6 Ways to Avoid the Top Mistakes People Make at the Gym

Chris Freytag by Chris Freytag | January 27th, 2010 | 5 Comments
topic: Fitness, Health & Wellness, Weight Loss

It’s January and the gyms are packed.

I have written many times over the years about correcting poor form or bad habits at the gym. It’s not a new subject, but I have been “moved” to write about it one more time after last Saturday morning when I was at the gym and was compelled to offer some free advice to the woman next to me.  Here was the scenario:  I like to exercise on the Stairmaster Stepmill…you know the machine with the revolving stack of stairs. I usually mind my own business, but last Saturday the woman next to me was so slumped I couldn’t keep my blinders on.

I could barely continue with my own workout and had to engage her in conversation. I first asked if there was a reason she was totally bent over and putting her body weight into her upper body. (She actually was completely slumped and moving her feet as fast as a gerbil on a wheel).

Well it turns out she actually has a back problem and I’ll tell you, the way she was positioned, her back was going to be worse.

She had no resistance on the machine so her legs weren’t getting a workout. She was going for speed and supporting her body weight in her neck and shoulders, which could result in a stiff neck or something worse. I got her to add resistance, go slower, stand upright, tighten her abs and let go of the handles. She couldn’t believe how hard it was! I ended up getting the whole row of occupied stepmills to try it out.They were appreciative of my help and we got a couple laughs out of it.

There are lots of gym goers with the best of intentions but they fall short when it comes to results and even worse, many become injured due to their mistakes. Here is a list of the most common gym blunders I see and some quick advice to make your workouts safe and effective:

1. Allow your body to support you

Don’t lean into the Stairmaster or treadmill (I just mentioned this). Your hands only belong on the equipment for balance, not for support. If the equipment is your prop, you are not burning optimal calories and you are definitely not effectively working out your lower body. Straighten up those backs, look straight ahead, and rest those hands LIGHTLY on the rails to get a safe and effective workout.

2. Deepen your movements

Don’t shorten your steps on the treadmill. I saw a few quick “shufflers” this past weekend on the treadmills. Fast and furious doesn’t necessarily equal a better workout. Think full range of motion! If you are a walker, take up the incline to increase intensity. Taking longer, comfortable strides work the large muscle groups in your legs, and burn even more calories in the long run.

3. Control your core

Don’t be a “mad cruncher.” You all know the person that does 200 abdominal crunches in a row and by whipping their bodies up and back—it’s painful to watch! Remember, abdominal work is quality over quantity. Cranking out 200 crunches is not beneficial if you are doing it incorrectly. A properly formed crunch is a controlled, thoughtful, and focused movement. Make sure you are actually using your abs and not your hip flexors or glutes. Also, add other core body exercises to your routine like body planks for a strong and sculpted core.

4. Don’t forget to stretch

Make sure you stretch right after doing an aerobic activity to prevent risk of injury. I see people get caught up chatting with a friend and before you know it, their muscles are cold and they head to the locker room. The cool down and stretch is an important part of keeping your muscles and soft tissue healthy – so head directly to a mat after your cardio and do 5-10 minutes of some good stretching.

5. Don’t forget to drink water

In the winter months, we often forget to drink as much water. But, oxygen and water fuel your muscles. Your body works out more effectively when it’s properly hydrated. Don’t rely on the drinking fountain for a few sips during your workout. Bring a water bottle and remember 4-6 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise.

6. Dig deep

Don’t forget to work hard.

Yes, that’s what I said. So many folks get to the gym, do a light workout while socializing and wonder why the results aren’t happening faster. Here is a tip…if you can comfortably breathe through your nose while doing cardio, you aren’t working hard enough. Get your heart pumping and breathe through your mouth. Don’t be afraid to sweat. It’s calories in vs. calories out at the simplest level of science.

Stay Healthy,



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  1. I love your tips on how to make a workout better. I have trouble taking my hands off the side bars on the treadmill. I can walk perfectly fine outside and pump my arms while walking. However, on the treadmill – I cannot help but hold the bars. Any suggestions – or is it just something I have to remind myself about?

    Debbie | January 28th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Hi Debbie – well….you will be better off in the long run not holding on. You will use more lower body muscle, probably have better overall posture and burn more calories…not to mention practice your balance. Try putting light handweights in your hands so you can grab the handles and slow down the mph….I bet over time – you will speed back up and burn up more caloires!!

    Chris Freytag | January 28th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. Happy to report that after 2 weeks of holding jumprope handles ( not much weight there) I am much more confident on the treadmill without holding on. Now – I hope to be able to get to a jog on the treadmill. I plan to begin with 4 min of walking and 1 min of jogging and increase until I can run for 4 min of jogging and 1 min of walking!

    Debbie | February 15th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. Such excellent advice. Thank you.

  5. The stepmill is what gets me.

    The majority always leans in for support.

    There are two reasons the stepmills break all the time at my gym:

    First is when the neck is slouched, sweat drips from their forehead into the steps and not down their stomach causing water damage.

    Second is when going top speed while leaning which can over-work the machine itself causing a malfunction.

    Scott | December 15th, 2015 | Comment Permalink

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