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20 Common Workout Mistakes & Solutions

The last few weeks I have been really getting into and writing about the nutritional sides of things. There is so much to be said about nutrition and all of the new research and discoveries that have been made in the field; it is an exciting and scary time.
But I am going back to exercise this week.
Firstly I want to say I’m not here to judge anyone. I have made all these mistakes myself at some point; lets say these are just observations.
I go to a gym as a normal member to train myself and I go to gyms as a personal trainer. I sometimes can’t help but look around and evaluate other people’s workout.
Some people don’t even sweat! They talk or read magazines for longer than they train.
I used to think these people were wasting their time but I have now realised that they are still getting something from it, even if it is just a social thing.
I see many people in there working really hard and training correctly but sadly I see twice as many people walking around aimlessly, using poor technique and going too easy on some things and too hard on others.
None of these mistake alone are a big deal, but when you do lots of them every session and continue to do it for the next few years, it becomes a big problem, as you could be getting so much more out of all the effort.
So to help you avoid making too many mistakes I put it into a list of Common Workout Mistakes together.
These will help you get more progress for the effort you are putting in.
There are 20 to get through so I’ll get straight into it:
1. No Warm Up
I see a lot of people walk into the gym, jacket off, straight to the weights, pick them up and start bench pressing! Their body is nowhere near ready to start lifting proper weights. It’s advisable to do a few warm up sets with lighter weights but even before that you should be getting the body ready to exercise. A quick pulse raiser is needed to increase your heart rate, body temperature, circulation and range of motion. If you are lifting weights you could try and do some specific movements to your session rather than 5 min on the treadmill or bike. More and more people are using foam rollers now to release any tight muscles before the start their session. (I will be writing more about foam roller and how to use them soon). Mix up some dynamic stretches (high knees, heel lifts, swinging the arms etc) with some body weight exercises like press ups and burpees to prepare you mentally and your body physically to start training properly.
2. Not Stretching
Stretching may not be the most fun part of a workout but it is needed. The more flexible your muscles are the less chance they have of getting injured. Stretching pre-exercise will help to increase the elasticity of the muscles and help your range of movement during your session. Always stretch after you have warmed up.
Before exercise – dynamic stretching like swinging your arms and lifting your knees up to your chest.
After exercise – static stretching like touching your toes. Hold these post exercise stretches for 2-3 minutes for best results.
3. Long, Slow Cardio (all the time)
I’m going to say this now: if you want to unlock and experience all of the fantastic health benefits that regular exercise can bring please do not read a book while you exercise. I can safely say if you are exercising at an intensity where you are able to read a book then you are not going hard enough. There is a common misconception that the best way to lose weight is to do cardiovascular work in the “fat burning zone”.
It’s not the case. You need to be mixing it up a bit with high intensity training rather than continuous cardio. So many people will come in with an hour workout in mind and spend it on 1 maybe 2 machines at a constant speed; this is not good, sorry. If you are training for a marathon or long distance race then go ahead, but if you want to lose fat you really need to mix things up. An efficient high intensity interval training can mean that you can get better results in probably ¼ the time of long continuous aerobic training. Try going all out for 30s rest for 90s and repeat 5-10 times.
Note: Cardio training is a great way of de-stressing and sweating (sweating is good for you). That’s what I use it for, a therapeutic effect. It chills me out and re-energises me at the same time if that makes sense.
4. Poor Technique
This doesn’t annoy me just because I am a personal trainer and I like to see people exercise right, it is more to do with the fact that it can be dangerous. The most common thing I see is people squatting BADLY (like an old lady going to the toilet). The squat is THE most important exercise and a fundamental movement in life, so please squat with your feet flat to the floor! the other one I see lots of is doing press ups incorrectly. I also see people complaining that their back hurts after the squat and their shoulders hurt after lifting weights. If you do the exercises right then the pain should just come from the muscles you have been working.
5. Sit Ups to Lose Belly Fat
Sadly we can’t just simply decide where we are going to lose the fat. Doing sit ups won’t burn your belly fat, doing tricep extensions won’t burn your upper arm fat; it’s called spot reduction and is not possible. Yes these exercises will strengthen your muscles and leave a better look but not get rid of body fat.
Tip – Don’t do traditional sit ups if you have any pouching or distension in your tummy(it will make it worse), try to do planks and leg raises.
