The 10 Things You’re Doing Wrong at the Gym

The 10 things you do wrong at the gym. Yes, you!

I know I’m usually warm and fuzzy.  I’ve got the pom poms out and I’m cheering everyone on as best I can.  But today … today we’re doing tough love.  I have walked through the gym one time too many and I’m sick of it.  This is what you’re doing wrong.  Stop it!  Now!  I mean it!

1.  Not working out hard enough. Stop wasting time; you should be huffing and puffing and red and sweaty and goopy-gross by the time you’re done.  This should not be your opportunity to read crappy gossip magazines and watch bad TV.  The gym is where you’re supposed to increase your heart rate and fatigue your muscles to the point of failure.  If the experience seems to be as much effort as shopping at the mall, you’ve failed.  Up the pace, up the resistance, and start sweating!

2.  Heaving weights. I see this every day.  Someone wants to look cool while they’re doing bicep curls so they pick up a super heavy weight.  Problem is it’s too heavy, so they do the “bicep curl” by arching their back and heaving the thing up to their shoulder.  Congrats, you just over used your back and probably torqued a disc.  The lift had little or nothing to do with your bicep.  This also goes for every other exercise.  If you’re heaving and grunting to get from point A to point B, the weight is probably too much for you.  Pick a lighter weight and follow proper technique.   It’s always form first and strength second; if you can’t keep form, then you’ve reached muscle failure and your set is over.

3.  No stretching. Sure, just hop on whatever piece of cardio you want, slam through your workout, pat yourself on the back, and go home.  No need to stretch, that’s for wimps.  But the reality is stretching improves joint range of motion (so you can perform movements better) and also decreases the chances of injury.  It even helps process out some lactic acid so you’re not as sore the next day.  It only takes five minutes so please make sure you stretch.

4.  Forgetting knee over toe.  Lunges while holding weights are ubiquitous in gyms.  If I go an hour without seeing them I consider it a victory.  And they are really popular because they work.  But I see soooo many people doing it wrong.  They take too big a step so they are off balance and their knee wobbles (perfect set up for a knee injury).  Or they put too much weight into the forefoot and push the knee beyond their toes (another knee injury waiting to happen.)  Stop it!  Do it right or just use the leg press machine where you can’t get into as much trouble.  OK?

5.  Thumping barbells off your chest.  Here’s another weight training one that drives me crazy.  Some tough guy loads up a barbell, lies down on the flat bench, and “bounces” the weights off his chest.  First of all, you’re not in control of the weight if you’re doing that.  Secondly, you can actually crack a rib or even throw off your heartbeat and actually cause your own heart attack.  (It’s really rare but it could happen.)  Take one of those little sweat towels and drape it over the barbell; when it touches your chest pause (your elbows should be at about 90 degrees), and then push the barbell up.  That’s how you’re supposed to do it.

6.  Dangling your legs and pretending you’re doing something.  I see this from girls all the time, but guys do it too: locked out elbows on the supports of the treadmill or elliptical supporting most of the body weight in the arms.  Then the machine is at a super fast pace and the legs are just flying along pell mell.  Problem is all you’re really doing is flailing along with momentum; you’re not actually working.  Please spare the equipment you’re abusing and put your body weight where it’s supposed to go.  You’ll have to slow down, but you’ll actually burn calories.  That is why you came in, right?

7.  Coming in late to group ex class, especially if it’s on purpose. I think some people don’t bother with the warm-up because they think it doesn’t pertain to them.  Or they were fiddling on their crackberries instead of getting changed in time for class. I’ve seen the percentage of late comers in group ex classes rise substantially over the years.  It stinks.  It’s rude.  It’s disruptive to the teacher and the other students.  And it means you’re more likely to injure yourself because you didn’t warm-up properly.  Who’s the winner here?  Get to class on time!

8.  Not changing up your workouts. Your exercise routine should be shifting every three to six weeks.  You need to keep constantly shocking the body to encourage muscle strength to develop and to keep working the body in a balanced way to prevent overuse injuries.  If it’s been since the ice age that you’ve changed your routine, hire a personal trainer to mix it up and keep you safe and properly challenged.  It’s about the same price as a nice dinner out and you need the trainer a lot more than you need the calories from a fancy dinner.  Don’t think of it as a splurge, think of it as a necessity.

