5 mistakes you're making at the gym

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I'm an inveterate observer of people (which is probably why I like cafe-sitting so much). Here are five common mistakes I continually see people making at the gym:

1. Showing up at the gym, but not really doing your workout. Actions speak louder than words. Saying "I go to the gym 4 times a week" is not going to change your body. But this is essentially what many people do. They show up in body, but not in spirit.

Many people at the gym are not really "there." They are on the elliptical, reading a book on their Kindle, barely moving. Or they're on the bike, watching TV (which I also do), but just going through the motions of absent-mindedly pedaling. You can tell they are not enjoying their workout. I feel sad for them because they so obviously hate the gym. They would be much better off finding some sort of exercise they enjoy. 

You get out of a workout what you put into it. You don't have to go all out every time, but if you don't find something that you actually enjoy doing and you don't ever commit to pushing yourself, you are not going to gain any fitness, get stronger, lose weight or achieve whatever your goals are.

Do something you enjoy  

Do something you enjoy  

2. Not unplugging. Smart phones can be your friend or your foe in every area of life. It's about balance. Smart phones have a place at the gym. Maybe you like listening to upbeat music while you lift weights. Or perhaps you are following a YouTube workout or are using a fitness app. These are smart ways to use your smart phone at the gym. 

Some not-so-smart smart phone uses:

  • Sitting on the weight machine bench for 20 minutes, texting your boo. This not only means you are avoiding your workout; it also means you are being disrespectful of other people who want to use that machine and now have to wait.
  • Taking a business call in the middle of the gym floor.  No one wants or needs to hear about your big case or your million dollar deal. (Sometimes, I really wonder if anyone else is on the other end of the line). Take it to the hallway please. 

2. Using improper form.  I saw a dude swinging 30-pound kettlebells with such force and momentum that I had to look away for fear that I might see his arms flying through the air out of their sockets along with the kettlebells. I saw a young woman holding planks for two minutes – with her butt raised high up in a triangle; she was basically wasting her time and was not working their core. 

Make no mistake about it: besides rendering your exercises useless, form mistakes can also be dangerous. You can throw out your back, pull a muscle or worse. That is why It's important to learn how to do exercises properly. There are many videos on YouTube, but it's better if you can find a coach or experienced friend or trainer to show you in person.

3. Not getting your heart rate up high enough on the machines. We all need to start where we are. But for most people who are just going to the gym to stay in shape, get fitter or lose weight, you need to get your heart rate up to the aerobic zone to reap some benefits. This doesn't mean you have to kill yourself in your cardio workout, but you will need to breathe more heavily than you would if you were just strolling down the street. It also means you will sweat off your makeup.

Unless your are seriously out of shape, ambling on the treadmill at the same speed you would stroll down the aisles in the supermarket is not going to make you leaner and fitter. Putting the treadmill on a 4% incline and walking so you are breathing heavily will.

4. Being a slob. Okay, I just need to vent here. But in my gym, some ladies leave their wet towels on the floor and benches of the locker room when there are many hampers all throughout the area, two steps away. Don't be that girl or guy. Pick up after yourself. Respect the staff who works hard to keep the gym clean. If you can't find the discipline to put your own towel in the hamper, how are you going to muster up enough discipline to run HITT intervals or to stay on the rowing machine for more than 5 minutes?

5. Speeding through exercises. I get it. I totally do. You want to finish your workout and get home. I do, too. But why bother doing exercises if you are doing them the wrong way? When you do reps too quickly – whether you are doing floor exercises or weight exercises, chances are, you are neither properly engaging nor stressing the muscle groups you want to target. You are using momentum to do the work. Take the classic bicycle crunches done for your core. These are one of my favorite exercises – except I do them super slowly: pedal and hold for 2 seconds, pedal and hold. Try it. It's harder, because you are using your muscles and not momentum to get the job done. You will see results faster if you slow down.

What mistakes do you see people making at the gym? What could you do better?