If you're getting yourself to the gym, you're already doing great things for your health. But you don't want to sabotage that progress by doing anything that could hurt you. Unfortunately, there are a number of mistakes that you can make at the gym that can affect your health long-term, whether it's working out with improper form or not paying attention to good hygiene. Anytime you're working your body, you want to make sure you treat it with care and caution, as you wouldn't want a good heart-pumping workout to turn into a lifetime of back pain.
"Making the decision to get into the gym and work toward your goals is empowering and liberating," personal trainer and exercise physiologist Kathryn Alexander, tells Bustle. "It’s fun and emotional, and easy to get swept into. Many people get carried away in this initial rush and simply do too much, too fast. Patience is hard to employ in the gym when you really really want to already be there. But remember, one step forward and two steps back is not productive."
Finding a well-designed program that allows you to incrementally work up to hard training can help you avoid these mistakes, says Alexander. To make sure you're not harming your health long-term, avoid these nine common mistakes that people make at the gym.
1. Ignoring Pain
You should never ignore pain that arises as a result of your workout. "There’s a big difference between pain and muscle fatigue or endurance work," Lisa Corsello, founder of Burn Pilates and Lisa Corsello Method, tells Bustle. "The sensations we get when we are challenging ourselves in a way our bodies can handle include a more gradual buildup of sensations like muscle burn, shaking muscles, and gradual, yet steady, heart rate increase. Sensations like jolts, electric shocks or zings, snapping, or intense pain are your body’s way of sending red flags."
2. Copying Other People
"One of the biggest mistakes people make at the gym is to compare themselves to other people," personal trainer Karen Shopoff Rooff, tells Bustle. "You should not use other people as models for form when learning how to do an exercise. Just because someone is lifting heavier weights than you doesn't guarantee they're doing it correctly." Additionally, you don't want to rely on other people at the gym to get ideas for exercises you could do in your workout. What is safe and appropriate for one person could be injurious to another.
3. Wearing Improper Footwear
Working out in the wrong attire can also cause long-term issues, especially when it comes to shoes. "A good closed-toe, rubber-soled shoe designed for wear during exercise has two important benefits," says Rooff. "First, it provides the proper foundation and stability for your feet so that you can set up with good form and balance. Secondly, proper footwear helps to protect your feet in case of a snapped resistance band or dropped weight."
4. Practicing With Poor Form
Paying attention to your form is important no matter what you're doing, but it's particularly essential when lifting weights, as bad form can cause long-term damage. "Lifting with bad form will at the least slow your progress and at the worst injure you," says Alexander. "Bad posture can pre-dispose you to injury in the future. Lifting heavy without properly bracing puts you at high risk for injury to muscles or discs." When using the proper setup and taking the right precautions, lifting is very safe, but it's worth learning how to do it correctly from a qualified professional.
5. Overdoing It On A Regular Basis
You don't always want to have the attitude of going big or going home. "It’s okay every once in a while to head into the gym, stay there for two hours, and walk out completely exhausted both physically and mentally," personal trainer Ambyr Chatzopoulos, CSCS, tells Bustle. "But if you start thinking you didn’t get in a good workout unless you can barely walk, you're totally wrong. Your body can't handle that on a regular basis and you will ultimately get injured. In the same regard, your mind can't handle that either. You will eventually not be able to motivate yourself or find the strength to go to the gym because it takes 'too long' or because it's 'so exhausting.'"
6. Skipping Your Post-Workout Stretch
Most of us tend to stretch before we workout, but we skip stretching once we have finished. "People completely underestimate how important it is to stretch at the end of a workout," Chatzopoulos says. "As we get older, we naturally lose flexibility and range of motion. However, our minds and bodies still want to move the same way they always have, so this puts us at a higher risk of getting injured. Also, stretching after a workout helps your muscles recover and feel better, so in order to stay healthy enough to continue going to the gym, stretching afterwards is a must."
7. Not Washing Your Hands After The Gym
If you're not washing your hands thoroughly after a gym workout, you're putting yourself at risk for illness. "You're all using the same dumbbells, machines, and cardio equipment as everyone else in the gym and you have no idea what the person who used it before you had on their hands," Chatzopoulous says. "There are so many different types of bacteria that can be found at the gym." Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as soon as you’re done working out to avoid bringing home germs and bacteria.
8. Only Doing One Type Of Workout
Just as you wouldn't eat only one food group everyday, you don't want to only do one type of exercise, whether it's just cardio or just strength training. "Your skeleton needs resistance to strengthen bones, especially important as you age," personal trainer Heather L. Tyler, NSCA-CPT, tells Bustle. "Muscle loss also increases when you get older. Similarly, arteries of your heart harden and cardiovascular health needs constant work. Make sure you have both elements in your gym routines either by rotating days or combining into one session."
9. Not Resting
If you're go-go-go all the time, it could end up harming your health, which is why rest days are important. "Coming back to the gym before you're fully recovered sets you up for failure," says Tyler. "If your muscles haven't recovered, you haven't had proper sleep, and you haven't eaten enough nutritious foods, your energy levels will be low, your heart rate will be elevated, your focus and concentration will suffer, and you will not have a safe or effective workout."
Ditch these mistakes at the gym to help maximize your health but in the long-term and short-term.