The 10 Things You’re Doing Wrong at the Gym

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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