Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Hitting the gym is one of the many ways to keep fit and healthy. While the intention may be good, the lack of proper guidance and knowledge in exercising can undermine the effectiveness and efficiency of a workout, or worse, it can lead to injuries. Let’s look at the 8 most common mistakes people make in the gym and what we can do to correct them:
1) Incorrect Training intensity
When it comes to resistance training, many people make the mistake of choosing inappropriate weights. Many also tend to constantly lift weights that are too heavy with the misconception of the heavier the better. Depending on what is your goal or purpose of the workout session, the weights will need to be adjusted accordingly. If your goal is to achieve muscle hypertrophy, go lighter on the weights, usually between 67-85% of 1 repetition maximum (RM) with more repetitions (5). If it’s for muscle strength, go heavier at around 85% of 1 RM or greater with lesser repetitions (4,6).
2) Poor exercise form and technique
Performing exercises with poor form and technique is not only ineffective for muscle and strength development, but it is also potentially dangerous as well. For example, the proper way to perform the deadlift exercise is to maintain a neutral spine and to keep the core engaged. Rounding the back can result in injuries and it is generally due to poor core/hip stability and/or lifting weights that are too heavy. Always progress gradually and execute the exercises through the full range of motion for maximum muscular development. If your form is compromised, reduce the weight and practice the correct exercise movement before progressing.
3) Neglecting core and flexibility training
Many day-to-day tasks such as picking up items to walking and running up and down the stairs involve core engagement. Not only this is neglected during workouts, but some also do not even know what core training is. The core muscles consist of the transversus abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm. Having strong core stability helps to protect the spine and surrounding musculature during both static and dynamic movements, thus, lowering the risk of injury. Movements such as push-ups, overhead squats, and deadlifts are functional exercises involving the core. It is vital to engage your core and maintain a neutral spine position while performing these exercises.
Following periods of exercising or physical inactivity, muscles tend to get tight and stiff. Muscle tightness can limit joint range of motion which affects your exercise performance and increase the risk of injury. It can be resolved by stretching at least 2-3 times a week, for at least 10 minutes in duration with each stretch between 20-30 seconds to maintain or improve flexibility.
4) Insufficient rest and recovery (Overtraining)
It is no secret that to remain fit and healthy, we have to exercise regularly. While it is good to stay active, we must balance it out with adequate rest as well. If there is insufficient rest and recovery, body regeneration cannot take place and over time, there will be chronic performance decrements. This can result in overtraining and it can take weeks or months to recover (2). Some signs and symptoms of overtraining include decline in physical performance, insomnia, emotional instability, elevated heart rate, and blood pressure (3). To prevent overtraining, avoid monotonous training and vary the training load with mandatory rest phases. Keep a training log to monitor your exercise progress such as the distance, intensity, volume, and level of fatigue. Significant changes in any of these parameters may signal overtraining.
5) Repetitive exercises (Doing the same exercises, in the same order and intensity)
Just as our brain needs to be stimulated to prevent boredom, the same applies to muscles as well. If we keep performing an exercise in the same manner for long periods, it can lead to staleness and affect performance. Try to mix things up by playing with the exercise order, type of exercise, and/or intensity during your workout to prevent muscle staleness.
6) Incorrect rest interval between sets
Research has shown that both acute responses and chronic adaptations in resistance training are affected by the rest interval between sets (1). However, many often overlook the rest intervals between exercise sets, with a duration that is either too long or too short. For an effective, efficient, and safe workout in resistance exercise prescription, it is vital to understand the interaction among training variables such as intensity, number of sets and repetitions, mode of exercise, the speed of performing an exercise, and rest interval between sets. Depending on your training goal, a combination of moderate-intensity sets with shorter rest intervals of 30-60 seconds will be good for muscle hypertrophy, while longer rest intervals of 3-5 minutes with high-intensity sets will be appropriate for strength training.
7) Not warming up and cooling down properly
Warming up before exercising is a transitional phase to increase your body temperature. This allows the body to adjust to the changing demands imposed during the exercise session and decreases the potential for muscle soreness following exercises. Heart rate and blood pressure tend to be higher following exercises and metabolic end products are produced from the muscles used during the workout. Not only does cooling down allow a gradual recovery of heart rate and blood pressure to normal, but it also enables the muscles to contract and assists the heart in clearing the end products. Both warm-up and cool-down are typically done at a minimum of 5-10 minutes between low to moderate intensity.
8) Avoiding resistance training (especially the ladies!)
There are many benefits gained from doing resistance training (7). However, most women fear developing bulky muscles and due to this reason, many of them are not doing enough weights or exclude weight training from their program. There are many factors that affect muscle gains, such as the total repetition, amount of weights, and the total sets done in the weight training. Other factors such as diet and hormones play a part as well. More importantly, as we get older we will tend to lose muscle mass and in order to maintain fitness, it is necessary to incorporate resistance training into our exercise program.
Apart from keeping our fitness, resistance training helps to address any asymmetries and strength deficits that can cause movement dysfunction and compensations, which can potentially lead to an increased risk of injuries. No matter how strong you are, it is pointless if you are always injured and have to fall out of training or competition. Hence, the goal of a good resistance training program is about being more resilient and injury-proofing the body by improving weaknesses and re-establishing neuromuscular control.
1) B.F. de Salles, R. Simão, F. Miranda, S. Novaes Jda, A. Lemos, & J.M. Willardson. (2009). Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Medicine, 39(9), 765-777.
2) Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). National strength and conditioning association: Essentials of strength training and conditioning (3rd ed.). Hong Kong: Human Kinetics.
3) Budgett, R. (1990). Overtraining syndrome. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 24(4), 231-236.
4) Fleck, S. J., & Kraemer, W. J. (2004). Designing resistance training programs (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
5) Hedrick, A. (1995). Training for hypertrophy. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 17(3), 22-29.
6) Kraemer, W. J., & Koziris, L. P. (1992). Muscle strength training: Techniques and considerations. Physical Therapist Practice, 2, 54-68.
7) W.J. Kraemer, M.R. Deschenes, & S.J. Fleck. (1988). Physiological adaptations to resistance exercise. Implications for athletic conditioning. Sports Medicine, 6(4), 246-256.