7 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong at The Gym

Updated on August 18, 2018
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Rachel is a health blogger who coaches other women in diet and exercise. She has lived with chronic migraines for 16 years.

Common Gym Mistakes

Working out seems easy enough. Go to the gym, try out a few machines, add in some cardio, and call it a day.

That kind of attitude can get you injured, and chances are, you're overworking parts of your body while completely neglecting others.

When it comes to the best practices for a safe and effective workout, there is major information overload coming from every corner of the internet. We're constantly bombarded with gym dos and don'ts, leading us to follow bad advice or to "wing it" when it comes to executing our own routines.

Throughout my own personal fitness journey, and through observing and coaching others, I have noticed seven common gym mistakes that can be hard to identify but simple to fix:

  1. Skipping the warm-up
  2. Bingeing on pre- and post-workout smoothies
  3. Doing a random workout
  4. Not switching up your routine
  5. Having inconsistent rest periods
  6. Not using proper form
  7. Putting too much emphasis on timing

1. Skipping the Warm-up

I've seen it too many times before. Someone walks into the gym, towel in hand, and proceeds to nearest squat rack. Without so much as a simple stretch, they load up the weights and start pumping full force.

Warm-ups are intended to prepare the body for exercise by gradually increasing heart rate and circulation. This helps loosen the joints and increase blood flow to the muscles. Stretching the muscles prepares them for activity and helps prevent injuries.

In fact, the most important reason for doing a warm-up is to prevent injury. Keeping the muscles warm will prevent acute and overuse injuries. Next time you watch a football game, pay attention to the substitutes on the sidelines. You'll notice that they jog, jump, and stretch to keep their muscles warm as they prepare to enter the game at any given moment. Even if you're not a professional athlete, your body needs warm-ups too!

Warm-ups must be incorporated into any fitness routine.
Warm-ups must be incorporated into any fitness routine.

2. Bingeing on Pre- and Post-Workout Smoothies

While they are delicious—and do offer some great benefits—pre- or post-workout smoothies shouldn't be consumed every day. These smoothies may contain sugar, fat, and carbs—just like any other food—but don't be fooled into thinking you can have as many as you want just because they serve them at the gym!

Post-workout smoothies are designed to help us refuel and replenish after a tough workout, while pre-workout smoothies are geared more towards boosting and sustaining energy. The charts below break down how many calories are in your smoothie using ingredients from multiple categories, like the base, fruit, protein, etc. Keep these numbers in mind the next time you order a smoothie. Ask yourself, "Will I really benefit from this right now?" At $7-10 per smoothie, your wallet will thank you too.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Number of calories in common smoothie ingredients.Amount of calories, protein, and fats in common smoothie ingredients.
Number of calories in common smoothie ingredients.
Number of calories in common smoothie ingredients. | Source
Amount of calories, protein, and fats in common smoothie ingredients.
Amount of calories, protein, and fats in common smoothie ingredients. | Source

Pre-Workout Powder Supplements

Most pre-workout powder supplements (the kind you mix with water) are loaded with caffeine. This can leave you with a false sense of fitness—meaning, you may leave the gym feeling like Superman, when in reality, you just bounced off the walls for an hour.

The other downside of consuming a lot of caffeine before a workout is the inevitable crash. Like an unattended child at a birthday party, your "high" will come to an abrupt and uncomfortable end.

3. Doing a Random Workout

No self-respecting athlete in the world does a random workout, and neither should you. I, myself, have been extremely guilty of this. A few reps on this machine, a few on that machine. Ten minutes on the treadmill, throw around a couple medicine balls, and hit the showers. This is the least effective way to get the results you want!

If you are just throwing together a session from the latest exercises you saw on the internet, with no rhyme, reason, or proper recovery time, you should have stayed home. Determine a purpose for your training, and set the right goals.

By "right goals," I mean goals you know you can obtain but that will still be challenging. For instance, adding 100 pounds to your deadlift in three weeks is probably impossible. Adding 50 pounds in three months is challenging, but attainable.

