The gym can be a pretty intimidating and confusing place for a newbie. Like many people, you probably know what it’s like to suffer from that ever-present fear of embarrassing yourself or of looking bad in some way.
You shouldn’t let that bother you too much, though. Everyone looks bad at first, it’s to be expected, and we all go through it.
What you should really be concerned about is making the kind of mistakes that will actually undermine your progress and cause you to fail to get to your goals. I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s a much bigger deal, right?
And that’s precisely what this article is about.
Interestingly, there are numerous regular and long-term gym goers who get very mediocre results from their training at best. That’s because newbie gym mistakes might be basic and fundamental, but they aren’t just limited to newbies.
A lot of people make them. And continue to do so, month after month and year after year.
Below are the 12 biggest newbie mistakes you can make in the gym, or even working out at home, for that matter. Whether you’re a newbie or you’ve actually been working out for a while, if your fitness goals are important to you, you need to ensure that you’re not making any of these.
1. Wishful thinking
There’s nothing quite as demotivating as striving for a goal, only to discover at some point that it’s simply out of your grasp, and always will be. What better reason is there to throw your arms up in frustration and quit?
That’s why it’s crucially important that when you make a decision to improve your fitness and physique in some way, you set goals for yourself that are realistic and achievable, both in terms of what you can ultimately achieve, and in what time frame.
Unfortunately, however, this is easier said than done.
For one thing, there’s the issue of genetics. The fact is that some people are simply genetically better configured to lose body fat and/or gain muscle than others. So just because one person is able to achieve a certain result through some 12-week fitness program, for example, it doesn’t follow that you’ll be able to do the same.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s better than you, knows something you don’t, works harder than you, or wants it more than you. It’s just easier for some people than others. So what you see one woman achieve in 12 weeks may take you 24 or more weeks to duplicate.
That’s just how it is. No one said life was fair.
Then there’s the even bigger issue of all the deception and misunderstanding that surrounds the fitness industry.
How realistic is it to expect to look like your favorite fitness model, really?
Well, it depends.
First of all, understand that for many fitness models, fitness is their full-time job. It’s what they do, and how they earn a living. So of course they’re able to put a lot of time and commitment into their training and diet. And they’re very motivated to do so. After all, it’s their livelihood.
If you’re prepared to put in the same time and effort, then there’s no reason you can’t look just like them. But if you’re expecting miracles by working out just 15 minutes each day, then you’re deluding yourself, regardless of what the guy in the infomercial tells you.
You don’t get anything for nothing, especially in fitness.
The other wild card that’s responsible for a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t achievable is steroids. The cold and unfortunate truth is that a good number of fitness models out there, even extremely popular and highly-respected ones, are on steroids.
There’s often a tendency for some people to view fitness models as some sort of super-humans, who look the way they do because they’re that good at what they do. Like they’re special in some way. That’s especially true once they achieve celebrity status.
Well, they’re not special. Always remember that they’re human, just like you. They don’t have super-powers, regardless of how many Facebook followers they have.
So when someone has a super-hero physique, don’t discount the possibility that they could be juicing. In which case, your inability to look like them is no indication that you’re doing something wrong or are inferior in some way.
You’re just being conned into shooting for something that isn’t real.
Don’t fall into the trap though, of assuming that everyone who looks good (or even better than you) is on steroids. That’s far from the case.
The best advice is to just do your research, and get a clear and educated picture of what is and isn’t achievable for you. It might take some time and effort, but you’ll get there.
Then get out there, work your butt off and make it happen.
2. Not having a “why”
One of the reasons that New Year’s resolutions never last is that they’re not really a “why” for wanting to make changes to your health and physique, but rather just a catalyst.
The beginning of a new year is typically a time where people think about their life and where it’s going, and are therefore motivated to make changes. That feeling of a new beginning is very short-lived though, as is the motivation it provides.
The fact is, if you have a powerful “why”, or reason, for wanting to make changes to your body, you wouldn’t be waiting for a new year to start doing it. You would start as soon as possible.
A good “why” is vital to starting a new fitness program and seeing it through. Without it, your chances of achieving your goals are virtually nil.
Every choice we make in life is based on a trade-off between cost and benefit.
As far as fitness goes, the cost is the time and effort you need to put in each day to get your body into shape. The benefit is the ultimate achievement of your goal. That benefit needs to be greater than the cost, otherwise you would simply have no reason to keep going.
That’s the reason most people quit. They simply don’t want it enough to see it through, because their reason for doing it isn’t powerful or compelling enough to them.
So before signing up for that new gym membership, take some time to sit down and think of your specific and deeply personal reasons for wanting to do this. Make sure they’re meaningful and important to you, so that they can keep you wanting it enough to keep going day after day.
3. Being inconsistent
This is actually very closely tied in with the previous point, since without the proper motivation and desire to achieve your fitness goals, you’re only going to find yourself in the gym on those occasions when you’re really in the mood.
