It’s painful to watch. At the least it’s frustrating.

Ask anyone who has been in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, performance coach, or athletic trainer for a decade or two about mistakes they see in most any gym or health club, and you’ll most likely elicit that response.

Fitness is certainly an industry inundated with messages from mass media, often conflicting: promises that some product, program, or exercise will “help you drop 10 pounds in 7 days,” or “add 50 pounds to your bench in 1 month.” The upside is essentially all $$$ for the seller and very little (if anything) for you.

Chris Ecklund

The drawbacks are health clubs full of people making inefficient progress toward their goals—at best. Not infrequently, those who intend to implement practices for fitness are instead creating poor movement and motor control patterns, and acute or chronic injuries.

Mistakes are often just the result of poor information, from the wrong source: Just because your high school coach said it 30 years ago, or because your buddy is the biggest guy in the gym, doesn’t mean the information is valid. I’ve had so many conversations over the years with colleagues regarding this topic that I’ve lost track.

We so often go looking for the magic potion or program, or the new “outside the box” idea, that such “inside the box” principles as hard work, sound exercises, good programs, and consistency have fallen to the wayside because they aren’t flashy.

So what are the big mistakes experts see in the gym everyday, and how can they be corrected? For some insight into this topic I sought out Peter Aguilar, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, who is the strength and conditioning coordinator in UCSB’s Recreation Department as well as a lecturer there. He submitted the following top 10 mistakes athletes make in their training programs:

1. Wasting time: Too much time sitting around. Aguilar recommends instead using a superset, tri-set, or circuit. Supersetting agonist-antagonist groups (e.g. chest and back) can cut workout time in half. Think “workout density.”

2. Too much time on single-joint movements. You get more bang for your buck by doing exercises involving multiple muscle groups working simultaneously. The more muscles working, the greater the metabolic effect.

3. Not training the lower body hard. Males typically train only upper body. Females usually train the lower body too lightly. As most muscle mass resides in the lower extremity, physiological and structural changes are much more significant when we involve these muscle groups—hard. Plus, using more muscle equals burning more calories.

4. Training the core wrong. Too much focus on the six-pack. Rectus abdominis and obliques are overemphasized. Training these groups without training antagonists (spinal erectors) causes imbalance. Chronically trained (and shortened) abs can pull the torso forward and create postural disruptions. For every flexion exercise, do one extension exercise.

5. Poor technique. People often push for that extra weight—probably to inflate their egos. Dump the ego and fix form. Loads may initially drop, but you’ll be stronger and reduce injury over the long haul.

6. Poor Posture. Spinal flexion is the worst position to be in when we’re under load. Neutral spine is paramount during your set, but it’s also important to remember that just because the exercise is over, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use good technique to pick the weight up or put it down!

7. Behind-the-neck lat pulldowns. Research has identified that lat pulldowns are more effective when done in front of the head. So why are people still doing them behind the head? My guess is that they simply don’t know

8. Not training weak links. Seek out information (from a qualified professional) on how to train groups like the rotator cuff of the shoulder, the hip cuff, the spinal stabilizers, and the knee stabilizers. As these are some of the weakest regions in the body due to their lack of inherent stability, they will often be the first to break down.

9. Doing things because they look cool. Example: doing squats while standing on Swiss Balls. Unfortunately, not following proper progressions can lead to serious injury.

10. Not addressing soft tissue needs: self-myofascial release, massage, flexibility, mobility—putting tissue quality prior ahead of quantity is just good logic. You don’t race a car without quality tires on it. Neither should we push our muscles to the redline without preparing our tissue to handle the loads/demands we place on them.

Make the adjustments. Implement the changes. Watch your results and fitness go through the roof.


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