“You’re a personal trainer, right?”
I was working out at the gym when a guy I’ve spoken to once or twice walked up to me with this question.
He waited for me to remove an airpod. Very few people at my gym talk during their workouts.
In fact, it’s so rare that when someone tries to get my attention I assume the building’s on fire.
I was relieved when I didn’t smell smoke.
Still. This is such a loaded question I didn’t know if I wanted to acknowledge it.
“I was a trainer,” I answered, hoping to sidestep any free-advice question by insinuating it was a long time ago (it wasn’t).
Gym guy: “Okay, then let me ask you something…”
Me in my head: Oh, here it comes.
Gym guy: “Do you ever see people lifting weights and barely moving the machine — like doing tiny pumps instead of full range of motion (he demonstrated by mimicking jerky little motions)? That’s not doing anything, is it?”
Me: “All the time. And no, they’re not doing much other than pretending to do something.”
I go to put my airpod back on.
But I knew there was more.
“So why do they do that?” he asked, as if I had the answers to all of Humanity’s Most Burning Questions.
Because this was certainly one of them.
“They either think they’re doing the exercise correctly, don’t care if they are or aren’t, or believe their technique is superior to everyone else’s,” I guessed. “Honestly, I have no idea.”
“I literally just walked by three people, and two of them were doing the exercise wrong in some way,” I added.
What I did know, and I told him this, was unsolicited advice is never welcome or accepted.
Even when people pay me to help them get in shape they often argue with me, which always baffles me beyond belief.
I don’t like being told what to do, either.
However… If I’m paying someone for their help, and I believe they’re qualified to help me, I would ABSOLUTELY listen to that person.
That’s not the same for everyone, apparently.
Here are the top exercise mistakes I see all day long I wish I could say out loud…
Using momentum is a very common mistake. Lifting weight requires a muscle contraction (concentric) and stretch phase (eccentric).
Skimping on either action takes away from the full benefit of the exercise.
How do you know you’re doing it?
If you’re swinging, dropping or otherwise letting go of control of the resistance (this goes for exercise tubing, machines, dumbbells – any type of resistance) on the stretch portion, you’re not only taking away from half of the exercise, but jerking your limbs could put your joints at risk, too.
The acid test: You should be able to stop the movement at any point along the lift. If you can’t slow down, lower the resistance
DO THIS INSTEAD: Think slow and controlled. Pause at the top of the exercise and slowly lower the resistance, pause (don’t rest), and repeat the rep.
I’m going to skip right over the argument about the fear of “getting too big” as an excuse to keep resistance to that of a lead pencil.
I’ve addressed this topic ad nauseum in many posts and the bottom line: Stop the insanity. It’s not something that requires you to pull out your worry beads.
Truth is, if you’re able to do 20, 25, 30 reps and barely feel it, you’re not working hard enough to make changes to the muscle, e.g. muscle tone and strength.
How to measure if you’re in the strength gain/muscle tone/rockin’ that tank top zone: The last few repetitions of the exercise should be challenging but doable.
The best range for this to happen: 12 to 15 reps. Studies show you’ll gain both strength and tone if you’re able to pump out this number but no more.
If you’re flying through your set (a “set” is a group of repetitions) and barely feel it, it’s time to up the ante.
Add enough weight where you reach 12 reps and aren’t sure you can do much more. That’s The Zone. Congrats.
A.k.a. “bouncing,” as in my friend’s observation, this refers to not using full range of motion and is a close cousin to the momentum issue.
Why would someone do this?
For the same reason anyone cheats: because it’s easier.
For example, when doing biceps curls (I literally saw someone doing this today), instead of allowing your arm to fully extend before bringing it back up, you extend the muscle about half way and then back.
You’re selling yourself short and sabotaging strength and tone results by not working the full length of the muscle.
DO THIS INSTEAD: Use full range of motion — even if you can’t do the same number of reps or need to reduce the amount of resistance.
Remember it’s about quality, not quantity.
(Note: An exception is if you’re injured or have an issue that prevents you from using full range of motion — I can’t do a full squat because I have arthritis in my knees, for example.)
Follow these three tips and you’ll be ahead of 90% of the pack. For reals.
Other posts you may enjoy…
What’s YOUR biggest workout frustration? Let me know in the comment section below…
Your Ageless Body Coach,
Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.