The Biggest Mistake I Made As a Novice Lifter


When I was a beginning lifter, I made a ton of mistakes I am trying to help you avoid. One of the biggest mistakes I wish I could go back and change, is testing my max every week. You need to understand that getting stronger doesn’t happen under maximal loads or by maxing out all the time, it happens by being consistent with submaximal loads. This takes patience, it isn’t sexy, but it is how real results and strength gains happen. In this article I am going to tell you where I went wrong and how you can learn from my mistakes.  

You see, I was bit by the iron bug really hard. I loved the weight room more than anything. I would spend 2-3 hours a day in the weight room doing every exercise known to man, all in hopes of one goal: to Bench 225lbs. This was my sacred cow…..and I tried it every week. The problem was I went about it like most novices do, I spent most of my time in the gym testing my strength and not enough time building strength. 

As a novice lifter, I had access to all the gyms, every bodybuilding magazine, every supplement I could need. I trained at one or two gyms: My high school weight room or Unique Fitness: home of the biggest meatheads this side of the Mason Dixon line.  Both places were filled with abnormally strong people. The upperclassmen looked like they came out of the movie The Program, if you haven’t seen it come back after you have. My other gym was even more freakish. Just for a reference, I watched a man bench 585lbs for 10 reps and when he got up he said “If I wasn’t sick, I could have done 15”.

Once a week, I would test my bench. My jumps would look like this:

Empty Barbell (45) x 10 reps
95lbs x 5 reps
135lbs x 5 reps
185lbs x 3 reps
210lbs x 1 rep
225lbsx 0 reps

I repeated this for weeks with no success, but let’s look at this. On every one of my bench days I was getting 2,365lbs on Bench Volume (sets x reps x weights). This disobeys one of the biggest laws of training, Progressive Overload. Very simply, this means you need to do more than you did the prior training session in order for there to be improvement. Most novice lifters don’t think about this because you advance very quickly when you first start weight training. 

Sidebar: This is a little embarrassing but what the heck. I had a smith machine in a back room of my basement and I would turn on Avenged Sevenfold: City of Evil CD, crank it up, shut the door and try and bench 225lbs.  That bar dropped like the meteor that killed off all the dinosaurs. The best thing about all of this was, the safety pins were maybe a half an inch away from my chest...that’s all I had to move it. After a few minutes, yes I mean minutes, I would admit defeat and call for my Dad who would watch in amusement before effortlessly yanking the bar off of my broken sternum.   

Let us look at this a little differently than I did:

Empty Barbell x 10 reps
95lbs x 10 reps
115 x 10 reps
135lbs x 3 sets of 10 reps

that equals 6,600lbs of bench volume.

Now let’s say I add 5lbs a week to my top set for 4 weeks so I end with 155lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps. I would end with 7,200lbs. I probably could have hit my goal within a month if I followed this simple procedure. Also, this helps build up the tissue around your joints and keeps your risk of injury very low. It should go without saying but, If you get hurt, you won’t be training for some time.

This should be your mentality when you train, small improvements each week. This ensures you make progress each week. It sucks in the short term, I get it. But If I could have hit my 225lbs only 4 weeks after training for it, imagine what I could have done in 6 months, a year, 5 years. It’s a process to become strong.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will you. Have some patience and move forward one step at a time.

Cory Ortman

Growing up Cory was always the fat kid. At his peak, he was 280 lbs…in eighth grade. He eventually decided to make a change and started exercising and by the time he was a sophomore in high school he was down 100 lbs. During this time he was inspired to start lifting weights and becoming strong.

His lifting career started, like most teenagers, at his local gym. Without an idea of what he was doing, he was graciously taken in by some of the more experienced lifters. Over the years, Cory's passion for training grew and drove him to get his degree in Physical Activity and Sports Performance and also for competing in powerlifting.

Now, Cory's focus for training is based on quality movement patterns and strength. Cory believe these two qualities lay a strong foundation for any fitness related goal.