6. Working Out Every Single Day
If you have the motivation to train every day then I take my hat off to you. I only do it for myself 3-4 times a week, but I do train other people 6 days a week so I’m not sure if i break this rule or not!
So many people struggle to find motivation to go once a week let alone once a day. You must be careful though, as your muscles improve during rest. They get broken down during training and then they rebuild during rest and come back stronger. This is how we improve. The hour after training is crucial in rebuilding your muscles and potentially improving them, so good quality nutrition and rest is needed. Not allowing your muscles enough time to rest limits the muscles opportunities to rebuild and can lead to reduced results, limited training ability and eventually injury. If you are going to exercise each day then change the exercises and activities you do. Mix up cardio and resistance training for different days and try and include different sports like tennis/squash as opposed to another gym session on exercise days: don’t stick to the same routine 7 days a week. If you need to train or your day is not the same and if you are spending longer and longer up the gym you may have an exercise addiction which is dangerous. (If that sounds like you or someone you know, you need help or will suffer massive depression in the long term.) Iron man and marathon runners are most prone to this.
7. Purely Relying On Machines
The machines they have in gyms I think are a good start to introducing you to strength training but they should not be used instead of free weights in my opinion. These machines can sometimes put you into unnatural positions which could be more dangerous than free weight training. Machine training isolates the muscle so you are only working that specific muscle. You may think that is good, but it isn’t. Free weight training means that much more muscles are used during the movement. Your core muscles are worked to help give you a stable base and balance, and many other different muscles are needed to stabilise and aid the main muscle being worked. Free weights have much more variety and are more functional than machine training.
A lot of people are scared of free weights because it has a separate gym area and because they don’t know what to do. Just speak to a gym instructor/personal trainer and they should get you off to a good start. Start with box squats and shoulder press, master these and move onto lunges and press ups and finally try dead lift and pull ups.
Some women think they can’t do some of these exercises, but the good news is you can with the right strategy, techniques and equipment. I have women over 60 doing 20 press ups, assisted pull ups and 40kg dead lifts (the dead lift is basically lifting something heavy off the floor).
8. Trying to Cram Everything into One Workout
If you can honestly only get to the gym once a week then you can’t expect to get a week’s worth of training into that one hour session. You should still go to the gym but if you are only training once a week it is likely that you will not be fit enough to take on a massive session. I would recommend trying to fit in 3-4 workouts of 10-15 minutes at home or at work during the week to increase your fitness which will allow you to do a bit more in your gym session at the end of the week.
9. Getting Distracted During Your Workout
I may seem quite unsociable making this point but you should do all of your talking after your session, not during. It does annoy me when I see someone complete a set talk for 5 minutes then do the second set. This is no good. You need to time how long you have between each set, use the clock or your watch and keep everything running smoothly. Without monitoring your rest you cant monitor your progress. You will not achieve the best results if you allow too much time to rest between sets; you allow your muscles to recover completely which lessens the gains. If you and your muscles feel absolutely fine after a weights set it doesn’t mean you are strong and fit…it means you probably used too much rest and used too light a weight. Also by timing your rests you’ll likely be able to get out of there 10 minutes earlier every session.
10. Not Pushing Yourself
3 sets of 10 reps with 50kg for bench press may be very challenging for someone when they start exercising. It is likely that for the first few weeks they have only managed to get 8, 9 reps, then as they improve they can do 10, 10, 8. Soon after though they hit 10, 10, 10; now is the time to push it along and up the weight but so many people don’t make that step. In order to improve you need to overload yourself. Once your body gets used to a movement it will stop improving and begin to plateau, so you won’t get any weaker but you won’t get any stronger.
In order to be successful and achieve results you need to be constantly setting targets, achieve them, then set another target. Always have something to aim for and you will always be motivated.
Side note: some people are too sick and tired to push themselves and if they do push themselves they need to go to sleep after they have been to the gym. If this is you, you need to detox and rest to get your natural energy back.
11. Aimless Sessions
In order to avoid walking from machine to machine aimlessly and using that one because it’s free, you need to have a workout order. Before stepping foot in the gym you need to have a good idea what your goal for the session is and how you are going to reach it. People who plan properly have much better results, and they are also more likely to finish their session. If you have no routine then there is nothing stopping you from walking out the door after ten minutes. Plan every session and make sure that every workout brings you a step closer to achieving your goal.
