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15 Weight-Lifting Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Workout

Avoid these weight lifting mistakes to get the most out of your workout.

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You don’t warm up

It’s important to properly prime your body before you lift a single weight. “Warming up your body gets blood flowing to help lubricate your joints, which can help prevent you from tearing something,” says William Suggs, a certified personal trainer and licensed sports nutritionist in New York City. Limber up your shoulders, hips, elbows, and knees by walking on the treadmill at a brisk pace for 10 minutes; while you walk, actively move your arms. You can also rotate your arms backward like you’re doing the swimming backstroke. “This gives you ample rotation, you’ll get a good stretch of your chest, and it will really wake up your rotator cuffs,” he says. If you work out in the morning, try these energizing stretches to start your day.

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You don’t ask for help

Improper technique can prevent you from getting the most out of that exercise move and even lead to injury. If you’ve never worked with weights before, your best bet is to ask for some help. “Schedule a tutorial with a fitness trainer at your gym who can teach you the proper moves,” says Suggs. “With this new phenomenon of everybody wanting to have a nice butt, a lot of exercises targeting that area such as squats and deadlifts are done wrong, which leads to a high risk of getting hurt.” If you’re planning to do heavy weight lifting, it’s a good idea to buy a cheap weight lifting belt that will support your core and lower back, he says.

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You don’t mix up your workouts

Doing the same exercises day after day, week after week, and month after month can cause you to reach a fitness plateau or develop strength imbalances, according to the American Council on Exercise. Try new exercises that target the major muscle groups, or if you’ve always used weight machines, try adding free weights into your routine for a new challenge. Here are more tips you need to get over a weight-loss plateau.

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You’re reckless with your shoulders

“Many injuries come from unsupported overhead presses where people are standing up and pressing a weight over the head. That can lead to them hurting the rotator cuffs,” says Suggs. Be sure to only lift a weight you can comfortably handle and don’t forget to warm up your shoulders before you start lifting.

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You use the wrong weight

More does not equal better when it comes to strengthening your muscles by lifting weights. Using too heavy of a weight means you won’t be able to do as many reps, and reps are key. “You don’t want to shoot for maximum exertion when you’re trying to get stronger. You should do sets of 10 reps with a lighter weight at first, which gets you tired at a controlled rate. You develop better motor control of your muscles with more reps because you’re building up their endurance,” says Suggs.

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You only stick to weight machines

Don’t be afraid of free weights like dumbbells and barbells. “Free weights are good because you activate more muscles and get a more synergistic workout versus the weight machines,” says Suggs. You can also do a mix of free weight exercises and weight machine moves depending on the workout, which is where that introductory training session with a fitness trainer comes in handy.

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You forget about your core

Core strengthening is essential in keeping you safe when you lift weights. Do planks and abdominal work in addition to cardio and weights. Check out these plank upgrades that will reshape your body.

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You speed through your workout

“Speed kills your workout and can potentially lead to a major injury,” says Suggs. Slow and controlled is the way to go. For example, if you’re doing a bicep curl, bring the dumbbell up at a nice slow pace, then descend at an even slower pace, which forces the muscles to work harder.

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You work out tired

Working out when you’re tired means you probably won’t be able to give it your all, plus you’re more prone to injury. If you’re feeling drained when it’s time to hit the gym, modify your workout or do only cardio. Better yet, take a day off and let your body get the rest it needs. Check out these 18 secrets of women who work out every day.

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You don’t follow a workout plan

If you don’t pay attention to your workouts each day, it could mean you end up working the same muscle groups back-to-back, which is a big no-no. Do lower body one day and upper body the next. If you want to do a full body workout, make sure there’s a break of two to three days in between. “You don’t want to overwork the muscles. You may not feel sore right away, but the moment you lift a weight that is heavier than your day-to-day movements, your muscle is working,” says Suggs. “Alternating muscle groups will help prevent injury and make sure your muscles have time to fully repair themselves.”

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You forget to stretch

Always finish a workout with stretching. It helps your muscles recover, increases circulation, and helps reduce soreness and fatigue. Don’t miss these other post-gym mistakes that could ruin your workout.

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You start out full speed ahead

“For beginners, don’t go all out at once. Days off are important, and you don’t want to develop injuries that will prohibit you from working out regularly in the future,” says Suggs. Try to hit the gym three to four days a week when first starting out.

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You don’t pay attention to your diet

A healthy diet is key when it comes to working out and generating results. “What you put into your body is your gasoline, so if you’re only eating fast food, that’s not good fuel,” says Suggs. Each meal should contain a good carb like whole grains, a lean protein, and veggies. Find out what top fitness instructors really eat to refuel post-workout.

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You don’t listen to your body

“Never ignore what your body is telling you. That muscle pain or ache is your brain signaling you to stop, so listen to it 100 percent,” says Suggs. If you’re doing an exercise and feel any sort of pain, stop what you’re doing or switch to a lighter weight; trying to work through the pain can intensify it or even lead to injury.

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You expect to see results immediately

Don’t have unrealistic expectations when you’re strengthening your muscles; you won’t see results after just one week. “Give yourself time to see results and don’t look at it by week, look at it a few weeks out,” says Suggs. Be sure to stick to a routine to get the most out of your efforts. Next, check out these 17 tips to help you stay motivated at the gym.

Alyssa Jung
Alyssa Jung is a writer and editor with extensive experience creating health and wellness content that resonates with readers. She freelanced for local publications in Upstate New York and spent three years as a newspaper reporter before moving to New York City to pursue a career in magazines. She is currently Senior Associate Editor at Prevention magazine and a contributor to Prevention.com. Previously she worked at Reader's Digest as an editor, writer, and health fact checker.