The 5 Worst Fitness Tips We've Ever Heard

Think before you follow a trainer's instructions.

The last 10 years have seen the number of personal trainers increase at gyms. To a certain extent, there are also some who freelance and are affiliated with different establishments. Some turned to the profession as a second job. And it’s easier than ever to get certified: You can go online, take a course, and start training clients within a month.

“It’s a buyer-beware market,” says Mike Boyle, A.T.C., owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Massachusetts, to Men's Health US. “Getting hurt might be rare, but you can easily waste your time with someone who is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.”

In short, knowing how to recognize bad advice is more critical than ever. Read on for the most dangerous fitness advice, and six ways to get back on track.

Bad Advice: “Go big or go home.”

“There’s this idea that you have to train to failure to trigger growth,” says Boyle. “But ‘go big or go home’ is a slogan for a meathead’s T-shirt and a prescription for injury, not an effective training strategy. The truth is precisely the opposite—'slow and steady wins the race.'"

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Do It Better: Train to technical failure. “You want to do as many reps as you can with perfect form,” says Boyle. “Once you can’t do a perfect rep, the set is over—no negative reps, no spotter assistance, no using momentum to crank out one more.”

When you can complete your goal reps for every set—3 sets of 10, for example—you’re ready to move up in weight. “Throw another 5 pounds on the bar or grab the next heaviest pair of dumbbells,” says Boyle. “It might not sound like much, but think about it this way: Even if you only go up 5 pounds every two weeks, you’ll still add 130 pounds to your lift after a year.”

Bad Advice: “Push through the pain.”

A little bit of soreness isn’t a bad thing. It just means you’ve pushed your body harder than usual, causing micro tears in muscles that ultimately lead to gains in size and strength. “But there is a fine line between pain and discomfort that you shouldn’t cross,” says Chappy Callanta, C.S.C.S, head coach of the 360 Fitness Club chain.

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“Pain is the body’s way of telling you that you’re nearing the threshold of intensity. Push past this and injuries may occur,” he adds.

Do It Better: Find a pain-free alternative that works the same muscles. “Just because the barbell bench press causes you shoulder pain doesn’t mean you have to stop working your chest,” says Boyle.

Try to use dumbbells, or do incline presses, or switch to push-ups, Boyle suggests. Changing your grip, angle, or movement pattern alters the load and positioning of your joints, allowing you to build muscle without breaking your body.

Bad Advice: “Protect your spine with crunches and sit-ups.”

Okay, there’s no denying that crunches and sit-ups can help you sculpt a six-pack, but they come with an inherent flaw: repeated spinal flexion, which can aggravate existing damage and increase your risk of developing a back problem. Bottom line: By recommending crunches and sit-ups, some trainers facilitate the very injuries they’re trying to prevent, says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., a trainer at Cressey Performance in Massachusetts.

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Do It Better: Do stability exercises. Why? “Stability, or resisting unwanted motion, is the true function of your core, and exercises that reinforce that function protect your spine,” says Gentilcore.

Bad Advice: “Don’t rest between sets.”

This misguided mantra is the call to arms of many extreme-fitness programs, and it can be disastrous in practice. The reason: Lifting heavy weights recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers, which generate more force but also fatigue faster.

If muscles don’t have enough time to recover between sets, you won’t be able to train them fully, slowing your gains and increasing your risk of injury. “The goal isn’t to get you tired,” says Julio Veloso, C.S.C.S., M.Ex.S.Sc.

“If you’re pushed to exhaustion, you’re not learning and it’s not beneficial since you have other things to do after training,” he adds.

Do It Better: “Understand that a 45-second break is a 45-second break,” says Jonathan Goodman, C.S.C.S., founder of the Personal Trainer Development Center, an online resource for personal trainers.

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As a general rule, the lower your reps and the heavier the weight, the longer you should rest a muscle group before working it again.

So if you’re doing sets of 1 to 3 reps, rest 3 to 5 minutes. For sets of 4 to 7 reps, rest 2 to 3 minutes. For 8 to 12 reps, rest 1 to 2 minutes. Keep in mind to rest no more than a minute for any number of reps above 12.

Bad Advice: “Always add plyometrics to your routine.”

High-impact plyometric exercises, such as box jumps (leaping on and off a box or bench) and depth jumps (stepping off a bench and then springing off the floor and landing on a platform) are favorites of many trainers trying to help clients build explosive speed and a killer jump shot. But these drills can also hammer your joints—especially if you’re heavier than you should be.

“[The] most commonly hurt part would be the knee because it takes most of the weight when doing plyometrics,” Veloso says. He adds that the problem with some trainers is that they see plyometrics as a form of conditioning, advocating high reps of high level jumping exercises. When your body isn’t ready for these movements, it can ultimately lead to injury—further delaying your progress.

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Do It Better: If you’re already fit, jump onto a 12- to 20-inch box with both feet, and then step off one foot at a time. That gives you the explosive benefits of the exercise without destroying your knees. Better still—especially if you’re carrying extra weight—swap jumps for less jarring exercises that use similar movement patterns.

“The kettlebell swing works your body the same way as when you’re doing jumps,” says Veloso. “It uses your posterior chain, the set of muscles that work when you jump, without the impact of landing on the ground.”

This story originally appeared on!

* Minor edits have been made by editors


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