5 Workout Mistakes You Need to Stop Making

{By Taylor Cartee}

As a physical therapy aide, one of my primary tasks is to ensure that patients perform their strengthening exercises correctly. You can imagine my chagrin when I go to the gym after work and see people using bad form … and it’s not my job to correct them! With that in mind, here are the top five mistakes I see people make at the gym.

common workout mistakes

  • Static Stretching before you exercise: It’s important to warm up for 5-10 minutes before you exercise, but holding a stretch actually lengthens your muscle fibers and decreases their contractile power. Instead, opt for a dynamic warm up, or, if you’re really tight, try foam rolling. (And see below for some dynamic warm-up ideas.)
  • Speedy Gonzalez: So often I see people whiz through their exercises, oblivious to the fact that half the time, they’re merely letting gravity do the work. Think about this: It’s difficult to lift a heavy dumbbell straight out in front of you (because you’re opposing gravity), but relatively easy to lower it, because you’re working with gravity. You’ll get a much better workout if you make sure you control the weight as you slowly lower it, because your muscles are forced to resist gravity.
  • Cheating with the wrong muscles: It’s easy to “cheat” when you start to fatigue. I highly recommend that you use a mirror to keep yourself honest. If you’re training shoulders or arms, make sure that your core is tight, your shoulder blades are “anchored” down and back, and you’re not bouncing your knees or swinging your hips to help you get the weight up. Also watch that your upper traps remain relaxed. Using this muscle to cheat on arm or shoulder exercises will cause it to become tight and overdeveloped, leading to neck pain and poor posture. If you’re training your lower body, make sure you can perform the full range of motion, with good form.
  • Performing any exercise (or even picking up your weights) with a rounded back: When you round your back (spinal flexion), your vertebrae become less stable and vulnerable to misalignment. Keeping your back flat, or even slightly arched (extended) provides stability for your vertebrae, and helps protect them from injury. This holds true for deadlifting, burpees, squatting, etc.
  • Bad Squatting Form: There are many ways a squat can go wrong: knees caving in, knees pushing forward over your toes, weight on the outsides of your feet instead of your heels, a rounded back, or bending too far forward from the waist. To avoid these pitfalls, keep your lower abs braced, back flat or slightly arched, and push your hips back as you lower your butt towards the ground. When viewed from the front, your knees, hips, and ankles should be aligned. Your weight should be through your heels, your chest up, and shoulders straight, not hunched. These principles also apply to lunges, split squats, and box jumps: Your knees should never cave in, nor should they push past your toes.

Sample Warm-Up Ideas

common exercising mistakes

Lower Body:

Stationary bike or Treadmill walking for 5 minutes;

Walking lunge with knee hug (10-15x each leg).

Side-to-side lunges. 

Backwards-walking RDL. 

Upper Body:

For upper body, I like to warm up with 20 reps, light weights targeting whatever body part I’m working. For arms, I’ll warm up with 5lb dumbbell bicep curls and overhead tricep extensions, arm raises on a swiss ball for shoulders, 15-20 lb dumbbell press for chest, and bodyweight swiss ball extensions for back.

Avoiding these common workout mistakes will help you stay fit and get strong.

What are your thoughts? Comment below!