5 Biggest Workout Mistakes

Learn the 5 biggest workout mistakes and discover what you can do to get a better body as fast as possible without hurting yourself or wasting your time.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #122

5 Biggest Workout Mistakes

January is the most popular time of year to start a new workout program, change or create a fitness goal, or make a concerted effort to get a better body or achieve a physical milestone.

But most people make big workout mistakes that hold them back, get them injured, or waste their valuable time. So in this episode, you’re going to learn the 5 biggest workout mistakes and discover what you can do to get a better body as fast as possible without hurting yourself or wasting your time.

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Workout Mistake #1: Only Exercising at the Gym

Let’s face it: The gym can be a complete time-suck. With plush chairs and couches conveniently located near big screen TVs, smoothie bars well stocked with snacks, piles of magazines, friends, workout buddies, and vibration platforms, scales, saunas, spas, flyers, articles, and fancy new workout contraptions, you can literally spend hours at the gym preparing to exercise, eating for exercise, learning about exercise, and talking about exercise – without actually doing much exercise.

Case in point: I recently went to the gym to take a “metabolism-boosting class.” The class was scheduled to begin at 6:30. I left my house at 6:00 to drive to the gym and get there by 6:15 so I could get into the class. I then waited around for 15 minutes for class to start, and then a few extra minutes waiting for latecomers. I then spent another 10 minutes in the class warm-up, although I’d already warmed up while waiting. Each section of the class included demos and instructions from the teacher, and I simply hit “stop” on my watch during each of these breaks. By the time the class was over and we spent 10 minute doing a very easy cool-down and stretches, I had spent 90 minutes “working out,” but when I looked at my watch, discovered that I only actually engaged in significant fitness-boosting exercise for a total of 22 minutes (although I guarantee that multiple class participants would proudly check off the class as being 60 minutes of exercise).

Had I stayed at home and simply used the inexpensive home exercise equipment I talk about in How to Make a Home Gym, such as a mat, suspension strap, stability ball, and dumbbells, I could have achieved three times as much exercise and still had time left over! For example, I could have performed 4-5 rounds of the exercises in my episode on the 5 Best Full Body Exercises without ever stepping foot into the gym.

So as you choose your workout or start a new workout program, enable yourself to exercise in convenient places other than a gym, such as your own house, backyard or nearby park. Having that option can lead you to work out much more consistently, and keep you from getting waylaid by all the time-wasting temptations at a fancy health club.

Workout Mistake #2: Doing Too Much, Too Soon

There are a lot of beautiful bodies being used to advertise and promote workout programs such as Crossfit, P90X, and BeachBody Insanity. Unfortunately, many rookie exercisers or people who aren’t ready to begin such an intensive program, will jump into it with great gusto, only to find themselves laid up with knee, shoulder, or back injuries just a few days in. And if they avoid injury, they may find themselves completely demotivated from hormone depletion and overtraining syndrome.

In my episode on How to Recover After a Workout, you learn that your body actually repairs and becomes more fit during strategically timed rest periods – even if that rest simply means skipping the hard workout DVD or killer class and instead doing some easy yoga or a non-impact sport like cycling.

If you’re doing hard workouts that include high intensity intervals and strenuous weight training, you need to know that in most cases, just 2-4 days per week of intense workouts, spaced with easy recovery workouts, will keep you getting fit, gaining muscle, and losing fat long-term. On the other hand, making massive fitness gains in 2 weeks can lead you to quitting from injury and burnout.

Workout Mistake #3: Creating Imbalances

There are many good fitness programs that will get you fit, fast. When used properly, workouts such as the ones I just described (Crossfit, P90X, BeachBody, etc.) can certainly help you achieve your goals.

But many workout programs ignore the little details – the small muscles and joints of most human bodies that tend to be neglected, which allows them to become too tight or too weak, limit mobility or lose stability, and create injuries and imbalances – especially if you’re working all your other big muscles very hard.

The most common areas that are neglected are your external rotators in the rotator cuff of your shoulder, the external rotators in your hip, your deep abdominal muscles, and the thoracic muscles around your mid-spine area. So what can you do about this? No matter what workout program you’re doing, take some time out once or twice per week to do external rotation for your shoulder (using a band or light dumbbell), external rotation for your hip (by using side lying leg raises or fire hydrants), planking muscles for your abs (such as side and front plank), and stabilizing exercises for your mid-back (such as seated rows or front raises). You can find videos of any of these exercises by clicking here.

Workout Mistake #4: Wasting Time

It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear a personal trainer say this, but most people don’t exercise hard enough, especially at the gym. Most individuals simply cannot significantly improve fitness while riding a bike and watching TV, lifting weights with a magazine nearby to read during “rest periods,” working out on weight training machines while talking to a friend, or even playing some sports (after all, how much of that 90 minute doubles match in tennis did you actually spend huffing and puffing vs. laughing with your partner or standing around waiting for a serve?).

All of these examples certainly include movement, which is fantastic for getting the blood flowing and relieving stress, but aren’t going to burn significant calories or get you ripped.

In the episode How to Tell if You’re Working Out Hard Enough you learn tips for significantly increasing fitness, such as the fact that you should actually be slightly sore the day after weight training, or you should be sweating and unable to carry on a conversation during cardio. I’d highly recommend you check out that episode, and be honest with yourself about how hard you’re actually exercising at the gym or anywhere else.

Workout Mistake #5: Not Planning Ahead

Many workout programs feel fantastic for a short period of time, but it only takes 2-4 weeks for you to begin to adapt to certain exercises, and another 6-12 weeks before your body can plateau and your fitness gains go into maintenance mode only. So, do you have a long term plan for your year?

You don’t need to change everything dramatically all at once, but every 6-12 weeks you should consider adding in new classes (i.e. substituting a spin class for a kickboxing class), using different weight training methods (i.e. introducing kettlebells or dumbbells as a replacement for weight training machines) or signing up for a new event (i.e. a 5K, a bike ride, a weight loss challenge, etc.).

In other words, anticipate that your body will eventually get into a groove and plateau…and make sure to have a plan for when that happens.

If you need a blueprint for getting a better body without wasting your time, and you want a plan that is customized to your unique body type, then look no further than my new book Get Fit Guy’s Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body. You can grab it now, along with free body typing questionnaires, body fat and metabolism calculators, and everything else you need to get started with the perfect workout now, at GetFitGuy.com.

If you have more questions about the 5 biggest workout mistakes, then post them in Comments below or join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Sports Injury and Two Women by the Treadmill images from Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.