12 Mistakes Men Make At The Gym

male muscular


We like to think that we know what we’re doing. And sometimes, we do. Other times…not so much.

Like for me, it’s cars. Maybe I didn’t play with enough Legos growing up, but I just don’t do well with mechanical stuff. And yet, I still insist on doing my own car repairs (and usually make things worse) rather than shelling out money on a mechanic – even though I have a great mechanic who’s actually a personal friend and I love being able to support him, his family, and his business.

But no. I’d rather do things myself. And I pay the price for it…and usually end up paying the mechanic anyway!

And that’s just how things roll for a lot of guys. We like to think that we can solve every problem, fix anything, and do pretty much anything we put our mind’s to. But that’s not always the case. And it’s definitely not the case when it comes to guys working out at the gym – not from what I’ve seen, at least.

Now, I haven’t trained at a gym on a regular basis for years. But believe me when I say that I’ve spent a lot of time in gyms over my life. Most of that time was spent at the YMCA. I love that place! But I’ve also spent my fair share of time in a Gold’s Gym and a few Planet Fitness centers – along with a few other local health clubs that you wouldn’t know about unless you live here in small town, New Hampshire.

All that said, working in a gym really opened my eyes to a lot of things (e.g. the culture, trends, gym-goer habits, the lyrics to songs I’d like to forget, etc.). And let’s just say that I observed a lot while I was out on the gym floor for 8-12 hours a day.

And so, today, I’d like to present you with twelve mistakes that most men make at the gym – all based on my observations, which have not exactly been scientific, mind you. This is just what I’ve noticed again and again.

Mistake #1: Not having a plan.

man at gym with cell phone

Most guys walk into a gym – do a little of this, a little of that – and then leave. This goes on for months and sometimes years. And it’s a big mistake.

You need a plan that suits you, your goals, your time availability and schedule, among other things. It needs to take the laws of conditioning into account, and include the principles of progression, overload, and specificity, among others.

You can’t just “wing it” and expect to achieve your goals. That’s like playing the lottery with your results. The odds are against you.

So, if you don’t have a plan and you don’t know where to start, find someone who does, follow a program out of a book, get an online coach, or get a program from a good personal trainer. You need to know how to get from A to Z. And your plan needs to work for you – your unique needs, goals, and circumstances. You probably won’t get very far, otherwise.

Note: you can find some great fitness programs here.

Mistake #2: Trying to train like the pros.

male bodybuilder superman shirt

Listen. Even though you may strain and grunt while you’re training, you’re not Ronnie Coleman. And if you’re reading this, then you’re probably nowhere near elite. And btw, that’s okay! You don’t have to be elite and most people have no real desire to be.

Training is meant to enhance your life – not be your life. It’s a means to an end. But if you’re a novice (e.g. unfit, deconditioned, sedentary, etc.), and you train like the pros, your fitness career may come to an end – and fast!

So, just because so-and-so is training a certain way, doesn’t mean you should. Every elite athlete went through a long process of getting to where they are. And trust me, the beginner stages are very different from the advanced stages. Your needs change dramatically as your fitness age and experience increases.

So, do yourself a favor and be realistic about your current starting point, conditioning level, health status, etc. That’s the only way you’ll have a chance at getting any better over the long term.

And the good news is that by taking this approach, you can achieve an extraordinary level of fitness over the long-term – without having to devote your life to it like a professional athlete does. You can achieve an upper-middle class of fitness, if you will, with a consistent effort on a good plan.

Unfortunately, most guys bite off more than they can chew right from the start. Speaking of which…

Mistake #3: Showing off and/or using too much weight (aka doing dumb things you know you shouldn’t do).

I get it. We’re guys. We’re competitive and we like seeing what we’re made up. That’s just our nature, but it can get you into trouble at the gym. Like this…

Now, usually, it’s not quite that dramatic. You might just pull a muscle or strain something in your back (or just notice that your really achy the next day). But it usually happens when you get into the “heat” of your workout and let your…ahem…balls go to your head.

So, don’t let that happen. The gym is not for showing off. It’s for getting better. And what good would it be if you’re always dealing with injuries you could have been easily prevented?

Keep in mind that there will always be someone that’s stronger than you, and every club has at least one huge dude that out-lifts everyone else. So, don’t worry about trying to be the toughest dog in town. Just focus on getting better, little by little.

And by the way, your self-worth isn’t dependent on how much weight you can lift, what your bodyfat percentage is, or how fast you can pound a protein shake. So, don’t sweat it too much.

And don’t do dumb stuff. ‘Nuf said.

Note: if you want to get really strong without throwing out your back, this is a great book on barbell training.

