If I had to summarize the 3 most common resistance training mistakes (or to put it more kindly, inefficiencies) that people are guilty of during their workouts, my “terrible triad” could be summed up in a single sentence: “Slow, isolation lifts performed on machines.” Let’s take a look at each of these 3 components one at a time:


Amazingly, many people unconsciously equate slowness with good form. They’ve never articulated it that way, to themselves or others, but that connection nonetheless exists

Why do people tend to perform their lifts slowly? Because it HURTS. Honestly! It’s because they can ffeeeell it better.

Why should people lift in an accelerative manner? Lots of reasons, in short, for any given weight, more speed means more tension on the muscle(s). More tension means greater fitness gain. Yes, too much tension can cause an injury- very true. You’ve gotta find the “sweet spot:” enough speed/tension to elicit a training response, but not so much that you injure yourself. How to find the sweet spot? Start off conservatively and gradually work your way up from there.

Another point about speed: we’re actually wired to move things with speed. Why? Because it’s easier- it conserves calories…simple as that.

Isolation Lifts…

People are intuitively drawn to so-called “isolation” lifts like leg extensions, biceps curls, and lateral raises. Why? Because it hurts! When most of the training stress is loaded on to a small number of muscles (isolation isn’t literally possible), you can really ffeeeell it.

Why are multi-joint, “compound” lifts a better choice?

First, by training more muscles with less lifts, your training becomes more economical- you accomplish more in less time. True, there’s less load for any particular muscle, but that’s OK- just add more weight and you’ll be ffeeeelling it before you know it

Second, multi-joint lifts are safer, because more muscles are participating in the task. How come no one knows their max on triceps kickbacks? Because then you’d REALLY ffeeeell it (i.e., you hurt yourself you dummy!)

Thirdly, if you’ll just give it a chance, you’ll find that compound lifts are a LOT more fun than isolation lifts. Has your training been fun lately?

Finally, human beings are wired to move economically, so it’s more “functional” to use these types of lifts. Think squats, lunges, pulls, presses, rows, jumps, and so forth.

On Machines…

Yup, people are drawn to machines. They’ve been taught that machines are safer, easier to learn, and more effective than free weights. Of course, all the existing research says otherwise…

Why are free weights a better choice?

Firstly, they do involve skill. But that’s a good thing- promise! You’ll be happier, fitter, and more functional if you teach your muscles how to control weights (in addition to just moving them).

Second, the above mentioned control adds an additional degree of demand upon your neuro-muscular system, which leads to better results

Thirdly, in commercial gyms you’ll find the free weights much more available than the machines. If you’re training at home (good idea by the way) you’ll find free weights cheaper to purchase than machines. They also take up less space.

The Solution?

Well of course, compound free weight exercises performed in an accelerative manner. Now this approach might require you to learn some new tricks, and you won’t “ffeeeell it” in quite the same way, but my clients commonly tell me that (in addition to the improved fitness gains) they have much better energy and far less pain when training this way.

Is this approach for YOU? If you’re finding your workouts to be long, tedious, and unproductive, why not try something new?

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“One of the signs of a great teacher is the ability to make the subject matter seem simple. Charles Staley is one of these rare teachers. After listening and talking to him, you suddenly achieve a new awareness of training. You go to the gym and, suddenly, everything makes sense, and you wonder why you haven’t been doing it his way since day one.” – Muscle Media 2000 magazine August, 1999


Prominent both the United States and across the globe, Charles is recognized as an insightful coach and innovator in the field of human performance. His knowledge, skills and reputation have lead to appearances on NBC's The TODAY Show and The CBS Early Show, along with numerous radio appearances.


He has authored more than a thousand articles for leading fitness publications and websites, and has lectured to eager audiences around the World.


Charles is not only a thinker, but also a doer: At age 54, he competes in the sport of raw powerlifting, and is a 2-time World Champion (220 and 198-pound weight classes). Find Charles online at www.TargetFocusFitness.com.