Saturday, 6 October 2012

6 common mistakes seen at the gym

Bad lifting form

 Whether you’ve just embarked on a new fitness regime, or you have been an active gym user for a while, there is a strong possibility you might not getting the most out of your training. We all like to think we know what we’re doing, yet the overwhelming majority of people I see training at my local gym give into the same mistakes time and time again! The following list is neither a rant nor a criticism; it is intended as a prompt to encourage you to take a good look at what you’re doing and re-evaluating it. I have fallen into most of these traps myself, and I still do now and again.

1.       The single biggest mistake I see people doing in the gym, is to follow the same old routine without giving much thought to its purpose or effectiveness. This is especially bad when the said routine consists of a mishmash of exercises which they’ve seen performed here and there, and which they’ve stringed together in the hope of building a bit of muscle or burning a few calories. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a couple of girls performing a variety of different abs exercises for 20 min in the hope of getting a flat stomach, or a guy moving from machine to machine, or picking up various weights from the rack and trying disparate exercises with less than perfect form... You can find a variety of routines on the net, some good, some less so, but at least they all have some sort of thinking and logical progression behind them. If your idea of exercising is to go to the gym and make up your routine on the spot, in all likelihood you are doing no more than burning a few calories (probably fewer even than the chocolate bar you’re going to reward yourself with afterwards!).
2.       People don’t keep a record of their sets and reps... This always gets to me: unless you have a notebook and a pen with you (or phenomenal memory), how do you know what you did in your previous sessions? How then, can you ensure that you very gradually increase your reps or weight in order to ensure continuous gains? Keeping track of your workouts is the best way to maximize your progress.
3.       Letting your ego get in the way: I love watching some guys doing biceps curls and swaying like willows in the wind as they try to cheat their way to heavier dumbbells. How much you can lift does not matter, or at least not enough to sacrifice form! What is important is that you are continuously progressing... Lift less, but with good form, and ensure that the next time you add at least one rep to your sets, or that you go up in weight.
4.       Attempting to spot reduce fat: no matter how much you exercise an area of your body, you will not lose fat solely in that area... it simply does not work like that (well, actually, recent studies have shown that there a spot targeting effect, but it is so small that it is almost completely negligible). When you lose fat, you lose it all over. Give up on the thousand reps of donkey kicks, and focus on compound movements targeting large muscle groups.
5.       Exercising in order to lose weight, rather than losing weight in order to exercise. Working out, playing sports, improving your performance should be ends in themselves, not means to lose weight. If you are exercising solely in order to drop a few pounds, then you are putting too much pressure on yourself, and you are at risk of giving up if you do not see the desired effects soon enough. There are so many benefits to working out (mental as well as physical) that exercising justifies itself. I too sometimes dangle weight loss as a carrot for new comers to exercise, but it is only in the hope they will soon make the mental transition from wanting to look better, to wanting to achieve their first pull up or muscle up. The mental well being that comes with physical progress and the sense of achievement are the real keys to sustained efforts.
6.       Thinking you know it all. None of us do... Men are particularly bad in that respect. Some seem to think they have an innate ability to know what to do in the gym, or that they would be less of a man if they didn’t. You were not born knowing how to exercise: do your research, find trusted sources and resources, and stick to proven routines and programmes. Hire a personal trainer, or get advice from a friend who knows what they’re doing in order to ensure proper form! Once again, lose the ego!

Unless you have properly planned your training, unless you are keeping some log of your sessions, and unless you are following a proven routine, you are simply not maximizing your gains. The problem is that often, people who embark on a new training regime will give up because they are not seeing the results they expected. My experience is that a solid routine will always deliver results, and that -thus- the attrition rate will be far less than for those whose efforts lack focus. Train smart to get stronger, faster and leaner!


  1. Many people track their reps and sets at home. I track mine online and I have never had trouble remembering everything.

    1. According to a recent survey 40% of UK gym-goers make it up as they go along...