The 10 Biggest Mistakes Gym Novices Make

So you joined a gym, got some basic beginner’s advice, and are now committed to maximizing your physical and mental well-being. The hardest hurdle is cleared, yet more challenges remain. One of the earliest challenges is gym etiquette. It can be awkward enough setting foot in a gym, let alone spending an hour or so there being not exactly sure of how to go about things. In my years of experience working and training in fitness facilities, I’ve noticed common patterns of behavior which will limit the results you get from the time spent there. Since I’m all about efficiency and making the world a better place, let’s start with some basic advice on things to avoid doing in a fitness environment.

1. Improper Form

Improper form is probably the most common mistake amongst the average gym goer. There are many components of improper form, but the most common are as follows:

a) limited range of motion

  • ideal form consists of a full range of motion for each exercise.
  • EG for a squat, you want to get down as low as possible; ideally have your rear end almost touching your calves
  • for a bicep curl, you want to drop the weight down to your waist and then curl it all the way back up
  • for a pull up, you want to hang down with arms almost fully extended, then pull up until your chin is over the bar you’re pulling from

b) excessively fast motion

  • very common, especially among the fellas
  • look, its not a race
  • while the pro athletes and expert powerlifters make quick motions, they are often training for dynamic movement and have many years of experience ensuring that while their movements are fast, their form is perfect as well
  • remember that the experts started slowly at first and only went quicker once they mastered the fundamentals
  • if you keep going quick, not only will you probably not get the results you want due to improper form, but you risk injury as well
  • muscles respond to stress; slow movements work the muscles much harder than the quick ones where the muscle only sees a few glimpses of action

c) improper form

  • very common, usually consist of arched backs, knees over toes on squats, rocking motions on curls, rolling the shoulders during shrugs etc
  • this is why a personal trainer is essential; they know what proper form looks like and can ensure you’re doing it right; just because it feels right, doesn’t mean it actually is and mirrors only offer a one-dimensional perspective of your form

d) excessively heavy weight

  • for guys, its generally a pride thing; the heavier the weight, the greater the feeling of accomplishment, strength, masculinity etc
  • I once read an article where US Delta special forces agents were doing clean and jerks with 45lb barbells with no weight on them; although they were some of the fittest physical specimens on earth, they trained with ridiculously low weight
  • bottom line: check your ego at the door: the proper weight consists of being able to do the exercise with proper form during and until the last rep
  • if you rock, arch, fidget, or jerk, it’s too heavy for you

2. Not using collars

collars exist to keep weights on barbells; they are one of the most important safety mechanisms in the whole gym

They should always be used when working with free weight barbells

When I used to ask that people put them on, I often got a “Why?” response.

So, for those curious, here’s why:

There’s nothing uglier than seeing a plate dropped on a foot, especially if it is that of a passer-by or bystander.

Even if you can easily do the weight with proper form (ie a warm-up set), there’s no guarantee your barbells won’t accidentally be nudged by another patron, or that you may pull something, pass out, or otherwise lose control of the barbell.

3. Using cell phones

If you have voicemail and/or caller ID, your phone should be in your locker. You’re in the gym to train, not to annoy others and waste time with jibber-jabber that can be done immediately after your workout.

4. Not putting weights away

Remember the last time you wanted to use something and you weren’t sure if it was still being used? Or if you knew it wasn’t being used but before you began you would have to strip the weights off the equipment before loading on your own weight?

That’s what others feel when you don’t put your equipment away. It also isn’t fun for the gym staff who have to tidy up the gym at the end of their shift.

5. Using equipment as chairs or accessory holders

This is my biggest pet peeve. When I see a water bottle or sweater on a bench not otherwise being used for exercise, I want to throw it at the idiot taking that equipment away from people who want to actually use it in an appropriate way. Your things being either in a locker, your pocket, or tucked away under or next to a piece of equipment you’re actually using, or designated storage areas.

6. Inappropriate attire

Don’t wear jeans, flip flops, dress shoes, underwear (tank tops or sports bras), stupid slogan t-shirts (especially those lame sex-inuendo Hollister ones), and jewelery.

Don’t try to impress people in a gym. They don’t care about your eccentric wit and are easily annoyed by distractions.

7. Staring

There’s a fine line between observing and staring. Be subtle, and inconspicuous. If someone is doing something of interest, briefly ask them about it. Otherwise you’ll risk their ire for the same reason you’d feel uncomfortable being stared at anywhere else.

8. Vanity

Mirrors are there to ensure proper form. Don’t flex, pose, strut, or otherwise gaze admiringly at yourself in the mirror. Others will notice and you’ll be known as “that guy.”

9. Be polite (don’t just grab something that is being or may be claimed already)

If  someone’s standing near a piece of equipment, ask if it’s taken. If someone’s working on it, and you’re pressed for time, ask if you can work in with them (between their sets). If you are polite and respectful, you’ll get what you want 99% of the time.

10. Not asking for a spot

There’s nothing more embarrassing than being pinned under a barbell while doing a bench press. What will happen is you’ll gasp for help and the rescuer will probably put their crotch in your face as they lift it back up. Anyone in the area will be willing to spot you for a set if you ask them, and you’ll be able to push yourself the way you should to be getting the results you want. If you’re not struggling, you won’t be getting results. Spotters are therefore essential gym accessories.

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