By Jeremey DuVall, M.S., CPT Men's Fitness
Walk onto the weight room floor and you’re likely to see guys using form or doing exercises that will make you cringe. But these obvious errors are just two of many possible ways you can screw yourself in the gym. With so many pieces of equipment to choose from, it’s hard to set up a proper routine—let alone get the warm-up and all of the other components right. Although some of these mishaps may be minor, they can actually lead to huge setbacks in terms of gains. To save yourself time, get faster results, and make your workouts more effective avoid these following mistakes.
1. Waiting for equipment
Gym lines are bound to form during peak hours. The best option is to head to the gym during off-hours either early in the morning or after 7pm once the post-work crowds have finished. But no matter how busy the gym is, you shouldn’t have to stall your routine in order to wait for equipment. To get around this obstacle always have alternative options in the back of your mind in case your preferred equipment is taken—for example a squat rack may be the best place for you to get in a heavy set of back squats, but as a swap dumbbell goblet squats can be just as challenging and add an element of core strength. Come prepared with a Plan B and you’ll stay moving rather than wasting your time waiting for the bench to open up.
2. Skipping the warm-up
Although it may save time, dodging the pre-workout warm-up is a surefire way to get injured when your workouts get tough. Have a dedicated warm-up that involves bodyweight exercises like lunges, squats, push-ups, and jumping jacks to elevate your heart rate before you attack the weights head on. No matter how short of a time you have, always include this quick warm-up in your workout. Make the first set of each exercise a lighter set that is higher in reps to further increase blood flow to the area and practice the movement before going heavy. If you simply don’t have a ton of time to get in your lifting session, shorten rest periods and cut out a set of each exercise rather than ditching the warm-up.
3. Not planning your routine ahead of time
Walking into the gym without a plan in mind is a bit like heading to the grocery store without a shopping list. You’ll end up wandering aimlessly back and forth, spending way more time than necessary. Your plan of attack should be well-thought out in advance. Include the exercises, sets, and reps as well as the order you want to do them in so you can plan your route around the weight room floor. If you’re working out with a buddy, take time to discuss the routine ahead of time so you’re both on the same page. This cuts down on talking and ensures that you both get down to business.
4. Doing cardio before your lifting session
Cardio is crucial to any man’s workout plan, but it can be detrimental when done at the wrong time. Completing a 30-minute jog before a set of heavy squats may increase your heart rate and act as a warm-up, but by the time you get under the bar you’ll be fatigued which can lead to poor form or worse, potential injury. Instead, get your form-intensive lifting session done first, and then hit the cardio area.
5. Always using the same machines, sets, and reps
Going through the same repetitive routine every single time is a quick way to get bored and stall any and all results. Your workout routine should change every few weeks either by alternating the exercises or the acute variables like sets, reps, and rest times. For optimal benefits you should stay with a workout routine for about three to four weeks before changing it up. Use a workout log to track trends in your training and see what works best for your body.
6. Not timing your rest periods
According to Jason Ferruggia, head strength coach at Renegade Strength and Conditioning, "most guys should be in and out of the gym in 60 minutes, including warm-up, cool-down, and a good lifting session." To make that possible, avoid wasting precious moments in between sets of an exercise. Wear a stopwatch or use an app on your phone to limit yourself to under a minute. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll finish your workout.
7. Working your core solely at the end of your routine
Leave your dedicated abdominal work till the end of your workout, and you’re likely to cut it short. When you’re tired and nearing the end of a lifting session, the last thing you will want to do is multiple sets of planks, side planks, and leg raises. Instead, get the core training out of the way early by incorporating the same moves in between exercises. Perform them during rest periods to maximize your time in the gym. Avoid incorporating core while working on heavy strength sets of total body moves like squats as they rely on your core for proper form and positioning. Instead, incorporate them alongside exercises like bench press and leg press that rely less on the midsection.
8. Forgetting your water bottle
Although it may seem trivial in terms of your overall routine, leaving the thirst quencher at home forces many guys to head to the water fountain in between sets. The result — wasted time in between exercises. To keep your workout going strong, bring your own bottle and fill it up beforehand.
9. Spreading out your workout
Avoid putting a circuit together that takes over the entire gym. Not only does it inconvenience other gym-goers when you traverse the entire gym floor with your superset, it also wastes precious time. Group your exercises in a way that allows you to utilize equipment in the same area. This cuts down on transit time between sets and gets you out of the gym faster.
10. Using balance equipment during strength exercises
If your goal is to build strength, leave the BOSU balls and other balance accessories out of the equation. Their main purpose is to increase proprioception (body awareness) and (you guessed it) balance. For heavy strength exercises, they decrease the amount of weight you can use therefore lowering the muscle stimulus. If you can’t lay off the wobble aids entirely, use them at the end of your workout to improve coordination.