17 Gym Experts Tell Us The Biggest Mistakes Gym Newbies Make – And How You Can Avoid Making The Same Mistakes!
For people who have never joined a gym before (or worked out before) it can seem very daunting. Every website and every fitness magazine will have their latest and greatest fitness routine to follow, and forums are full of contradicting advice, and you might not know where to begin. So it is no surprise that if you ask almost any personal trainer they can tell you of many, many mistakes that newbies to a gym make.
We contacted a big bunch of gym experts (personal trainers, gym owners and fitness bloggers) to ask them what mistakes they see people making at the gym – and what people should do to avoid these mistakes.
Here is our round-up, in no particular order.
Joshua Serrano (Serrano Strength)
I would have to say that the number one mistake I see new gym goers doing is not following a plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Simply going to the gym and doing a couple of exercises you've seen on the gram isn't going to get you where you want to be.
Anyone can throw a couple of exercises together, make you sweat and call it a good workout.
But the correct question is if it was an effective workout.
There are reasons behind why you're performing certain exercises. There's a reason why you're performing 5 reps instead of 15. There's a reason why you're only resting 45 seconds and not 2 minutes.
A good and effective workout routine is the most important thing to bring with you to the gym, and a big mistake I see a lot of new comers doing is the exact opposite. They never plan.
So if you want to avoid this mistake I invite you to learn. Learn everything you can about proper program design. Learn proper exercise selection, learn proper reps and sets schemes for your goals.
Learning to keep your body healthy and fit is the most important thing you can do.
And the first step to this is to check out SerranoStrength.com.
Bryan Krahn (BryanKrahn.com)
The number one mistake I see is people not having a goal. Or worse, trying to achieve someone else's goal.
So a 40 year old couch potato stressing about his deadlift max should ask himself -- is my max deadlift that important to me? If the goal is to be a powerlifter then yes, it should be, But if the goal is to look better and get healthier, maybe a 8 rep max would be better? Or another lift altogether.
You have to set a main goal and work backwards from there. Every program, every workout should somehow lead to that main goal. This makes training more focused and more enjoyable.
Mark Pieciak (MarkPieciak.com)
First, beginners don’t know WHY they’re going to the gym. They don’t have a goal – they just go into the gym and mess around with a few machines and exercises. Everything you do needs to have a purpose. If your actions don’t have a purpose, then you’re just doing things aimlessly until you get bored and stop doing them. This is why people fail. Solution? Figure out your goal before getting into fitness.
Can’t figure out your goal? Play the “Five Why’s Game” as a form of reflection to figure out what makes, or will make, you happy. It’ll open your eyes – trust me.
Second, beginners don’t want to follow a program that suits their goals. Why? Because they make excuses and don’t like the idea of working hard. Dieting makes overweight people uncomfortable. Training around-the-clock and year-round makes young athletes uncomfortable. Lifting heavy weights makes lanky teenagers uncomfortable. And so on.
The solution to this problem is to realize that if you ever want to accomplish anything (whether it be to lose weight, become a better athlete, or get more muscular) you’re probably going to have to work hard. Know that meeting goals will require something out of you, and it won’t always be something that you’ll particularly enjoy. In fact, certain aspects of attaining your goals will probably SUCK. At many times, you’ll want to quit. However, the more you grit your teeth and get through these uncomfortable situations, the better you’ll be at accomplishing things in life.
Christine Bullock (ChristineBullock.com)
Newbies rush into working out without a program customized for their body and where their health is presently. Most of this time this means they are pounding heavy weights in a single joint single plane of motion, which will may de-motivate them when they aren't getting fast results or they pick one form of fitness that attracted them without mixing it up.
This too will lead to a plateau toward their goals. I recommend seeking out a qualified and experienced professional to create you a fitness and nutritional program based on your lifestyle and needs. It can cost a little more up front, but a lot less in the long run. They will make sure to incorporate movements to protect and repair previous injuries. They should include different forms of exercise that can rebuild the core, the best methods to shed excess fat, and particular exercises to tone the body the way you want it to look. Lastly, nutrition is a major part.
A great nutritional counselor can give you delicious mouth watering recipes that are healthy and will fit into your budget and lifestyle. You will see fast and permanent weight-loss and muscle growth when you work smart. Then as you start to learn what works for your body, you will be able to work on your own!
Nick Tumminello (Nick Tumminello)
At any given time at any big-box gym, you'll see at least one guy doing biceps curls where he has to throw his lower back into it each time he brings the weight up. Not far away, there's the dude doing back squats so heavy, he can't go near parallel. If you don't see that dude at your gym, it may be because he's you.
