Top 5 Mistakes Guys Make at the Gym

By Alan Frost, updated January, 2014

man rides mountain-bikeIn the spirit of gender equality, here is the counterpart of the Top 5 Mistakes Women Make at the Gym.

Guys make just as many mistakes as women do, but they tend to make very different kinds of mistakes. Below, I picked out my top 5 and included an explanation of how to avoid them:

1. Poor form

Part of the problem with guys is we do not like to be corrected. It's an ego thing, and it is our worst enemy. We like to consider ourselves experts pretty darned quickly, and we tend to take offense on some level when we are told otherwise. On top this, our egos also make us want to compete and show off.

This leads to a lot of poor form, particularly with the heavy weights. Poor form in the weight room is the number 1 mistake guys make. I see it all the time: swinging the body during biceps curls, hunching the back during pull-downs or deadlifts, bouncing the barbell in the deadlift or bench press, using a thumb-less grip on the bench press, and so on and so on.

Sometimes this means that you won't get much out of your workout… other times it is outright dangerous.

Bottom line: Focus on form first. Only once you have mastered the form, under the guidance of someone who is qualified, should you start lifting heavier. Even then, be attentive that you form stays decent, in particular for exercises that put strain on the lower back.

2. Lifting too heavy

This is closely related to point 1, since using weights that are too heavy leads to poor form.

Let me give you a great example. I train with a friend who weighs in at no more than 150 pounds. Despite his weight and his poor diet, he is still fairly strong. One day he was at the gym and a larger guy asked to train with him on the deadlift. After finishing his set, my friend asked him if he should remove some of the weight off the bar. The guy looked at him, somewhat offended, and said he lifts the same weight. For the remaining sets he struggled, risking back injury, to train with a weight that was clearly at least 30 pounds too heavy. For my friend this happens more often than you might think. Because of his frail build, guys feel like they MUST be able to lift as much or more.

Bottom line: Pick the weight that you need for your specific fitness goals. It is OK to train very heavy sometimes, but your form must not be compromised and your routine must fit your plan.

3. Focus on small muscle groups

These are the guys you typically see doing set after set of biceps curls and neglecting the exercises that truly yield results (like squats and deadlifts). Sometimes this is because they do not know better, other times it is because they want muscles they can show off.

Either way, what they do not realize is that basing your routine around compound exercises (i.e. exercises that use multiple joints, e.g. squats, deads, presses, pulls) not only increases general muscle mass faster, provides functional strength, and trains stabilizer muscles thus reducing the risk of injury, but it also increases your body's natural testosterone levels better than isolation movements. This means that doing squats will actually help you make better gains from your biceps curls.

Bottom line: Base your routine around big, compound lifts like squats, deads, presses, and pulls. They will help you make better gains, more safely, and in less time.

4. No warm-ups

This used to be one of my vices. I hate warm-ups. So I would pretty much just take a light set or two and jump into it. As the weights got heavier, my body began to suffer- in particular my shoulders. Now I am fighting to repair the stupidity I call my 20s.

Warm-ups are very important for helping you get the most out of intensive workouts while reducing the chance of injury. Your warm-up should include a general warm-up (e.g. biking or jogging) for perhaps 5-10 minutes, followed by a specific warm-up, e.g. a couple of light sets of the exercise you are about to perform.

Bottom line: Your warm-up should include a general warm-up, followed by a specific warm-up

5. No stretching

Stretching has a number of benefits. For strength athletes, stretching must be employed carefully. On the one hand, you do not want to aim for extreme flexibility since that actually increases the chance of injury by allowing your joints to bend into a position where you do not have that much strength. On the other hand, not stretching reduces your recovery ability and also limits your flexibility over time. Weight training tightens up the muscles and reduces flexibility (this sets in fairly quickly).

There are many different kinds of stretching. However, at the very least, you should be doing post-workout passive stretching to maintain your flexibility, help your workout recovery, and reduce risk of injury from stiff muscles.

Bottom line: Stretching counteracts the effect of weight training on your flexibility while aiding workout recovery, and reducing the chance of injury.

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