As the strength and conditioning coach for the New England Revolution and a personal fitness trainer, I have seen everyone from pro athletes to first-time gym goers make a few cardinal mistakes in their workout routines.
1. Prioritizing quantity over quality
Every day I see people loading weight onto their strength training exercises before they have perfected their form. When it comes to weight training, it is extremely important to master the basics first. Take a step back and master a squat using only your body weight. Once you’ve done that, you can start loading on more weight. Remember, walk before you run.
For some reason, the main core exercises I see in a gym are sit-ups and crunches, but these are among the least effective, and can even cause injury, especially if you have any kind of back problems. Instead of sit-ups, try planks or anti-rotational exercises. They will activate your core much more effectively and safely.
3. Ignoring diet
Plenty of people have the mentality that they earn the right to eat whatever they want by spending hours in the gym, but that could not be further from the truth. I tell my clients and athletes that fitness is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise. Whatever you put in your body is the fuel for your workout, and your body will achieve much more efficient results if you use healthy, nutritious fuel.
4. Skipping the warm up
When it comes to injury, one of the biggest mistakes you can make in the gym is forgetting to warm up. Warming up is exactly what it sounds like: getting the blood flowing and your core temperature up before you start your workout. Instead of jumping right into lifting weights or intense cardio, do a set of dynamic stretches, and walk briskly around the gym while you stretch. You should be spending at least five to 10 minutes getting warmed up before your regular routine.
5. Relying on machines
Nothing kills fitness goals like a long-term recovery caused by injury, and a surefire way to injure yourself in the gym is to jump from machine to machine without knowing how to use it properly. While there is a time and a place to use fitness machines, tried-and-true body weight-bearing exercises are usually more effective (when done correctly), and less risky. Instead of trying out that complicated core blasting machine, try out some dead bugs or single-leg lowering—just remember to keep your back flat.
6. Setting lofty goals
Setting goals in the gym is a great motivator, but setting lofty, even unattainable goals can be discouraging and downright dangerous. Plus, when you set a specific fitness goal, you have created an endpoint in your workout routine. Don’t set overly-ambitious, finite goals based on a number on the scale or a specific measurement. Set lifestyle goals. For example, don’t aim to lose 10 pounds in a month, instead, commit to going to the gym four times a week, and see where that gets you. More often than not, you’ll be surprised by what you achieve when you aren’t fixated on the end result.
7. Getting stuck in a rut
If a specific diet or exercise routine works for you, that’s great, but don’t get stuck doing the same thing day in and day out. A routine is important when it comes to fitness, but you’ll burn out on the same old routine every day. Mix it up and try something new, and you’re more likely to stay interested and motivated.
8. Knowing it all
Even some of the professional athletes I work with tend to fall into the “knowing it all” trap. When you are serious about fitness, it’s easy to think you’re incapable of making a mistake in the gym. However, being closed off to correction or improvement will cause a plateau, or worse, an injury. No matter how experienced you are, everyone makes mistakes, and there’s always room for improvement, so stay open to accepting advice and change.
9. Time crunch cardio
Most of the time, when my clients are pressed for time in the gym, they will opt for 30 minute of cardio. The notion that cardio is the most time efficient workout is a common misconception. A well organized strength training circuit can be just as effective, if not more. Instead of running for 30 minutes, try a circuit of body weight exercises (core rows, lunges, push-ups, body weight squats, planks), and run through 20 reps or 20 seconds of each until your time is up.
10. Off-balance routines
Everyone’s gym routine is different, especially when you account for previous injuries, body types, and age, but there is one guideline that applies across the board: stay balanced. Keep everything balanced when it comes to strength training versus cardio and diet versus exercise. For example, if you love running and cardio, that’s great, but make sure you offset all the strain on your joints by strength training those muscles that support your run.