Beginner’s Guide Part 2: Avoid These 5 Mistakes if You are New to the Gym

By Alan Bichara

I was a beginner once at the gym as well and I started knowing very little or at least I thought I knew a lot, but turns out I had the wrong information from friends or the internet.

I will list down the 5 most common mistakes people make when they decide to finally start their fitness journey. I know I’m guilty of most of them, even after I got certified as a fitness professional!

1.Getting too excited

When people decide to finally start their fitness journey, they are more excited than kids going to a candy store, they believe that in the next month or first 10-12 sessions with their personal trainer that they will lose 10kgs and have the biggest transformation of their life, because if they can do it in “The Biggest Loser” TV show, then they can too, right? Big NO!

People don’t realize that the bad lifestyle they have acquired and are accustomed to for the past 3-5 or even 10 years cannot be reversed in just 1 month. You have to accept that this will be a lifestyle change for the better and it will hopefully teach you to live the rest of your life in a better and healthier YOU!

Part of being too excited is overstaying in the gym. Some beginners tend to stay 2 or even 3 hours in the gym and that is just too much to begin with. You will eventually burn-out and get sick of the gym. Keep your time in the gym short and intense and save it for the workout not for socializing, which can be very time-consuming. Get in, get your workout done, and leave, eat and recover, rinse and repeat.

2.Too heavy, too early

There are 2 ways that I know of that people tend to lean towards to when they start. It’s either they go too heavy and eventually get injured or the opposite, they don’t stimulate their body enough and they end up wasting the first 6 months looking like the same person when they first walked in.

I honestly don’t mind the latter of these 2 – like I said it is a lifestyle change and it’s a long process so I would prefer staying on the safe side even with slower results rather than pushing too much and getting injured.

3.Form? What form?

Connected to number 2, the reason people don’t get results or get injured is because they don’t focus on the form or technique. There are proper ways to perform all exercises. In general, the safest way is to start light and go slow (literally). Concentrate on the muscle you are working. This way you can lessen the risk of injuring yourself.

For example, if you are feeling your shoulders when you chest press, then you aren’t doing it right. You are probably pushing your shoulders and not keeping your shoulder blades retracted.

The saying “NO PAIN, NO GAIN” doesn’t apply to joints, but only to muscles. Usually the “pain” should be a slight burn due to lactic acid build-up during the workout or due to DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) 24-48hrs post-workout.

Even fitness professionals sometimes commit mistakes when performing certain exercises and it takes a lot of practice to know how to activate certain muscle groups to perform the exercise correctly. But there are ways to learn without hurting  yourself – remember to keep the weights light and the movement slow and controlled.

4.Not having a Plan

Once you start your fitness journey and go to the gym almost everyday feeling excited, motivated and dedicated to change how you look and feel, you start doing things and pushing as hard as you can. And then you might hit a dead end and ask yourself “Where am I headed?”, and this is a good time and assess what your goal is and make a plan to reach it.

Lose 10kgs in 6 months, right before your 40th bday? Possible, but how will you reach it? By eating whole foods and doing 30-60mins of activity everyday. That is an example of a general plan. You can be more specific as well and maybe list down what those whole foods are and break them down into daily meals, or schedule your activities: is it running at the park, joining a group exercise class, or just lift some weights?

It also helps to have a notepad with you or on your phone to record your activities and diet. It can be hard to remember the exercises, weights, sets and reps after a while so keeping notes on this can help you a lot in measuring your progress.

You don’t want to be fluctuating with your performance. There are certain times during proper program scaling where you can drop the weights to a lower intensity but most of the time you either want the same weights you did last time or heavier.

This also applies for your food. Years of bad eating habits have made people very numb or forgetful. You can easily forget the donut or the muffin they had with their morning coffee for example and still ask why you are not losing weight. Write it down and you can be surprised of what goes in your mouth most of the time. This takes me to the last point – nutrition.