Mistake #4: Using poor technique.

male crossfit athlete dropping barbell on head

Many women tend to focus on maintaining perfect form at the expense of their effort level, and many men are just the opposite. Men have a tendency to increase the intensity of their effort while the quality of their technique drops.

They’ll think…

I’ve got a few more reps left in me…
No pain, no gain!
I’m gonna feel that later.

I don’t need that knee anyway!
That didn’t sound good, but I’m not done my workout yet. And besides, I’m not bleeding.

Using good technique is one of those things that we know we should be doing. It’s just that when you get into the heat of a workout, sometimes the “animal” in you takes over and your technique goes out the window.

If this is an issue for you, practice being mindful during your work sets and focus on performing every repetition with the best form you can maintain. A good rule of thumb is to do as many reps as you can with good technique. Once it starts to deteriorate, your set is over. You can always do another set in a minute, if you want.

Note: you can check out my Youtube channel for a ton of detailed videos on proper exercise technique. Or, feel free to surf through the Exercises Archive right here on the blog.

Mistake #5: Doing the same thing day-in and day-out.

running on a treadmill

If your program isn’t changing, then you’re probably not changing either. At the very least, you need to be trying different things when you go to the gym (as part of your plan).

You can try to do more sets or reps. You can try new exercises or a different variation of an exercise (e.g. Goblet squats instead of bodyweight squats). You can try straight sets, supersets, or circuits. Or, any other number of things. The point is that your plan needs to have some purposeful variety in it – not only to keep you from getting bored, but also to make sure you keep adapting and getting better.

So, if you find that you’re not getting consistent, measurable results every week or two, it’s probably time to try something else. And if this has been a trend for longer than a month, then you’d probably benefit from some extra help (see mistake #1 above!).

Mistake #6: Training like a cardio bunny. 

zumba dance class

If you…

  • do a ton of cardio, AND…
  • barely break a sweat during your workouts for fear of ruining your faux hawk, AND…
  • spend more time stretching than strength training, AND…
  • barely challenge yourself when strength training, AND…
  • spend most of your training time on aerobics, spinning, or Zumba – and practically nothing else – THEN…

…you might be a cardio bunny. Don’t be a cardio bunny.

Note: I have nothing against any of these activities…or cardio bunnies.

Mistake #7: Obsessing over the mirror muscles (e.g. biceps, chest, etc.) and not training the posterior chain muscles or the legs.

male preacher curl with dumbbell

It seems that every Monday is bench press day. And so is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… But all kidding aside, most guys do tend to focus on some areas of the body while neglecting the others. Don’t be that guy.

Your whole body needs to be strong and resilient. And you’ll look, feel, and perform better if you train your body as a whole. So, make sure that your program includes training all of the major muscle groups and energy systems of the body to some degree. Stay away from specialization routines that promise to “pump up your pecs” or “add inches to your arms” in a matter of weeks.

That doesn’t mean you can’t spend a little extra time on your biceps if you want to, but you should still have all your bases covered first.

Mistake #8: Using mostly machines or other non-functional exercises.

man on exercise ball

You might have a problem if…

  • you can max out the 45 lb plates on the leg press machine, but you can’t squat to save your life.
  • you can barbell shrug 225 pounds for reps, but you can’t do a clean and jerk with good technique.
  • you can squat heavy with the Smith machine, but not without it.
  • you can ride the elliptical machine like there’s no tomorrow, but can’t run a mile without trouble.
  • you can lift the whole weight stack on the leg abduction machine, but you can’t sprint without pulling a hamstring.
  • you can single-leg deadlift a pair of 32 kg kettlebells while standing on a balance disc and yodeling, but you can’t do a pull-up.

If you can’t think of a practical reason or a functional purpose behind the exercises you’re doing, then there probably isn’t one. And chances are, there are much better options available to you. Training isn’t supposed to just help you burn some calories and pump some muscles. It should help you feel and move better. It should also improve your mobility, increase your basic functionality, and eliminate restrictions, among other things.

And unfortunately, most exercise machines are to a lesser extent, isolation exercises, aren’t the best tools for the job (and neither are many of the gimmicky functional exercises). That doesn’t mean they don’t have value in the right context. And in some cases, they really are the best tool for the job. But most of your training should be done with more functional and practical tools, movements, and exercises.

This can take many forms: pushing, pulling, squatting, running, jumping, and loaded carries, among others. The point is that you want your training to be practical, functional, and most importantly, purposeful.

Note: you can get some ideas on the various movements and functional training methods that you should be considering in this post.

