Top trainers may have ripped abs, know the name of every muscle in the body, and how to whip up an amazing circuit for the booty you want. But they were once newbies in the weight room, too. That’s why we asked nine top trainers to dish on the biggest blunders they made when they were fresh on the mats, plus the most common missteps they see from others.
Because sure, it’d be great if setting up a weight machine made complete sense (what does this knob do?), and you weren’t constantly distracted by this cast of characters, but that’s not always the case for beginners. And that’s OK!
We bet you can relate to the fears and face-palm moments below. Even better, you’ll get top-notch insights on how you can learn from them. Get ready to feel more confident in the weight room, starting now.
Weight Room Confidential: What No One Told Me Starting Out
1. “I had no clue how to set anything up.”
“When I first started, one of the common mistakes I made — and I see other new gym-goers make now — was not knowing how to properly adjust the weight machines. I’d feel overwhelmed as I’d panic trying to adjust something, only to find that the knob wouldn’t budge or the pin was stuck in place. I’d then simply use the equipment in the position it was already in, which means it often didn’t fit my body — I’m just 5’2”! Or, I’d give up using the equipment all together. When I became a personal trainer, I’d lead free weekly equipment orientation sessions, taking groups of members around the gym. Check if your gym offers this and then take advantage of it.” —Jessica Matthews, MS, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, and author of Stretching to Stay Young
2. “I had zero plan.”
“I would just walk around and use machines I felt comfortable with. Or I’d work body parts I could see in the mirror. I coined this ‘Mirror Body Syndrome.’ Talk about developing an unbalanced body! Write down your workouts or follow a program. It will give you structure in your training so you remember what you did the day before and don’t over or under-train certain body parts. It will also give you results when you’re not just spinning your wheels walking around aimlessly.” —Ashley Borden, master trainer, celebrity fitness and lifestyle consultant
3. “I went too hard.”
“When I started out, I took on way too much too soon. I worked out too long, cut too many calories, and I got myself so sore that I wouldn’t get back to the gym consistently. Learn from my experience and take on a smaller goal so you can be consistent about it. For instance, go to the gym for 30 minutes and work one or two body parts along with basic cardio. Once you have that consistency, you can add more volume and frequency.” —Jen Widerstrom, fitness expert, costar of Daily Blast Live, and author of Diet Right For Your Personality Type (Check out her 15-Minute Workouts on Daily Burn!)
4. “I cared what other people thought.”
“When I first started going to the gym, I felt like everyone’s eyes were zeroed in on me! After a while, I realized that it was just my own self-consciousness making me feel that way. When my new clients tell me that they’re worried about other gym-goers staring at them and they don’t want to embarrass themselves, I tell them it’s a silly worry. Don’t let that be the reason you skip the gym. From my years of experience, I can confidently say the only reason someone is looking at you at the gym is either because they’re checking out your cute self or trying to see what exercises you’re doing so they can do them, too.” —Jess Davis, owner of Boost! Fitness in Dallas, Texas
5. “I’d make sure everyone knew proper gym etiquette.”
“Trying to remember everything I did wrong starting out is quite hard. It’s still a journey and I’m always learning new things. But, one thing I see all the time is poor gym etiquette. I hate trying to track down equipment that’s not returned or laying down on a wet mat. Ew! Use those spray bottles, rags, and wet wipes. I tell everyone: be a sweetie, wipe the seatie.” —Erin Oprea, celebrity personal trainer and author of The 4 x 4 Diet (Seriously, check out this complete list of trainers’ biggest pet peeves.)
6. “I winged it on the rower.”
“We’ve had several people leave their shoe in the cradle of a rower during a circuit because they are having a hard time getting their foot out. The simple fix is to loosen the strap and slide your foot up and out! Another issue is pulling the handle up to your neck so it looks like you’ll chop your head off. Pull the rower handle to the bottom of your chest. And finally, before I took a rowing certification course, I used to lean too far back at the end of the movement. I’d lean to three o’clock, but the correct way is leaning back to one o’clock. Now, I always tell students to do this, since it’s a mistake I so often see.” —Daury Dross, trainer at The Fhitting Room in New York City (For more rowing machine tips, head here.)
7. “I could have asked for help sooner.”
“Whether it’s out of being nervous, shy or stubborn, it’s so common to watch people in the gym not ask for help when they need it. When I was starting, I quickly learned to ask coaches for specific training advice. After all, as a newbie, the fastest way to get good at something is to learn from other people who are good at it. The trainers are more than happy to help. As a trainer, now I know that we geek out about this stuff and want to lend a helping hand. That said, I think it’s uncool to offer unsolicited advice. So if you’d like help, you’ve gotta ask for it.” —Rob Sulaver, founding trainer of Rumble Boxing in New York City
8. “I’d encourage no half-a**ed moves.”
“While I’ve had my share of mistakes, one of the biggest things I see other people doing in the gym is doing a [partial range] exercise, or [unintentionally] not going through their full range of motion. For instance, in a bicep curl, it’s common for someone to lower the weight only halfway, rather than extend their arm all the way down. In a push-up, they’ll go down halfway and then come back up. Getting the full range of motion is important in recruiting the proper muscles and getting stronger.” —Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder of TS Fitness in New York City
9. “I’d make sure everyone eats.”
“I see it all the time, people start a workout program and also try to restrict calories. This backfires. If you aren’t giving your body enough fuel to work with, you won’t be able to sustain a good workout. Eating enough is also important for muscle growth, strength and recovery. If you aren’t eating enough, you’re at a much higher risk for injury in the weight room.” —Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CSCS, Founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness