After being gone for so long, I figured I would chronicle a few things I've learned along the way that have made a big change in my training. It's sad to say, but the simple things are often overlooked. Too often people become lost in the search for a perfect routine and the fundamentals fall by the wayside.
1) Track your weight/reps: This has made such a difference in my training that I would go as far as saying that I severely hindered my progress in the past by not doing this. Perhaps I'm being a bit presumptuous by assuming that a lot of people (especially newbies) aren't doing this, but if you've trained at a public gym I'm sure you can relate. At a conventional chain gym, you might see 5% of people doing this, on a good day. I track my weight and reps for every single exercise, not just compounds.
2) Use correct form on things like push-ups, pull-ups and inverted rows: It goes without saying that correct form should be used on all movements - but I mentioned these specific body weight movements because these are often performed with a varying, fly by the seat of your pants form. If your goal is to improve your push-ups, it doesn't do much good to track your progress if you're varying your form from set to set, session to session. While performing certain movements like curls with a heavy weight and a not-so-perfect form might be good for breaking a plateau, I find that using a consistent, repeatable form for all of my body weight exercises is the only way to identify true progress. Without using a strict from, there's no way to know if those 2 reps you added were a result of added strength or sloppy form. For example, when I'm doing inverted rows - I do not count it as a rep unless my hands touch my chest.
3) Use 1/4lb, 1/2lb and 1lb plates: In going from a chain gym to a "real" gym, I now have access to these incremental plates and they've allowed me to add weight on a consistent basis without getting ahead of myself.
4) Avoid conventional cardio at all costs: I hated cardio so much that, for the bulk portion of my years in the gym, that I came up with a great solution for it - I didn't do it. Because of this, I was in terrible shape - even though I may have looked fit. The monotony of traditional cardio machines often leads to the overall exclusion of cardio from your routine all together - as they are incredibly drab. Instead, swing sledgehammers at tires, push a sled, row, run intervals - add in some crossfit-style cardio for short, intense sessions.
There you have it. I may add more as things come to mind. I hope this helps those of you that may be in the earlier stages of your lifting career, and could possibly serve as a reminder to those of us that have gotten lazy lately.