That’s just not good enough.
Consistency above everything else is what will get you to your goals.
One of the most common newbie gym mistakes that people make is to merely dabble in fitness, rather than being committed to it. You can’t expect to get results if you’re only prepared to make an effort on the days that you feel like it.
Being successful means doing what it takes every day, not just now and then.
That doesn’t mean that you should work out 7 days a week, however. It simply means that you need to stick to what you planned to do. Whether that’s 3 days a week, 4 days a week, or whatever. Figure out what you’re prepared to do, then do it and stick to it.
Once you start quitting on your program here and there, you’ll develop the habit of quitting. It’s not just a matter of the occasional skipped workout. That’s not the problem.
The problem is the development of the habit. That will derail your results quicker than you realize, so don’t let it happen. Take your consistency seriously.
4. Not having a plan
The problem with not having a master plan for your gym activities is that before long, you’ll find yourself doing pretty much the same thing every day, or at least every week.
That causes a problem on two fronts.
Firstly, it will make your workouts mind-numbingly boring. It’s hard to keep motivated and enthusiastic about working out when it’s the same old same old all the time. Variety is essential to keeping your interest level up and your mind fresh.
Secondly, it will cause your physical progress to stagnate.
For optimal results, your body needs to be fed new challenges all the time, otherwise it adapts to what becomes routine and basically plateaus. Then you’ll be spinning your wheels, doing a lot of work but not really getting anywhere.
Each and every workout should have a purpose in the grand scheme of your plan, and be another step in your staircase to your goals.
Whether you find one in a book, a magazine, online, through a trainer, or whatever, a good program is essential to keeping your workouts as effective as possible and your progress moving along nicely.
5. Chopping and changing
Having a plan is great, but you also need to stick to it long enough to allow it to work for you.
A lot of newbie gym-goers seem to suffer from “flavor of the month” syndrome, where they’re always changing to something new and different whenever it comes along.
OK, I know that in the previous point I said that your body needs new challenges all the time, but it also needs to be conditioned to a particular input long enough to cause positive adaptations like muscle growth and fat loss to occur.
So constantly chopping and changing programs without rhyme or reason is not a good thing.
This kind of behavior usually happens when someone is bored with their workout, either because it lacks variety and appropriate progression, or when they’re no longer motivated and driven by their “why” and their goals. When this happens, they look for excitement by simply trying something new.
If you find yourself chopping and changing programs, ask yourself why.
Then fix the cause.
Find yourself an effective program that you believe in and trust, and give it a fair chance to work. If you find that it truly doesn’t work for you or suit you, by all means make some changes.
Just be sure you do so sensibly and with thought, rather than just on blind impulse.
6. Being a cardio bunny
This is a very common newbie gym mistake among the weight loss crowd. People whose goal it is to lose body fat have their primary focus on one thing, and that is to burn calories. And lots of them.
So that means cardio exercise. And lots of it.
Which is fair enough. After all, calories burned mean body fat burned, right?
At the beginning of an exercise program that’s true enough. But as time goes by, things begin to change somewhat.
With regular exposure to low-intensity cardio training (jogging on the treadmill, moderate cycling on the stationary bike, etc.) your body gradually adapts to the exercise. Not only does it become more efficient at performing the exercise, meaning it burns fewer and fewer calories to perform it, but it also leads to a decrease in your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate.
And that’s the last thing you want to happen if fat loss is your goal. Because it means more and more work for fewer and fewer results.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a great form of cardio training that largely avoids these drawbacks, however studies have shown that resistance training is also a very important component of the fat loss equation.
In a fat loss training program, resistance training focuses on the maintenance, or even growth, of muscle tissue. This is very beneficial because unlike fat, muscle tissue is metabolically very active so it burns up calories constantly, even while at rest.
So more muscle means a higher BMR. Just want the doctor ordered for fat loss.
And make no mistake, resistance training itself burns calories as well, especially when done intensely.
If your goal is to lose fat therefore, don’t make the mistake of spending your time ambling along doing nice, leisurely cardio (as so many gym-goers seem to do). Get that intensity up.
But even more importantly, be sure to incorporate resistance training into your program as well. Weights aren’t just for bodybuilders. They’re a super-effective tool in your arsenal against body fat.
7. Giving in to distractions
Let’s face it, modern life is absolutely filled with distractions. And it’s only getting worse.
It’s causing our attention span to get shorter and shorter, since we’re simply becoming less able to focus on any task for more than 15 minutes without being distracted or sidelined by something.
Where does that leave you with regards to your workout?
Well, if you take a cursory look around the gym, you’ll see that distractions affect a lot of people there. All the time. And not just the newbies.
Chatting with friends is big, but of course the biggest distractor of them all is the phone. From taking selfies, to texting, to updating social media – nothing has the power to kill your focus in the gym quite like your phone.
