Bernard Yang Kim never wanted to be a bodybuilder. The 31-year-old currency trader simply wanted to look chiseled—like an underwear model, he jokes—which is why he found it odd to be staring up at a 315-pound barbell. He had never benched so much weight in his life; few men ever do. But his usual trainer was out, and his gym had set him up with a substitute—one who, as it turns out, was not only overzealous but also a terrible spotter. "The bar crashed onto my chest, tearing my pectoral muscle," says Kim, who ended up in the ER. "It was excruciating."
While extreme, Kim's experience is not uncommon. There are roughly 230,000 personal trainers in the United States, a number that has jumped 44 percent in the last decade.
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"It's a buyer-beware market," says Mike Boyle, A.T.C., owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Massachusetts. "Getting hurt might be rare, but you can easily waste your time with someone who is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst."
In short, knowing how to recognize bad advice is more critical than ever. Read on for six of the worst fitness tips we've ever heard, and six ways to get back on track.
Bad Advice: "Go big or go home."
"There's this idea that you have to train to failure to trigger growth," says Boyle. "But 'go big or go home' is a slogan for a meathead's T-shirt and a prescription for injury, not an effective training strategy. The truth is precisely the opposite—'slow and steady wins the race.'" Not convinced? Talk to Bernard Yang Kim. The key to success in the weight room is to make consistent, incremental gains that ultimately add up to the body you want. (BEWARE: Which moves do fitness experts hate? Read 5 Exercises That Make Trainers Cringe.)
Train to technical failure. "You want to do as many reps as you can with perfect form," says Boyle. "Once you can't do a perfect rep, the set is over—no negative reps, no spotter assistance, no using momentum to crank out one more." When you can complete your goal reps for every set— three sets of 10, for example —you're ready to move up in weight. "Throw another 5 pounds on the bar or grab the next heaviest pair of dumbbells," says Boyle. "It might not sound like much, but think about it this way: Even if you only go up 5 pounds every two weeks, you'll still add 130 pounds to your lift after a year."