Training is very easy to understand if you just stick to a few key principles. One I discussed recently on the podcast is that of specificity.
Essentially, your training should reflect your goals. Whatever you do in a training session, you should be able to justify in the context of what it is that you want to achieve.
However, most trainees and coaches seem to fall flat on their face at this point in the planning process. Below I'll give some sample mistakes you could be making:
Trying to Burn Fat and Build Muscle
Can this be done? Yes, but it's about as feasible as the the notion of getting rich by doing no work. Both require you to either have been born with the right parents, or to have done some 'illegal' stuff.
So for those of us without superman genes, and who aren't planning on taking gear, the answer is NO.
Look, here's the unfortunate scientific reality guys: gaining muscle and burning fat require asking your body to do two completely contradictory things, and the net result for most people ends up being little or no change in either direction. Fat loss is a catabolic process, muscle gain is anabolic.
Here's my advice: if you're a beginner, utilise your beginner superpowers to gain strength and muscle at an accelerated rate. Once you have hit the intermediate stage of training, it's your call if you want to drop some body fat. If you're starting lifting as clinically obese, then you would obviously do this in the reverse order. Health comes first!
'All in One' Exercises
I see people make this mistake a lot. They pick exercises that are supposedly training multiple different muscles and qualities at once, and as a result none of them are trained properly.
My favourite example is the overhead squat. It might seem like a great all-round exercise; it rewards mobility and balance, and it's training a huge amount of upper and lower body muscles, all at once. Here's the problem - it's a crap choice for strength training. The reason why is because you can't move any appreciable amount of weight on it. The weight you can move is inherently limited by what you arms can balance overhead.
Basically, if strength is the goal, you need to use exercises that will build it efficiently. The overhead squat tries to do to much at once and ends up being mediocre at all of it. If you want strength, squat for your lower body, and press for your upper body. If you want to use the overhead squat for mobility, just do a few reps with a broomstick in your warm-up.
Jack of All Trades - Master of None
This is the person who wants to dip their toe in a little bit of everything - powerlifting, running, bodybuilding, martial arts, rock climbing, etc.
There's nothing inherently bad about this. Doing a wide range of activities builds a good athletic base. It's the proportion of energy you spend on each one that's the issue. You can't expect to get good at several sports all at once - you aren't Bo Jackson.
It's better to have a singular goal that you focus most of your energy on, and then just keeping other stuff at maintenance in the background.
For example, I recently took up running twice per week. I enjoy it, but I know that when I go back to lifting heavy barbells and can focus on strength again, some adjustments will need to be made. I may switch to just one day of running and make the second day a light conditioning circuit, to save my legs for lifting.
Thanks for reading and remember: keep the goal, the goal.