Nothing can derail your fitness goals quite like an injury. A twisted ankle, pulled hamstring, or slipped disc can all require a leave of absence (and sometimes quite a lengthy one) from the gym. But the worst part? You might not even know you’re making a mistake that can put you at risk of injury.
We asked trainers to pinpoint the most common gym mistakes that can lead to injuries, as well as share tips on what to do instead. Heed their tips so you can avoid a workout mishap.
Mistake No. 1: Pushing Yourself Too Hard
It’s OK to take some time off from a workout regimen. But when you decide to get back into your exercise routine, it’s crucial not to overdo it.
“The most common mistake that occurs is individuals returning to the gym, going for a run, or jumping back on the bike for the first time in years and attempting to do what they were capable of when they used to do it regularly,” says Garret Seacat, C.S.C.S., an endurance athlete coach based in Manhattan, Kansas. Heading out for too lengthy runs, for instance, can cause overuse injuries to muscles or tendons, he says.
His advice is to be grounded in reality, and don’t base your workouts on when you were in peak physical shape. Take your time so you don’t injure yourself or burn out on a sport or exercise you love.
Mistake No. 2: Using Equipment Improperly
A lot of equipment in the gym is not as intuitive and user-friendly as it may seem, says exercise physiologist Heather Hart, A.C.S.M.-E.P., based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “After working in various gyms for the last decade, I’ve realized that many people are either too embarrassed to ask how to use equipment properly, or don’t realize that there are resources available to them to do so,” she says.
Misusing equipment can lead to a number of mishaps, from a musculoskeletal injury from poor form on a machine to a pinched finger from not understanding how to adjust the equipment, Hart says.
If you’re not sure how to use a piece of equipment at your gym, ask for help, Hart advises. Fitness professionals at the gym want to see you comfortably and safely using the equipment and are more than happy to answer your questions.
“Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask, that’s what they are there for—to help you reach your fitness goals,” she says.
Mistake No. 3: Never Taking Rest Days
Getting motivated to exercise in the first place can be a struggle for many. So, oftentimes, when people do find the motivation, there is a fear that taking a rest day will ruin their progress or momentum, Hart says.
“But rest days are an absolutely integral piece of the training and fitness puzzle,” she says. “Rest days allow our bodies to recover from exercise, and thus, continue to adapt to the training stress we place upon it, resulting in greater fitness.”
Her advice? Trust the process, which includes rest. Scheduling a rest day is not a sign of laziness or weakness, but a way to help you reach your fitness or sports training goals.
Mistake No. 4: Not Warming Up
When you don’t warm up before exercising, your muscles aren’t prepared for exercising and can lead to muscle soreness and sometimes even muscle tears, explains John Gardner, C.P.T., and the CEO and co-founder of Kickoff, a remote personal training platform.
Warm-ups are specific to the muscles you’ll be exercising, he says. But the general idea here is to do some low-intensity activity (think: jogging in place or stretches) before launching into your workout. This gets your blood flowing and boosts the oxygen supply to your muscles, Gardner explains.
“When the heart rate elevates and your body temperature gets warmer, the muscles are more ready for physical activity, preventing any injuries from occurring and reducing post-workout muscle soreness,” he says.
Spend 5 to 10 minutes on warm-ups to prevent any injuries, he recommends.