Getting yourself to the gym is half the battle. The other half is making your time there count. And while, as a general rule, any exercise is good exercise, if you want to ensure your workouts are of optimum effectiveness then a bit of constructive criticism can't do any harm.
And that's exactly the thinking behind PureGym's latest research was. After quizzing 149 managers of their gyms up and down the country, they gathered information on the most common training mistakes the experts see people making every day at their gyms. Because that way, we can all learn and better ourselves.
So if you've reached a plateau with your fitness and are on the hunt for possible answers, take a look and see if any of these errors sound familiar.
Mistake 1: Only doing partial reps
A rep (aka a repetition of a specific exercise in a workout routine) can be anything from a squat to a bench press to a sit up to a bicep curl. They're great for challenging yourself, but to be fully effective you should avoid doing partial reps with a poor range of movement.
"A partial rep means performing your specific exercise with a very limited range of motion (i.e. a half squat rather than a properly executed full deep squat). Some people do partial reps as they can be performed quicker, and can feel like you’re working harder by getting through your set quicker," explain the experts at PureGym. "However, if you're looking to build muscle or improve your strength you really need to embrace the full range of motion of the exercise to reap the best benefits."
That's not to say partial reps don't have a benefit in some circumstances—they can sometimes be included in a workout routine for people with mobility issues, those looking to overcome a plateau, people working on their technique, or anyone recovering from an injury. But for general gym-goers, it's far more valuable to spend time doing those reps thoroughly. "Don't be afraid of taking more time to execute exercises properly, even if that means having to reduce the weight—the payoff is much greater!"
Mistake 2: Trying to lift weights that are visibly too heavy
Also known as "ego-lifting," PureGym's trainers want you to know that the best kind of weight isn't necessarily the heaviest—it's the right weight for you.
"While it's great to see gym-goers pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, there's a fine line between challenging yourself and overexerting yourself," say the experts. "Lifting weights that are too heavy for you is potentially dangerous. If the extra weight affects your form and technique, you could severely injure yourself, and it's not a very sustainable way to build strength and muscle.
"If you want to maintain making progress and avoid injury, find weights that both challenge you and allow you to maintain decent form," they add. So, how to find the right sized weights?
"To find the best weight for you, start with a lighter weight and do as many well-formed full reps in a row as you can. If you can do more reps than you're aiming for in a single set (10 to 15, for example) then you can increase the weights. If you can't complete your desired amount of single set reps, then reduce the weight."
Mistake 3: Strength training without the proper form
Training with weights might look simple, but it's something you should spend time perfecting your technique on.
"If you're new to the gym or in the slightest doubt, don't be afraid to ask a personal trainer for form advice when using weights and machines. Learning how to weight train properly is a skill which takes time so don't be afraid in taking that extra time to nail your form before upping the weights," suggest the PureGym managers.
"As a rough guideline, when executing strength training exercises remember to think A.C.E (Abs engaged, Chin in a good position and not over Extending)."
Mistake 4: Taking breaks that are too long between sets
I know, I know. The weights took it out of you. You need a little sit down. But the expert advice is to try to be as disciplined as you can when it comes to rest times between strength training.
"Resting between sets is necessary to avoid injury. However, taking too long to rest and recover between sets can hinder your progress if your heart rate drops too much," note the trainers. "As a rule of thumb, if you're performing eight reps or less for each set, aim to rest between two to five minutes in between your sets. If you're performing above eight reps for each set, aim to rest anywhere between 30 and 90 seconds in between your sets."
Don't be afraid to ask a qualified personal trainer for a more specific guideline, however, as your rest period can vary depending on the workout and your goals.
Mistake 5: Not having a correct workout plan
To prepare to fail is to fail to prepare, as one of my school teachers used to insist. But, where the gym is concerned at least, she had a point. "Without preparing properly, it's easy to find yourself spending more time figuring out what to do in a gym rather than working out," say the PureGym managers. "If you go into the gym with a plan, your time is going to be used much more effectively."
But—and here's the thing—you don't need to be completely rigid once you're in there. "Allow your plan to be flexible, with back-up options if your chosen equipment is busy, or a couple of other options to try to avoid getting bored," suggest the experts. And for extra longevity, the advice is this: "Keep a plan the same for six to eight weeks, or until you start to plateau and then you can mix it up again."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.