In this blog, we’ll be discussing the 5 most common mistakes made in the gym and how best to avoid them. The gym can be an intimidating place, especially for those who are new to working out. Even for experienced gym-goers, it can be easy to fall into bad habits or make mistakes that can hinder progress and increase the risk of injury.
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From improper form to overtraining, common mistakes can prevent you from reaching your fitness goals and can even cause harm to your body. By understanding and avoiding these mistakes, you can ensure that your workouts are safe, effective, and enjoyable.
So, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, let’s dive in and take a look at the most common mistakes people make in the gym and how you can avoid them.
Performing Exercises With Incorrect Form
The most common mistake in any gym in the world is poor form. You can go to any gym in the world and you can guarantee there will be someone in there, no matter what time of the day, performing an exercise incorrectly.
This common occurrence usually happens for a number of reasons:
- The individual is new to exercise
- Trying to impress others by trying to lift weights that are too heavy
- Overcomplicating exercises
But, it is also just as common in intermediate and experienced gym goers too. You might have trained dumbbell bench press incorrectly for 10 years and had no idea. How do I know this? Because I did it myself. Once you perform an exercise for such a long time without even questioning how the movement could be best utilised, you get stuck in that movement pattern.
The worst part is, you usually know it does not quite feel right but choose to ignore it out of pride and ego. Maybe it hurts your shoulder a little, ‘Oh well, it’s probably supposed to hurt a bit if I am lifting heavy.’ No. That pain is probably from overstimulation of a muscle group that is not supposed to be as engaged in that movement. That’s why it hurts.
The longer you perform an exercise incorrectly the harder it gets for your mind to be changed. Even if you do decide to change, you quickly realise that maybe you are not as strong as you thought when using the correct form.
Does Incorrect Form Really Matter?
This may seem like a stupid question. Truthfully it is, but there are arguments to suggest that you can still make great progress with bad form. This is absolutely true.
The problem is, eventually poor form will catch up to you in the form of an injury. Ask almost any bodybuilder or experienced lifter if they have any shoulder or elbow injuries from lifting. Whilst a bit of pain in the shoulder may not seem like much now, as you get older your chances of longevity within the gym rapidly deteriorate.
If you are over 30 years old and reading this you will understand. If you are under 30, please heed my advice and try to avoid preventable niggle and injuries as much as you can because they will catch up to you sooner rather than later.
Can I Perform Cheat Reps?
A few cheat reps every now and again can be beneficial provided they are completed as safely as possible.
For example, you have been training for a long time but have reached a plateau. It feels like you have tried every trick in the book but can not seem to break through this barrier. Getting a good spotter can help you squeeze out a few more repetitions, that you would not have been able to do by yourself.
Get A Good Spotter
Here is a hypothetical example. You are performing a barbell bench press and can not lift any more than 90kg (198 lbs) without failing. But then you introduce a good spotter and set the weight on the bar to 95kg (209 lbs). You lower the bar to your chest but the spotter gives you some assistance in pushing the bar back up.
Even though you have not necessarily performed the exercise all by yourself, you have broken through a mental barrier of getting the weight from A to B. You have also signalled to the muscles how much weight you want to push and prepared them to be stronger in order to push that weight back up.
This will only work by getting the spotter to do a few different things. On the lowering phase of the barbell, you should still choose a weight that you can control to your chest. If it is too heavy, then you are aiming too high with the amount of weight you are trying to lift. When you do start to push back up, the assistance from the spotter should be so minimal that you can barely recognise it unless it is unsafe to do so (The weight is too heavy and you will drop it on yourself without major assistance).
Your spotter should always be someone who knows how to spot correctly and is strong enough to lift the bar up should they need to.
Not Performing Enough Compound Exercises
Training for most goals should be based predominantly on compound lifts. Arguably every single gym-related goal should include compound lifts, whether it is fat loss or muscle gain.
There are a number of compound lifts available for each muscle group. The list below shows the most common compound exercise used for each muscle group:
- Chest – Barbell Chest Press
- Shoulders – Military Overhead Press
- Legs – Barbell Squat
- Posterior Chain – Deadlifts
- Back – Lat Pull Downs
Compound movements are not necessarily better than isolation exercises for building muscle. In fact, one study suggests an almost equal increase in size and strength in a 10-week period for untrained men. 1
But, training all of your muscle groups individually is much more time-consuming than completing compound lifts. It is also borderline impossible to train all the muscle groups effectively by performing isolation exercises.
How can you expect to build a well-developed and strong chest without performing a chest press exercise? Chest flyes are good, but how much weight can you really expect to lift with the correct form? This is without even considering the potential damage you can do to your shoulders.
