There is an undeniable influx of new gym-goers at the beginning of every new year. Some of these New Year's Resolution makers are destined for years of great workouts ahead of them. Others burn out in a matter of weeks, only to start the cycle over again next year.
The difference between these two groups is often a few common fitness mistakes that almost everyone falls prey to at one point in time. These mistakes, some big and some small, can set a new lifter back and add headaches and frustration to the typically stress-relieving and gratifying experience of working out.
As the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Getting into the gym Jan. 2 is the first step, but if you don't pay attention to the next 20 steps, you will begin your journey in the wrong direction.
Here are seven of the most common and most damaging mistakes you can make starting out in the gym.
1. Ignoring the Basics
When learning to cook you don't start by baking a soufflé. When learning to ski you don't take the chairlift to the top of the mountain on the first day.
For one reason or another, the gym has become a place where it is OK to skip the most important basic movements and start doing cool exercises or workouts that were featured in the latest fitness magazine.
Just like with cooking and skiing, it's important to start with the basics in the gym and work on them until you are proficient.
Agility training, plyometric exercises, strength and size all follow when good form is used in combination with compound movements. Every person who walks in the gym with the desire to achieve strength, size or speed should have a primary goal of mastering the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift. To call these exercises "simple" or "basic" would be a lie, but all three are important to the long-term development of any athlete or person wanting to get in shape. After conquering the big three, you are well on your way to achieving your resolution of becoming stronger, fitter and healthier.
2. Underestimating Bodyweight Training
For some people looking to get into shape for the first time, even an empty barbell may be a challenge to work with. It can be disheartening and discouraging to walk into a gym and not even be able to lift the bar. This tends to push people toward the machines, which allow you to lift much lighter weight, but which are vastly inferior to free weight and compound barbell movements.
Bodyweight training is often reserved for at-home workouts you perform while following along with a DVD, but even the strongest lifters can push themselves using just their body weight.
Bodyweight training can be a great way to get your muscles and joints used to moving in the same way you would at the gym. Bodyweight training can also help you work on mobility and correct deficiencies. If the gym seems too intimidating or the weights seems too heavy, don't give up! Give yourself six weeks of training at home using just your body weight. You will be ready to crush it in the gym in no time.
3. Failing to Recover
Many people are so excited to start working out that they don't bother with the warm-up or cool-down. They just jump right in! Skipping a proper warm-up is one of the quickest ways to get injured and put a swift end to your New Year's Resolution. Taking the time, even if it is just five minutes, to raise your core body temperature and do some dynamic stretches can safeguard against any tweaks, strains or more serious injuries. A proper cool-down is also important to help bring your body back down to base level after a hard workout.
Getting your body into that rest/recovery state as quickly as possible after a workout is a big part of staying healthy and getting stronger. Getting in shape doesn't just happen in the 45-60 minutes you spend in the gym. It's an all-day thing that includes eating well and getting enough sleep.
4. Ego Over Form
Probably the most common mistake people make, regardless of how long they've been in the gym, is lifting with their ego.
Loading the bar too heavy and performing partial reps is the quickest way to stay weak, slow and risk injury. If you started by learning the basics, this shouldn't be a problem; but too often people want to walk into the gym to prove to everyone else how strong they are.
The only person you should ever be worrying about in the gym is yourself. No one cares how many 45s you put on the bar when you squat, especially if you're barely hitting quarter-squat depth. Partial Squats, benching without the bar touching your chest, and deadlifting with a hunched back are all symptoms of lifting with your ego. The only person you are fooling by lifting this way is yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.
Lift as heavy as you can, with good form, and you will continue to get stronger long after the half-reppers have gone home with torn pecs or strained ACLs.
5. Too Much Screen Time
The rise in popularity of smartphones has resulted in longer rest periods. Between Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, every break between sets is used to check in with other people instead of checking in with yourself on how you feel.
Rest intervals are important for assessing how the last set, and the entire workout in general, has been going. It's often hard to find someone not on their phone during a workout. This constant tuning in breaks the mind-body connection that you are trying to develop by spending time in the gym.
There are a two simple solutions to this problem: Leave your phone in your locker or put it on airplane mode while you work out (this works if you use your phone to play music).
Take an hour out of each day to disconnect from social media to truly benefit and enjoy your time in the gym.
6. Not Keeping Records
Keeping track of the exercises you perform, the weight you lift, and the reps you do can help you continue to make progress and push yourself instead of falling back on the same exercises with the same weight each week.
The gym changes your body by placing it under enough stress to make it adapt. If you don't change or increase this stress often enough, your body fails to continue to adapt and you stop making progress. Carrying around a simple notebook and pencil is a great way to track the exercises you perform and the weight you use.
If you've been working out for a few months and have stopped seeing progress, a simple fix may be just to increase the weight on your exercises by 5 or 10 pounds or change up the exercises you are doing. Swap a barbell for dumbbells, go from 4x10 to 10x4.
There are an infinite number of ways to train in the gym, but the only way you will know you are making progress is by keeping track.
7. Training with a Closed Mind
Many people train with one particular focus and would never think of trying something new. Maybe you are already in pretty good shape but are reluctant to break from the safe routine you have built at the gym. You can really mix it up by switching your training focus or style of training and see amazing results.
There is a gym culture where whatever style of training you do is always better than someone else's. Challenge yourself by trying a different training style. It can quickly become a humbling learning experience. When you're starting out (after mastering the basics), it never hurts to try something new. There is an endless possibility of ways to get stronger, faster, fitter, and healthier. If you don't at least try more than one type of training, how will you know if you are doing the best one for you?