You finally joined a gym, signed on the line, and you’re officially a member of the fitness club. Good for you! You’ve probably been given a tour of the machines by an employee, and now you’re on your own. Excited. Nervous. Alone.
It’s normal at this point to feel a bit self-conscious about being the new kid in the gym, but if you know some basic mistakes to avoid, you won’t stand out. (Or at least you won’t annoy the grumpier gym veterans.)
Plus, there is certain workout protocol that everyone should know, and sometimes these flubs are exhibited by folks who should really know better.
Read below about 5 common gym beginner mistakes… and how you can avoid making them.
1. Cardio Coma—
You’ve probably seen them: the person who monopolizes the recumbent bike for an hour, leisurely reading a book and pedaling, or the person on the treadmill spending more energy on their fascinating cell phone conversation than the workout.
These cardio zombies might as well be napping on cots in the back of the gym, because they aren’t accomplishing anything that has to do with fitness. Worse, they’re monopolizing the equipment and wasting the time of people who came to exercise.
Proper Gym Etiquette Tip: If you’re not pushing yourself, move on and let someone else use the machine. And stick to a 30 minute limit if all cardio machines are full.
2. Form Malfunction—
It’s better to do 10 repetitions of an exercise the proper way than 25 the wrong way. Learn how to do all exercises correctly by asking an employee, a friend, reading the instructions on the machine, or doing prior research.
Improper form not only makes you look like a novice, it also makes you more prone to injury. Whipping through your reps and using the force of momentum and gravity rather than muscles is another quick way to look like a rookie.
Proper Gym Etiquette Tip: Don’t slam or drop the weights at the end of each rep or set. Controlling the weight on the way down is how professionals build muscles more efficiently, and nobody likes sudden clanking noises while they’re trying to concentrate.
3. Wrong Weight—
Women in particular often have a fear of bulking up by using too much weight when they strength train. This fear is completely unfounded, however, as most women lack the hormones and genetics for this.
For building lean muscle, it’s generally recommended to lift as much as you can still handle while maintaining proper form for 2 to 4 sets of 15 to 20 reps each. If you stop breaking a sweat, it’s time to move your weight up.
Men often do the opposite of this and try to lift more weight than they can handle without maintaining proper form, often leading to injury or loud dropping of the weights—officially making them That Annoying Guy Who’s Doing It Wrong in the gym.
Proper Gym Etiquette Tip: Speaking of weight, you may see a sign at your gym that says “Please rack all weights.” This means that if you put weights onto a machine, please take them off afterward. This bad gym habit is perplexing because it makes no sense that people who pay to exercise in a gym are then too lazy to do so.
4. Skipping Stretching—
It’s important to warm up by stretching and/or doing cardio before starting the strenuous part of a workout. This will limber up the muscles, preventing injury, cramping, and enhancing performance.
Doing 20-30 minutes of cardio after intense exercise such as strength training has also been shown to better eliminate lactic acid from the muscles, for a quicker recovery and less painful next day.
Proper Gym Etiquette Tip: Always wipe down machines when you’re finished to remove wetness for the next user. It’s really unpleasant to sit down into the sweat of a stranger.
5. Adoring Experts—
There are a lot of know-it-alls in the world who want to sell you the latest workout equipment, recovery drink, or weight loss pill, and promise they have the answers to all your fitness needs. But you will learn what works best for you through trial and error, and not through the exercise world equivalent of magic beans. Ignore them.
Proper Gym Etiquette Tip: Some of these “experts” may be walking around your gym in the form of people with “pro-tips” to help you work out better. Because they don’t know your medical history, fitness level or physical limitations, this behavior is not only egotistical, it’s completely irresponsible. Ignore them, too.
Remember to adjust the machines to your size, mix up your routine to work different muscle groups, and most importantly, listen to your body. If you experience sharp pain, stop immediately, and be sure to take days off to let your body rest and heal.
If you follow the 5 tips above, you’ll blend in quickly at you gym and look like you’ve been there for years.