If you’re serious about your results, you won’t let this happen.
Right from the start, get into the habit of making your time in the gym sacred “you” time. Block out the rest of the world, focus purely and utterly on yourself and what you’re doing, and on nothing else.
Trust me, the world will still be there when your workout is over.
If you want to take selfies, call or text a friend, or share your progress or an update on social media, by all means knock yourself out. But do it before and/or after your workout.
Your workout session needs to be a time of total focus.
8. Relying on a partner
No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a workout partner. The fact is, there are few things more motivating and encouraging than a good workout partner that’s reliable and is prepared to work as hard (or even harder) than you.
What I’m saying is to not rely on a partner.
If your workout partner is solid, then believe me, you’re blessed.
But if she isn’t as committed and consistent as you are, you run the risk of being dragged down into her bad habits.
When two gym newbies get together and agree to get into shape together, understand that the performance of the team is most likely going to be equal to that of the weaker member. Chances are, her influence will be greater.
So until your workout partner proves herself, don’t buy into this “we’re in it together” business. Get it into your mind that you’re on your own. At least in the beginning.
If she shows up to a workout, great. That’s icing on the cake.
If she doesn’t show, that’s fine too. You knew you were on your own and you know what you need to do, so it’s not a problem.
As time goes by, with some luck you will find yourself with a great workout partner and you’ll be able to push and encourage one another and keep each other accountable. But until then, tread carefully.
9. Skimping on intensity
I’ve already talked about the superiority of high-intensity cardio over low-intensity for fat loss. As a general rule however, working out is all about intensity.
You only get out of your workouts what you put in, so if you’re only willing to coast along at a leisurely pace in the gym, then don’t expect too much in return.
There are limits though, of course. Keeping your heart rate within an acceptable range and keeping weights to manageable levels are very important rules for safety, but within those limits you still have the ability to push yourself to new heights.
That’s how progress is made.
As a gym newbie, adopt the mindset that you’re always progressing in the gym in some way. Either you’re learning and getting comfortable with new movements, or you’re pushing your body into new ground.
And that means not being afraid of some intensity.
10. Not tracking your progress
There’s an old saying that anything that can be measured can be managed.
How true. Without tracking your progress, how could you possibly even know whether you’re progressing at all? Or at what rate? How would you know whether you were on track to achieve your goals?
By tracking your progress, you keep yourself accountable. It prevents you getting complacent and stagnating. And it allows you to manage your progress.
Earlier I talked about the importance of having a plan. That’s like your map. Without it, you would just wander around aimlessly and probably get nowhere. Tracking your progress is like your GPS. It lets you know whether you’re on the right track, how far you are from your destination, and therefore whether any changes need to be made to get there.
So take your training seriously and always track your progress. It also keeps you more committed to and more invested in your results.
11. Listening to gym “bros”
If you’re a newbie in the gym you might not yet know what a “bro” is. The male variant is fairly easy to spot though, as they will generally tag that word onto the end of most of their sentences when communicating with other bros.
A “bro” is basically someone who spreads misinformation, myths and fallacies about health and fitness in the circles in which he or she moves.
Not intentionally, of course. In their mind, their “knowledge” is gospel, since it invariably originates from unquestionable sources, such as their friend who can bench 300lb. They don’t believe in science, of course, because scientists wear white coats and don’t lift, right?
OK so jokes aside, the fact is that there is a lot of misinformation and many, many misunderstandings and false beliefs in the fitness world. So don’t fall into the trap of believing someone blindly just because they’ve been working out for ten years, because they look in shape, or whatever.
In the beginning, virtually everyone will know more than you, so of course there will be something to learn from just about anyone. But keep an open mind, keep learning, and be discriminating about your sources of information.
Don’t trust anyone implicitly.
By adopting this mindset, you’ll find that you quickly learn right from wrong and your knowledge will surpass that of the bros who refuse to learn anything new because they already know it all.
12. Using sloppy form
The use of poor training form isn’t just a newbie gym mistake. Unfortunately, it’s commonplace even among more experienced gym goers.
As an inexperienced exerciser, it’s understandable that your form won’t be perfect right from the word go, unless perhaps you’re under the guidance of a good trainer. It takes time to learn, and that’s OK.
The important thing however is to not be sloppy because of laziness or lack of focus, or by trying to train with too much weight. All of these are avoidable and therefore should be.
Training poorly with too much weight can lead to injuries, especially as a newbie, which can potentially sideline you and even discourage you from continuing your training.
So be careful.
With experience your workout form will gradually improve, if you take the time to learn. Unfortunately, so many people don’t bother. These days there are numerous sources of information available on how to train correctly. But as I mentioned in the previous point, be discriminating with who you choose to rely on. Be a sponge and learn as much as you can.
As your training form improves, you can also expect your results to improve as well, as your training becomes more effective.