I have to be honest with you all: I have never considered myself a "gym" person and prefer studio classes. Partly because I feel more energized in group sessions—even if it's not a competitive class, I feel more motivated to do one more push-up or push harder on that sprint in indoor cycling class when I look around and see other people working hard. But the second reason I'm not a "gym" person? I feel like I have no clue what I'm doing most of the time. I stay away from the scary-looking machines and even more intimidating people using them. And without an instructor telling me what to do, at the gym, I could spend 15 minutes on the treadmill and move onto the elliptical when I get bored.
This might not be you at all. Maybe you're a gym aficionado and know your way around the place like the back of your hand. If so, congrats and I'm in awe of you. But I think it's safe to say that like in most things in life, there's always room for improvement for many people out there—whether you consider yourself a gym regular or a novice.
So to find out the common mistakes people are making at the gym, I reached out to Angelo Grinceri, a master instructor at P.volve. He shared some of his biggest gym pet peeves and what to do instead.
Grinceri notices people using the force of their knees instead of their glutes. This could lead to injury and won't tone your butt at all. "Try activating your glutes to control the squatting motion on the way up and down—and hinge at your hips versus putting downward pressure on your joints," he says. "Your glutes are the biggest, strongest muscle in your body and what provides the power to move and control your body, not your knees or quads! That's why in P.volve, we created a stance called the P.sit—it's basically like a chair pose in yoga, a foundational move that we do throughout class to continuously activate your glutes. Add more hip-dominant exercises into your routine and work on controlling your body's momentum with your muscles."
2. Doing a Half-Range Motion of Pull-Ups
It's tough, but you don't want to half-ass it because you're probably not going to see the results you want. "If you want healthy shoulders, start the pull-up from a dead-hang position, retract your scapulas, and pull yourself up and down with control. Each rep takes longer, but it's worth it!" Grinceri says.
Grinceri advises against uses hook wraps or other types of wraps to dead-lift or do bent-over rows: "Ditch the wraps and work on your grip strength; it's one of the most important things you can do in the gym." The caveat to this is to take it easy the first time you attempt without wraps, so you do it in a safe way and won't injure yourself. And also, if you need the wraps sometimes, don't sweat it.
4. Only Running on the Treadmill
I'm guilty of this, that's for sure, but it's such an easy way out when you're feeling overwhelmed at the gym! "Yes, treadmills are a great way to check off the box for your aerobic exercise, but what about everything else?" Grinceri says. "Mix in some functional strength training two days a week, like P.volve. It's a great low-impact and toning option for the days you're not doing cardio because it targets small, hard-to-reach muscle groups. It will also enhance the way your body responds to other exercises because your muscles will be more activated!"
5. Only Using the Machines
And here's the other side of the coin: "Machines are great for targeting specific muscles, but what about using the time in the gym to learn how to move your body?" Grinceri says. "Choose exercises that are functional and will enhance, or even replicate your everyday life. For instance, there is a move we do in P.volve called the step back and reach—this is a functional exercise where you are doing different stepping patterns that elongate and tone your muscles."
We get it, it's tough to get started, especially if you've had a sluggish morning (for a.m. workouts) or a long day (during evening sessions), but you made it to the gym, so why not make the most of it? And just think about how those endorphins will make you feel afterward.
"You should be excited that you're about to work out," Grinceri says. "Working out is an actual gift for your body, your lifestyle, and your longevity. Be grateful and appreciate that you have a lifestyle that allows you to work out."
7. Holding on to the Handles of the Treadmill or Stairmaster
There will be times when you need the stability, but when you're balanced and don't feel like you're going to fall off, take your hands off the handles. "Stand up straight, use that core, slow down the pace, and engage the muscles that need to be engaged," Grinceri says. "Leaning on the handles is incredibly inauthentic to how we would be moving in real life. Start to look at each exercise as a way to improve your body for something you're going to do in real life."
Take these tips with you the next time you hit the gym, but remember that fitness isn't one-size-fits-all. Listen to your body when you're working out so you don't overdo it or injure yourself. And feel confident in knowing that you're making an effort to get active.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.