Working at a large YMCA with more than 14,000 members, I see a lot of dedicated, consistent exercisers and weekend warriors. For most people, unless you continually educate yourself on how to properly train for your goals, it can be hard to know if what you're doing is correct or effective. Here are five common errors that I see a lot of people making in the gym and suggestions on how to rectify them.
1. Not having a plan: Developing a prearranged but flexible fitness plan can help prevent aimless wandering and wasted time. Having a plan of attack beforehand can also help enhance motivation, efficiency, and focus. You know what you have to do that day to get the job done.
Suggestions: If you don't have the appropriate fitness knowledge to create your own routine, here are two alternatives. Hiring an educated certified personal trainer to either work with you on a weekly basis or to create an individualized program you can do independently is always a great option. A more affordable choice would be a book, such as The New Rules of Lifting for Life that both educates readers on the basics of a fitness program and also offers a template allowing you to create your own balanced routine for years to come.
2. Limiting your tools: There are a lot of great pieces of exercise equipment, and every year there are more new toys to pick from. Stability balls, kettlebells, medicine balls, ropes, TRX trainers, and BOSU balls all come to mind. The mistake lies in limiting yourself and only training with just one of those. Sometimes people become hooked on "the next best thing" and forget all the other useful tools and exercises that are also in their arsenal.
Suggestions: Pick exercises based on equipment available, appropriateness for your capabilities, and the goals you're working towards. Variety is beneficial, but know why you're using each tool as well.
3. Sticking to the same routine: For some there is comfort in the familiar. Using the same pieces of cardiovascular equipment or performing the same exercises, reps, sets, at the same weight can feel safe. The problem with this is that the body needs new and greater imposed demands to continue making progress. If you're dedicating the time to train, you want to be seeing some benefits right?
Suggestions: Shake things up! If you're someone who always uses the treadmill, try a stair climber or bike. When weight lifting, try increasing the resistance in small amounts and changing the sets, reps, and exercises. Maybe even pop into a group exercise class you've never tried before. The possibilities are endless!
4. Disregarding proper form: While there's definitely a learning curve when perfecting technique on new exercises, too often I see people imitating other exercises (with improper form) they see done in the gym or completely forgoing proper technique in order to lift more weight or do more repetitions. Either scenario can easily lead to exercise inefficiency or injury.
Suggestions: To keep your body healthy and reduce your risk of injuries, remember that form comes first before weight or repetitions. If you're unsure of proper form on an exercise, try looking online at a reputable website such as ACE's exercise library or hiring a qualified personal trainer.
5. Neglecting mobility and flexibility: If you're one of the many that has a sedentary job, long commute, or goes to school then chances are you're doing a lot of sitting and have some tight muscle groups and maybe even limited range of motion at certain joints. Things like foam rolling, static/dynamic stretching, and mobility exercises can easily be incorporated into a workout program to help keep you pain-free and moving well.