After a lot of back and forth, you finally signed up for a gym membership. And while you’re super pumped to get into better shape and start seeing results, you’re not very sure of where exactly to begin.
How many times a week should you workout? What exercises should you do? Should you be tracking your workouts?
If you want to get the most out of your workouts and maximize results, there are some beginner gym mistakes you’ll definitely want to avoid.
Here are our top 10.
What Are the Most Common Mistakes Beginners Make in the Gym?
1. Going in without a plan
We start with what might just be the worst of beginner gym mistakes. There’s a saying that “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” That statement couldn’t be any more true than with the gym. You see those people in the gym who look lost. They walk around aimlessly with no real plan, plopping down on random machines and making their workouts up on the fly.
While it might seem enticing to ad-lib your workouts, results will be few and far between with this approach. Instead, get on a strength training program that’ll help you make progress in the long run. You can find free programs to follow online. Or you can hire a fitness coach if you want some extra accountability.
At the end of the day, having a plan gives you something concrete to go off of and takes the guesswork out of getting into shape and achieving your fitness goals. Make sure that your plan allows for rest days. Whether your fitness goals are burning fat or building muscle, it's during recovery (and not the workouts themselves) that results happen.
2. Starting off at 100 miles per hour
You want results ASAP (that’d be ideal, of course) so it can be easy to get caught up in the mindset of doing more and hoping that’ll produce results faster. But a lot of the time, going from 0 to 100 right out of the gate can end up doing the opposite of what you intended. Rather than getting you to your goals faster, it can cause injury, lead to burn out, and just sour you on the gym altogether.
Here are some tips on how to avoid the beginner gym mistake of going too hard-too fast:
- Start off with a lighter weight than you think you can do
- Take longer rest periods in between sets
- Slowly ramp up the intensity of your workouts so you don’t overwhelm yourself
3. Letting your ego dictate your workouts
Another one of the major beginner gym mistakes is worrying about the amount of weight you’re lifting. You see the person with big muscles and a toned physique next to you load up the bar, so you instantly get in this mindset of wanting to keep up with them and not look like a weakling.
The thing with that is though, letting your ego get in the way can actually make your workouts worse and inhibit progress. Try not to focus so much on the numbers and what the person next to you is lifting. Your key focus should be lifting a weight that’s challenging to you (key word is YOU) regardless of how much it is. The more workouts you get under your belt, the stronger you’ll get and the more weight you’ll be able to lift. So don’t worry a whole lot now about how much weight you’re starting out with on the bar.
4. Not lifting with proper form
This one goes with point #3 above. When you get so caught up in the amount of weight you’re lifting your weightlifting form can get thrown out of the window. Proper form ensures two main things:
- It greatly reduces your risk of injury. When you’re sidelined from the gym, you won’t be able to make the progress you want.
- It helps you work the muscles a specific exercise is supposed to. Take bicep curls, for example. Let’s say you’re swinging with every rep just to get the weight up. One, it can lead to back pain. And two, swinging and using momentum takes the contraction away from your biceps, which is the muscle the exercise is for.
5. Ignoring compound lifts and progressive overload
Instead of focusing on isolation exercises like leg curls or tricep extensions, prioritize compound movements. Compound lifts such as bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead shoulder press allow you to work multiple muscles at a time, which increases workout efficiency and optimizes your time in the gym.
One strength training principle to be aware of is progressive overload. Basically, progressive overload means gradually increasing the weight you lift over time. It’s the key to progress (i.e. getting stronger, building more muscle, and burning more fat).
6. Training like you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger
By this, we mean starting out with advanced strength training techniques that aren’t suitable for a beginner. Success can be found in the fundamentals. Before you can move on to more advanced methods, you need to have a strong base.
As we mentioned in previous sections, your priority when it comes to exercise selection should be on compound lifts like bench, squat, and deadlift. They’re super efficient when it comes to building muscle, burning fat, etc. Once you get those down, you can move on to trying more advanced exercises.
7. Skipping the warm-up
You might not think warming up is a big deal…
Until you start your workout without a proper one and end up throwing your back out or pulling a hamstring!
Warming up drastically cuts down the likelihood of injury and helps your muscles and joints get nice and loose heading into a workout.
8. Not tracking your workouts
Not tracking your workouts would be like getting lost without a map or compass. How do you know you’re actually headed in the right direction?
You want to see improvement (i.e. lifting heavier weight, looking more toned when you look in the mirror and through physique pics, clothes fitting better) but without keeping a workout log or anything to track your progress, how will you know what works versus what doesn’t? You could be traveling in the wrong direction and not even know it!
Tracking your workouts lets you know what works when it comes to getting fitter, stronger, and healthier—so you can keep doing more of that and discard the rest.
9. Giving up too easily
How do you handle adversity? Do you get frustrated, throw your hands in the air, and give up at the first sign of trouble? Or buckle down and find a way through it?
On your fitness journey, you’re bound to run into some type of adversity at some point. Maybe you’re not losing weight as fast as you want or you hit a plateau where putting on muscle becomes a struggle. One of the biggest beginner gym mistakes you can make is giving up when things aren’t going your way.
Instead of giving up, keep the big picture in mind and come back to your “why.” It can help put things into perspective and keep you pushing forward when times get tough. Why do you have these fitness goals in the first place? You might want to drop a few pounds or build muscle so you can feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror. Or, it could be about living a healthier, happier, and longer life. Whatever it is, focus on your “why” to get you through the tough times.
10. Looking at exercise as the be-all-end-all
Exercise is only one piece of the equation when it comes to meeting your fitness goals. To achieve the body of your dreams—the one where you’re able to rock that bikini or bathing suit with confidence during summertime—nutrition will play a key role. Lifting weights helps you sculpt a more toned and athletic-looking physique but nutrition is what enables those results to be seen.
Learn From Other People’s Fitness Mistakes!
You’ve committed to the first step, which is actually hitting the gym. And that deserves an applause! Just make sure you’re not making any of the beginner gym mistakes we went over above so that you can continue to make progress and achieve the best results possible.
- Have a plan (with scheduled recovery days) to take the guesswork out of getting in shape
- Take things slow and gradually ramp up intensity instead of going hard right out of the gate
- Don’t let your ego get in the way of having effective workouts
- Lift with proper form
- Focus on compound lifts and progressive overload
- Get the basics down first
- Always warm up before your workouts
- Track your workouts so you can see what’s working and eliminate what isn’t
- Get in touch with your “why” to help persevere through adversity
- Understands that both exercise AND nutrition are key to achieving your fitness goals
About the Author: Chad Richardson is a freelance copywriter from Cincinnati, OH who’s passionate about creating content to help people enjoy healthier lives. When he's not behind his computer, you can find Chad at the gym, in the kitchen trying out new recipes, or scrolling through Netflix for a new binge-worthy show.