The most important part of your fitness journey is nutrition. The reason you are out of shape is because of the bad diet that you got used to through the years, and as much as I don’t want to say it (because telling people what not to do can make them very defensive), for the first 2 months I would really recommend not eating any junk or processed food.

Most probably you will starve at first and realize how dependent you are on processed food. But starving is never the end goal – replace your meals with fresh whole foods, lots of veggies, some protein, some fruits, and a little fat. That is usually my general rule in nutrition. Remember you can never out-train a bad diet, you can’t decide to just go 3hrs in the gym and keep on eating junk.

So there you go, the 5 most common mistakes beginners make. I hope this can help you or your family and friends who want to start a healthier stage in their life.


Beginner’s Fitness Guide Part 1: Which exercises should you start with?

Welcome to this new 5-part guide on how to get started with your health & fitness journey. Working with experienced coaches from Pinnacle Performance, each week you will discover a new post filled with helpful fitness tips and insights.

Ready to start? Let’s look at which exercises you should include in your new fitness routine.

Part 1 by Paul Magnus

Top 5 exercises for beginners:

1.Split squat

This is a squat using a staggered stance, and it targets the quads and glutes, with secondary emphasis on the hamstrings. This exercise is great because it allows you to master a simpler movement than the two legged squat. Split squats train the muscles of the legs, hips, and core to overcome muscle imbalances and help to promote flexibility and deep range of motion, as well as ensuring knee stability which will help reduce the chance of injuries. Novices should start with the front foot elevated on a stepper.

ex 1

2.Leg curl (varied positions)

Strong hamstrings work to stabilize your knee and hips and help to keep your spine properly aligned. When doing hamstring exercises try varied foot positions, such as turning them inward or outward. Each foot position creates a different line of pull on the hamstrings.


3.Bench press

The bench press is an excellent exercise for the chest, shoulders and arms. It allows you to train pressing strength and power and is a key lift for achieving upper body balance.


4.Overhead press

This exercise is great for building the shoulders and traps, and can improve your overall shoulder health. It will also help you with doing other upper body multi joint exercises.


5.Seated cable row

The seated row is an excellent exercise for strengthening the back muscles and improving posture. Also, using a rope extension reduces the stress placed on the forearms and wrists.

ex 3

And finally… some more tips:

  • Be patient and consistent. Results take time.
  • Shorter, more frequent workouts are ideal for beginners so limit workouts to less than 45‐60 minutes.
  • Pick a training mode that suits your goal.
  • Stick to the basics, don’t get sidetracked by more advanced training tools.
  • Learn proper training technique.
  • Always have a plan when you walk into the gym

Exercise of the week: Walking Cable Squats

The walking squat will prepare your legs and core for a typical “leg routine”. This exercise is perfect for the start of your leg workout and a warm up for squats as well as a great finisher during a quad session. The idea here is to go heavy and stay low in the squat position making small steps back and forth. You should be feeling the burn in your quads!

Here’s how to do it:
1. Set up the cable machine waist high and hold the straight bar attachment with your arms extended in front.

2. Keeping your chest up, drop to a squat position (little more than 90 degrees)

3. Make a small steps back (staying in the squat position) 6-8 and repeat 3-5 times. Thats one set 😜


Exercise of the week: Reverse Hack Squat

Machines are great for variety and  allow you to add more volume to specific muscles.
The hack machine is set at 45 degrees and you need to align your shoulders under the pads.
The front facing version allows you to make the posterior chain work harder. I like to keep the toes up and put all the weight on to the heels.
Set up:
  1. Set up the hack machine by loading preferred weight.
  2. Position yourself with your shoulders up against the pads.
  3. Place feet shoulder-width apart on the top of the platform.
  4. Push up to take the weight off the stack, place your arms on the side handles of the machine and release the safety bars.
  5. Slowly lower the weight down pushing your hips away until your thighs are at approximately right angles with your calves.
  6. Pause, and then push the weight back up to the starting position by tucking your hips under without locking your knees at the top.

