10 Mistakes Newbies Make (and how to avoid them!)

Going to the gym can be daunting for a newcomer! There’s a lot of unfamiliar equipment, the people there can appear intimidating, it seems like you should be able to lift WAY more when comparing yourself to ‘the other guy’, and sometimes it just seems like the results you want are NEVER going to happen! But fear not! Whether you’re making your first foray into the gym, or returning after a long hiatus, Brain Body Food has got you covered. Let’s take a look at 10 mistakes that a lot of people make when going to the gym, or starting a fitness program in general!

1. Expecting weight to just MELT off of them. A lot of newbies will head to the gym with the misguided idea that working out alone will help them to lose weight. While it is true that workouts and having a stronger body will help you burn more calories (muscle burns more calories than fat). The real way to lose weight is to change what you’re putting into your body, everything from the amount of calories you’re consuming daily to the types of foods you’re putting in your mouth to fuel your body. The only real way to lose weight is to get control of your diet. Even then, it’s a process, not an overnight thing. For most people, weight loss of 1-2 pounds a week is safe. This may fluctuate for people with a lot of weight to lose, or for those who don’t have much to lose in the first place, but its a good rule of thumb. Also, for those of you reading this who workout with someone of the opposite gender, men tend to lose weight quicker than women. So don’t be discouraged ladies if your man is outpacing you in the weight loss game – we know, it’s not fair!

2. Expecting muscle to just start swelling up in the places you want it. Unfortunately, building muscle takes time. It’s not something that just happens overnight, or even in a few weeks. The good news is it doesn’t take forever! If you’re just starting out, and you’ve got your diet in check. Then you can probably expect to start seeing results after about 8 weeks. The more “In check” your diet is, then the quicker, and more dramatic those results will be.

In addition to your diet, there are 3 other factors at play related to how much (and how fast) of a result you’ll see. Frequency, Intensity and sleep.

Frequency is how often you work out. Intensity refers to how hard you push yourself during these workouts – are you pushing your muscles to failure each time, or are you giving up before you’re really done. Lastly, sleep and rest is extremely important. You need to give your body time to recover from the demands you’re placing on it. Part of this rest also means that you have proper diversity in your workouts, so that you’re not working the same muscles day after day without giving them time to recover.

If you’re looking for a primer, I’ve got a free beginners workout routine that you can give a try if you want to really go for it, but need a little guidance.

3. Expecting a set of six pack abs after even a significant amount of time in the gym. The truth is, 6 (or 8) pack abs are kind of a 1 – 2 punch in your fitness program. The first punch is pretty obvious, start working your core. Whether you focus on traditional calisthenics (sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts etc.) or on using weights and machines to aid with gaining an iron stomach, both methods can develop muscle around your midsection capable of giving you a six pack. However, six pack abs struggle with a much large problem – being covered by a layer (or layers) of body fat, so the second punch is your diet.

If a six pack is your goal, then you’re going to need to drop your body fat percentage to between 6 to 17% if you’re a guy, and between 14 to 24% if you’re a woman. If you’re the “average” guy or gal, living in America, then you’re probably hovering between 28 to 40% body fat. So if a six pack is what you’re after, then you’ve got some work to do, but probably more-so on what you’re putting in your mouth than what you’re doing in the gym.

4. Going to the gym without a plan. I see this all too often! People decide they want to join a gym because they know it’s good for them, or they want the status symbol of a gym membership, but they don’t develop a plan to achieve their goals. Do a little research before you go to the gym – not just for cool looking workouts that you want to try, but for workout programs that will help you accomplish your goals. That way, when you go to the gym, you wont stand there awkwardly wondering where to begin, but instead will have a purpose and will stand a FAR greater chance of your experience taking you where you want to go!

5. Avoiding weights in favor of treadmills or ellipticals. Don’t get me wrong, cardio (and cardio equipment) is GREAT stuff for cardiovascular health. However, if that’s all you’re focusing on, then you’re like the big guy who lifts heavy weights, but always skips leg day. You know the guy I’m talking about – the baked potato on toothpicks! Don’t be that guy! There are a TON of health benefits to lifting weights that you simply cant get from running miles and miles on a treadmill. Things like greater control over your body and movements, better support for your joints, increased bone density, increased (and prolonged) calorie burn, increased metabolism and more! DON’T skip the weights!

6. Not warming up. I don’t care what exercise modality you choose, you should always warm up before you begin! Take 5 or 10 minutes before you workout and get your body ready for what you’re about to do. Light calisthenics – like jumping jacks, butt kickers, arm circles even running in place for a bit are all great options. You also want to make sure that you target the part of your body that you’re about to work. For example, dynamic stretching of the chest on a chest day workout in addition to the aforementioned exercises is a smart plan to ensure that you’re body is ready, your blood is flowing, and your joints are lubricated and ready to perform!

7. Thinking you’re too old. This tip relates to intensity in the new gym goer and may not apply to you if you’ve never used this excuse before. If you have used this excuse, then it’s time to re-evaluate. I’m not advocating the older gym rats among us dive headfirst into a killer Crossfit class having never worked out before. But I see no reason – short of an injury – that someone of ANY age couldn’t work their way up to that Crossfit level of fitness. If you’re truly concerned, of course, talk to your doctor first, and if he tells you ‘that dumb guy on the internet is full of it.’ then by all means, listen to the pro, not me. But if you check, then I’m proud of you, because that means you’re not going to just use your age as an excuse to avoid doing something that could not only extend your lifespan, but also your quality of life!

8. Pushing yourself too hard. Either with the weight you’re lifting or the number of days you’re working out. This is the opposite of some of the advice given in point #2. If you get too hung up on your frequency or intensity, you can end up hurting yourself, and an injury in the gym is the fastest way to derail your progress! This is another reason having a plan is so important! It let’s you see on paper (or on screen!) what you’re planning to do, and you can watch out for duplicate muscle groups that may need more time to recover. It also lets you track your weights lifted to ensure that you’re not making any reckless jumps from a lower weight to a heavier one without working your way up to it.

9. Not tracking anything. Whether you use an app, or good old fashioned pen and paper, ALWAYS track your workouts!! The benefits of this are innumerable! For starters, you’ll know not only what comes next, but also how much weight you should be using, how much you used last time, and when it might be time to push yourself by increasing the weight you’re using. Never underestimate the value of not only knowledge – but knowledge about yourself!

10. Relying too much on supplements. It’s easy to think that supplements are a magic bullet that can increase your workout results without a lot of effort. Supplements CAN help you obtain all of the vital macronutrients that your body needs to build muscle quicker than if you didn’t take them, but if your diet isn’t in check (It ALWAYS seems to come back to this doesn’t it?) then you shouldn’t even bother with supplements. What I mean is, that protein shake and creatine supplement aren’t going to mean much to your body if you’re pairing it with an entire pizza, or a burger and fries on a regular basis.

So that’s it! Hopefully a little knowledge beforehand will save you some frustration and possible injury in the long run! Adding fitness to your life can introduce benefits you didn’t even realize you wanted, but it’s important to have realistic expectations and understanding in your back pocket!

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