One way to improve the structure of your workout is to keep a log. Record numbers of sets and reps, amount of weight used, etc. Every couple months, look back at your routine and your level of progress. Reflection will help you reach your goals. If you don't structure and/or track your training, you have no way of knowing if what you're doing is working, or if it needs adjustment.

4. Not Switching Up Your Workouts

Humans tend to be creatures of habit. It's easy for us to settle into a gym routine that we're comfortable with and repeat it every day at the same intensity. However, this habit sets you up to hit the dreaded plateau—the point where progress comes to a halt and motivation takes a downward dive.

Workouts that challenge your body in new ways over time are the most beneficial. This doesn't translate into increased muscle size right away, though. The usual timeframe to expect noticeable progress is 12-16 weeks, but it varies by person. You don't want to give up a month into a new training program just because you're not seeing results in the mirror. Commit to at least 12 weeks, doing the same routine, if it's comfortable. As your body adapts to the routine, you'll need to vary your program in order to continue seeing results.

First, switch your strength moves. For example, you can increase lower body strength by squatting, deadlifting, or doing leg presses. All will require the muscles to work in a similar way, but each will be very different to the nervous system.

When it comes to cardio, follow the same rule of mixing up your routine. First, increase the frequency of your cardio workout. For example, if you've been cycling three days a week, bump it up to four. Then, increase the duration of your sessions. If you've been exercising for 30 minutes, add on five or ten more. (Only do one of these steps in a week.)

5. Having Inconsistent Rest Periods

Rest periods between sets are a crucial, yet often overlooked, factor of any fitness regimen. I see this all too often at my own gym. Sporadic periods of rest to check your cell phone or admire yourself in the mirror make for an ineffective workout.

How do you know what your appropriate rest interval should be? Follow these basic guidelines:

  • Strength athletes like weightlifters, sprinters, football players, or any other athletes in a sport emphasizing high-intensity/short duration activities should rest 3-5 minutes between sets.
  • Athletes training for muscle size or to increase their ability to apply near maximum force over a time period, like bodybuilders, fitness buffs, long-sprint runners and swimmers, soccer players or wrestlers should rest 30-60 seconds between sets.

Keep in mind that beginners need more rest between sets than seasoned veterans. If you are just starting out, stay in the longer end of your range.

6. Using Improper Form

We should all know by now that using improper form when exercising can cause serious neck or back pain—and a whole slew of sprains and strains. Without the supervision of a coach or trainer, it's easy to make form mistakes.

Not only is improper form a safety concern, it can also render your workout useless. While compiling a guide on proper form for every exercise in the world would probably be impossible—because there are, like, a billion—I'd recommend starting with this guide from Shape Magazine, which should help you correct your form.

7. Too Much Emphasis On Timing

The amount of time you should spend at each gym session is not easy to determine. You could send three people into three different gyms with the exact same workout program, and I can guarantee you that they’ll all end up being in the gym for different amounts of time.

When you determine how long your workout is, do you include the warm-up? What about the time spent resting between sets? How much time are you losing when you're changing the song playing on your iPhone or waiting for a machine to be free? It's easy to say we did a 45-minute workout, but we might not be accurately counting the time spent actually working out.

Also, a basic full-body workout for a beginner will be pretty short. It may only take 30 minutes to complete. A full-body workout for someone more advanced, though, could take twice as long. For this reason, and a hundred others, there is no such thing as an “ideal” amount of time that a workout should take. There are too many factors at play to give a set number for every person to follow.

Finally, sticking to a set time can become dangerous. Pushing yourself to work harder is great, but if you're fatigued to the point where any further exercise will cause you to sacrifice proper form, you should stop. You absolutely don't have to commit to a 45, 60, or 90-minute workout every time you hit the gym. In fact, a well-structured 30-minute workout can be more effective than 60+ minutes of random or casual exercise.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2018 Rachel Leigh

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