Exercise of the week: T-bar row

A big strong back is highly functional in our daily life as much as in the gym. Every time you pick up something heavy your back is doing the majority of the work. So when you lift a heavy box, a child or your shopping, it’s your back strength that will determine your success.

There are several rowing variations which in rotation between all the movements brings best results. Today our focus is on T-bar rows.

Here’s how to do this exercise:

  • Set your stance, with your feet firmly on the floor or step and bend at the waist. Switch on the glutes, hamstrings, and abdominals as they are working to stabilize you (and keep you balanced).
  • Focus on getting a good stretch at the bottom by lowering the shoulder until the lats are fully extended, and pulling the bar up in a straight line until it lightly brushes the chest area.
  • Get the chest up slightly, arch the low back a bit, and get your head in line with your spine.
  • Lower the bar slowly to a full stretch and stop for a second. We want great ROM (range of motion) and potential muscle-growth, therefore the lats, rhomboids, and middle traps should be stretched.

Food, Food and, Yes, More Food!

Allow me to introduce my latest contributor.

Kevin Cooper, Personal Trainer and Business Manager at Pinnacle Performance has been running in the fitness industry “marathon” since 2001. “Lots has been learned and more to be achieved” is his comment when asked to describe himself.

I am very excited that Kevin will share his vast insights. Intense, focused, humorous and above all knowledgeable. Kevin will say it as it is. Welcome aboard Kevin.



So much to say such little time or space, undoubtedly the most controversial topic out there when it comes to the industry….

What to eat ? What time? And why? Well to put it as basically as possible and for those of us that have some sort of idea about this black hole we call nutrition, the rules are trial and error based. Take ownership of it and learn to take basic guidelines and perfect them, the most intensive content out there might be unbelievable to me but not work at all for the next person.

Trial and error, ladies and gents, that’s the beauty of this game and all variables that you can imagine get broken down to a term we love to use – “it depends”.

Depends on the following:

Meal one time:

  • Is meal one carbohydrate dominant?
  • Is meal one more fat than protein?
  • Is meal one a stimulant like coffee?
  • Is meal one a mix of all forms?

An absolute no-fail choice that works for most, yes not for everyone, is to start your day off with a protein and fat meal. A simple choice will be scrambled eggs drizzled with olive oil. Easy yet effective. Don’t be scared of the yellow yolks that contain 9 essential amino acids! Get it in and enjoy risk-free taste and texture.

Once meal one is behind you keep meal timing down to max 4 hour intervals to ensure you send a consistent signal to your body of maintenance in energy and consumption through food. This will in turn ensure that your body does not create a storage pattern of energy. Instead it sends signals of absorbing and processing of food.

Keep up the protein+fat mix and consume a serving of a carbohydrate-based meal, like sweet potato for post workout only. This in turn creates an insulin sensitivity signal so that the carb can be utilized more effectively. And a greater percentage of it can be utilized in the body in that post workout phase.

So, many variables and one can successfully say that breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. It’s the first signal to your body of the day.

So the question is will protein and a fat be more beneficial than a carb start ?

Here we go …. it depends … How do you feel post meal? How does the meal effect your energy levels?  What’s the effect of the meal on your digestion? Etc etc etc.

One sure conclusion that can be drawn is the simple fact of when you consume a certain food first thing in the morning it sends a signal that depicts the rest of your day – guaranteed.

Stay away from carbs till post workout. Be sure to consume them when they are going to be utilized fully. We will certainly delve deeper into this subject as your understanding of your own body commences.

This is where taking control of your meals comes in. It is never easy but I can vouch for the fact that it is well worth it.

This is certainly an easier read on this topic, however get the ABC right the first time and it will make the outcome much more simple yet effective.

Your time is now, go get it and own your results from start to finish!



Exercise of the week: The Sissy Squat

The sissy squat is a great isolation exercise for the quads. If done correctly, it gives you a similar (burning) sensation as the leg extension machine. If you’ve never done it before use only your own body weight like in the video below. Trust me, it’s challenging enough especially with slow tempo.

