lifting mistakes
Are You Making These Gym Mistakes?

In this article, we’re going over 20 gym mistakes people commonly make while lifting.

While these are things you might be doing right now during your own workouts, ultimately, you should try to avoid them. 

This will be a mixed bag that includes certain exercises you should steer clear of. These also include exercises that are effective, but that people commonly do wrong. I’ll even throw in a few gym etiquette mistakes here as well. 

Let’s get into the list:

Gym Mistake #1: Front Raises

gym mistakes, front raises

This one might ruffle some feathers. 

Front raises won’t hurt you, but in the majority of cases, they’re just unnecessary. Most lifters already get more than enough front delt stimulation through their chest and shoulder pressing exercises. Their front delts are already over developed in comparison to the side and rear heads, which are a lot more important for achieving that round, capped shoulder look. 

If you insist on doing front raises then that’s up to you, but aside from a fairly small percentage of cases, you’re probably just wasting your time and effort. It’s definitely in a class of gym mistakes if you prioritize front raises over other, better exercises to build big shoulders

Gym Mistakes #2: Bosu Ball Squat, Etc. 

Pretty much a bosu ball anything is a gym mistake.

gym mistakes, bosu ball

Whether it’s standing on a bosu ball and doing curls or overhead presses, or using it for chest presses or pushups, or whatever else. Using the bosu ball doesn’t improve the “functionality” of the exercise, increase muscle stimulation, or do anything useful at all. Yet, it’s one of those gym mistakes you commonly see on a day to day basis. 

All the bosu ball really does is put you in a less stable position and reduces the amount of force you can generate against the weight. 

So, forget the bosu ball. You don’t need it. Just perform your exercises on a solid, steady surface.

Gym Mistake #3: Reverse Grip Triceps Extensions 

gym mistakes, underhand triceps

Using a reverse grip has no beneficial effect on the activation of your triceps. It doesn’t hit the triceps any differently, and there’s really just no advantage to it. 

However, there is a disadvantage. The underhand grip puts your hands into a weaker position and makes the exercise more awkward to perform. 

If you want to maximize the stress on your triceps, there’s no reason to not use a standard, neutral, or pronated grip. Just choose the grip that feels most comfortable for you.

Gym Mistake #4: Flaring Your Elbows Out During Chest Presses 

When you flare your elbows directly out to your sides at 90 degrees (or worse, you position your elbows behind your body), you put a lot of stress on your shoulder joints. This stress can add up over time. 

Instead, make sure to tuck your elbows slightly at roughly a 75 degree angle.

Gym Mistakes #5: Using Excessive Spotter Assistance

gym mistakes, excessive spotter help

I see this all the time in the gym. Someone will load up way more weight than they can handle, a spotter has their hands on the bar, and then they proceed to help the lifter out on pretty much every rep of the exercise. 

This makes absolutely no sense to do.

If your spotter has to assist you right from the get go, then the weight is too heavy and you need to lighten it up. You should be using a weight that you can handle on your own through a full range of motion. 

Not only do you look like a complete goofball when you train this way, but it also increases your chances for injury. It also prevents you from accurately tracking your progress because you can’t specifically measure exactly how much weight you’re lifting versus how much the spotter is lifting. 

Aside from when a spotter might have to assist you on the last rep of an exercise, you should be doing all the reps on your own with good form.

Read up on my bodybuilding injury prevention tips in case you need a refresher on why proper form and technique is so important.

Gym Mistake #6: Cable Squat 

gym mistakes, cable squat

This is an exercise a lot of women tend to gravitate to, and something I commonly see being shown in a lot of Instagram booty workouts and YouTube tutorials.

I see it being done in the gym all the time, too. 

The problem is that the line of resistance is pulling in the wrong direction, and it’s actually putting minimal tension on your quads and glutes. It’s basically just pulling your body forward toward the machine. 

If you actually want to train your quads using a cable machine, then you’d need to be standing right up close so that the resistance is pulling in the right direction. That said, cables are generally not the best tool for quad training. Overall, there are just much better exercises to choose from.

Gym Mistake #7: Lifting Directly In Front Of The Dumbbell Rack

gym mistakes, lifting in front of dumbbell rack

This one is a gym etiquette mistake.

