Baffling Blunders at the Gym

Sometimes fitness trainers find it difficult to go into a gym and watch others exercise. Why? Because they see mistake after mistake being committed—some potentially dangerous. Here, are some of the most frequently performed workout blunders and how to correct them.

Absolutely Abominable Abs

No doubt about it—abdominal work won as being the exercise most often performed incorrectly. Some of the blame for this lies with the fitness industry. In group fitness classes, some instructors lead participants in an infinite number of crunches without paying much attention to making them effective.

The first thing to pay attention to with ab work is form. Slowly squeeze your abdominal muscles, while keeping your lower back in contact with the floor or mat and your heels on the floor. One trick is to imagine you have a grapefruit between your chin and your chest. Your goal is to lift your shoulders off the floor, maintain eye contact with the ceiling at all times, and keep your abdominal muscles tightened during both the lifting and lowering stages of the crunch.

Perform your crunches at a slow speed, and position your elbows parallel to your ears. This will prevent you from pulling on your head and neck. You can also place your hands behind your ears instead of lacing your fingers together, which helps prevent this, too.

Once you are able to perform 10-25 correct crunches with ease, then you can add weight, declines, and stability balls if you want them to become more challenging.

The Funky Chicken

Some people do biceps curls quickly. They do so by performing them as fast as a chicken flapping its wings. Part of the problem with this is that you do not move through a full range of motion, and therefore, are not working the muscle to its peak.

Another problem is that when you move the weights and your arms this quickly, the momentum is doing the work and not your muscles.

The quick and easy cure for this problem is to slow down. If you are seated on a weight bench, exhale slowly as you bring the dumbbells toward your shoulders. Hold your position by keeping your back, shoulders and feet in place. Then inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells by returning the weights to their starting positions.

The Hercules Syndrome

Attempting to lift too much weight is a common mistake, especially among men—and one that is potentially quite dangerous. Three things happen:

  • You have a tendency to jerk the weight up, placing a tremendous amount of strain on the joints.
  • You do not move through a full range of motion.
  • You are using momentum, not muscle.

Combine these errors together, and you have got a recipe for injury. If you do not know your maximum weight, ask a trainer to help you determine it.

The Big Y (for Yawn, That Is)

If you begin to get bored with your exercise routine, it's time to mix things up before you give up. Boredom can set in when you go to the gym and workout the same way every time. You can ward off boredom by intensifying your workouts with interval training. You can also vary the machines you use and the exercises you perform. Consider making an appointment with a qualified personal trainer to get advice on your program and show you alternatives.

The Herky-Jerky

Stretching has been somewhat controversial over the last few years. Do you stretch or not? Does it help or not? You do have a couple of options.

Many people make the mistake of not warming up or stretching too quickly. The best warm up for an aerobic activity is to start off slow and then pick up speed for about 15-20 minutes. This can be done on a treadmill or exercise bike before you do any strength training. After you complete your strength training, you can cool down by stretching your warm muscles.

Spot Not!

Saddle bags, love handles, the old flapping wing under your arm…Think that by moving that specific trouble area you will magically make it disappear? Think again!

It's important to take a whole body approach to exercising. Do not focus on working a particular area that you'd like to improve. You'll want a program that includes cardio and resistance training for all major muscle groups.

In addition to exercise, you may want to embark on a low-fat diet.

Learn the Proper Techniques

Take the time to learn correct exercise form and function before you hit the gym. Read reliable fitness magazines, books, and websites. Set up an appointment with a personal trainer. Many clubs offer or even require new fitness members to receive instruction on the equipment before setting off on their own. Use this time to ask questions and really try out the equipment. Take notes and schedule a second, third, or fourth appointment if you have to. Before you know it, you will be on your way to a safer, more effective workout and better health.


American Council on Exercise
President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition


Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine


The basics of starting and progressing a strength-training program. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at:
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Accessed January 20, 2017.
Battling boredom. ACE website. Available at:
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Accessed January 20, 2017.
Bent-knee sit-up/crunches. ACE website. Available at:
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Accessed January 20, 2017.
Kay AD, Blazevich AJ. Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: a systematic review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012:44(1):154-164.
Seated dumbbell bicep curl. ACE website. Available at: Accessed January 20, 2017.
Should I train my abdominals every day? Also, what ab exercises are best? ACE website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL) Accessed January 20, 2017.
So, you want to spot reduce? Here's how. ACE website. Available at: Accessed January 20, 2017.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 1/20/2017

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