Going too heavy is one of the biggest mistakes I see newbies and gym rats making - it's easy to make this mistake. After all, you're in the gym to lift weights, right? Well, sort of. Muscle building (i.e., Bodybuilding) is not about becoming a "weightlifter." It's about using weights as a tool to increase your muscle size. Throwing as much weight on the bar, whether to boost your ego and impress the people around you, uses the wrong tool for the job.
When you go too heavy, here's what happens:
- You reduce the time under tension, because you're forced to use momentum to cheat.
- You're unable to lower the weight in a slow, controlled manner, further reducing your time under tension.
- You're unable to focus on the muscles being worked because you have to struggle just to get the weight up.
- You utilize more muscles, which reduces the accumulated pump in muscles you intend to target.
Allow me to burst your bubble: No one else in your gym cares how much you lift! And if they do, then they're just making the same mistakes you are, so you shouldn't care what they think. If you're unable to manage the weight you lift for sets of at least six controlled reps, you are more closely training for increased strength—and that's if you keep good form. Otherwise, it's just bad lifting, which won't make you stronger, and might end up injuring you.
Like any sport, bodybuilding is most effective when guided by three general technique principles:
- Using strict form.
- Utilizing controlled eccentric (lowering) movements of at least three seconds.
- Mentally focusing on the muscles being worked and squeezing those muscles at the peak of contraction.
Does this mean that all cheating is off limits? Not necessarily. There are ways to cheat effectively while still using this system. But if you don't have the fundamentals down pat first, then you only cheat yourself.
Jedd Johnson (Diesel Crew)
Overuse of Training Straps
Lifting straps are often used excessively in the gym. This results in the strength and development of the hands and forearms lagging behind the rest of the body. Try to save the straps for your heaviest sets of Shrugs, Rack Pulls, and other lifts that train a large portion of the upper or full body.
This will keep your hand strength more balanced with the rest of your body. Remember, the last thing you want is to struggle with grip strength issues as you continue to train into the future.
All the best in your training.
Jan Graham (Cranky Fitness)
I'd say the most common newbie mistake is a mental one: wishful thinking.
Getting healthy and fit and staying that way for the rest of your life? It's SO worth it, but it's often a huge pain in the ass. If someone new to working out isn't prepared for off days, for injuries, for set-backs, disappointments, and humiliations, it can be all too easy to quit.
It would be great if getting in shape was as fun as the fitness industry makes it sound: full of cool new shiny gadgets and hip looking workout outfits and muscles magically appearing where there didn't used to be any and unicorns and fairies cheering you on while the pounds melt away... But, well, it sometimes takes a while to see payoffs and it can be hard to stay motivated if you were expecting quick miracles.
Know it's going to suck sometimes, but hang in there, it gets easier over time!
Chad Howse (Chad Howse Fitness)
They don't focus on strength. Most guys, when they first start training focus on bodybuilding, but no matter the goal, strength will help you get there faster and more effectively.
Bryan DiSanto (Lean It Up)
EGO. EGO. EGO.
People sacrifice form in favor of lifting heavier weights, which of course leads to ineffective workouts, injury, imbalances, poor muscular development and about a million other problems. It's tough and takes some discipline, but TRY to always make form, technique, and range of motion your #1 priority.
Kathleen Trotter (KathleenTrotter.com)
Too often people don't take the time to establish realistic goals. They make what I call "fitness wishes" instead of creating realistic and specific goals. How often have you heard someone state "starting Monday I am going to go to the gym". I love the sentiment, but without a detailed strategy of atack the wish will not turn into a reality.
In addition, I encourage everyone to live by the rule that "something is always better than nothing". If you can't make your entire scheduled workout, don't use that as an excuse to do nothing. Workout at home or walk home from work. Make daily movement a non-negotiable.
Andy Morgan (RippedBody.jp)
When I look back on the reasons why I made very little progress in my first five year if hitting the gym - crappy gym environments comes out on top. Everything else fell into place when I finally started going to a good one. This is a mistake I see a lot of people making.
It usually comes in the form of choosing a gym based on convenience or cost, despite it lacking the equipment you need.
Ok, so you may have read that the leg press with appropriate supplemental exercises can get the job done, but that’s if you know what you’re doing, which you don’t yet. A gym without a squat rack is going to have a poor atmosphere and uptight gym staff that will not let you do what needs to be done to train hard and change your physique.