When you stand right in front of the dumbbells rack doing your curls, shoulder raises, or whatever else, you’re blocking other people from getting in. They have to stand there waiting for you to finish. 

So, very simply, grab the dumbbells you need, take a couple steps back. and leave enough room for people to get in and out of the rack.

Gym Mistake #8: Standing Dumbbell External Rotations 

A lot of people use this as a shoulder warmup. I even see more experienced lifters doing this as well.

But, this movement makes no sense at all. If you want to stimulate the rotator cuff, then the resistance needs to be pulling from the side. Pictured above, the dumbbell’s gravity is pulling the resistance straight down to the floor. So, you’re basically just isometrically contracting your biceps and front delts. 

External rotations are a great warmup movement and can also help reduce shoulder pain from bench pressing. But to actually warm up the shoulders, you need to use a cable or a resistance band. 

You can also do it with dumbbells, but you need to be lying on your side.

Gym Mistake #9: Behind The Neck Pulldown 

Not only does this exercise put your shoulders into an awkward, excessively externally rotated position, but there’s no advantage to it in comparison to a standard front pulldown. 

I’m not saying this is one of those massive gym mistakes, or that you’re guaranteed to get hurt doing this, but there’s just no good reason to do lat pulldowns this way in the first place. It’s riskier, and with no real reward. 

Gym Mistakes #10: Plate Exercises 

Another common trend you’ll find on Instagram these days are various exercises done with weight plates.

These influencers are probably thinking “hey, there’s only so many barbell and dumbbell exercises I can show to my audience. Might as well get creative purely for the sake of being creative!”

They do this even though there’s no inherent advantage to the exercise.

Plates are just more awkward to grip, and doing exercises with them make it harder to apply progressive overload. It’s great for clicks and views from novices who don’t know better. Of course, there’s a novelty factor, but ultimately there’s no point to this. 

The same thing goes for ez curl bar exercises which you’ll see floating around as well. 

You can obviously use the ez bar for things like curls or triceps extensions, but using them for lateral raises, overhead presses, or rows makes no sense. It doesn’t do anything except make the exercise more awkward and off balance.

Gym Mistake #11: Performing Leg Presses With Your Hands On Your Knees 

This is another bizarre lifting technique I see in the gym all the time. 

If you have to press on your knees in order to lift the weight, then the weight is just too heavy in the first place. Or, maybe the weight isn’t too heavy enough and you’re just making the exercise easier for yourself and reducing its effectiveness. 

For proper leg press form, you want to be holding onto the handles so that your lower back stays firmly planted in the seat. 

With your hands on your knees, your lower back is a lot more likely to roll backward. This will increase your chances for injury. You’d never do dumbbell curls and use your opposite arm to help out on every single rep. There’s no reason to do leg presses that way either.

Gym Mistakes #12: Combo Exercises 

It might be a squat into a lateral raise, or a lunge into an overhead press, or a row into a biceps curl. 

These movements might look cool for social media, and they seem innovative and unique on the surface. But, there’s just no good reason to do your exercises in this way. 

This is because your strength will differ depending on the movement pattern you’re performing. Sometimes, this will occur very significantly if you’re combining compounds and isolations together. So, using the same weight for two different movements in the same set makes no sense.

One of those movements will end up being undertrained relative to the other. 

Instead, just do one movement and use the appropriate resistance you can handle for it. Then, do the next movement separately and use the appropriate resistance you can handle for that one. There’s really no point in alternating back and forth between different movement patterns.

Gym Mistakes #13: When you Superset Between Multiple Pieces Of Equipment At The Same Time

This one is another one of those gym mistakes involving etiquette. 

Now if the gym is quiet and you’re using machines that don’t get a lot of traffic, then it’s probably not a big deal. But otherwise, don’t be the guy who loads up the leg press, drapes his towel over the seat, and then walks to the other side of the gym to claim some other piece of equipment. 

Or worse, using multiple pieces of equipment to superset back and forth. 

There’s no real advantage to supersets in the first place other than as a time saver. It’s just really bad etiquette if you’re forcing someone to wait for you to complete a sequence of 3 sets of 3 different exercises before they can get to the equipment you’re using.

