Personal Trainer Tips: Common Gym Errors and Easy Fixes
Every January, it’s really common to see a sizable jump in the gym population, which I actually love because these folks are finally taking back control of their well-being. Unfortunately, the crowds begin to dissipate quite a lot after a few weeks. In fact, it’s said that weight loss-related New Year’s resolutions have an 85% failure rate by the end of January.
I’ll be honest— seeing the crowd dissipating each week is really heartbreaking. Today, we’re going to talk about common mistakes folks make with their workouts and, hopefully, give you a better idea how to go about your training.
Having a Plan
One of my favorite quotes is “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.” Having worked as a personal trainer and previously trained as an athlete in high school and college, the folks that go to the gym without a workout plan stick out like a sore thumb to me. Going into the gym without a training plan usually means that you’re not getting the most out of your workouts, often because some muscle groups are prioritized too heavily and others are neglected.
When it comes to over- and under prioritization of muscle groups by working out without a training plan, it may lead towards unwanted injuries suffered at the gym. This can create strength imbalances, causing weaker muscles straining too much to keep up with the stronger muscles. Focus on training all muscle groups and divide out the exercises to be able to properly train each correctly.
Going Too Hard
How often should you train? It depends on your goals and schedule. For example, one of my clients has a really busy work schedule as the chief of her department at a large company, so she can only train twice a week. Since she’s not doing it to go into any type of competition and really just wants to get in better general health, training twice a week is perfectly fine. On the contrary, let’s say she wanted to sign up for a physique competition or powerlifting competition, then, obviously, she’d have to train more than just twice a week.
Is it bad to train 6 or 7 times a week? This really depends on the intensity and duration of the training sessions. A lot of social media influencers promote training until failure and the research indicates that more volume load (this is the weight lifted x number of reps x number of sets) can help build the most muscle mass. This information can easily be misconstrued by training novices to believe that working out at “Beast Mode” intensity, every day of the week, will maximize results. In reality, this kind of training is one of the main culprits behind injuries related to overexertion, which can mean muscle strains or, worse, ligament/tendon tears.
Going Too Soft
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some folks that are too scared to push themselves, so the workouts are too easy. Some of this has to do with seeing videos of gym injuries on social media, prior injuries, or they simply have a low tolerance for pain and discomfort. If you’re just starting out, I have absolutely no problem with starting easy, especially because you want your ligaments and supporting muscles to slowly adjust to the weight training process, but you should remember that this is temporary.
What’s the right way to build up intensity for newbies? This can be different based on the exercises you’re going to do because some require more time to learn good technique. For example, with the squat, since it involves several different movements going on at the same time, you want to be sure that you first master the technique by practicing with bodyweight or light weight; filming yourself with the camera getting the side view and front view are the best for checking your technique. Rushing into heavy squats too soon could injure one’s knees, ankles, back, hips, or shoulders; on the contrary, steadily learning excellent technique can actually make each of the aforementioned more resilient against becoming injured.
When it comes to building up the intensity for simpler exercises, like the preacher curl, you can have weight added more quickly because you’re not really in much danger. Aim for 8-12 repetitions, and if you can go beyond 12, add 5 lbs for the following set; if you can’t reach 8 reps, reduce the weight by 5 lbs. Finding the right weight for the 8-12 repetition range can take a couple weeks. Maintain a training log (this can be a small notebook or using a spreadsheet app like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or Apple Numbers) because you’re not to remember everything, so this can help so save a lot of time in the future.
What if you have a low pain threshold? Don’t feel too bad about this. I’ve learned that those without much competitive athletic experience are the most common group to have a low pain threshold, which makes sense since most athletic competitions and the training for such events typically require participants to push themselves to their absolute limits. Ideally, I want you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable — a little burning is normal and totally okay. Trying to push out another repetition or two when you’re getting to that point when the muscles are burning is going to take some getting used to. However, if it’s actual “pain”, as opposed to mild discomfort, stop immediately because trying to push through this could lead to a possible injury.
As Americans, we like to see immediate results, and this is why sales strategies like 6-week weight loss challenges and “bikini body by summer” promotions are so effective. If you don’t care about lasting results, then those promotions might be right for you, but if you’re tired of your health going up and down like a rollercoaster, you should pass on them. By having an intelligently designed training program, and knowing your potential and limitations through patient trial and error, you’re giving yourself the best chance at reaching your fitness goals.