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The 7 Deadly Sins at the Gym

Gym rats learn a lot from observation.

I’ve seen trainers and members come and go over the years at my gym. I’ve been there so long I’ve secretly given people nicknames because, frankly, I see them more than my best friends. There’s “rooster” and “diva darling” and “tough monkey.”  (Please don’t ask for the explanations:)

A gym rat is that person who religiously goes to the gym. Whenever you go, the rat is there so you just want to assume they live there. I know because I was one.

Therefore, I’m using my credential as a self proclaimed gym rat to specify these 7 deadly sins. The conclusions drawn from my informal surveys over the years helped me learn what not to do which sometimes is as important as what to do. Maybe this can help you shine the spotlight on your own gym workouts without having to scurry and sniff out the good and the bad yourself.

Sin #1:  Gym-goers who work out to pig out.

Most people’s bodies don’t really change.

I can think of numerous gym-goers who are very disciplined and work out daily. Some are on a rather obvious weight loss journey and others are just trying to gain strength or overall fitness. Years later they look exactly the same.

Conclusion:   Short of extreme sports, working out is not a solution for weight loss or perfect health by itself. It must accompany dietary improvements. Often people use their workouts as an excuse to eat more. Without a doubt, we underestimate the calories we consume and overestimate the calories we burn. Diet and exercise is not a 50/50 affair. As much as I believe in exercise, changing eating habits carries the most weight (pun intended).

Sin #2:  Gym-goers assume that being at the gym is a workout.

Any movement is TERRIFIC, however, if you are looking for body transformation, you have to work out hard. Measured in sweat, high heart rate and heavy breathing. If you are reading a novel, newspaper, or catching up on emails every time you’re at the gym, don’t expect six-pack abs, bulging biceps, or a trophy at your next 5K.

Conclusion: Let being at the gym take on a life of its own. Let it breed new habits unencumbered by usual distractions.

Sin #3:  Acting as if the gym were a live Facebook.

A workout buddy may be recommended to hold you accountable but if you spend the whole time conversing, you’re much better off alone. People underestimate how much they talk at the gym. Not just before or after but during.

Conclusion:  This is the main reason to wear headphones because people are less likely to disturb you. A wave or nod is all that is needed to say “Hey” without all the follow-up chit chat.

Sin #4:  People mix-up their workouts too much.

Variety may be the spice of life but mastery requires repetition. If you always mix up your routine you’re cheating yourself out of results. If you’re going to learn to speak French, you don’t practice a different language every day of the week. Your muscle won’t get stronger if you work that muscle once every two weeks!

Conclusion: I like circuits and cycles (more to come on this). A circuit is a series of exercises. Repeat the circuit 2 or 3 times. Next time you lift weights, same circuit.  Next time, same circuit. After a cycle of 4-6 weeks, then change it up.  If you have the expertise to work precisely the same muscles in various ways, go for it.

The point is if you switch things up constantly, you’re not giving your body a chance to build.

Sin #5:  Letting ego take precedence over form.

True for men and women but demonstrated in different ways. Men who grab weights that are far too heavy for them to lift properly. But the ego is big and they want big muscles. A too heavy weight will injure you far sooner than muscles will bulge. True bodybuilders are easy to pick out. Form is impeccable. If you see a guy swinging weights like he’s about to jump off a building, stay clear.

Women, on the other hand, select weights that are too light or they don’t do enough reps. Women tend to switch exercises instead of increasing weight.

Conclusion:  Women will progress faster due to the lighter weights they start with so they need to increase the weight regularly while doing the same exercise. Learn correct form from a trainer or book. If your form suffers, the weight is too heavy. I personally prefer high reps with lighter weights because I can maintain perfect form and feel a slow burn. (See my post on The Sexy Muscle). However, I do occasionally switch to heavy and brief doing the same circuit.

Sin #6: Most weight lifters settle for 50% benefit from their weight training.

Well, maybe 50% is an overstatement but most gym-goers don’t take advantage of the down motion– resisting gravity. Either because the weights are too heavy and they use momentum (swinging) to lift. They just don’t think about the downward motion as part of the exercise.

Conclusion: It takes strength to resist gravity. Why waste the enormous benefit of lowering a weight? After all, you have to lower it anyway–might as well get the best bang for your effort. Slow it down, use good form, and resist the pull of the weight.

I can’t stress this enough as I did in my ABsolutely Core Crazed series. Contractions! By lowering the weight slowly and resisting gravity, you are forcing your muscle to hold the contraction which is making that muscle work.

Sin #7: When time is short, most people skip the strength training portion of their workout.

Since controlling body weight is one of the greatest motivators that gets people to the gym, emphasis is on cardio work. Burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time. The good news is you don’t have to cut out your strength training entirely when you’re in a rush.

Conclusion: Don’t have time to lift weights? Do just one exercise to keep yourself strong. The push-up. The single best exercise on the planet, in my opinion, is the push-up. It works your biceps, triceps, shoulders, forearms, back, abs, quads, calves, and every ligament connecting them. If you’re traveling and don’t have access to a gym, rely on the almighty push-up! In fact, never exclude it!

You can learn a lot from other gym-goers and trainers that others are paying for. This rat is always looking for that next scrap of knowledge. If you like someone’s abs, ask about their routine. Most people are gracious about sharing and the question feeds their ego like water nurtures a plant.

Most importantly, if you have committed all 7 of these deadly sins as I have, be proud. You didn’t commit the 8th which could truly kill you. Sitting on the couch.

"The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same." Carlos Castaneda

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