Gym Mistake #14: Excessively Heavy Lateral Raises

Lateral raises are a great exercise to target the side delts, but they do put the shoulder into a more vulnerable position. Because of this, you want to stick with more moderate weights for slightly higher reps. 

You might be fine for the short term with a heavier weight, but it will eventually catch up. 

Grabbing onto a pair of heavy dumbbells and heaving them around using a ton of momentum is a very bad idea. You don’t need to do 50 pound lateral raises to effectively stimulate shoulder gains. Instead, focus on technique and control. I would never go less than 8 reps per set in perfect form. More like 10-12 reps or higher is probably going to be ideal most of the time.

Gym Mistake #15: Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks 

Now if you really like this exercise, I’m not saying you can’t do it. It does work your triceps to some extent, but there are just much better options. 

Dumbbell kickbacks have an awkward resistance curve. At the bottom, they’re really easy and there’s almost no tension on the triceps at all. Then, as you kick the weight back, it all of a sudden becomes much harder. 

It’s easiest in the position where your triceps are the strongest, and hardest in the position where the triceps are the weakest. 

If you are going to do kickbacks, then I’d suggest using cables. That will allow for a much more natural resistance curve, and you’ll just find that it feels a lot smoother overall.

Gym Mistake #16: Upright Rows Using An Excessive Range Of Motion 

This involves pulling the weight all the way up to your neck with your elbows up toward your ears.

If you’re going to do upright rows at all, the weight should be pulled no higher than to the point where your elbows are in line with your shoulders. You should be using moderate weight for slightly higher reps. Otherwise you’re really running the risk for injury.

The full range of motion upright rows put your shoulders into an awkward, internally rotated position. Using really heavy weights just adds to the stress. 

Some people can do full ROM upright rows with no problem, but for the majority, it’s probably something you’ll be best off to avoid.

Gym Mistake #17: Rolling Dumbbell Shrug 

This is where someone performs a shrug and rolls their shoulders in a circular motion either backward or forward. 

This doesn’t seem to be as common in gyms as it used to be, but ultimately there’s no point in doing this. The resistance is pulling down in a straight line, and so the only way to actually work your traps is by moving your shoulders straight up and down.

Rolling your shoulders around isn’t adding anything to the exercise.

Gym Mistakes #18: When You Don’t Re-Rack Your Weights 

Back to gym etiquette again.

You see this all the time in commercial gyms across the world. People will blatantly load up barbells, machines, or whatever else, perform their sets, and then just walk away. They’ll leave the weights for someone else to clean up. 

I understand that the laws of physics are highly complex and not yet fully understood, but from a probability standpoint, weight plates generally do not spontaneously re-rack themselves without human intervention. 

So, there is no excuse here. Don’t be that guy. If you were capable of loading up the bar, then you’re capable of unloading it as well. Re-racking your weights is basic common courtesy.

Gym Mistake #19: Standing Plate Press 

This exercise might really feel like it’s hitting your chest hard, but that’s only because of the fact that you’re forcefully squeezing your hands together. 

You can get the same effect by sitting there with no weight at all and doing the same thing. 

In reality, the standing plate press doesn’t work your chest effectively because the resistance is pulling in the wrong direction. It needs to be pulling backward toward your body. Instead, it’s pulling straight down toward the floor, meaning it’s basically just an isometric contraction for the front delts. 

If you really want to do plate presses, then they need to be done lying down. Either way, standard free weight presses are definitely superior.

Gym Mistake #20: Side Bends Using A Weight In Both Hands

Now, I’m not really a big fan of side bends in the first place.

I think there are much better exercises to train your obliques, if that’s an area you want to train. You could use cable woodchoppers or twisting rope crunches, two much better exercises in my view. 

But, side bends are especially bad if you’re holding a weight in both hands. The weight on one side acts as a counterbalance to the other, and you’re really not getting much of a training effect at all. You’re basically just moving your body from side to side and completely wasting your time. (In fact, read up on why ab workouts are a waste of time in case you’re interested) 

In Conclusion

I hope this list has helped any of you who have or might still be making some of these gym mistakes above. Take a look at your own training and see where you can replace some of these ineffective exercises with their more effective, muscle-building counterparts. 

And in the case of those etiquette-related gym mistakes: don’t be that guy

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