10 Personal Trainers on Your Biggest Fitness Mistakes


If personal trainers spent all their time correcting the mistakes they see other people making, they’d never get anything done. So when I put out the call for trainers to chime in on the subject, I was practically flooded with responses. There’s just. So. Much.

Do the professionals a favor: enjoy a piece of humble pie and read this list. You’ll see greater results faster, and you can thank me when you’re totally ripped and in perfect shape. (You’re welcome!)

Doing the same old shit

That workout your high school football coach taught you 20 years ago might have been appropriate at the time, but if you’re still doing the same routine, it’s time to make a change.

Jennipher Walters, ACE-certified personal trainer and co-founder of Fit Bottomed Girls says, “In order to see changes and increase your fitness, you’ve gotta lift heavier, push your intervals harder and generally change it up. Doing the workouts you love is awesome, but if you want to keep progressing (and not get bored), it’s important to mix things up.”


Fearing heavy weights

Ladies, this one’s directed at you! If you’re still scared that grabbing anything other than the three-pound pink dumbbells will “bulk you up,” it’s time for a reality check. Dr. Dan Reardon, the CEO and co-founder of FitnessGenes (who happens to be an MD and a personal trainer), puts it this way: “Unless you’re rehabbing, you can probably handle more weight. Lifting heavier weights can be intimidating, but it’s key to getting the maximum fat-burning benefits of exercise.”

Overtraining like you’ll get a medal for it

If you’re not taking it too easy, you might be taking it too hard. Tamara Grand points out, “We live in a culture where bigger, more, faster, harder is viewed as better. Many people approach fitness the same way… Not surprisingly, it’s these same people who fail to make progress toward their goals or are repeatedly sidelined by injuries. Adequate rest and recovery are an important component of training.”


Boring yourself to death with cardio

If your fitness gains have plateaued and you’re still in pursuit of loftier goals, it’s time to work harder. Kaila Proulx, NASM-CPT and NESTA fitness nutrition coach, suggests, “Instead of focusing only on long, slow, low-intensity cardio, work to increase speed or incline. Incorporate intervals and get your heart rate up. You can accomplish a lot more and reap more cardiovascular benefits by working harder for a shorter amount of time.”

Ignoring muscles you think you don’t need

Jenn McAmis, ACSM-certified personal trainer, says too many recreational athletes fail to use cross-training correctly to balance their workouts: “Rock climbers tend to do back-strengthening exercises at the gym to help them climb better, often forgetting to also work their chests. Runners work on building strength in their legs while at the gym, but often forget to move laterally and work through all planes of motion.”

A high-quality fitness routine challenges all muscle groups in all angles and planes, and works to correct muscular imbalances.


Trying to all-out sprint before you can jog

If you want your New Year’s Resolutions to last longer than, oh, January 2, please heed this warning from Marielle Burch, C.S.C.S. and Fit4Mom fitness instructor: “The biggest mistake I see is people doing too much too soon and burning themselves out. This is especially common during New Year’s Resolution time -- people have great intentions but overcommit themselves. Start gradually, give yourself rest days and find something you enjoy!”

Cheating yourself during lifts

Kristen Gallegos, CPT, says, “Using momentum rather than focusing on specific muscle groups to complete a rep is especially common toward the end of a set; however, it’s toward the end of a set where you should be particularly focused on form.” This “cheat” minimizes your gains, so you’re better off reducing the amount of weight in order to target the intended muscles.

Shortchanging range of motion

Stacking on the weight to look like a badass at the squat rack can also lead to another big problem: a shortened range of motion. Billy Polson, C.S.C.S. trainer and owner of DIAKADI Fitness Performance Facility in San Francisco, notes, “Clients tend to overload the weight on the bar and do painfully reduced range of motion squats that can lead to muscle imbalances and injuries. It’s much safer and smarter to reduce the weight and perform every movement through a proper and full range of motion.”


Falling in love with machine weights

The quiet, bell-like clanging of weights on cables may make the machine weight section of the gym seem like a “safe” choice. But Mike Curry, creator of StrongBoard Balance and an ACE-certified fitness trainer, wants you to overcome that temptation. “You want to start out with some basic bodyweight exercises, like squats, lunges and pushups. Doing bodyweight exercises ensures more safety during your workout as you progress into weight training with greater resistance.”

Wandering aimlessly around the gym

Adam Rosante, fitness coach and celebrity trainer for CosmoBody, says there are two major mistakes he sees, and they’re often intertwined: poor exercise selection and terrible time management. “They’re often driven by the lack of a well thought-out plan. You don’t know what to do, so you wind up halfheartedly floating from machine to machine, all the while dicking around on your phone... Spend a few bucks on a trainer. A great coach will teach you how to stay safe, get strong, and eventually become self-sufficient.”

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Laura Williams is a writer and exercise physiologist who grudgingly admits she spends too much time training her butt and not enough time training her back. Follow her tweets about Periscope workouts: @girlsgonesporty.