12. Copying
The gym can be a good place to learn new exercisers and pick up new workout ideas but it is also a good place to pick up awful habits. Try to avoid copying people, and ask your instructor if you want some good advice. Chances are a lot of the people you are copying are making 5-8 of the mistakes written down in this list. Obviously a lot of people do workout well, so have a chat with some regular gym members who are in good shape at the end of the session to see how they are getting their results. Don’t pester them during their session because they will not be happy (refer to point 9 – getting distracted during your workout!)
13. Easy Sessions
This one is a mixture of points 3, 9, 10 and 11. They all combine to produce a long session with limited benefits. I mean it is good that people are going to the gym and they are doing a lot more than those sat at home with their feet up, but the fact that they have made it to the gym means they might as well do a bit more and get the full benefits. Many people have no clue how to exercise but are happy to carry on rather than asking for help, thinking they are doing well. If you leave the gym without a red face and a good sweat on then you should be doing more. So quick tips: swap your long cardio for intervals, cut your rest time between sets, plan your session beforehand and always set yourself new goals. This way your workout will be done in half the time and you will get double the results.
14. Doing the Wrong Type of Workout
If you have a set goal then you want every session to bring you that one step closer to achieving it. If you are unsure of how to achieve it ask a personal trainer and I’m sure they will be more than happy to help. If you want to run a marathon then you should be spending a bit less time in the weights room and if you want to improve your muscular strength get off the cross trainer!
Tip: there is no perfect exercise routine for the ultimate body! You need to – lift heavy weights – do cardio (run, row, bike, swim) – do mobility – do speed work/power – vary things up all the time.
15. Neglecting Weights
This one goes out to the females out there. Doing regular weights training will not leave you looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger! It will just help you to burn tons more calories, have a more toned physique, and be strong enough to perform daily tasks easily. Science does not allow you to build muscle like males do, and unless you set your goal to be as big and ripped as possible then this won’t happen. Incorporate weights into your workouts it will help a great deal.
16. Lifting Too Heavy
I see so many people eager to lift heavier weights because it ‘looks better‘ and completely sacrifice their technique to do so. You know when you start to twist your whole body and lean and move about too much that you are lifting too heavy, and this may allow you to complete the rep but it will prevent you from getting the full gains of the exercise because you aren’t just using the muscles you are supposed to. You are also a lot more likely to get injured. Just start with lower weights and build it up gradually.
17. Not Drinking Enough
If you feel thirsty while you are training you are already dehydrated which is going to negatively affect your performance. You need to constantly make an effort to drink during the day, not just during and after training. Drinking too much during training can leave you feeling bloated so make sure you drink enough beforehand. Also don’t rely on a lucozade or powerade to give you energy; water is fine and a lot cheaper!
18. Neglecting Cooling Down
As soon as a lot of people complete their last rep they are straight out the door in a flash. Or if they are on a cardio machine as soon as the time is complete they will hit stop. Always perform an activity which will help to gradually bring your heart rate back down. This will reduce your chances of getting injured and give you a few minutes just to relax. Stretching is great to cool down, and as I said earlier, hold the stretches for 2-3 minutes.
19. Thinking You Can Eat What You Want
This applies to so many people and is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you head straight for a takeaway after the gym because ‘you feel you deserve one’ then you are going to undo all of the hard work you have just done in the gym. YOU CAN’T OUT TRAIN A BAD DIET.
The first hour post workout is crucial in re-fueling the body and ensuring that it is able to rebuild and improve. You need to make sure that you get some good quality carbohydrates into your body to help protect and rebuild the muscles. A piece of fruit is a great first thing to have after a workout.
20. Setting Unrealistic Goals
In order to stay motivated you need to set a stimulating goal which is hard to achieve but achievable. If you set a goal like lose 4 stone in a month before your wedding then you will not achieve it…certainly not in a healthy way anyway! You shouldn’t set a goal for the sake of it; you need to want to achieve it. Have a proper think about what you truly want and how you are going to do it. Be honest with yourself and take into account your fitness levels, physique, lifestyle, nutritional habits and set something realistic to you. If you need help ask a professional.
So there we have my top 20 common workout mistakes.
Its been a long post but that just shows how many people I see making mistakes. They are all easy to cut out to ensure you are getting maximum benefits from your sessions.
Take care, and good luck
Richard Clarke


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