8 Common Exercise Mistakes

Avoid These Common Workout Mistakes and Start Getting Real Fitness Results

Man taking weights from rack
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Did you know that the average health club exerciser quits after just six months for one of the following reasons: not enough time or not seeing results?

Eight Common Reasons Your Workouts Don't Work

Sadly, most people become frustrated and quit exercising before they see any real results. But it's not too surprising, given the common mistakes many people make with their training programs. Are you making these workout mistakes?

1. All Quantity, No Quality

Take a look around the gym (if you haven't quit going yet) and see how many people are really getting a quality workout. I'm always amazed by how many people are wandering aimlessly, walking leisurely on a treadmill while reading a book, lifting weights so light that not one hair moves out of place, or simply looking bored. A lot of exercisers head to the gym out of habit, and as if on automatic pilot, put in some time and head back to work or home. If you are one of these people, ask yourself, "What do I want to get out of this?"

If you want serious results, you need to do serious exercise. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy it and have fun. But it does mean you need to focus on what you're doing and increase the quality of every movement. Once you start exercising with a real purpose and pushing both your aerobic capacity and your strength, you will find your workouts take half the time and yield better results:

2. Overestimating Your Exercise

Most exercisers are far too generous with estimates of exercise intensity and time, the amount of weight lifted, and the frequency of their workouts. To avoid overestimating, it's helpful to keep an exercise log and track these items.

Additionally, many people mistakenly believe that if they exercise at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, they've burned lots of calories and fat. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. While exercise does burn calories over time, and consistent exercise is one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off, it's hard to lose body fat through exercise alone. Which brings us to the next mistake.

3. Underestimating Your Eating

Many people are in denial about the foods they eat, and particularly, the quantity consumed. If you want to lose weight, you need to be honest with yourself about what you put into your body and how that helps or hinders your weight-loss goals. To get real with yourself, write it down. Tracking what you eat in a food diary will help you break the cycle of food denial. You can also try using a calorie counter for more advanced diet support.

4. Doing the Wrong Type of Workout

Where did you learn your current exercise routine? By watching others at the gym (who may be exercising incorrectly)?

From your friends, coworkers, the web, TV, the newspaper, the latest research findings, or perhaps your 5th-grade gym teacher? What you're doing for exercise directly determines the results you will get. To learn what you should do, there's no better place to start than by writing down your goals and then working with a professional trainer to design the right workout to meet those goals. Haphazard exercise will provide haphazard results:

5. Never Changing Your Workout 

When you do the same thing day after day, you get very good at it. In exercise, this is called the principle of adaptation. It means that we become very efficient by doing the same exercise over and over. This is great for sports performance, but not that great for weight loss, increasing strength, or physical fitness progression. If you always do the same workout for the same amount of time, you will eventually hit a plateau where you fail to see any additional change. One way of overcoming this plateau is to modify your workouts every few weeks or months. You can change the type of exercise you do, the length, the amount of weight lifted, or the number or reps. This is why professional athletes change their programs during the off-season. To learn more about how you can change up your workout, check out these great resources:

6. Using Incorrect Form or Technique

Learning the right way to exercise is essential to getting results. Form does matter, especially when doing any strength training exercise. Incorrect form or technique also sets you up for potential injuries, pain, and soreness. To learn proper technique, there's no better place to start than with a personal trainer or coach.

7. Setting Unrealistic Goals

So, what are your exercise goals? Are they realistic for you? If your goal is to be the next Lance Armstrong, and you only have 30 minutes a day to train, or you want to lose 25 pounds in a month . . . Ask yourself how realistic are your goals? Again, it comes back to being honest with yourself about your abilities, your level of commitment, and your lifestyle. You need to set appropriate goals that start from where you are and progress at a reasonable rate, or you're sure to get frustrated and quit.

8. Measuring the Wrong Results

Many people think their workout isn't working because they don't measure the right things. Looking for proof in a scale is often a set-up for disappointment because some new exercisers build muscle and lose fat, but the scale doesn't provide information about body composition. Better ways to measure your fitness progress include tracking your heart rate at a given pace, measuring the distance you can cover in a certain amount of time, tracking the amount of weight you can lift, or even writing down how you feel -- physically -- at the end of each day. Many of the benefits from exercise are subtle and not visible by looking into the mirror, but things such as cholesterol level, blood pressure, and the ease with which you can do daily chores are every bit as motivating -- if you monitor them.


Theresa Dwyre Young, Factors determining exercise adherence, American Fitness, Jan-Feb, 2005

International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, Health Club Statistics.

Jones F, Harris P, Waller H, Coggins A. Adherence to an exercise prescription scheme: the role of expectations, self-efficacy, stage of change and psychological well-being., Br J Health Psychol. 2005 Sep;10(Pt 3):359-78.

Annesi JJ., Effects of a computer feedback treatment and behavioral support protocol on drop out from a newly initiated exercise program. Percept Mot Skills. 2007 Aug;105(1):55-66.

Belisle, M., Roskies, E. and Levesque, J.M. "Improving adherence to physical activity." Health Psychology 6 (1987): 159-172.

Bull, S.J. Adherence Issues in Sport and Exercise. West Sussex, England: Chichester, 1999.

Continue Reading