I've spent a large portion of this past Christmas holiday working at my job at a local gym and have noticed some interesting approaches to working out by some people.
Some of them have got me thinking of new techniques to incorporate into my own training, some have made me cringe at the thought of how much pain that must or will be causing the person, and some have just made me laugh... So I thought I'd compile a list of some of the more common mistakes I've seen to help prevent others from doing the same.
1 / Lifting Too Light Of A Weight
This is the most common mistake I see with women. They are under the notion that if they even touch a heavy weight they will sprout gigantic muscles out of nowhere. This is a very incorrect belief. Women simply do not have the testosterone levels in their body to grow such muscles without a great deal of hard work and a near perfect diet.
Yes, it is possible for some women to develop muscles quickly to an extent if they are prone to building muscles easily, but this doesn't happen overnight and if you did see you were developing muscles quicker than you would like you could easily adjust your training before it got out of control.
More important is the fact that most women aren't even lifting enough weight to challenge themselves and thus stimulate an overload and increase their strength. A lot of this though is condoned in popular fitness magazines for women.
They often show pictures of women going through their workouts lifting 5 pound dumbbells. Most women, who have been working out hard enough, can more than likely handle more than this, probably significantly more. A good example is a younger girl I have been training recently. When she first started with me she was lifting quite light weights, as she was new to weightlifting.
As we worked though, I gradually increased the weights and now she is lifting more weight than even a few of the guys in the gym! (I call her my little powerhouse.). My point is, even though she's now military pressing 50 pounds (which is quite good for a teenage girl her age), you can tell she has gotten much stronger but still has not developed massive muscles to any stretch of the imagination.
If anything, she has gotten leaner and more defined and is looking much better than when we started. So, if you're a women and are either starting or working on a strength training routine, don't be afraid to include a couple of heavier days in your lifting where you really push yourself and try and lift as much as possible.
You aren't going to get big and bulky because of it and will mostly likely actually get leaner and possibly smaller (muscle is more dense than fat tissue) since the increased muscle mass will help to increase your metabolism.
2 / Lifting Too Heavy Of A Weight
Now we move to the other end of the spectrum. Just as it is possible to lift not heavy enough of a weight, the opposite can also be achieved when you lift a weight that is too heavy for your current strength level.
This, on the other hand is much more common for men to do.
When you lift a weight that is heavier than you can handle, often your form becomes incorrect and not only do you sacrifice the benefits of the exercise but you put yourself at risk for serious injury.
If you are planning on lifting a weight that is heavier than you think you might be able to lift, but still want to challenge your muscles, one option you have to reduce the risk of injury is to enlist in the help of a spotter.
This person will essentially give you an extra little hand if you need it or if your form is becoming incorrect or you are risking an injury. Remember though, a lighter weight with good form is always better than a heavier weight with poor form.
3 / Using Improper Form
This point sort of ties in with the last one. When performing weight lifting exercises, if you adjust your form, you will likely be adjusting both the muscles you will be working and the joints that are being stressed. Often times, this will result in injury or a great deal of pain, either while doing the exercise or in the days following the workout. One of the best examples I've seen recently for this was this man doing barbell curls.
I think he was probably working every muscle in his body except for his biceps. First, he had way to much weight on the bar, and second, he was hoisting the weight up by arching his back and creating so much momentum that the bar literally flew up as he "curled" it.
Not only was this putting a great deal of stress on his back joints due to the enormous amount of movement, but he was also stressing his shoulder girdle and all the tendons in the arms.
This exercise was nowhere near beneficial for him and he would have been far better off with a simple set of bicep curls with dumbbells using correct form. This leads me to my next point.
4 / Relying On Speed & Momentum To Perform The Exercise For You
When a person is lifting a weight that is a little to heavy for them or that they are not comfortable with, they often execute the exercise too fast, both in an effort to get it done faster, and use the help of momentum to lift the weight.
While some programs do require the athlete to lift the weight at a great speed (such as those designed to improve power), this is still done in a controlled manner and the individual realizes why they are moving so fast and uses it to their advantage.
Other programs on the other hand require that the athlete lift super slowly in order to put the muscle under maximum tension for the longest possible time and thus stimulate a great deal of growth.
While both types of programs are acceptable, it is best for most people to use a moderate pace that allows them to complete 8-12 reps within 30-60 seconds. This is the best range for muscle growth and strength development.
5 / Leaning On The Cardio Machines
This is a common mistake, especially among those on the stepper machines. Handrails are there in case you are falling off the machine and need help, or to rest your towel on, not to hold you up.
I'm sure you've seen it many times before, the person on the step machine who looks like they're holding on for dear life, their arms supporting all their weight and feet barely even touching the pedals.
This person might as well move over to the arm ergometer if they wanted to give their arms a workout because they sure aren't doing much for their legs. Or, another example is the person on the treadmill who is walking on an incline and holding on to the front rails.
This is supposed to stimulate you walking up a hill. If you were walking up a hill in real life, do you think you would have a handrail in front of you to help pull you along? I don't think so, so than why would you use it when you are working out?
The whole point of working out is to challenge your body, not ensure you have a good enough grip to keep from falling of the treadmill.
I suppose if your main purpose is to go the gym to socialize, which is the goal for some people, and that's perfectly alright as long as you realize this, than using the machine for help is alright.
You are still moving, so it is better than just sitting on the couch talking, but if you are hoping to improve your cardiovascular health, than please rely on your own body strength to get you through your workout.
And the final, and most common mistake I see people making:
6 / Don't Leave The Workout Room Without Stretching
So you've put in a good workout, hit the cardio machine for a while, lifted some weights and now it's time to hit the showers (or at least we hope, or that's another critical mistake you'll be making, not for your workouts sake, but for those around you...). You could be missing one of the most important factors of your workout if this is your general routine.
After taxing the muscles, the best way to prevent muscle soreness and cool down your body is by performing some light stretching exercises. This will help keep you limber and help lengthen any muscles that may have cramped up during your workout. Remember to keep the stretches controlled (no bouncing) and hold each one for 10-30 seconds.
One of the reasons you are working out in the first place (hopefully) is to improve your health and prolong the time your body stays mobile. One of the greatest restrictions that comes with aging is lack of range of movement. By including stretching in your workout, you will help keep your body limber and agile for many years to come.
These are only a few of the mistakes that people can make in the gym. Everyone has been guilty of them at one time or another but the important thing is to make sure you realize what you are doing and fix the problem before it becomes a habit.
These days, many people are more concerned with impressing the guy next to them with their sheer brute strength that they risk injuring themselves (and even others around them) with their carelessness.
Take the time to focus in your workouts and perform everything to the best of your knowledge and ability. Not only will your body thank you, but you will see a much greater improvement than you would have otherwise.