The 5 Biggest Workout Mistakes

A few days ago, I received an email from my gym with a link to this blog post by Brad Schoenfeld.  The 5 Biggest Workout Mistakes.  And yep! I have made each one of the mistakes at some point in my life.  I have even repeated some of them multiple times.  Shocker, I know!  I think his assessment is dead-on for people working out to lose weight and improve their fitness in general.  All too often people embark on their fitness journeys with little more knowledge than “moving more equals weight loss.”  When, in fact, there are specific things that they could do to maximize the benefits of their workouts.

#1 Performing Cardio Over Weight Training

Boy, do I wish I had known this was a mistake years ago!  I spent a lot of time at the gym doing steady-state endurance exercise on the elliptical and not nearly enough time in the weight room.  Being a swimmer through high school, I started competing in the longer endurance events (500 meter freestyle) at meets.  In spite of my workouts, I continued to eat and gained a ton of weight during high school.  In college, I was able to start eating a bit better, walking everywhere and going to the gym.  I lost some of the weight, but had been long at a plateau by graduation.  I hovered around 150-155 up until January of this year.  At 5’7″, I was not fat, but was not completely happy and wanted to get in better shape.  Not to mention I had a wedding coming up in June!  I started working with a trainer in small group sessions and learned to lift weights.  The scale didn’t necessarily move a whole lot, but I started to notice a real change in how my clothes were fitting and pretty soon all my jeans (size 10) were falling off of me (literally).

#2 Using Weights That Are Too Light

This is not something I’ve been guilty of lately, but I absolutely remember being told that women should not lift too heavy for fear of bulking up at a gym I tried out in high school.  They advocated lifting light weights for many reps.  Lifting too light does not build muscle.  Stressing your muscles forces them to get stronger and grow.  The reason this is so critical to weight loss and fitness is that bigger muscles = higher metabolism.  As soon as I started lifting heavy, I found that I needed to greatly increase my daily caloric intake to about 2300-2400 calories daily from ~1500-1800 to avoid fatigue (as an aside, a diet mistake many people make is eating too little! You need fuel to grow muscles, particularly protein!).  A really nice side effect of lifting heavy (and increasingly heavier) weights is that a lot of daily tasks (i.e. carrying groceries, opening heavy doors, lifting things) became a lot easier, and I had a lot more confidence in my ability.

#3 Not Having a Game Plan

This is something I constantly struggle to do.  Unless I am in training for something, I tend to just wing it at the gym and do whatever I’m feeling.  I have found that having a training plan for each workout and for future workouts keeps me excited and motivated to train.  Not to mention, it provides focus and a specific goal for each workout.  It also has helped me expand my gym repertoire.  I don’t just go and do the same set of weight machines followed by however much cardio I’m feeling for the day.  I do weight training on specific days of the weeks to maximize my recovery time and carefully plan my endurance workouts to ensure that I am balancing the various types.  Although right now, I am taking a break from swimming and biking in favor of improving my running, so not as much a concern there.  But I do still make sure to have one rest day from both weights and running per week.  Occasionally, you may see an “active recovery” day from me, but it would be some other type of low intensity workout.

#4 Training Too Frequently

Working out for hours a day, every day does not work.  It results in overtraining, fatigue and major set backs in exercise ability.  Our bodies need rest, it is just as important as exercise.  On this note, another mistake is not giving your body the fuel it needs to recover.  I alluded to this earlier, but eating less and less calories is not always the answer.  Sometimes to overcome a plateau or get to the next level in fitness, we need to increase the calories and nutrients we are providing our bodies.  I strongly believe that my body existed in a state of “starvation” mode for years and held on to a lot of extra fat because I simply wasn’t providing the calories it needed.  I frequently skipped meals and replaced them with diet sodas in college.  I was giving myself the illusion of being full but not providing appropriate nutrition, so my body had no choice to hold on to those fat stores.  Once I started eating more, the pounds dropped a bit, but more importantly, my clothes started fitting looser and my body fat greatly decreased (down to 17.4% a few weeks ago!)

#5 Expecting to See Immediate Results

Starting a fitness plan or even changing an existing plan (or lack thereof- see #3) is taxing on the body.  It is not unusual to see initial weight gains from swelling during muscle recovery.  Schoenfeld says that after 8-12 weeks is when you will see a noticeable difference.  It’s important not to get discouraged in the first few weeks and trust that changes will happen.  This is something that is a constant work in progress for me.  I’ve been known to weigh myself every day, but it’s really been much more helpful to see the change over longer periods of time and use other indicators like how clothes fit and measurements to determine progress.


Staying fit is a lifestyle, and I have no doubt that I will continue to make mistakes.  But luckily, I now know how to recognize them and how to fix them and why they’re mistakes.  Are you guilty of any of these workout mistakes?  How do you get yourself back in line?

  1. #1 by Amy on November 20, 2009 - 11:14 am

    Great post! I’m guilty of #4 this week. I always try to take a rest day (planned or unplanned) a week and this week it just hasn’t happened. Luckily with the holiday next week, I think I’ll be able to make up for it.

  2. #2 by Tricia on November 22, 2009 - 5:57 pm

    I’m guilty of number 1. I’m so bad about getting my strength training it, but rarely miss cardio.

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