muscle to get a 6-pack of that defined quad separation? 😛

If quad separation or a 6-pack is a primary goal, you’re in the wrong sport 😉

If your goal is more the latter than the former, then you’re in the wrong sport and I would suggest switching to to read their articles instead. If you are still here, then you need to view training in the gym as training MOVEMENTS not MUSCLE GROUPS, and achieving athletic qualities as the main intention of the training sessions. For this reason, athletic programming revolves around training the full body and training for efficiency with compound, heavy lifts such as Squat, deadlift, hip thrust etc.


Honourable mention mistakes:

  • Not putting away your weights
  • Not wiping equipment that you’ve left dripping in sweat
  • Hogging equipment and not sharing between sets during peak times

Final take-away

There’s hundreds of variables that make Strength and Conditioning (S&C) desired muscle groups will be recruited, f training effective for any one person. Although all the answers are certainly not in this blog post, but hopefully this blog post has been able to summarise the general approach towards S&C training for endurance athletes, and gives you a direction to move in.

Ultimately, the best S&C program for you depends on many variables that can only be tested in a full Assessment. If you would like to book in for an Initial Assessment, feel free to email [email protected] to find out where you’re at and what the best option is for you.