You’d think that January is the busiest time of year in the gym but I’ve found that it’s the fall. Approximately two weeks after Labor Day, to be exact. That’s when the momentum rises and gyms get packed. Everyone’s eager to kick-start the school year with a bang, tackle their fitness goals before the holidays, and shake the lazy feeling of summer. To help ensure you make the most of this season (or any, for that matter), I’m here to offer up some professional suggestions for mistakes to avoid in the gym. No one likes to look foolish…or get hurt!
Lack of Awareness of One’s Surroundings
The most surefire way to get injured in the gym is to be a space cadet and walk around in a daze. Heavy metal is being hoisted and dropped, people – pay attention! I know this sounds so “duh,” but you’d be surprised at how many people walk directly into the path of someone who is doing reps. For example, I’ve had people saunter right into the space where I’m doing lunges, kettlebell swings, leg lifts and more, all while I’m exercising and at risk for hitting them! Most recently, I had a personal trainer and her client step directly into where I was working out. It was a major “for shame” moment in my book. She’s supposed to protect her client!
Avoiding the Free Weights
It’s easy to get stuck in our comfort zones, especially if that’s on a piece of cardio equipment. But it’s of the utmost importance for our bodies that we move them functionally. That means putting your feet directly on the ground and moving! Free weights are a great add-on for functional exercises because they take up the intensity and allow you to get your upper body and core more activated. Full body workout in less time. What’s not to like?
Forgetting to Wipe and Wash
I’m a crazy person about personal hygiene in gyms. (I’ve seen people sneeze into their hands and then continue using equipment…gross.) Even in the most state-of-the-art facilities with full-time housekeeping staff there just isn’t any way to clean as quickly as equipment gets contaminated with microscopic germs. So, not only is it important to wipe off the equipment that you’ve used after you’re done, but it’s also imperative to wash and/or sanitize your hands upon leaving. If you want to go to the next level of paranoid (ahem, which I do), then switch out the water bottle or container you’ve used while working out with one that’s clean and use a phone-friendly cleaner or sanitary cloth to gently wipe down your phone since chances are that you were using it during your workout.
Improper Use of Momentum
Momentum is one of those things that’s tempting to rely on when working out but that ultimately takes away from pure strength. If you’re doing a plyometric or power workout then sure – use momentum per your training. But if we’re talking about gym equipment like lat pull downs and leg presses then it’s a different story. People using momentum to power through these exercises aren’t demonstrating proper control over the weight being lifted and are more prone to getting injured in addition to getting less bang for the buck for their muscular strength. It’s my personal theory that this is the issue at the core of many CrossFit injuries [over-reliance on momentum].
Not sharing equipment
Remember the personal trainer I mentioned who dangerously stepped into my workout space with her client? Yea, I’m not done with her. She could have properly communicated with me and asked me to share the open/free space, to which I should agree. Alas, she made two mistakes; putting her client in physical harm’s way and not following one of the unspoken rules of the gym (taking turns between sets). It’s important to acknowledge that just because you have three sets to do on a shoulder press machine does not mean that it’s yours until you’re done. Gym etiquette 101 is to let people “work in” on machines. Aka preschool manners 101: SHARING IS GOOD!
Sticking to the Same Equipment
Changing up your routine is important for growth and accelerating results. If you’re a free weight person then try switching things up and seeing if one day a week of treadmill sprint intervals feels good. Or, you could change your workout game from 10-12 reps per set with free weights to working towards 3-5 rep max sets with heavier weights on machines where you’re stable and less likely to get injured. If you’re a cardio person then please, see the section above; “Avoiding the Free Weights.” Change is your friend.
Rounded Posture on Cardio Equipment
We’ve all seen it – those people slumping forward on cardio equipment, expressions of strain as though they’re working extra hard by leaning on the handrails. But that’s simply not the case. In the majority of these situations a person is working less hard, burning fewer calories, and hurting their necks and backs in the process. So, don’t be tempted to mimic this foolish posture. There’s not much good that can come of it.
Holding Your Breath
Holding your breath can be dangerous. Period. Especially if you’re doing an overhead maneuver or working at a hard pace. It may cause you to become dizzy! Nausea and lightheaded issues aside, holding your breath should be reserved for underwater swimming and athletes who have been properly trained in how to do this for power lifting maneuvers. The rest of us need the exhale breath to help get through the “sticking point” of an exercise and to help us engage our core. We need the inhale breath for…you know…oxygen.
Skimping on Core
It’s easy for a lot of people to skip out on core work or to hastily add it in at the end of a workout. But skimping on core work can hurt you in a number of ways. For example, did you know that runners who are prone to plantar fasciitis often have very weak cores? Did you know that a strong core can help you reduce back discomfort while also making you look taller and leaner? There are so many benefits that come with keeping our body’s center stable and strong. Finding creative ways to add core exercises into the beginning, middle and end of your routine will always be worth it.
Skipping a Warm-up
Please don’t give warm-ups the short end of the stick. They are an integral part of the workout, just as much as the “meat and potatoes” are your exercises. In fact, think of a warm-up kind of like the time when the meat and potatoes get warm and cooked so that they’re ready for you to eat! Weird analogy? I digress. The times when people are most tempted to skip the warm-up are when they’re pressed for time or running late, but even 3-5 minutes of limbering exercises and dynamic stretching is better than none.
Releasing too Quickly Through Eccentric Phase
The eccentric phase of a workout is when the muscle is lengthening. And it’s often rushed even though it has a lot of potential to benefit your strength gains when it’s approached with just as much attention as the shortening phase of the exercise. For example, many people take their time pressing dumbbells over their heads for a shoulder press but then allow them to quickly drop back down to shoulder level. Taking your time for both parts of the exercise is important for optimal strength and muscle building. The best way to ensure you’re doing this is simply to pay attention to what you’re doing and take your time in every part of the movement.
Happy Fall Y’all! 🙂
Yours in health and wellness,