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20 Common Gym Mistakes and their Solutions

20 Common Gym Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

Whether you’ve just started your first fitness routine or have been training for years, it’s easy to make common gym mistakes that lead to injury.

To give you the best chance of avoiding this, we’ve put together a list of 20 of the most common training mistakes.

Some even go beyond injury prevention, and have been included as mistakes that can sabotage your strength and fitness gains.

1. Using a spotter

We’re not saying that using a spotter in every situation is bad, but you have to choose them carefully and they certainly shouldn’t be used on every set.

If you’re training to failure on the last set of a particular exercise, then having a spotter there to assist you in the concentric phase of the movement can help you truly train the target muscle group to failure.

If your goal is to increase strength, your workouts may include more low-rep sets (1-4 reps). This is another situation where a spotter is perfectly acceptable, especially with squats, bench presses, shoulder presses, and overhead tricep extensions.

2. Partial reps

Similar to using a spotter, partial reps do have their place in strength training, but shouldn’t be used for every set.

The vast majority of your reps in every exercise should follow the complete range of motion, with only slight deviations for the last few reps.

Taking the bench press as an example, many people tend to be able to press more weight through the top third with their triceps than they can through the bottom two-thirds with their shoulders.

It's far too common to see people combining partial reps with a spotter. There's really no need.

This can lead to either a complete set, or the majority of reps in a set being through the top-third of the bench press movement only.

Unfortunately this will do nothing to solve imbalances, and actually only makes them worse by building up strength in your triceps without adequately stressing the muscles in your shoulders and chest.

3. Using a weight that’s too heavy

This happens so often that it deserves its own point, but usually leads onto our first 2 mistakes.

If your workout has been planned then you should have a fairly good idea of how many reps you are capable of with your target weights.

By using a weight that’s too heavy you won’t be able to complete the reps you need to reach your target range. If you do, then those reps will usually be the result of more advanced training techniques (drop sets etc.), which if used too often can lead to overtraining.

This also increases the risk of injury.

4. Lack of intra-workout hydration

Staying hydrated during your workouts is one of the best ways you can increase your performance, without having to spend money on expensive pre-workout cocktails.

Although these will often contain BCAAs, which are great for recovery and increasing endurance (particularly glutamine and leucine), water is still the best way to stay hydrated.

5. Inefficient variations of combination training

Cardio before resistance training can lead to poor form, injury, and lack of strength gains.

Cardio doesn’t require the same level of mental focus and strength that lifting heavy weights does, particularly for larger compound exercises that may put your body in a compromising position. This includes squats, bench press, and overhead presses.

6. Choosing steady-state over HIIT

If your goal is to improve cardiovascular health, increase endurance, or burn more calories, HIIT and its many variations have proven themselves to be considerably more effective than steady-state cardio.

This is where shorter periods of high intensity are followed up with periods of lower intensity ‘recovery’ sessions, forming a ’round’.

Your workout is then made up of a number of these rounds, with the average HIIT workout duration being no more than 30 to 45 minutes.

7. Not performing a basic warm-up and stretch routine

If you don’t have much time to train, it’s tempting to jump straight into your workout, reducing the number of warm-up sets and maybe even choosing not to perform any stretching at all.

Although this certainly saves you time, your muscles won’t have had a chance to get accustomed to the weight you’re about to lift, or speed you’re about to run at.

One of the most common gym mistakes to make is not taking the time to stretch before a workout

If it’s a weight training workout, take the time to perform a couple of initial sets with much lighter weight to increase blood flow into the target muscle group.

After completing your pre-workout stretches and warm-up sets, you can then save any time you need by choosing to combine multiple exercises in a superset, or even choose to drop one of your work sets from your workout altogether.

8. Too much socializing

Whether you’re short on time or have hours to spare, having a target duration for your workout can help you stay focussed and maintain a higher level of training intensity.

Choose to listen to music where possible to help block out distractions, which can include anything from an unwanted conversation to watching TV (usually where your gym has screens placed around the cardio equipment).

9. Bringing your phone into the gym

While many people use their phone exclusively for listening to music while they workout, having a phone in the gym usually creates too much of a distraction.

Far too often we’ve seen people taking up exercise equipment talking on their phone, texting, or even playing games while other people wait to use the same piece of equipment.

There’s nothing more frustrating than finding that you have to alter your workout or delay training a particular muscle group due to someone spending 10 minutes playing Flappy Bird.

Try to avoid brining your phone into the gym. It offers too many distractions away from your workout

An MP3 player is always going to be your best option, and if you really get into the whole workout planning routine, you can even put together your favourite playlist to prevent you having to spend time searching for the next song.

10. Too much reliance on one type of equipment

Having the mindset that you should only use free weights, or only use machines isn’t a great mentality to have if you want to see maximum results.

Free weights and machines each have their benefits, and shouldn’t be used exclusively of one another.

Free weights recruit a greater number of stabilizer muscles and allow you to follow a more natural range of motion, while cable machines make it easier to keep constant tension on a specific muscle group.

This is particularly true for exercises such as cable crossovers, where you would otherwise risk taking the tension off your pecs by bringing dumbbells too close together.

11. Waiting for equipment

If you train at a commercial gym rather than at home, it’s always best to avoid peak times where possible. This is generally the 2 hour window before and after work (7am to 9am, 5pm to 7pm).

If your gym does get particularly busy and your schedule doesn’t allow you to train off-peak, it can be a good idea to have a plan B.

This is where you have a backup exercise for any equipment that’s likely to be busy. E.g. Lever chest press to replace bench press, dumbbell rows to replace barbell rows.

