1. Not leaving your phone in your locker.
The No. 1 pet peeve of trainer Bryan Krahn isn’t a programming error or poor exercise technique but a lack of engagement. “Look around any commercial gym,” he says. “Nine out of 10 trainees are either texting between sets, talking to their friend during a work set, or more concerned about what’s on their iPod than what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Krahn says that to get the most out of your time at the gym, you need purpose and focused intensity. That doesn’t just mean working hard but also having a plan with goals, and being focused from the moment you set foot on the gym floor. “Sure, you can still have a good time and shoot the breeze with your friends mid-set, but remember why you’re there,” he says, adding your gym session will be far more productive if you resolove to attack your goals for 30 minutes as opposed to phoning it in – often literally – for 90.
“Several studies have shown that static stretching before a workout does not prevent injuries. It just wastes time.”
High-profile trainer Eric Cressey posted a sign in his gym that describes the undesirable consequences clients can expect if they check texts and emails throughout their session. “Back in March, I went nine days without [my phone] while I was in Costa Rica, and the world didn’t end,” says Cressey. “I’m happy to report that shutting yours off for 90 minutes won’t lead to any catastrophes – and you’ll get strong in the process.”
2. Static stretching
Istvan Jarovek knows a thing or two about getting results in the gym. Not only did he bring the Romanian Deadlift to the US and introduce the world to “dumbbell complexes,” a handful of unlikely candidates have earned Olympic medals under Javorek’s tutelage. So take note when he says that the way that most people warm up is “nonsense.”
“In the last ten years, several studies have shown that static stretching before a workout does not prevent injuries,” he says. “It just wastes time.” Static stretching is used to limber up muscles while the body is at rest; many trainers, including Javorek, think it’s no good. Instead, Javorek prescribes a multi-joint warm up that includes variations of walking, light running and jumping jacks, to stimulate blood flow and warm up musculature. “These exercises are examples of dynamic stretching and are much more effective for the gym,” he says.
3. Not addressing your weaknesses
Dan Trink, a director at Peak Performance in NYC, says that he’s driven to despair by trainees that refuse to work on their weaknesses. “I understand that it’s human nature to want to excel at what we’re already confident and comfortable with,” he says. “For people to really excel in the gym is to focus more on the things they’re challenged by.” Trink says he rarely sees guys with terrible mobility spending time on a dynamic warm-up or flexibility drills, or a barrel-chested guy with chicken legs killing himself on the squat rack. “The desire to work on your weaknesses not only says a lot about someone’s dedication to their fitness,” he says, “it also screams volumes about their character, and I just wish we saw more of that willingness in the gym. We’d all be better off for it.”
4. Neglecting legs
Trink’s point about the barrel-chested guy with skinny legs is expanded upon by David Pearson, Ph.D., an associate professor of exercise science at Ball State University in Indiana. Pearson takes umbrage with the top-heavy look seen in prison yards and meathead gyms from coast to coast. “Most people—especially guys—only work the muscles they can see in the mirror, so their back side goes unattended,” says Pearson. Not enough squatting leads to no back, butt or hamstrings, a recipe for injuries to those muscle groups, he adds.
Alex Koch, Ph.D., the program coordinator for exercise science at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina, says that even when guys do manage to fit in some squats, a lack of depth makes the exercise ineffectual. “For those who actually do squats in commercial gyms, many are really only doing a quarter-squat,” says Koch. “They’re missing the major benefit of doing full range of motion squats, and it’s usually out of a mistaken belief that cutting their depth is safer for their knees. The evidence does not support that notion at all.”
5. Spending too much time in the gym
Here’s a paradox: Spending too much time in the gym may actually get in the way of your fitness goals. You heard that right. Keeping workouts on the shorter side is one of the best ways to control cortisol, a catabolic hormone that actually breaks down tissue. The body’s response to stress is to release cortisol, and strength sessions shorter than 45-60 minutes have been demonstrated to prevent cortisol leaking into your system. You can, in fact get a meaningful workout done in 30-45 minutes—and really, who wants to be a slave to the gym anyway? The way to do it is to have a plan, be efficient, keep the intensity up, get to work. What’s more, knowing you don’t need to be in the gym for hours on end will make getting there less of a struggle.