Mistakes You May be Making in the Gym
by Abby Austin
I sat there looking around at faces just as confused as my own. We waited silently in the dark with nothing but the light from a TV illumining the newly built room we occupied. Then it began. What ensued changed my life. An excerpt from ‘Pumping Iron’ started to play. If now you are confused, it’s only one of the best bodybuilding documentaries ever created about the infamous Arnold Schwarzenegger.
After another hour of safety and how-to video, the lights turned on. As I stood up, my basketball coach exclaimed, “Ladies, let’s go to work.” There before my eyes was a fresh alumni-donated high school weight room full of dumbbells, barbells, benches, ropes, medicine balls, and everything else Arnold would be proud of. That was more than 10 years ago, I was introduced to resistance training and the benefits of building a strong body. While my training approach, frequency, and intensity have changed throughout the years, going into the weight room has always been a constant.
Over the years, I’ve been so excited to see more and more women enter the weight room – first to the cardio machines, then to the weights themselves. I still find myself to be the only female lifting heavy alongside the men every now and then. But, these occurrences become more and more scarce. That’s freaking awesome! However, I still notice women (well, and men) making a lot of mistakes in the gym that I hope to help call attention to and resolve.
- Incorrect form is most important in exercise!
By now you’ve heard, the best way to build strength is lifting heavy. However, what is the point if your form is improper? If you are squatting your weight, but not going deep enough to at least a 90 degree angle with the floor, you are nearly wasting your time. Not only do you allow yourself the potential of injury with improper form, but you aren’t working the intended muscle groups either. More than the amount of weight or number of reps, the quality of your training influences your progress. In resistance training, quality includes your range of motion, angle of movement, and tension.
2. Face your fear.
There may be a number of reasons that women are intimidated entering the gym. Maybe you don’t know what you’re doing so you think everyone is staring at you. Nonsense. ‘Social physique anxiety’ is real, but people are focused on their own form, not you. More importantly, you may not be engaging the right muscles, you may not know how to use the machines, or you could injure yourself. The best solution is to become educated, work with a reputable, certified personal trainer.
3. Not lifting heavy enough.
The myth still exists- lifting will make women bulky. Firstly, the term ‘bulky’ is completely subjective. Only you can decide what level of muscularity you desire. However, 5 pound weights are not the solution. You are building your strength, that doesn’t require a certain aesthetic. Strength is sexy, regardless of what you look like. Lifting heavy, as opposed to light weight, can be used for strength gain and muscle maintenance as opposed to muscle growth.
4. You must use progressive overload methodology.
If this concept is new for you, it basically means, you have to do more over time. The stress on your body would gradually increase each week for more muscle and strength. This would mean adding more weight, adding more reps, or increasing your intensity. Your muscles will work harder than they are used to; therefore without progressive overload, there is no improvement. While the extent of the changes you make in your training vary from a beginner to an advanced lifter and men to women, the concept is still the same. Start with a baseline for an exercise, perfect your form, then progress from there.
5. Not having a set goal.
Going to the gym without a plan will not get you results. Do you want to lose weight? Gain muscle? Get stronger? Once you’ve established your motivation, you can make a plan to work towards it. Setting goals help you measure progress, stay accountable and achieve results. Make sure your goals are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and with a timeframe. Write your goals down, and I’d also recommend tracking them via a fitness app such as My Fitness Pal.
6. Using the wrong training style to meet your needs.
I’ll keep this simple. If you want to gain muscle mass, you need to eat a lot to fuel your workout and muscles. For women, you will most likely be in excess of 2000 calories. Lift heavy, use variety in your training. Also, you should not be doing excessive cardio. If you want to lose fat, you will cut calories, but not unrestrained. You should never fall below 1200-1300 calories. Incorporate high intensity interval training (HIIT) for efficient fat burning. Don’t be afraid to lift heavy, but will less fuel intake, you will not be able to max out.
7. Doing the same workout.
You’ve seen it before, or maybe done it yourself: the same 60 minutes on the treadmill everyday, the same amount of weight for your exercises as the last 3 weeks, or always using the same Nautilus machines. You may be spending hours in the gym, but receiving no results. Insert the infamous Albert Einstein quote, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” You need to periodically change your routine to achieve results. There are various philosophies on how often to do so, but understanding that you need to change weight, intensity, type of training or cardio, and timing is essential for results.
8. Ignoring proper nutrition and hydration.
You will not reap rewards of putting hard work in the gym without proper nutrition and hydration. By now, you must understand water is essential for your health. You should be drinking at least a gallon every day, and sip on water while you work out (preferably with BCAAs). As for nutrition, this varies for everyone based on body type, age, workout routine/intensity and goals (fat loss vs muscle gain). Having enough protein, carbs, and good fats should be the sole focus. I can not stress enough, do not be afraid to eat! Not eating enough food is just as bad as overeating.
9. Attempting spot reduction.
We get it – most women want flat abs, toned arms, and a great ass. However, spot reduction is a complete myth. You will never achieve any of these with localized fat loss. There are two aspects of body training: muscle building which is specific to location, and fat loss which is not site specific. Targeting a region does not burn fat in that area. Whereas, muscle building is done by highly activating specific muscles
10. What works for others may not or will not work for you.
Working out with a friend is great, whether its once in awhile or part of your daily routine. However, you need to know what you are seeking in your workout partner. Do you need a cheerleader to help motivate you? Maybe train with a friend who is more weight training savvy? Whatever the reason, knowing your motivation (and theirs) will help both of you achieve results. But, what works for her may not work for you. If she is squatting 185, but that’s too much for you, don’t push it. You will get there – put your progress into perspective. You and your friend need to understand each other’s goals and pace of training in order to make it work, and help ensure neither gets injured.
11. If the equipment you need is in use, don’t skip it from your workout.
Ever look for the 15 pound dumbbells or the squat rack only to find them taken. Yep, it sucks when the gym is busy. Don’t let that stop you from getting what you need to get done. There is a variation to nearly anything- use a kettle bell or plates for your dumbbells. Maybe a straight bar for your squats. If you’re not comfortable with that, come back to you desired exercise. Try to use the more popular equipment earlier in your workout to ensure you get it in your allotted time.
Did I miss anything? Please comment below or email me at Abby@alwaysliveactive.com with any gym mistakes and let’s find a solution!
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