9.  Not cleaning the equipment. Ewwww, do you think I want to lie down where your gross, sweaty body just was?  Do you think because you shower daily that you’re always dewy fresh?  It’s gross!  Carry around a towel and a wipe and make sure you don’t leave any sweat behind.  It’s disgusting.  Stop it.

10.  General courtesy. I think this has a lot to do with headphones.  You don’t feel as attached to the gym because you’ve got it sonically blocked off.  I see people on cell phones yakking away right next to the sign saying they’re banned.  I see two people chatting away in a group ex class like they’re just out having coffee with each other.  I see people check in and just grunt to the front desk staff like they serve no other purpose than being a towel dispenser.  Mind your manners, be polite to other members and to staff, and treat others as you would like to be treated.  OK?

I’m really hoping other trainers, instructors, and regular gym-goers chime in here.  What drives you nuts that you see every day in your health club?  Please share!  A little venting is good for the soul!  And don’t get me started on kettlebells

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Thanks!

Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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22 Responses to The 10 Things You’re Doing Wrong at the Gym

  1. Lisa Byrne December 3, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Great post Lisa.

    Lucky am I that I do not work in a health club, rather a private studio AND I can totally relate to your points. Why? Because folks that come into the studio have been in a gym most likely and here is where the re-training starts.

    What struck a cord with me esp. was the ‘late to group ex class’.
    I keep my classes small on purpose- max of 7. Better teaching environment for me and students. One woman consistently is late and pays no mind to it. I had a phone conversation with her and gently suggested to her in a professional manner that it might be in her best interest to arrive on time, as that warm up is very important.
    She didn’t think it was that important and said she ‘has no problem jumping in’.

    I said tell that to the bursa in your hip that you have been complaining about. She couldn’t seem to make the connection nor see the chronological relationship between her hip pain and her tardiness.

    If i could add my .02 and an 11th point: pay attention.
    Attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it.

    Too many mindless moves going on. Doing it is great- being in it is better~

    Glad to see your awareness as a mindful instructor and blogger:)

    Lisa

  2. Kris @Krazy_kris December 3, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Oh yes…. and then some! Not to mention the flippin’ goofy exercises that people do. Like, what was THAT? What on earth are you DOING? hehehe

  3. Lisa Johnson December 3, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Lisa I love your number 11 and your cranky hip client is a perfect example of how being late can prolong recovery from a nagging injury. Sigh. You might try blunt with her. You might even try “firing” her. She could eventually blame you for her problems … I’m sure the other students in the class roll their eyes when she comes rushing in. :-)

    Kris, honestly the stuff I see and my gym is staffed with exceptionally good trainers. It’s what we’re known for. This is people working out on their own, we offer 2 free training sessions when you become a yearly member and most people don’t take us up on it. They should.

    Lisa

  4. Health Votes December 5, 2010 at 3:09 am #

    I think the 2nd point of lifting heavy weights, that is heavier than one can sustain, is a big problem. When i was new to the gym i did this same fault and this was not just for showing off, i felt a bit stupid to lift a 5 pounds dumbbell when others were using 30 pounds at the least. Also, i have seen people give funny looks when they see someone with a weight less than they did. And unfortunately the trainers did not bothered about it. Good to see this article actually, hope it opens up their eyes.

    About the, “not working hard enough” well, not everyone goes to the gym for a 6 pack, i feel sometimes the trainers push a bit too much really. Gym should be fun too, and seriously if i did 29 push ups on a set of 30, would it be an earth shattering thing? Some days i take it casual, on most other days am dead serious about my workouts, but at the end, i still feel happy going to the gym, not like the homework which i always feel bad doing it.

  5. Lisa Johnson December 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Thanks for your comments, appreciate all your input. :-) L–

  6. Chrisi December 6, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    I think something needs to be added about people also LISTENING to the instructor in group ex classes. Especially spin! The instructors are there for a reason- they know what they’re doing- and if you’re at a legit gym, they’ve been trained and certified to make sure you don’t hurt yourself!

    This includes warming up, the position your limbs should be in, and a whole host of other things.

    (This goes out to the woman in my spin class who consistenly sprints on her bike with too little resistance and nearly bounces out of her seat. It’s distracting!)