Mistake #9: Not training your weaknesses and/or specializing in only one type of exercise (e.g. just strength training).

muscular man

Guys like to focus on our strengths. And that’s fine. But it’s the weaknesses that always seem to get the best of us at the most inconvenient times. So, even if you do want to specialize in one training method or style because you enjoy it (and that’s a great reason!), you should still do your due diligence and work on the other stuff that matters, too.

So, if you’re a strength athlete, make sure that you’re doing some cardio training, too. If you’re an endurance athlete, make sure that you’re doing some strength training. Everyone should be doing some gentle, restorative exercise, in my opinion (e.g. joint mobility, yoga, etc.). The point is that you don’t want to neglect any major areas because that will lead to problems down the road.

Note: you can click here for a great all-around fitness program that takes a variety of training factors into account. And you can click here for a superb beginner-level joint mobility routine. This is some of the stuff I use every day.

Mistake #10: Skipping your warmups and cooldowns.

men stretching

I know. You want to get in, get out, and get back to your life. But skipping your warmup or cooldown is a big mistake, especially if it becomes a habit. You can add this to the list of “dumb things dudes do and pay for later.”

The warmup is, in part, an injury prevention tool. It’s what prepares your body for hard work. And the cooldown serves many purposes, one of which is to kick-start the recovery process after you’ve finished training.

Of course, skipping a warmup or cooldown every now and then probably won’t hurt over the long run, but skipping them repeatedly will likely cause problems down the road.

So, don’t get into the habit of shortening or skipping your warmups and cooldowns. If you get put in a bind and you have no other choice, shorten the work portion of your session – not your warmup or cooldown. And if you notice that you’re having to do this often, figure out why and fix it. That’s what men do. We fix stuff.

Note: if you want to trade in your general warmups and cooldowns for some precision routines that will help you boost your performance and recovery, check out this amazing deal on a joint mobility package – worth every penny, IMO. 

Mistake #11: Doing too much high intensity exercise (or just doing too much, too soon and trying to progress too fast).

male seated dumbbell curls

Are you noticing a theme in some of these points? This is similar to some of the other things that I’ve shared, but it bears repeating. There’s this idea that more is always better. But that’s usually not the case.

We aren’t invincible and we can’t force our body’s to adapt any faster than our physiology will allow.

So, try to make progress gradually. Respect the process. Be patient with your results. And remember that more isn’t always better. Better is better.

Note: if you’re into high intensity training, but you want to do it smart, I’d recommend looking into TACFIT. Click here for an interview I did with the creator of TACFIT and also a bunch of free TACFIT workouts and programs.

As a side note, most guys would benefit immensely from decreasing the weights they lift so that they can focus on quality movement. It takes a little longer to get results like this, but they usually last a lot longer this way.

Besides, even if you are able to find the sweet spot intensity-wise, most people don’t have all of the other lifestyle factors working in our favor. Speaking of which…

Mistake #12: Thinking that all they have to do is work hard at the gym to achieve their goals.

man cooking at bbq

Exercise is just one piece of the health and fitness puzzle. It’s a critical piece, but it won’t single-handedly provide you with extraordinary results all by itself. Believe it or not, but it’s the other 23 hours every day when you’re not in the gym that matters the most. If you really want to succeed, that’s what you have to “work out.”

So, if you’re serious about achieving your goals, you probably know that you’re going to need to eat right, train hard, and get enough quality sleep. That’s a given. But success goes way beyond the basics of diet, training, and sleep.

If you want to achieve extraordinary fitness over the long-term, you have to setup your lifestyle to support your goals. That doesn’t mean you need to “not have a life” to succeed, necessarily. But it does mean you’ll have to start doing certain things differently and making some difficult changes (e.g. like eating more great food, sleeping enough, and having more sex, etc. Tough stuff, right?).

Now, it’s best to think of this as a lifelong process (rather than a short-term diet or program), which is why I suggest you start with these: 6 Baby Steps To Quickly and Easily Improve Your Health & Fitness.


So, those are twelve of the mistakes that most men make at the gym. But how about one more for the ladies? Here’s lucky number 13 to round things out with a baker’s dozen…

Mistake #13 that most men make at the gym: giving unsolicited attention and advice to women!

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, a few clips from this video may help shed some light on this issue…

Now, if you liked this post, you’ll probably like this one, too: 5 Fitness Lessons You Need To Learn By The End Of Your 20s.

But before you go, please share this post if it was helpful for you. I’d really appreciate it!

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Health-First Fitness Coach

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Photo credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

2 Responses

  1. Hi John,
    I just wanted to say that you are doing a great job by writing on your website. I have been following you since you start writing on this site, and i have learned alot abot fitness and so on.

    I just read this article and i found out that i definitely have done some mistakes at my gym. So i just wanted to say thank your for your writing.

    Keep up the good work!

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