7 Beginner Mistakes to Avoid at the Gym

7 Beginner Mistakes to Avoid at the Gym

I wish I knew these things when I started my fitness journey!!

I would have achieved my goals A LOT faster.

Instead, I wasted years not making any progress in the gym. I got frustrated, gave up for a bit, and then started again.

Making mistakes is totally normal. And the more you make the better you can get.

The key is to LEARN from your mistakes.

This article is going to help you identify some common mistake you might be making in the gym. Once you know what they are you can learn from them and make better progress towards achieving your goals.


Mistake #1: You only do cardio in the gym

If you’re not doing weight training, then you’re missing out on all the fun the gym has to offer.

It’s SO much more exciting to go to the gym and do something different each day (like legs on Monday, upper body on Tuesday), rather than doing the same mundane cardio routine.

Plus, WEIGHT TRAINING is the BEST WAY to CHANGE your BODY composition.

Whether you need to lose fat or build muscle or both.

Cardio can help you expend more energy, but if your goal is fat loss, you need to eat in a calorie deficit. Full stop. This means you can lose fat through DIET ALONE. You don’t need to do cardio at all.

You can’t get toned from your diet alone. You can’t get toned by doing cardio. To build muscle or to get toned, you need to do some form of resistance training like lifting weights.

You can achieve any body composition goal by doing weight training, and controlling the amount of food you’re eating. If you’re limited for time, it makes sense that you focus on weight training at the gym!

Another thing I love about weight training is that it’s easy to prevent the body from adapting to it. The body adapts to any stimulus (for example lifting a weight or running on a treadmill) by changing (becoming stronger or fitter) so that it can better handle the stimulus next time it happens. With cardio, it gets harder to increase the stimulus on the body because you can only really run (or row or swim or whatever) faster or longer to increase the stimulus. Once your body adapts things get easier but this is when change stops happening.

If you’re too scared to use the weight section of the gym I have some tips to help you here.

Ps. Cardio is good for general health, but to really reap all the benefits, especially the mental health benefits, I would recommend getting your cardio done in nature. In our busy lives, walking or running in nature can help with recovery from attention fatigue, reduce stress and make us happier!


Mistake #2: You do your cardio before weight training

For fat loss, muscle gain, getting toned, and getting stronger, you need to put your weight training first!!

This means if you do both cardio and weights at the gym, then you need to do weights first!

You might’ve been told that you need to warm up with cardio- this is not the case at all.

Cardio is NOT the best way to warm up for a weight training session.

Doing cardio before your weights will just impede your performance during the most important part of your training. 

When you start your weight training session you want to have as much energy as possible to lift those damn weights up. Your body’s preferred source of energy for exercise is glycogen (not fat), and your body has limited stores of glycogen. So you wanna make sure you’re using glycogen for your weight training as this will improve your performance. Then, when you do your cardio you can use fat for energy. If you do your cardio first, you’ll burn through your glycogen stores leaving you with less energy for your weight session and you’ll probably find it hard to make much progress.

If you want to do cardio you should do it after a weight training session. Or even better, do it on a separate day! There is some research to show that cardio after weight training can impact muscle repair and growth. Overall though it shouldn’t have too much of an impact as long as you aren’t running for hours afterwards.


Mistake #3: You don’t follow a program

You can’t make progress if you’re not measuring it in the first place!!

You can’t measure progress in the gym if you’re not doing these two things:

1. Following a program of some sort- a good one is even better!

2. Making sure you’re pushing yourself to make improvements on your last workout.

If you walk into a gym and do whatever you feel like on the day, then you’re not going to get optimal results.

The key to changing your body is to push it enough to increase the stimulus without impeding recovery too much. You want to keep increasing that stimulus over time so that you can keep creating change. Following a program and tracking your results (weights, sets and reps) allows you to do this.

If you keep doing the same thing without increasing the stimulus, then your body will just adapt and you’ll reach a plateau.

You don’t need to mix things up every week though! Variation should come from the weights you use, the reps, the sets and the tempo. The more frequently you do something the better you get, so it doesn’t make sense to mix up your workouts every week.