  7. Lisa Johnson December 6, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    distracting and dangerous, a good way to mess up your knees! I’ve been a Spin Instructor since 1998, I always make them stop! Their Spin Instructor should force them to stop to. If you can’t control form then you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing … L–

  8. Diane December 9, 2010 at 5:40 am #

    This is a great conversation! I’ve just opened a Pilates studio within a health club and I’m already getting ‘broken’ clients from among the club members. It makes me speechless when a guy comes to me with back problems (and no core strength) but blithely tells me that he’s still coming to the gym for his free-weights session 3x per week! Well, at least he is coming to me as well…

    On a side note, I do love teaching gym-rats – when you can make them shake on an exercise that looks like you’re doing nothing they start to realise that working the body is not all about the ‘show’ of a big weight or fancy move.

  9. Craig (@TMNinja) December 9, 2010 at 6:35 am #

    Lisa,

    Love this list!

    Can we get it posted in every gym across the country? :)

    - Craig

  10. Lisa Johnson December 9, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    I only wish Craig, I only wish …

  11. Susanna Perkins December 10, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Great post, Lisa. You hit on a bunch of my pet peeves, especially the sweat bands some inconsiderate dweebs leave behind themselves on the equipment. Come on guys, man (or woman) up and admit that not everyone in the world wants to come into contact with your body fluids. I sure don’t!

  12. Lisa Johnson December 10, 2010 at 10:55 pm #

    LOL, Susanna, definitely!

  13. lorrie February 9, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    awesome post i will try to kick my bad habits out the window

  14. that Guy May 27, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    Really though, you’re flat wrong about bench sir. I agree, bouncing it off of your chest is terrible form and terrible for you, but if you don’t touch your chest you are not getting the full range of muscles involved and not getting a full workout. If you do this, your elbows will go just past 90 degrees and that is how you are supposed to do it.

  15. Lisa Johnson May 27, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    One, I’m a girl … but thanks for thinking I’m tough. Two, there is a little leeway here depending on an individuals arm length and how they grip, but generally speaking you don’t want to go past 90 degrees elbow flexion because it places too much stress on the anterior delt and can cause muscle strain and tears. One wrong move beyond 90 degrees and you could get a serious injury and shoulder injuries can take months to heal. Cortisone shots and PT is not fun … If you want a full range of motion that goes beyond 90 degrees I suggest a chest fly with lighter weights to keep the shoulder safe and use the pec minor more. :-) You’ll still look totally hot. Promise. L–

  16. Lee May 28, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    The worst is too much cologne/perfume at the gym. I’m trying to do a mile PR and some man with overbearing odor starts walking on the adjacent treadmill. I immediately got off because I couldn’t breath! A similarly worse offender is someone reeking of cigarette smoke…

  17. Lisa Johnson May 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    the smokers kill me, lol. They’re sweating and trying to be healthy when the best thing they could do is put down the little white sticks!

  18. Aaron November 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    You have written a good article. The gym etiquette stuff is as important as the work that is done there. I only disagree with your statement in #3. Soreness the next day is not due to build up of lactic acid. It has been proven and numerous articles published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.” This is the official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. In fact numerous studies have shown that the build up of lactic acid during exercise has been reused by the body as another form of energy normally 60 minutes after completing a workout. The soreness felt the next day after working out is due to actual microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. The tears are the result of working out and are process of muscle growth. Following is one such article: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
    1981 – Volume 13 – Issue 2 – ppg 80
    SECTION A-9

  19. Lisa Johnson November 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    Thanks Aaron, thanks for adding your thoughts on muscle soreness. I’ll definitely check out your research. L–

  20. Chris September 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    11. Worrying about what other people are doing

  21. Lisa Johnson September 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    ooh Chris, good one!

  22. Cass July 25, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Great list! As a single mom, my time is precious as is the money spent on my gym membership. Having to plan my workout around someone who is lounging on the machines and working out next to someone who reeks of cigarette smoke are my biggest pet peeves.
    I decided to give up the gym for the summer, focusing on running, biking and bodyweight exercises instead. And I got a hula hoop (thanks for the videos you posted on hula-hooping…my kids and I are having a blast with it!).

    I’ll return to the gym in the late fall when the weather becomes uncooperative) but will definitely be speaking up more to the “loungers” and asking them to move along!!!

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