Walk into any gym, and you’ll find guys doing something cringeworthy—from exhibiting crappy exercise form to doing useless routines that don't really accomplish anything. (Surely you've seen gym fail videos of hip thrusts gone wrong...)
But these obvious errors are just two of the many possible ways you can screw yourself over in the gym. And while some of these mishaps may be minor, they can actually lead to huge setbacks in terms of gains.
To save time, get faster results, and make your workouts more effective, make sure you avoid these 10 common mistakes.
1. You wait for equipment to free up
Gym lines are bound to form during peak hours. The best fix? Head to the gym early in the morning or after 7p.m., once the pre-work and post-work crowds have cleared.
If your schedule isn't that flexible, always have alternative options in the back of your mind in case the equipment you want is taken. For example, you can swap your back squats with a set of dumbbell goblet squats, which can be just as challenging and add an element of core strength. Come prepared with a Plan B and you’ll stay moving rather than wasting your time waiting for the bench to open up.
2. You skip warmups
Although it may save time, dodging the pre-workout warmup is a surefire way to get injured during a tough workout. Have a dedicated warmup that involves bodyweight exercises like lunges, squats, pushups, and jumping jacks to elevate your heart rate before you attack the weights head on. It doesn't matter if you're short on time; you need a warmup in your workout.
Furthermore, before a big compound lift—like a squat or a deadlift—start with a warmup set with higher reps at a lighter weight. It'll further increase blood flow to your muscles, and help you cue up good form before you start going heavy. If you simply don’t have a ton of time to get in your lifting session, shorten rest periods and cut out a set of each exercise rather than ditching the warmup.
3. You don't plan out your routine ahead of time
Walking into the gym without a plan in mind is a bit like heading to the grocery store without a shopping list. You’ll end up wandering aimlessly back and forth, spending way more time than necessary. Your plan of attack should be well thought out in advance. Include the exercises, sets, and reps as well as the order you want to do them in so you can plan your route around the weight room. Keep it in the notes of your smartphone or write them down if you get distracted by your phone.
If you’re working out with a buddy, take time to discuss the routine ahead of time so you’re both on the same page. This cuts down on talking and ensures you both get down to business.
4. You do cardio before you lift
Cardio is crucial to any man’s workout plan, but it can be detrimental when done at the wrong time. Completing a 30-minute jog before a set of heavy squats may increase your heart rate and act as a warmup, but by the time you get under the bar, you can be fatigued, which can lead to poor form—or, worse yet, injury. Instead, get your form-intensive lifting session done first, then hit the cardio area.
5. You always use the same machines, sets, and reps
Going through the same repetitive routine every single time is a quick way to get bored and stall any and all results. Your workout routine should change every few weeks either by alternating the exercises or the acute variables like sets, reps, and rest times.
For optimal benefits, you should stay with a workout routine for about 3 to 4 weeks before changing it up. Use a workout log to track trends in your training and see what works best for your body.
6. You don't time your rest periods
"Most guys should be in and out of the gym in 60 minutes, including warmup, cool down, and a good lifting session," says Jason Ferruggia, head strength coach at Renegade Strength and Conditioning. To make that possible, avoid wasting precious moments between sets of an exercise.
Wear a stopwatch or a smartwatch, or use an app on your phone to limit yourself to under a minute. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll finish your workout.
7. You only work your core at the end of a routine
Leave your dedicated abdominal work till the end of your workout, and you’re likely to cut it short or do it half-assed. When you’re tired and nearing the end of a lifting session, the last thing you want to do is multiple sets of planks, side planks, and leg raises. Instead, get the core training out of the way early by incorporating the same moves in between exercises.
8. You don't bring a water bottle
Although it may seem trivial in terms of your overall routine, leaving a water bottle at home forces you to head to the water fountain in between sets. The result? Wasted time between exercises. To keep your workout going strong, bring your own bottle and fill it up beforehand.
9. You use the whole gym
Avoid putting together a circuit that takes over the entire gym. This bad habit not only inconveniences other gym-goers, who are forced to sit and watch as you hog all the machines, it also wastes your precious workout time. Group your exercises so you can utilize equipment in the same area—most gyms already do this with the placement of their machines and weights anyway. This cuts down on transit time between sets and gets you out of the gym faster.
10. You use balance equipment during heavy strength exercises
If your goal is to build big rock-solid strength, leave the BOSU ball and other balance accessories out of the equation. Sure, they can build all-around proprioception (body awareness) and balance, helping to eliminate muscle weaknesses. But if you're lifting heavy, they'll just waste your time, since imbalance tools can potentially make heavy-duty lifts unsafe. It's better to use them at the end of your workout to improve coordination.