Trainers Cringe Every Time They See These Gym Mistakes


If you've never had proper one-on-one training, navigating the different accessories and machines in a workout class or the gym can be a minefield. Everyone else always seems to know exactly what they're doing, so asking for help can be intimidating. If you've shied away from seeking guidance, personal trainers and fitness experts have a resounding message: Always speak up. We know—it's awkward, but even a seemingly simple mistake like changing the alignment of your feet can lead to injury.

To avoid a sore back or worse, and to ensure you're not wasting your time at the gym, we called on personal trainers to share the most common workout mistakes they notice—and, more helpfully, how to fix them. Take note: This is how to correctly squat, cycle, and more.

Lifting the Wrong-Size Weights

"The most common mistake I see people at the gym doing is either lifting [weights that are] too heavy or too light. One should leave their ego at the door and lift the amount of weight they can perform using proper form and a full range of motion. The weight itself doesn't matter if you are performing the lift correctly.

"[That said,] people in fitness classes usually are lifting the same amount of weight for years on end. Muscles need to be torn in order to grow back stronger, and if we constantly use the same amount or too little weight, it's impossible to make any gains. Different sets, reps, and amounts of weight should always be incorporated into a successful weight training program."

Sloane Davis, nutritionist and personal trainer

Amazon Basics 20-Pound Dumbbell Set $25

Incorrect Squats

"I often see people squatting with their shoulders rolled in and their low back in flexion (tucked), which is asking for a back or neck injury. It's also common for people to squat with their knees in front of the toes, which compromises the knees, as well.

"Instead, as you lower down, keep weight in your heels so knees will be centered over your feet and remain slightly behind your toes. Your chest should remain wide and your spine in a lengthened, neutral position. It's okay to slightly hinge your torso forward; just be sure your core remains tight to protect your low back."

— Kaitlyn Noble, Thumbtack personal trainer

Lucas Hugh Aurora Stretch Leggings $305 $183

Leaning on Bike Handlebars

“The most common mistake in indoor cycling classes is poor form out of the saddle on the bike. A lot of times, riders are tempted to put a lot of the weight on the handlebars and use the upper body to hold themselves out of the saddle. However, leaning forward on the handlebars will put extra pressure on your knees that may lead to torn ligaments.

"The best way to practice proper form to prevent any injury is to check to make sure your hips are back over the seat and your knees are not pressing past the resistance knob on the bike. It's also important to make sure you are riding with a neutral spine and keeping your core engaged to support your balance."

— Steph Dietz, master instructor at Cyc Fitness

H&M 3-Pack Sports Socks $10

Gripping Resistance Bands

"Resistance bands help assist muscles in postures. Don't death grip the band! When you grip the band, it will also tense your upper back and shoulder muscles. You'll notice when your grip is softer that your core stabilizers kick in. Also, ditch it if it doesn't work. The band is just an option to add resistance, but it's not required. Your body can sometimes be the best and only prop you need."

Lisa Schale-Drake, director of training at Barre3

Belus Resistance Bands $15 $12

Placing Your Feet Out of Alignment

"The most misused piece of gym equipment is the Smith machine [which is used for weight training]. Foot placement is extremely important when using this machine because it forces your body to be in certain position. I personally do not like this piece of equipment at all, mainly for this reason, [but] if you do decide to use it, feet should be in front of the bar rather than under the bar. Knees will be right on top of your ankles, which is much different than if you were to do a squat under the squat rack. Most people place their feet directly under the bar, setting themselves up for injury and not utilizing the lift to its fullest potential."

Sloane Davis, nutritionist and personal trainer

Techloom Phantom Sneaker $165

Skipping a Meal Before Your Workout

"Most commonly, I see people lacking the adequate amount of energy because they don't eat enough before their workouts. NW Method is an endurance-based workout that requires 60 minutes of nonstop movement at both low- and high-intensity exertion. When you're working that hard, fueling your body is key."

— Nicole Winhoffer, founder of NW Method and partner with Pure Protein

Box Appétit Lunch Pot $25

Misaligning Your Body

"I see people misusing their alignment in their spine, hips, knee, and ankles. It takes simple awareness each day—about five minutes—to become aware of where your body's main points of flexion are. Being a professional dancer and choreographer, I've used mindfulness my whole life. It's my mission to help teach non-dancers simple alignment exercises so they can be aware of their bodies and escape injury and pain. Stay aware of your neck floating on top of your spine. Keep your hips facing forward and on an even plane. Make sure your knees and ankles are stacked in alignment. Check your body in a full-length mirror, and keep this awareness throughout the day. Through awareness, you can strengthen your body."

— Nicole Winhoffer, founder of NW Method and partner with Pure Protein

Bodyism Olivia Sports Bra $95 $57

Not Knowing Your Limits

"You can still get a heart-thumping, muscle-burning, amazing experience without pushing yourself into pain. I think we have been conditioned to go, go, go, when slowing down and focusing on what you need can truly transform the mind and body.

"One way to correct this is to try being present in every class. It's harder said than done! Let go of what you did yesterday or what the person is doing next to you. Instead, listen to what your body needs today. Some days, your body will want to be pushed; others, it will need you to breathe. Focusing in will not only keep you going but will keep your body happy in the long run."

— Lisa Schale-Drake, director of training at Barre3

Yeti Yoga The AR Yoga Mat $60

Not Adjusting the Leg-Extension Machine

"One of the most misused pieces of gym equipment is often the leg-press machine. Any machines in a large gym setting that require height and weight adjustments are prone to error. Because the muscles in your legs are some of the strongest in the human body, many people assume that they can handle heavier weight when setting up on the leg-press machine. However, this will put extra pressure on your low back and not allow your leg muscles to receive the full benefit of the exercise.

"To use this machine correctly, it is important to make sure the settings are suitable for your particular body type. You'll want to make sure that when you are on the machine, your knees are not passing over your toes, and you have a neutral spine. Start with moderately challenging weight, and push through the weight using your heels while mandating proper form."

— Steph Dietz, master instructor at Cyc Fitness

H&M Short Sports Tights $13

Have you changed your workout based on these tips? Tell us if you noticed a difference. 

Related Stories