Do’s and Don’ts at the Gym

As a fitness trainer, I try very hard to go to the gym and focus on my workout.  However, I can’t help but get distracted by people doing things they shouldn’t, for both effectiveness and safety.  I decided to come up with a list of the most common “Don’ts” that I see happening frequently at the gym, and add what you should do instead.

1.  DON’T use a cardiovascular machine, like a stair climber or the moving escalator, and hang forward on it like you’re about to collapse and it’s the only thing holding you up.  Too often I see people doing this.  It’s as if they crank the resistance up, thinking they will get a great burn in their legs, but it’s too much for them, so they rest on the machine while pushing their legs.  This is not good for your back and it’s not very effective.  If you’re trying to see how much burn you can get in your legs, do strength training exercises specifically for your legs.  Cardiovascular machines are meant to give you an aerobic workout, and they best way to do that is include your whole body, and it good posture to avoid injury.

DO stand tall and focus on good posture.  This means shoulders back, but relaxed, chest up, core tight, back straight.  Having good posture will also help strengthen your core.

2.  DON’T do triceps kickbacks like your dancing or swinging.  Elbows should stay at your sides, with only the lower part of your arm moving.  Many people don’t realize it, but when doing triceps kickback, with the ropes for example, they swing their arms and their elbows hardly show movement.  If your elbows aren’t bending and straightening, you’re not working your triceps.  By keeping your elbows tight to your sides, you focus the motion for optimal range of motion to get the most out of your triceps.

DO stand tall (same posture as above). Elbows tight to sides.  Start with your elbows bent fully and then extend fully (with a slight softeness in the joint to avoid hyperextension).

3.  DON’T use a machine that doesn’t fit your body.  Believe it or not, many Nautilus or hydraulic-type of machines in gyms are built for a man’s body.  If you are a petite woman and you try to use the chest press machine, you should notice that if you line your shoulders up with the “little red dot”, your feet don’t reach the ground!  Many of these machines (shoulder press, back row, chest press, etc…) won’t put your body in proper alignment if you are too short or too tall, compared to an average size man.

DO ask a qualified trainer or gym personnel to assist you in setting up the machine properly for your height and size.  If the person tries to tell you that it’s fine, but you don’t feel comfortable or like you fit properly, get someone else (because they should know this).

DO take the time to meet with a trainer to learn alternate bodyweight or free weight exercises.  Machines aren’t for everybody (I’m 5’4″, I can use about two of them, tops!).  Both bodyweight and free weight exercises, done in proper form, will save you from potential injury of using a machine improperly.

4.  DON’T put the incline so high that you can’t maintain good posture.  Again, see #1.  You really don’t need to have the treadmill at a near 90 degree angle with the floor to get a good workout.  Inclines should be used, intermittently, to simulate outdoor environments (such as jogging on a hilly road).  Most people don’t head outdoors for a run and do nothing but climb a steep hill for 40 minutes straight (unless you’re running up Mt Washington).

DO try to use the incline, only when you can maintain good posture.  INSTEAD, maybe try a climbing machine, rather than a treadmill for a hill workout.  You will get the benefits of climbing a hill, but still protect your back.

5.  DON’T lift more weight than you can handle.  Ego=Injury (to put it bluntly).  No one cares (or should care) how much weight you’re lifting.  Lift enough to get the benefits, but not so much that you can (and probably will) hurt yourself.  Using proper lifting techniques, maintaining good form, and working through a full range of motion without too much stress, is important.

DO follow the 8-15 rule.  For the average exerciser, if you can’t do 8 repetitions in good form, the weight is too heavy.  If 15 is easy, the weight is too light.  Just a general rule for basic strength training.

6.  DON’T just change from one machine to the next without rhyme or reason.  Sometimes it seems people just hop on machines for the fun of it, but really have no plan to their workout.  There’s nothing wrong with this, really, but it can be ineffective.

DO have a plan.  There should be a reason for your exercises, know the proper ones to do, the proper way to do them, and in what order.  There really is a science to getting the best workout, by knowing what exercises go well together, and in what order you should do them.  There are so many types of training programs, find out what one is best for you.  Hire a qualified fitness trainer and have them help you design a program that is safe, effective, and fun.   

About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

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