LifeTime WeightLoss Logo

« 5 Tips for Weight Loss Journaling | Main | Fighting Fatigue: 8 Ways to Enjoy More Energy »

10 Mistakes Exercise Enthusiasts Make

We all bring our good intentions to the gym.

We want to lose weight, grow stronger, be healthier. Likewise, we mean well when we have the discipline (and even courage) to try new equipment, attempt new exercises, or simply put in extra time.

Occasionally, however, these good intentions get diverted into misguided routines, poor exercise form, or an unconscious rut.

We don’t have to stay stuck in our mistakes, however. If we keep an open mind about our fitness activities and look to learn, we can move in the direction of greater success.

Let’s highlight a few common mistakes and the simple solutions that get us back on track. 

1. Using the same cardio equipment at the same speed/level every day

If your goal is simply to do something other than sitting, walking on the treadmill or going through the motions on another piece of cardio equipment is great. If you’re trying to improve your cardiovascular conditioning or endurance or to lower your body fat levels, you may need to get a little more of a plan together. 

Your body adapts quickly to whatever type of exercise stimulus you put it through. If you do the same thing every day, you’ll quickly stop making improvements. In fact, you may actually regress. Over time, your body becomes more efficient with the movements you put it through. This takes place if you’re new to exercise or a seasoned athlete. The muscular system becomes more efficient and may expend less energy over time at the same intensity. 


Train with a heart rate monitor. You’ll find that in order to maintain even the same heart rate over time, you have to work harder. That’s a good thing because it means you’re in better physical shape. 

2. Doing a set on every machine in a body part row

During my years as a personal trainer, I often met members whom I’d see, day after day, move from one machine to the next in the same row. Depending on the Life Time facility, we may have a dozen different machines in rows laid out by body part. 

People would do one leg press, then move on to the next. Then they’d do a third leg press machine, followed by three or four different leg extension machines and three leg curl machines. 

Each machine is designed differently, but the resistance levels vary greatly from one brand to the next. 


Choose one machine per movement, and do multiple sets, increasing the weight or repetitions every week or two. Even better, connect with a personal trainer who can show you how to do some free weight movements or more functional movements instead.

3. Doing the abductor/adductor machines in hopes they will “tone” your thighs

I know this may be disappointing to read, but using the abductor/adductor machines to tone your thighs doesn’t do anything for toning any more than doing crunches will give you a six-pack. These machines do indeed work some of the muscles around the hips, but the only way the fat goes away in those areas is through better nutrition, lifestyle and exercise habits. 

The abductor/adductor machines may help build some strength around the hip, and I’ve used the machines with a few clients over the years for rehabilitation (even for myself a couple times), but they’re not a solution for making one’s thighs look better. You’d be much better off squatting, lunging, deadlifting and doing other multi-joint body weight movements.


If you’re trying to make your thighs leaner, change your nutrition and lifestyle habits to allow your body to drop the body fat. If you’re trying to improve the strength in your thighs, do lunges, single leg squats, wide-stance squats, dead lifts and other multi-joint movements. If you’re not sure how to do some of those movements, ask a personal trainer for a little guidance. 

4. Lunging without your knee touching the floor

Lunges may be one of the best leg exercises you can do. They’re effective for just about every body, but they’re often done incorrectly. Many people have a goal in mind for the number they need to do. If they need to do 20 lunges, the first couple may look okay, but as they get tired, their back knee ends up further and further from the floor. 

When you lunge, if you’re just taking big steps and not getting your knee to the floor, you’re doing very little for your legs. You may add some stress to your quadriceps (front of your thigh), but your butt and the back of your legs are getting little attention. I’ve often had people tell me that lunges made their knees sore over time. If done incorrectly, they sure can. 


When you don’t get low enough, the entire load from the movement stays in your quadriceps, which puts a lot more force into your knee. When done correctly (bringing your knee fully to the floor each time), they shouldn’t cause any issues with the knees unless you have a pre-existing knee issue. Ask a trainer to help guide you through the motion if it feels challenging, and use a mirror or (even better) a trainer’s eye to check for proper positioning. 

5. Bicep curls without extending your arm | Pushups without your arms getting to at least a 90 degree bend

Both of these come down to a similar issue as the one with lunges. To gain the benefits of resistance training, your muscles should adapt to loads throughout their full range of motions. When you only move your body or a weight through part of the range of motion, you get little benefit compared to the full range of motion. 