  • Start with feet under the lower padded bar and calves firmly against upper pads.
  • Cross arms on your shoulders or keep arms straight in front.
  • Sit backwards by bending knees and hips,  keeping the chest high. Make sure to create tension on the quads initially (by squeezing the muscles) and maintain this during the full movement.
  • Go as low as you can without falling over. Rise up by extending knees and tilting pelvis under while keeping the shoulders behind the hips.

Exercise of the week: Cable Front Raises

This week we will look at the front raise which is a shoulder exercise. “Strong shoulders make most arm movements easier, whether you’re throwing a ball, passing food across the table, or lifting a suitcase that’s a little too heavy. ”

By raising your straight arm directly in front of you, you target the anterior head of your deltoids. Front raises can be performed with a barbell, dumbbell or various cable handles as in the video. 

You can also perform it single arm, where you would work each side independently, which can help you not only spot strength imbalances but also correct them. These also call in more stabilizing activity, so your core has to work that much harder.
1. Select the weight on a low pulley machine and grasp the straight bar attachment with pronated grip. 

2. Face away from the pulley and put your arms straight down with the hand cable attachment in front of your thighs at arms’ length with the palms of the hand facing your thighs. This will be your starting position.

3. While maintaining the torso stationary, lift arms to the front (with a slight bend on the elbows) until you arm is slightly above parallel to the floor and pause for a second at the top.

4. Slowly lower the arms back down with full control to the starting position.


If she can do it, so can you!

I have just finished watching a very inspirational documentary and couldn’t wait to share it with you!

Why am I so excited? Because this is real story about a real woman who, despite all the obstacles, reached her goal and beyond.

At 8 months pregnant, Elle decided to compete in a sports model competition after her second child’s birth. If that wasn’t hard enough, Elle decided to embark on this journey without any help (apart from her husband) – no personal trainer, no nutritionist, no nanny or house help and no gym.

That’s right! Elle had to look after her new born and toddler, take care of her ailing husband, workout and prepare her meals on her own.

Moral of the story? If you really want something, you will find the time to do it – if not you will find excuses!

You can watch the full (1-hour) documentary below:


Exercise of the week: Wide Leg Press

The leg press is a great exercise for strengthening and growing your leg muscles, despite it being considered as much easier than squats.

A 45 degree leg press machine has a seat in which the body reclines at an angle and the leg press is in an upward diagonal direction using a sled mechanism. This version of the leg press is more for working on getting a nice sweep in the quads (vastus lateralis).

Assume a wide stance and turn your toes out in a frog-style position. Allow your knees to come down outside of your body, so you’ll be sort of pushing your knees out as you lower the platform.

The concentric portion of the lift should be done explosively. Ideally your leg press will have stops that will allow you to perform rest-pause reps. Set the stops relatively high and let the weight rest for 2 seconds before blasting it back up explosively.

Even though this exercise is meant to mostly work the quads, by squeezing your heels together on the movement up you will involve the hamstrings and inner thighs, and if you bring it low enough your glutes will say HI as well  (never miss a chance to work on your glutes!)💪



  1. Set up for the wide stance 45 degree leg press by loading the weight plates you want to use on the leg press machine.
  2. Sit down on the leg press machine and position your feet further than shoulder width apart, one on each edge of the foot plate.
  3. Extend your legs to take the weight off the racks, and release the safety stops. Your knees should be slightly bent at the start of the movement, as this will ensure the weight is on your quads.
  4. Slowly lower the weight down until your legs are just past a 45 degree angle.
  5. Push through your heels and extend your legs to move the weight back up to the starting position.
  6. Repeat movement for desired number of reps.

Exercise Tips:

  • Your knees should not be locked out at the any point during this exercise.
  • When moving the weight up, push through your heels and squeeze them towards each other.
  • You can involve the glutes more in this exercise by going deeper (lower).
  • Always be sure that the safety stops are locked securely when finishing the exercise.