It is worth paying a little more and traveling a little further to be in an environment that is conducive to your goals. Seek to be surrounded by people that are stronger than you, as they will make you believe in yourself, and that will have huge long-term impacts on your physique. (note: Do not confuse a smith machine with a squat rack. If you cannot separate the bar from the rack, it is not a squat rack.)
Jennipher Walters (Fit Bottomed Girls)
The number one mistake I see people new to working out making is doing too much too soon. They start off really motivated and with the best of intentions but they go all-in and try to work out for like an hour five days a week -- and a lot of times they do an activity that they don't even really enjoy.
It's far better to ease in to working out a little bit at a time and to choose activities that you actually like. Then you don't have to rely on sheer willpower to work out -- you actually want to do it! Focus on being active for a few minutes each day until you're into the habit of exercising most days of the week.
Once that habit is set and it's part of your every day routine, then try adding on more time, heavier weights, etc.
Mario Tomic (Shocking Fit)
After traveling to over 35 countries in the last 4 years and visiting gyms from all around the world I can say that the number one mistake I see new people in the gym make is lack of focused effort during training.
A person with 100% effort and focus will make more progress on a bad workout plan that someone with a great workout that isn't putting in effort.
The ability to focus and put in the effort where you want it, when you want it, gives you a massive advantage in a world where the average attention span is measured in seconds, not minutes.
If you look at old school bodybuilders like Frank Zane, Tom Platz, Mike Mentzer and the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger they always point out the power of the mental side of training and being “in the zone“.
For someone starting out just adopting a mindset that every minute in the gym counts will definitely take his training to the next level. Not to mention that they will get faster and better results which is the key to staying motivated.
5 quick action steps to boost your focus in the gym:
- Leave your phone in the locker
- Use headphones or earbuds to minimize distractions from the gym
- Between sets while resting visualize the upcoming set and how you’re going to do your best
- Make gym rituals that always bring you into state of focus. It could be playing the same song or doing something during your warm-up every time that signals that it’s time to crush it
- Add meditation in your daily routine, even 5 minutes a day will not only increase your focus in the gym but will make a massive difference in all areas of life.
Brandon Morrison (Lift Big Eat Big)
I believe that the most common mistake a beginner lifter makes is trying to follow too many programs at once, and listening to too many varying sources for guidance. It is important to have a guide when you are new, but there are many different ways to reach your goals, and if you try to do them all at once, you will get poor results. By trying to follow two programs to get twice as strong in half the time, you will get half as strong in double the time.
To alleviate this, simply find a program, any program really if you are new, and stick with it to its completion. Don't add in your own programming to it. After all, you are following a program because you don't know how to program for yourself, so why would you try to edit one that is already put together for you?
Stick to your programming, and don't ask everyone you see for advice, too many opinions will just cause confusion in your own training. Asking Pros what they currently do for training doesn't make sense: you aren't a Pro. Instead, look at what the Pro did when they started, to see how they became a Pro.
Good luck, lifters! We all started at square one, and know the struggles that go along with it. Stick with it, think about your end goals, and break up your goals into smaller, achievable pieces.
Marielle Burch (Fit Girl Pretty World)
My answer would be that newbies try doing too much too early...they go from barley exercising to going to the gym everyday. This will lead to burnt out. I'd suggest starting out gradually and giving your body some rest days. For example if you never exercise, start with 2 days a week and then build up from there. If you want exercise to be part of your routine, remember it is a marathon not a sprint 🙂
Nicole (Foodie Loves Fitness)
One major mistake that people new to exercise tend to make is overdoing it. They go into their first week of working out doing too much too soon, wind up feeling crazy sore, and then may wind up feeling discouraged, burning out, and giving up when they don't see immediate results. Making the shift to a healthier lifestyle is just that - a lifestyle change.
It takes time to improve your fitness level, see results and get into a good groove of working out. So my advice would be to keep pushing yourself to continue making that effort to exercise, while at the same time listening to your body - giving yourself a rest day when you need it, and not overworking your muscles too much in order to prevent injury. Healthy living is all about balance. Extremes are easy, strive to find your perfect exercise balance!
Ashley Pitt (A Lady Goes West)
I think one of the biggest mistakes I see from people new to a workout regimen is that people tend to do the same thing every single day, expecting results. Rather than doing steady-state cardio on the elliptical day in and day out, you can save time by doing shorter bursts of cardio interval work paired with weight-training. Variety and mixing-up formats is much more likely to bring results.
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Thank you to everyone who took part! Please be sure to check out their websites, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages if you liked their advice.
The admin staff at Gym Geek are all gym rats who love to share their fitness advice and knowledge!