The same principle can be used for the lower body. You could spend time undertaking isolation exercises for each individual body part. Or you could just do some barbell squats.
There are cases where the individual can not undertake compound exercises due to injury or issues with mobility. An increase in size and strength can still be made with isolation exercises but not as quickly or effectively for certain body parts.
As a rule of thumb, training sessions should begin with compound exercises and lead into isolation exercises once the bigger, more heavy lifts have been completed first.
What Are The Best Isolation Exercises?
There are an almost unlimited amount of isolation exercises that can be completed. Listing them all here would create a whole new article. But we have provided you with some of the best isolation exercises for each body part. These exercises can be combined to work alongside compound exercises for maximum effectiveness:
Upper Body Isolation Exercises
In the list below, are some of the most common exercises used for each individual muscle group in the upper body:
- Shoulders – Cable or Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- Chest – Cable Flyes
- Biceps – Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls
- Triceps – Standing Tricep Cable Pushdown
- Lats – Kneeling Side Cable Lat Pulldown
- Traps – Cable Face Pulls
- Abs – Cable Crunches
Lower Body Isolation Exercises
In the list below, are some of the most common exercises used for each individual muscle group in the lower body:
- Glutes – Hip Thrusts
- Quads – Leg Extensions
- Hamstrings – Romanian Deadlifts
- Calves – Standing Calf Raises
- Hip Abductors/Adductors – Hip Abduction/Adductor Machine
Whilst these lists could be extended into even more intricate body parts, it shows how to train the main limbs with isolation exercises. These are not the only exercises you can use, but these exercises will specifically target each muscle group listed with good results if performed correctly.
Only Using Cardio For Fat Loss
You will burn more calories during a dedicated cardio session than you would do during a session focused specifically on resistance training. So, in that case, cardio is more beneficial for fat loss? Well, yes and no.
Over time, resistance training allows you to build muscle. More muscle means more fat-burning at rest. The muscle itself does not burn the fat directly. But muscle tissue is more active metabolically which makes the body burn calories more quickly than normal fatty tissue does.
In other words, you may have two people who weigh exactly the same but have different body compositions. If one person is predominantly high in muscle mass whereas the other has an especially high body fat percentage, the person with higher muscle mass will burn fat much more quickly than the other even at rest.
The ideal methodology would be to include both types of training in your regime if fat loss is your primary goal.
Always look to prioritise undertaking any resistance exercise before doing cardio exercises. Too much cardio before any resistance training will lead to poorer overall results and loss of strength. This is due to phosphocreatine system stores being used up during any endurance activity, which is crucial for performance in weightlifting exercises.
Related Article – What Type Of Cardio Burns The Most Fat?
Not Implementing Progressive Overload
Healthline.com describes progressive overload as when you gradually increase the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your strength training routine. This challenges your body and allows your musculoskeletal system to get stronger.
Far too often, people use the gym facilities and repeat the same exercises repeatedly, week after week. They do the same length of time on their favourite piece of cardio equipment. Then lift the same weights for the same amount of sets on the same exercises. Then wonder why they never see any recognisable changes.
Therefore, it is super important to have a plan and track your results on that plan, because without seeing your progress how will you introduce progressive overload?
Applying progressive overload can be done in a number of different ways:
- Add one more rep on a selected exercise from the previous session
- Complete an extra set on a chosen exercise
- Increase the weight of a selected exercise from a previous session
- Improve the number of calories you burn on a piece of cardio equipment
- Decrease the time it takes to complete a certain distance on a piece of cardio equipment.
These small changes might not happen in EVERY single session, But you should be aiming to complete one of these goals as often as possible to maintain progression.
Unwillingness To Change Training Protocols
People generally do not like to ask for help. Particularly those who think they know better, but this can hold you back rather than propel you forward.
Personal trainers and more experienced gym users love being asked to help, so they can share their knowledge with people and help others. Nothing makes someone happier than helping another person, so why take that away from someone?
It is a win-win situation for both parties.
Throw your ego to one side and realise the benefits which can come from simply asking another person for some help. But, always be sure that the person you are asking for help has the relevant knowledge and experience to give you help. What might work for the old guy in the gym, might not work for you.
Summary And Recommendations
There are many different reasons why an individual might not make progress in the gym. Mistakes are an integral part of learning and provided you are open-minded and can make honest self-assessments, there is no reason why you can not eradicate them. If you feel like you have reached a plateau within your training, or just feel overwhelmed with all the information out there then consider if any of these steps relate to your training regime.
- Gentil P, Soares S, Bottaro M. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med. 2015