12. Impatience

This may seem to contradict our next point, but changing your routine too frequently because you’re not seeing the gains you want is the quickest way to lose motivation.

You can’t track the effects of any changes over a long enough period to back them up with any evidence or results. Stick to each routine for a minimum of 6 weeks before switching exercises, reps, or number of sets.

13. Lack of variation

This applies to both resistance training and cardiovascular workouts. Many ellipticals, exercise bikes, and treadmills have preset workouts already programmed into their consoles which you can switch between every couple of weeks.

For weight training, it’s best to find a balance between variation and tracking. Your choice of exercise, rep range, and number of sets should all vary every 6 weeks or so, but it’s important to track these changes.
This enables you to make notes on which changes lead to improvements and which have had a negative effect on your progress.

14. Not setting small enough goals

If you’ve chosen to take up fitness as a long-term lifestyle change, it’s only natural to start thinking about your goals for the future.

It could be that you want to lose 100 lbs, gain 100 lbs, or even to increase your strength. But whichever main goal you set yourself, you’ll also need to have a series of smaller targets that you can reach on the way.

First break down your long-term goal into smaller segments, then assign a time period to each segment.

Break your larger fitness goals into short term steps. Smaller achievements will help maintain motivation.

Taking the 100 lb weight loss as an example, this could be a good goal to set as part of a 2 year plan.

If you break this down into 10 rounds of 10 lb losses, then this equates to losing 10 lb roughly every 10 weeks on average.

This can even be broken down to smaller goals of 1 lb per week, which seems a lot more manageable and gives a greater feeling of accomplishment as you take each one off your 2 year target.

15. Poor exercise form

This can generally be split into two main categories; using momentum to lift a weight that’s too heavy for your rep range, and not following the most effective range of motion.

This can usually be seen most clearly with bicep curls. It can be tempting to use the strength of your upper back and hips to ‘swing’ the weight up beyond the first half of the movement, until your shoulders start to take over the bulk of the weight.

Not only will you see limited strength and size gains, but lifting like this can also lead to injuries such as dislocated shoulders, muscle tears, and lower back strain.

If you’re struggling to lift a weight, don’t let your ego take over. Listen to your body and lower the weight if necessary to a point where the weight is still challenging, but can be performed correctly.

16. Not planning your workout

Although it might sound like a lot of effort to plan each one of your workouts, especially if you’re in the gym 4 or 5 times per week, it’s an important part of making consistent progress.

This doesn’t mean you need to come up with an entirely new workout each time, but it helps to make you aware of what you managed to achieve during your previous workout, and go slightly beyond that in your current workout.

For weight training, have the exercises you want to include listed in a pre-workout plan, including the sets and rep ranges you’re aiming for in order to progress beyond your strength level from the previous week.

This can count for both resistance and cardio workouts.

17. Too much focus on visible muscle groups

This is usually more common among people who train exclusively in the spring and summer months. Summer holidays, t-shirt weather, and more time spent outdoors means that your arms and chest are the most attractive muscles to train, as they’re going to be on show a lot more than your lower back or traps.

But if you want to see the greatest gains in size and strength, as well as maintaining a well balanced physique, each muscle group has to be trained with equal intensity.

18. Overestimating the number of calories burned

When it comes to measuring the number of calories burned in a cardiovascular workout, it’s usually easiest to check the feedback on the display console.

However, it’s important to remember that the number of calories burned will vary between individuals, and that even the best commercial and home gym machines can only provide close approximations.

If you’re training from home, unfortunately the numbers can often be much less accurate. If this is a measurement that’s important to you, then look to buy a machine that lets you enter your bodyweight and preferably age or height to help calculate the number more accurately.

The number of calories burned also tends to be based on the work that goes into the stride, pedal motion, or running speed / incline, and doesn’t take into account leaning or handlebars or hand rails to reduce the amount of work required by your muscles.

19. Not matching rest periods to your fitness goals

In order to get the most out of your workout time, it’s important to measure the duration of your rest periods.

If we take a standard 60 minute workout as an example, it’s clear to see how much of an impact even small changes can have on the number of sets you have time for.

120 second rest periods with a 2:1:2 rep tempo:
Exercise 1 (including warm-up):
4 Sets: 12 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 11 minutes)

Exercise 2:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 8 minutes)

Exercise 3:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 8 minutes)

Exercise 4:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 8 minutes)

Exercise 5:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 8 minutes)

Exercise 6:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 8 minutes)
Total workout time: 51 minutes (9 minutes for warm up / stretching and cool down)

90 second rest periods with a 2:1:2 rep tempo:
Exercise 1 (including warm-up):
4 Sets: 12 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 9 minutes)

Exercise 2:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 6.5 minutes)

Exercise 3:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 6.5 minutes)

Exercise 4:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 6.5 minutes)

Exercise 5:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 6.5 minutes)

Exercise 6:
3 sets: 8 reps, 8 reps, 8 reps (Total time: 6.5 minutes)
Total workout time: 41 minutes 30 seconds

This second workout plan based on 90 second rest periods between sets and exercises instead of 120 seconds cuts nearly 10 minutes off your workout time.

The shorter rest periods can be an ideal option if your workout is time restricted. Alternatively you can choose to use that time for an extra exercise with 4 or 5 sets.

20. Not training smaller muscle groups

Although you might not be able to create a 4 or 5 day workout split to focus solely on one or two muscle groups per session, a balanced physique still requires smaller muscle groups to be trained.

This includes your calves, forearms, and traps.

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