At the same time if you do the same workout every day you go to the gym you won’t progress very far either. You need to provide your body and individual muscles with the right volume each week- this will be based on your goals and training experience.

Having a proper program tailored to you can help you achieve results much faster than doing whatever you feel like. The program should be individualised to your level and training age (how many years you have been weight training), your goals, your body structure and any current or previous injuries which may impact exercise selection. For example, if you have poor ankle mobility and have never done a barbell back squat before then you probably shouldn’t be doing these before fixing your ankle mobility and working up to doing a barbell squat with kettlebells or dumbbells first.


Mistake #4: You only do isolation exercises

I love efficiency, especially when it comes to the gym!

If you want to get in and out as fast as possible then you should be doing mostly compound exercises.

If you want to get stronger in general then you should be doing mostly compound exercises.

If you want to burn more calories during your weight session then you should be doing mostly compound exercises.

If you want to get awesome results then you should be working out your whole body, using mostly compound exercises!

Compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull ups and rows. Any movement that works more that one muscle group at a time is a compound exercise. They’re harder to do than isolation exercises because there’s more involved in getting technique right. But the payoff is far greater!

Isolation exercises work one muscle group at a time- think bicep curls, tricep extensions, and leg extensions. There is a time and place for isolation exercises. For example, they can be good to include to improve weaker muscles that might be holding you back from getting stronger in your compound exercises. But for the general population, doing isolation exercises alone won’t get you very far.


Mistake #5: You have no idea how long you’re resting between sets

Rest time is a variable that you can manipulate to get more out of your workouts.

So how do you know if you’re resting too much or not enough?

Well like most things- it depends.

Generally, if you’re doing heavy reps and aiming for strength then you want to be resting for 2-5 minutes between sets.

If you’re doing isolation exercises or higher reps with lighter weights then you can rest for 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets.

If you’re doing a superset or circuit then you won’t rest between exercises but you should still rest 1-3 minutes between sets!

Proper rest periods should be indicated in the program that you’re using. You should follow these!


Mistake #6: You only do high reps

If you’re doing 12-20 reps for each exercise then you might want to reassess your program.

Including strength based sets in your program will help you get stronger, and strength gains have so many carry over effects, whether your goal is fat loss or muscle gain or even for general health!

Working on building strength (unless you are super, super beginner) involves rep ranges of 3-5 reps, or 6-8 reps.

However, your program shouldn’t contain strength sets alone (unless maybe you’re a powerlifter). I would choose 1-2 exercises you want to focus on increasing strength and begin each workout with these. The rest of your program can be higher reps. Generally your strength sets will be for compound lifts like squats, bench, hip thrusts or deadlifts (and their variations).

Note: If you are a beginner then sticking to the general 10 reps is fine because in the beginning a lot of the adaptations that lead to increased strength are neural. The more reps of an exercise that you do, the faster your brain will get used to the movement pattern and the quicker your strength will increase. Doing more than 10 reps is not necessary though. There is still a need to balance reps with being able to lift a decent amount of weight. If you have access to weights don’t be afraid to use them and stick to 10 reps!


Mistake #7: You don’t ask yourself where you are feeling the movement

Showing up to the gym and ticking off your workout is great- if your goal is to set up new habits.

I’m sure you want to get results from your training too!

Simply going through the motions is not enough to get results.

You need to ask yourself this question: WHERE AM I FEELING IT??

Asking yourself this will help you improve your form, identify weaknesses, work the right muscles and actually get results from your lifting.

EVERY TIME you do a rep you need to ask yourself WHERE you FELT the movement.

If you didn’t feel it where you’re meant to, there’s a good chance you can improve your form. You should also make sure you are controlling the rep at all stages of the movement. For example, when you squat it is easy just to drop down by letting the weight push you down, but you want to kind of resist the weight pushing you down by controlling the decent. 



If you’re doing all of these things already and still not making progress, it could be something to do with your program OR your exercise form. MOST LIKELY though, it will be something to do with your DIET.

Your diet has to complement your training goal. Read more about how to make sure your diet is right for you in my article here