Top 5 Most Common Mistakes Guys Make in the Gym

Getting yourself to the gym may be the hardest part of any fitness plan, but what's the point if you're making huge mistakes while you're there?

Working around a weight room, I see a lot of misguided attempts at exercise. For some reason, guys think that if they throw on a lot of weight and half-ass it around the room for an hour they’re going to get bigger and more cut.

The same guys that do that usually end up either seriously discouraged or, even worse, injured.

Here are 5 things that a lot of guys just can’t seem to get right in the gym.

1. Using too much weight.

I’ll admit, this may seem obvious, but it’s #1 for a reason. Stacking on more weight than you can handle is just a bad idea for any exercise. Using too much weight can lead to injured muscles and joints, as well as more serious injuries (like dropping a bar on your neck) if you’re not careful.

If you’re a beginner in the gym, start low and work your way up. If you’re a seasoned vet, then you should know better. Stay within yourself so that you can live to lift another day.

2. Not moving through a full range of motion.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what constitutes a full range of motion. Let me clear it up with an example: while doing bench press, full range of motion is from when you’re elbows are fully extended (but not locked) to touching your chest.

It’s important to go through your full ROM so your muscles get a complete workout. Otherwise, you’re just cheating yourself (and fooling yourself into thinking you can lift more than you’re really able to).

3. Improperly doing an exercise.

Some more advanced exercises (especially Olympic style lifts) can be difficult to execute and require supervision, preferably from a trainer. I’m not talking about those, however, I’m referring to the most basic of exercises.

For example, one of the most common mistakes I see is when a guy is doing triceps pushdowns hunched over. When you improperly do an exercise, you start working the wrong muscles (in this example, you’re starting to use your shoulders and to a lesser degree your chest) which only hurts you in the end.

4. Not doing legs. Ever.

It cracks me up when I see guys come into my gym with well-built upper bodies and toothpicks for legs. Not only does it look funny (it really, really does look funny) but it’s also keeping guys like this from reaching their full potential.

Your legs are home to the largest muscles in your body, as such they produce the most testosterone and have the ability to spike your metabolism, but that’s only if you work them out. They might not be the glamour muscles, but by working them out you can be one step closer to having a beach body that won’t get you laughed back to the boardwalk.

At the very least, doing some legwork will keep you from breaking your dainty little ankles in the sand.

5. Doing 1,000 crunches.

We all want to look good with our shirts off (well, most of us) so we bust our asses doing ab work in the gym to try to get a shredded 6-pack. Unfortunately, by only doing crunches you’re seriously limiting yourself to what you can achieve.

Next time you’re in the gym, instead of crunches, try doing some planks and side planks to switch it up. You’ll be amazed at how difficult they can be since it’s using a different part of your abs than crunches work. Another note about crunches is that doing too much abwork and neglecting your lower back can lead to back pain and a muscular imbalance (which means you’ll be walking around hunched over and that’s never a good look).

The next time you’re in the gym, try to keep these things in mind. It will add a lot of value to your workout time and you’ll probably notice you’re a little more sore (in a good way) the next day or two than usual. One last word of caution, if you’re going to do legs for the first time, make sure your calendar is open for the next few days because if you’re doing it right you’ll have a hard time getting up and down stairs. Sounds fun, right?

AC currently lives in New Jersey.


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  • Reply May 7, 2010


    First of all, great article 🙂

    Re #2, full range of motion

    In part, I agree with you – and I’m not going to say you’re wrong (because you’re the pro, and I’m not!)

    However what I would contribute is different types of muscle contraction are also vitally important. The reason I say this is because for an exercise such as bicep curls (with both arms rather than single arm), it’s not as beneficial to go through the full range of motion of the elbow as it makes the eccentric part of the contraction (lowering the bar) less effective. It will also eliminate any isometric contraction (which is also valuable) as the elbow joint is fully extended.

