The biggest mistakes that newbies make in the gym can be broken down into three key areas: Not using the equipment correctly; lifting too heavy too soon, and finally a lack of planning.
Getting the first two sorted will go a long way to preventing injury setbacks that can end your gym lifestyle before it has even started.
The final area of focus is not only for newbies but experienced gym goers as well. Here is a clear way that you can ensure the minimum possible time wastage – no matter how long or intense your session is.
Even if you are an endurance athlete and/or a woman over the age of 50 there are clear advantages to resistance training or lifting weights in the gym. I did a specific post on those benefits and you can find that here.
One question I receive often is from women who are afraid of getting bulky from lifting weights. The good news is that it is very difficult for most women to bulk up from weight training. If this is a serious concern, here is a post for you that covers the handful of things to avoid in the gym in order to not bulk up at all.
So, let’s take a closer look at each one of those mistakes in more detail.
Using the equipment correctly
This is vital. You need to know how to use a piece of equipment correctly and effectively. This is not only to get maximum benefit from that specific exercise but more importantly prevent injuries. These types of injuries are caused by loading muscles, ligaments and tendons in a way that is outside of the range of motion of your targeted area.
The best solution is to do yourself a favor and ask a gym instructor to explain the machine to you and check your form to ensure that you are using it the most effective way possible.
It is astounding what a large portion of gym goers fall into this category. Often when I am traveling and work out as a guest at another gym I find myself spending a large amount of time helping those around me.
Sometimes this offer of help is not appreciated – after all, I am a strange face at that gym. Many people tell me that they have been working out for years and they have always done the exercise in a certain way. Just because you have done the same exercise the same way for a decade or more doesn’t mean that your form is automatically superb or that there isn’t a more effective way of doing the exercise.
Lifting too heavy too soon
This second error is closely related to the first. To a large extent both of these errors tend to be anchored in ego.
With any form of physical training, if you ramp up the volume and intensity too quickly, you will just set yourself up for injury. It is exactly the same when you are lifting weights. Go too heavy too soon and you will just set yourself back weeks or even months.
For many of us, it can be challenging to focus on too many things at the same time. I know that is certainly true for me. When I am lifting lighter it is a lot easier to focus on correct form. The moment I go really heavy all my mental energy is concentrated on just getting the weight lifted. There is no way I can concentrate on form when the veins are bulging on my forehead.
When you include lifting too heavy with poor form, the results are even worse. That is why it is good to learn proper form with lighter weights before loading up.
There is only one way for me to have good form when lifting heavy. I have to ingrain that form on lighter weights to the point where I don’t have to think of my form at all.
It is a myth that muscle gains can only come from lifting massively heavy in the gym. For example, take a look at top level gymnasts. Almost all their training is done using body weight. I even have an analysis of someone who was looking to make muscle gains from using a rowing machine and nothing else.
Lack of planning
There is an old cliché that states: Failing to plan is planning to fail. This holds true in life and it holds true in the gym. Most importantly at the gym, having no plan usually means wasting a massive amount of time – standing around trying to figure out what to do next.
Depending on what your training goals are it might even be worth your while to split your training into a morning and an evening session so as to maximize recovery between sessions.
I know that with the plans that I write up I don’t hit each and every set as heavy and hard as possible. I will have one or two muscle groups that get hit hard while the remaining exercises in the workout will be recovery sets on other muscle groups that were hit hard during the preceding days.
The ideal will be to sit down with your coach or personal trainer and discuss your training goals so that a macro plan can be formulated that map toward those goals. Then, within that macro plan, your trainer will produce micro plans in small training blocks. Each training block will be formulated to include the recovery needed to absorb the training that you have done. That is how each daily workout is reverse engineered from your long-term macro plan.
If you are not able to have a coach or trainer to work with, you should still put together a plan for your training. So do yourself a favor and put together that plan based on your goals so that there can be a goal to each and every workout.
Even if you are a novice with no long-term training goal beyond improving your fitness and general strength – still take out the time to formulate some basic training plans. Take a little time to ask a trainer for help in learning how each different piece of equipment works. While you are at it pick his or her brain for suggestions of which exercises will best complement each other. That will give you the framework for your plan.
A basic rule of thumb is that a combination of 12 to fifteen different exercises done in three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions will give you a workout of around an hour. However, don’t only focus on those exercises that you enjoy doing the most. Core exercises are important and never neglect leg day.
It is also an empowering feeling knowing that when you walk into the gym you know exactly what you’re going to be doing from start to finish. If someone else is using a piece of equipment that’s next on your list, you can obviously chop and change between the different exercises that you have planned within your list. By doing this you won’t break rhythm because coming into the gym with a plan of what you wanting to get done. It also means that you will leave the gym with a sense of achievement because you did what you came to do. That alone will set you up in a positive frame of mind.
As I mentioned earlier, don’t shy away from weights because you do endurance sports. Almost three years ago I had dealings with an athlete who built his 100 miler training program around lifting weights in the gym.
Those are the three biggest mistakes I see beginners making time and time and time again. The first two directly lead to beginners getting injured and dropping out of gym altogether and the third one involves beginners not getting the maximum benefit from their limited time in the gym.