The Top 5 Mistakes You’re Making In The Gym

Over the last five and a half years, I’ve spent A LOT of time in the gym: My day starts at 6 am and usually doesn’t end until about 6 pm.

In between training clients and getting my workout in, I’ve made some observations throughout the years.

For the most part, as in about 90% of gym-goers, people have no clue what they are doing.

I’m not exaggerating, either.

At best, they are staying in the exact same condition day after day, month after month, and year after year; at worst, they are doing stupid sh*t that will lead to an injury sooner or later.


Here are the Top 5 Mistakes I observe on a daily basis:


1. Not Taking The Time To “Warm-Up” And “Work-Up” Properly 

This has to be the BIGGEST mistake I’ve seen.

Homie walks in the gym, throws a 45 on each side of the barbell, and just starts repping it out.


Ironically enough, that’s usually the guy complaining sooner or later about joint pain.

Warming up elevates your core temperature; gets your muscles firing properly; and “lubes up” your joints, ligaments, and connective tissue.

Not only will you perform better, but you will save yourself time lost because of an injury down the road.

ALWAYS take 10-20 minutes before your workout to perform a “dynamic warm-up.”

I will do a separate post about what exercises should be included in the future, but in the mean time YouTube “dynamic warm-up,” and I am sure you can find some place to start.

Once you have completed your warm up, ALWAYS “work-up” on whatever exercise you are starting with.

For instance, if you are planning on bench pressing 185 lbs. for 3 sets of 10, don’t just throw on 185 and start pressing.

The proper way would be to start with 10 reps with just the bar.

Then another 10 reps with, let’s say, 95.

Then 135.

Then start with your first set at 185.

So instead of 3 sets, you are now performing 6.

3 “work-up” sets followed by 3 “working” sets.

Not only will you be adding more volume to your workout, but the 3 “work-up” sets will serve as an extended warm up.

Use them to perfect your technique, get a feel for the bar, and listen to your body.

If something is wrong (joint pain/discomfort), you should probably not press too heavy, or even skip said exercise all together.

If you are feeling well, the first set should feel “lighter” than if you would’ve just started right away with the “work-weight.”

If you aren’t already sweating by the time you start your first set, your performance will suffer, and you might be setting yourself up for an injury.


2. Doing Isolation Exercises Before The Compound Lifts 

This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Dude wants to get bigger and stronger, but he’s doing bicep curls and tricep extensions before his pull ups and presses.

I’ve said it before, the ONLY way to get bigger is to get stronger on the big compound lifts!

These exercises should come FIRST in your routine.

Small muscle groups fatigue faster than the larger ones, meaning that your biceps and triceps will get tired a whole lot quicker than your lats and chest.

Therefore, you’d want to do your pulling and pushing exercises BEFORE your curls and extensions.

You need these smaller muscles to perform compound movements like bench pressing and rowing.

Because the compound lifts elicit the biggest hormonal response when it comes to any kind of strength/size increases, you’ll want to be as fresh as possible when performing them.

This will ensure you are able to put up as much weight as possible.

More weight/reps = more strength/size.

This won’t happen if your biceps and triceps are burned out from 6 sets of skull-crushers and 5 sets of 21’s before you’ve even done a pull up or press.

Do yourself a favor and save the isolation exercises for the end of your workout.

Always start with the big lifts and get stronger on those.

Curls and extensions should round out your workout and give you a nice pump for your selfie in the locker room.

Baby, baby, baby…. NO.


3. Taking Too Long Of A Rest Between Sets

The one item that should be mandatory while training:

A watch.

The one item that should be banned while training:

A cell phone—because unless your name is Barack Obama, they can wait.

The LONGEST you should be resting between sets is 2-3 minutes.

And that’s if you’re doing a heavy press, squat, or deadlift.

Training is all about INTENSITY.

You should be in and out of the gym in less than one hour.

If you are taking longer than that you are either (A) talking too much, and/or (B) your exercise selection sucks.

Monitor your rest periods and make sure you “turn up” the intensity and “turn down” the socializing.


4. Taking Too Short Of A Rest Period

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the “Circuit Guy.”

The dude that does 10 exercises back to back to back with no rest in between.

I’ve seen him and I know you have, too.

He’s the dude using every piece of equipment at the same time.

While taking too long between sets is still a huge mistake, not resting enough is just as bad.


1. To get bigger.

2. To get stronger.


1. For conditioning/cardio.

Call me “old school,” but strength training and conditioning should be kept separate from each other.

No matter what anyone says, that’s the only way to get optimal results from both.

That’s how ALL athletes do, and have always done, it.

This whole circuit training 3x a week B.S. is a gimmick created for our 21st century society of instant gratification and multi-tasking.

“Get results in half the time!”

“Work out from the comfort of you own living room!”

No one wants to work hard any more.

If you want mediocre results and an average physique, combine the two and be that guy that everyone hates in the weight room.

If you want above average results and the kind of physique that makes the ladies go 50 Shades, then separate the two and find time in your schedule to strength train and condition 3-4 days per week.


5. Spending Too Much Time On Your “Core”


Your “core” is important.

I get that.

But what good is it to stand on a Bosu Ball while doing a 20 lb EZ Bar curl when you can’t even squat or perform a push up correctly?

I see this ALL THE TIME.

I’m all bout functional training; but like everything else in life it can be taken too far.

If you are performing the big, compound lifts CORRECTLY you’ll have a strong “core.”

I wrote about this, here. 

“Core” training has become really popular over the past ten years and has almost been turned into a gimmick by the fitness industry.

It doesn’t matter how well you can balance if you are weak.

Again, stick to the time tested BASICS and focus on getting stronger.

Save an exercise or two at the end of the workout for your “core” and you will be just fine.

Whatever you do, though, don’t buy into the hype and spend an hour every day balancing on a ball and doing 20 different ab exercises.

It’s a waste of time and completely unnecessary.


In summation:

  • Always “warm-up” and “work-up.”
  • Focus on the big, compound lifts and save the isolation exercises for the end of your workout.
  • Don’t rest more than 2-3 minutes between sets and keep the intensity up.
  • Don’t be the “Circuit Guy.”
  • Don’t fall into the “core” hype.



Author: J.J.Valdivia

I have worked in the health and fitness industry for a decade. Through my personal work with clients, and my writing, I strive to help others become more well-rounded human beings, so that they may thrive in all areas of their lives.

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