    Personally, and please correct me if I’m wildly wrong, but for a bicep curl I would argue it’s more of a benefit to *not* go through the full range of motion but only extend the elbow to 45 degrees, particularly allowing for a thorough eccentric contration (ie lower the bar slowly)

    I guess my point is to lower the bar slowly to 45 degrees rather than the full range of the elbow so as not to lose out on the benefit of the ecentric contraction – and maximise the results of the exercise.

    I think!!

  • Reply May 7, 2010


    Hi Freddy,
    First off, thanks for your comment, I can tell you’re very knowledgeable about fitness. You’re absolutely right that it’s vital to eccentrically contract in a smooth, controlled motion, and it’s probably a point I should have made in the article as it is another common mistake. The bottom half of your range of motion for this particular exercise is also the weakest part. From a biomechanical perspective, you produce the lowest amount of force when your elbow is at an angle greater than 45º, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work through that range. When you do a biceps curl (depending on the positioning of your hands, i.e. palms facing, open, or closed grip) you’re working different parts of your arms that contribute to movement of the elbow joint (biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis are antagonistic muscles, triceps brachii is the main antagonist). When you do a biceps curl at only the top of the range of motion, you are targeting more of the biceps brachii, whereas towards the bottom of the range you are starting to work both a different part of the biceps, as well as the weaker muscles that assist in this exercise. In order to develop evenly balanced muscles, it is imperative that you work all parts of your arm, however that’s not to say that you shouldn’t target your biceps with some exercises. As one final point, if you’re training for practical strength (strength that someone working in construction might need), you would need to produce force over the entire range of motion, since you (usually) can’t pick up 2x4s with just your arms bent at 45º. Sorry for the lengthy answer, but I hope I covered everything!

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  • Reply May 11, 2010


    That all made perfect sense Adam, cheers for the reply!

    After I’d typed it, it did think that the benefit is the targeting of the triceps (in a nutshell!)…but I guess if it’s the biceps you solely want to train the the 45 degrees ‘rule’ works well

    But like you correctly say, in terms of general strength of the arm as a whole then yes, the full range of motion is important.

    Again, great article

    It always makes me laugh when I see guys walking round the gym slightly hunched over (too much focus on the abs) shoulders slightly inwardly rotated (too much work focus on the pecs) and arms slightly flexed at the elbow (too much work focus on the biceps)!

  • Reply May 11, 2010


    Agreed! A lot of guys focus on biceps because they think it makes them look bigger, in reality the triceps account for 2/3 of the size of your arms! Also, I noticed a typo in my first reply, the biceps brachii, brachioradialis, and brachialis are AGONISTIC muscles when doing curls, not antagonistic.

  • Reply May 11, 2010


    That reminds me……!

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  • Reply May 11, 2010

    Jeff Barnett

    I argue you’d be better off to ditch bicep curls completely for something that actually builds strength, speed, and coordination. Fifteen minutes spent on cleans, deadlifts, standing presses, and squats will net you more than an hour spent doing bicep curls. But of course, then you’ll be totally unprepared someday when you’re required to move a load with only your arm through a narrow arc of motion with everything save your elbow joint immobilized. Oh wait, that never happens outside the gym, so you should be good.
    .-= Jeff Barnett´s last blog ..Tuesday 10 May =-.

  • Reply June 25, 2010


    Squats. Let’s not forget how many men don’t do a proper squat. That should be an article all on its own, I think, maybe there is and I’ve missed it.. Nothing’s more frustrating than seeing a man trying to look tough at the gym, and then when he squats, he comes up off his heals, his knees go past his toes, and his butt is tucked in.

  • Reply April 9, 2012

    Michael Biever

    There are exercises I like and do often. But mixing it up; finding new exercises is my recommendation to working-out and fitness. It makes your whole body work when you are finding new things to do. It also makes fitness more fun and thusly, more productive. Also there are many more exercises that target your core while strengthening your body. Keep at it, don’t give-up and the results will start to appear. And that is motivating.

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