15 Most Common Mistakes Personal Trainers See in the Gym

15 Most Common Mistakes Personal Trainers See in the Gym

Most Common Mistakes Personal Trainers See in the Gym

We turned to certified personal trainers and gym owners to find out about the most common mistakes they see every day. These fitness professionals highlighted several key issues—and it’s worth mentioning that hiring a personal trainer could help rectify many of them. Before your next trip to the gym, check out these 15 common mistakes to avoid injury and embarrassment.

Trying to Do Too Much, Too Soon

“New exercisers tend to be overanxious and expect to start seeing results in an unreasonably short time,” said Robin Visanuvimol, owner and head coach of Beyond Boxing in Vancouver. This poses a few problems: they get burned out mentally, physically and give up on the regimen too soon. “What I normally tell people is that changes often take time. Small exercise and diet changes done over a relatively longer period of time (six to eight weeks) are much more important than extreme changes done all at once.”


“As crazy as it sounds, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is overtraining and not giving their bodies enough time to recover,” said Jessica Lopez, a certified personal trainer and nutrition
consultant at The Boxing Club in San Diego. “Once you've gained momentum and start seeing results, it's easy to fall into the trap of ‘more is always better’. Unfortunately, that's not the case when it comes to your body and you could be inhibiting your body from making changes…If you notice signs of water retention, lack of sleep or injuries it may be due to [overtraining]. When you’re working out, you’re tearing your body down, so you need to give it enough time to heal. Listen to your body and take rest days as needed.”

Focusing Solely on Cardio

“Let me say that cardio is an extremely important component of our exercise routines. It burns calories, boosts our mood and strengthens our most important muscle: the heart. But too many people spend the majority of their workout time performing relatively low-level cardiovascular exercise,” said Tom Holland, a world-renowned exercise physiologist and author of several books on fitness. “This results in just a few hundred calories burned at the end of their workout. Instead, I recommend doing a mix of cardio and weights. Strength training builds valuable lean muscle which leads to a higher resting metabolic rate, meaning more calories burned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

There’s No Plan

“When members walk through our doors the first thing I ask (after saying hello) is what's your plan. Typically their response is ‘I don't know, I'll figure it out as I go’,” said Ainslie MacEachran, a certified personal trainer and professional cycling coach based in Fort Collins, Colo. “Most people don't have a plan, [but] every workout should have a plan. Your workouts will be more effective and time efficient if you have a purpose when you come in.”

Not Fueling Right

“At most, I might see a client four or five hours in a week—and how many hours are there in the week? 168. I've got you here for only a fraction of the available hours. If you don't do your part in the kitchen it’s going to be slow going at best,” MacEachran said. “You can't outrun the nutrition piece. So, pull it together in the kitchen/lifestyle department and you'll get better and more rapid results.”

Copying Other Gym-Goers

Blindly following what other people are doing is a mistake that several trainers pointed out. “You have no idea if the person you are watching is doing the exercise correctly,” said Eric M. Emig, a certified personal trainer with a master’s degree in exercise science and owner of Evolution Fitness. “Furthermore, there may be a reason they are doing a particular exercise. It might not be a good one for you.”

Lifting More than You Can Handle

“Numerous guys are guilty of this one—they always sacrifice form and the effectiveness of the exercise to lift more weight,” Emig said. “I'm much more impressed by someone who lifts with perfect technique. Lifting too much weight [with poor technique] will eventually lead to injuries.”

Skipping the Warm-Up

“I can't express enough how important it is to warm up before a workout,” said Lee Pickering, a certified personal trainer with DW Fitness Clubs. “This prepares your muscles for the impending workout and prevents injury. It relaxes your joints and increases your heart rate to ensure your body is ready to challenge itself."

Lifting Too Quickly

“Many people simply lift too fast, not allowing for both the concentric and eccentric contractions [and instead] relying on momentum,” said Tracee Gluhaich, an integrative health coach, personal trainer and blogger. “When you do a bicep curl, for instance, the concentric phase is when you bend the elbow, but the eccentric phase is when you lower the weight. This should done slowly for increased muscular strength. The momentum piece is [when] people go so fast, the weights are swinging, their body is rocking and they are using the momentum created to lift heavier. If they slow down, they will work the muscles more effectively.”

Skipping on the Full Range of Motion

Many gym-goers are guilty of skipping out on their full range of motion, doing just partial reps instead and missing out on strength benefits. Gluhaich says the bicep curl is one example where people might not be getting the most out of the exercise. “they don’t lower the weight to the bottom, [but instead] maintain a bend in the elbow. This makes it easier to curl because they are already partially to the contraction.” 

Distracted Training

“When you step on that gym floor, have a purpose, a plan and energy to execute the workout—it’s as important as just showing up,” said Ramona Braganza, a celebrity fitness trainer with clients like Halle Berry and Jessica Alba. “Goal setting, training appropriately, documenting your progress with a program, and fueling and hydrating properly before and during a workout will get you results.”

Not Enough Intensity

“If you find you can talk easily, don’t break a sweat or can stay on that treadmill, eliptical [or other machine] for over an hour watching tv or reading a magazine, then you are not training hard enough,” Braganza said. “[It’s] better to workout shorter but with more intensity.”

Focusing on Immediate Results

“Too many people focus solely on calories burned or that immediate payoff of feeling like they ‘got their butt kicked’. Chasing soreness or being tired for the sake or getting sore or tired is a mistake,” said Ryan Munsey, the owner of House Of Strength Gym and host of Optimal Performance podcast. “The focus should be on getting better, being able to do more (more weight, more reps, more work in the same or less time) from week-to-week and month-to-month. This is how you ensure long-term progress and avoid plateaus.”

Lacking Variety

“The biggest mistake I see is that people have no variety in their training—they repeat the same program day-to-day or week-to-week,” said Tom Postema, a certified strength and conditioning specialist) at Postema Performance. “Then their progress stalls and they wonder why they can't make the same gains as when they first started their program. If you don't have enough variety, improvements will stall.”

Poor Posture

“Forward head, rounded shoulders, arched low back—[These are] very common postural deviations that can lead to injury and/or ineffective exercise,” said Cindy Hauss, a certified personal trainer and owner of Cindy Hauss Fitness. “If you cannot maintain good posture when doing an exercise you need to hire a trainer to help you with form, lighten the load or decrease your reps.”