Next time you’re at the club, take a look at people doing pushups. Specifically, look at the angle in their elbows when they get to their lowest point. You’ll see many, if not most people, stop far from a 90 degree angle. To have the effect you’re looking for in the chest, shoulders and triceps, you have to achieve at least a 90 degree angle, if not getting even lower.

With bicep curls, again, look at the angle in the elbow. You’ll notice most people bring the dumbbell or barbell up to their chest. As they lower the weight, they swing their arms and most people stop extending their arms when they’re at about a 90 degree angle. With a bicep curl, your arm should be fully-extended before you pull it back up again. In the end, those who stop halfway get more of a shoulder workout from swinging the weight than they get a bicep workout from doing the bicep curls.


Be sure you move through a full range of motion on almost any movement. Most people think they do when they don’t. Ask a fitness professional for assistance, but don’t look at other people in the fitness center to be your guide. If they don’t know how to use proper form, they’re not going to offer much help to you.

6. Walking on an incline but holding onto the treadmill

Walking on an incline is a great way to increase the intensity of your workout without needing to walk or run faster. The incline also engages more of your glutes and hamstrings and increases the range of motion your ankle goes through while walking. 

Unfortunately, to get all these benefits, you can’t hang onto the front of the treadmill. When you do, you put your body in the same position it would be in if the treadmill were flat. The readout on the treadmill may tell you you’re burning more calories, but that’s because it can’t feel you hugging it for dear life.


Let go! You may not be able to maintain the same speed or even use the same level of incline, but that’s okay. Let your body do the work. Back off on the speed or the grade of incline until you can slowly increase one or the other over time. 

7. Static stretching before your workout

I’m sure you remember your gym teacher in elementary school (back when kids actually had gym class) tell you that you needed to stretch before exercising. Today, we know better. Stretching prior to getting your muscles warmed up and moving actually increases your risk of injury. It’s also been shown to decrease performance. 


Do a more dynamic warm-up before your workout. You can use some bodyweight movements like lunges, squats, pushups and pull-ups to get the blood flowing. Foam rolling helps to loosen up some tissues as well. If you have specific areas that need work, there are a variety of other dynamic movements you can do in place of static stretches. Ask a trainer to show you one or two. 

8. Neglecting your back and legs to work on your chest and biceps

This one might be geared at men more than women, as guys tend to focus more on their biceps and chest. Women may have the habit of focusing more on their triceps and thighs. Either way, when you spend more time on certain parts of the body, it’s easy to create imbalances that can lead to problems down the road. 

The upper back, or lats and traps, are important for maintaining good posture. Working your legs has a much greater impact on your metabolism, as it requires a lot more energy and has more of a positive hormonal effect than laying on a bench doing presses. 


Train the body parts you don’t enjoy early in the week so you actually get them done. If you haven’t noticed, most guys hang around the bench press on Mondays because that’s what they often like to do. If you don’t split up your body parts, do a full-body workout that starts with leg exercises, then back, then the rest like chest, shoulders, arms and core work. When you do multi-joint movements like pressing, squatting and pull-ups, you work your arms and shoulders (and some of your core), and you won’t need to do as much, if any, isolation work. 

9. Focusing on your arms and shoulders when your goal is weight loss

If you’re goal is weight loss, lateral raises and bicep curls will do little to support your goals. A good strength training program will focus on multi-joint movements, as I’ve mentioned a couple times above. Building one little muscle group, like your deltoids (shoulders) or biceps (front of your arms), won’t do much for you compared to multi-joint movements. 


Start with the three basic movements, squats, pushups and pull-ups/pull-downs, and expand your program once you’ve mastered them. 

10. Avoiding strength training because of aches and pains

Too many people use past injuries or joint problems as an excuse to avoid resistance training or exercise altogether. There are certain conditions or times when you should avoid exercise for a while. However, injuries or past aches and pains should not limit you from exercising completely

A friend and past client of mine, Ken Wallisch, had a hip replacement shortly before we began working together. Think about that for a moment. He had the biggest joint in the body replaced. He was determined not to let the hip replacement in his 40s stop him from getting back into shape. Within a year, he was doing squats with 300 pounds and lunging with a full range of motion. I have no doubt it was his attitude about his situation that allowed him to not only totally rehab his hip but get in the best shape of his life. 


Find a way to work around or through the aches and pains you may have. Chances are, if you avoid all activity because it’s uncomfortable, it will only get worse as the years go on. 

Are you interested in troubleshooting or refining your workout? Talk with a fitness professional today. 

In health, Tom Nikkola - Former Sr. Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version