You want the time you put in at the gym to pay off, whether it’s through a more muscled physique or more weight you can add to the bar.
But if you’re like many guys, you might feel a little impatient waiting for those goals to come to fruition—so you spend a whole bunch of time scrolling through Instagram and scoping out your gym to see what the fittest guys out there are doing.
If it works for them, it must be the secret to putting on size and strength fast, right?
Not exactly. A lot of what you see—whether we’re talking social feeds or what guys are doing at your gym—is based on broscience, not actual science.
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes at the gym is seeking out that elusive “get fit fast” scheme, says David Otey, C.S.C.S., personal training manager at Equinox Fitness.
And here’s the problem with that thinking: If you’re too busy following the latest trends in fitness rather than sticking to a sound workout plan, you risk screwing up your progress—and looking like an ass while you’re doing it.
We asked the experts to weigh in on some of the things guys are doing wrong at the gym and ways to fix these mistakes. Here’s what they had to say.
Common Gym Mistake: Using Too Much Weight
One of the most detrimental things to a workout program is an ego. When you’re loading the bar with more plates than you can handle, there’s a good chance your form is going to suffer.
Going heavier than you can manage with good form isn’t only a quick way to injure yourself, but it also most likely leads to improper movement quality, says Otey. That diminishes the effects of your exercises.
“While there is a time and place for maximal training, doing that in every session, on every set, is only going to result in you burning out and not making consistent progress,” explains Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of CORE in Boston.
Stop comparing yourself to the guy next to you. It’s not about how much weight you can lift or how many reps you can do. If you want long-term results with minimal set backs, you need to lighten up the weight and focus on form.
Common Gym Mistake: Doing Workouts That Are Way Out Of Your League
If you’ve ever seen a Navy Seal workout, you know how crazy intense those guys are. Just reading about the hours of training they do makes most people tired. So why then, do some guys feel the need to exactly replicate workouts done by people who are much fitter than they are?
“Results are based on pushing your current fitness threshold just a little bit further each session, each week, each month,” says Otey. Going so hard that you end up throwing up and walking like a wounded gazelle for days on end isn’t healthy by any means—nor is it likely something you’ll stick with long enough to see results.
But, if you feel like trying something new, you need to be able to find a way to modify it to your level. That’s where a trainer can help. Ask questions before jumping into a new workout and track your progress.
You need to determine what your goal is and then ask yourself “does my workout program reflect that?” Quit doing other peoples’ workouts, and instead, find a program that fits your schedule and current fitness state.
Common Gym Mistake: Not Tracking Your Workout
We all have a lot to keep track of—your work meetings, your kids’ soccer practices, and your wife’s birthday, for starters. So for most guys, the last thing they want to be bothered with is tracking their workout. You want to get in, lift hard, and get out.
But if you’re not keeping track of the exercises you’re doing—and the weight, reps, and sets they’re performed at—then you end up with an inconsistent training plan.
Fortunately, this is one of the simplest fixes. Get an app that helps track your workouts or go old school and buy a spiral notebook and call it get started.
Then, aim to gradually increase your volume. For example, if you benched presses 185 pounds for three sets of eight reps the week before, Gentilcore says a good progression would be to increase your volume 5 to 10 percent, or by 1-3 repetitions the next week.
The idea is to challenge your body to do more work week by week, but not to the point where you surpass your body’s ability to recover.
Common Gym Mistake: Resting Too Long Between Sets
Do you spend more time texting and checking Instagram than you do pushing weight? Otey says these distractions can take a chokehold on your program.
Rest periods are one of the most crucial parts of a successful workout.
Too much rest in between sets leads to less stress on the muscle—ultimately altering the recovery needed for that respective area,” he explains.
So, if you’ve been taking long rests that you don’t need, then shorten it up. Aim for 50 seconds of rest in between a set of 10 repetitions, for example. Gentilcore says this generally equates to a work-rest ratio of 1:1.
Common Gym Mistake: Doing A Bodybuilder Split
How many times do you see a super fit (and massive) guy working out and think “I want to look like that?” Chances are, if that guy you’re trying to emulate is a bodybuilder—or has trained like—the odds of you looking like that anytime soon are pretty dismal.
What you don’t see behind all of the bulging muscles and ripped abs, is the 15 years of training that got him to that point.
“Bodybuilders have a dedication that is matched by very few,” says Otey.
Take, for instance, the traditional bodybuilder split. A guy might do chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday, biceps and triceps on Thursday, legs on Friday, and take the weekend off.
And for some guys—say, competitive bodybuilders—it can produce some pretty great results. The problem, though, is that those kinds of splits require a dedication that the average gym-goer just doesn’t have, says Otey. For one thing, it requires a lot of time both in the gym and at home, since your rest and nutrition needs to be on point, too. Plus, the intensity at which you need to train to make that split effective is high—one that very few people can maintain over time.
Instead, find a shorter program—which you’ll be more likely to stick to—that will focus on strength and muscle gains. And for the average guy, training each muscle group twice a week seems to be the sweet spot for strength and hypertrophy.
By Sara Lindberg