We all make mistakes. Toxic friendships, diet (or lack thereof), choice in hairstyle (and significant others)—you name it, we’ve probably dabbled, then regretted instantly. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are—some things just do more harm than good. This existential realization is perhaps no truer than at the gym—a place where even the strongest get their limits tested, both physically and mentally. If you’ve been sticking to an exercise plan and aren’t seeing results—or you simply want to know what your trainer wants to tell you, politeness thrown out the window—you’ve come to the right place.
Ahead, you’ll find 17 fitness mistakes—pet peeves, whatever you want to call them—that top trainers want their clients to stop doing (in the name of good health and better results, obviously). Keep scrolling to see what they are!
Stop Avoiding Carbs
“I want my clients to stop thinking that low-carb dieting and high-intensity workouts are a perfect mix—more like a Molotov cocktail,” says Kellie Williams, a trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp Miami. “Carbs are your body’s first resource for energy, so cutting them and doing high-intensity (energy) training is the opposite of what should be happening.” While many fad diets, such as the keto craze, vilify carbs, Williams says this macronutrient is actually crucial for energy production during vigorous exercise. “Carbs are great for your body,” she says. It’s more about how much you’re taking in and how much you’re utilizing them. Opt for complex carbohydrates that contain fiber, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.
Stop Fad Dieting
“Stop detoxing, juicing, and fad-dieting,” says Grant Weeditz, a trainer at Anatomy. “These weight-loss attempts are inherently unsustainable and unbalanced in their approach. Most lack a major component of the human diet that is required for us to operate normally from day-to-day.” Weeditz elaborates on this point: “No-carb diets will cause you to feel awful and have zero energy. Juicing lacks the protein necessary to maintain and build muscle. A detox often forces you to eat or drink the same things every day for a period of time.” Most people gravitate toward these more extreme approaches to dieting in hopes of achieving quick and easy weight loss. But Weeditz says this isn’t wise. “Generally, these programs are forms of starvation that contribute to only small decreases in body mass, with even less significant decreases coming from fat mass,” he says. “The biggest problem begins once these programs cease and the previous poor eating habits resume, often causing a regression back to square one.”
Stop Eating Protein Bars
Jacqueline Kasen, another trainer at Anatomy, recommends cutting protein bars from your diet. “A protein bar is very quick and convenient in our hectic lives,” she allows. “However, most protein bars are filled with sugar—and if not sugar, then [sugar] alcohols, fat, high carbohydrates, etc.” This type of nutritional profile makes protein bars poor meal replacements. “Eat a small meal filled with great nutrients instead,” advises Kasen. “Or, when rushing with time, try some carrots and hummus.”
Stop Drinking Excessively
Williams advises cutting back on alcohol as much as possible. “Not only is alcohol usually filled with high sugar, high carbs, and empty calories, while digesting, it’s turned into something called acetate. If your goal is to burn body fat, you have to burn through the acetate first before reaching your body fat,” she explains. “Therefore, hitting the gym the day after you drink will maybe burn the liquor from the night before, but not anything extra.” This doesn’t bode well for those looking to lose fat or tone up. “If you frequently drink socially, you’ll most likely gain weight, or you will probably hit a plateau in maintaining your weight,” warns Williams. “As a replacement, try adding fruit to water—this way you’re staying hydrated, as well as have a great taste for flavor.”
Stop Skipping Protein
“Never eat a meal or snack without a major source of protein,” says Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) Joe Masiello. “Protein helps build lean muscle tissue and also manage hunger levels.” Masiello warns that eating a meal that includes only carbohydrates will often lead to overeating and consuming more calories than your body needs. “Whatever the body doesn’t use for energy, it will convert to fat within hours after consumption without exercise,” he explains. “A banana, toast, and coffee do not qualify as breakfast.” Aim for at least 20 grams of protein per meal for satiety.
Stop Eating Fake Food
“Quit fake food,” urges Weeditz. “Fake” food includes anything that’s highly processed, contains manufactured or artificial ingredients, or is masquerading as something healthy or natural. Not only are these foods unhealthy and devoid of valuable nutrients, but they are also less satiating and often lead to overeating. “Opt for real food raised on a farm, caught in the wild, or grown in the ground,” advises Weeditz. A good rule of thumb is that if there are words on the list of ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, put the food back on the shelf.
Stop Showing Up Late
“I would love for my clients to stop coming in late,” says Sam Karl, a co-founder of Kamps Fit. Coming into a class late disrupts the rest of the class and doesn’t give you time to get situated, meet the instructor if you’re new, and get warmed up. If you’re new to the class, plan to arrive 10 minutes early so that you can get acquainted and ask any questions you have.
Stop Being Inconsistent
“I’d like my clients to stop being inconsistent and thinking things will change with inconsistency,” says Rachel Robinson, another trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp Miami. Without regularly completing your workouts, your body won’t make positive adaptations to your training, and your risk of injury increases. This makes reaching your fitness goals impossible. It is also is harder to form a habit of working out unless you are consistent and stick to a schedule.
Stop Skipping Meals
Even though we’ve all heard that it’s actually counterproductive to skip breakfast, many of us still fall into the diet trap of forgoing the first meal of the day to “save” calories for later. Unfortunately, skipping breakfast, or any other meal for that matter, often leads to rebound overeating, low energy, and poor food choices. And, if you’re hungry at the end of a long day, Weeditz says you should not be afraid to eat—no matter what time it is. “The myth of late-night eating contributing to the storage of excess fat has been disproven time and time again over the last decade,” he says. “As long as some type of muscle-building activity is performed a few times throughout the week, eating a large dinner or having a snack before bed is perfectly fine if the overall amount of calories within the day is consistent from one day to the next.”
Stop Looking at Your Phone
“I would love for my clients to stop talking to other people in class and to stop using their phones as well. It is one hour—one hour to change your body and one hour to be removed from the world. It is your time—take advantage of it,” urges Karl. While you might think shooting a friend a text or taking and posting an Instagram-worthy selfie during your workout class is innocuous, it’s distracting to the instructor and your classmates. “I understand everyone wants to be connected through their phone in this day and age, but one hour should not be too much to ask,” says Karl. “Become addicted to your workout and health—not your phone and social media and texting.”
Stop Giving Up
“I would love for my clients to stop quitting when things get tough,” shares Karl. “When things get hard in life, you should not give up—and that translates to the gym as well.” To get fitter and stronger, you have to challenge the body. Be honest with yourself: As long as you aren’t feeling injury-related pain, push through the difficult parts of the workout because that’s how your body will adapt. “The burn you feel is a good thing—embrace it, and try to get a couple more reps in before you take your rest,” says Karl.
Stop Overemphasizing Cardio
Many people think cardio is king when it comes to burning calories and losing weight. But, because your body adapts to your cardio workout, you may not be burning as many calories as you think, and it does little to build strength and tone your body. “Cardio may be helpful in helping you achieve a caloric deficit, but [it] is not required to achieve this,” says trainer Brie Ogletree. “[There are] lots of confusion around this point and why many people think doing hours of cardio will help them lose weight.” Rather than going for yet another 5-mile run, or mindlessly spinning every day after work while you binge-watch Schitt’s Creek, consider strength training. Strength training builds lean body mass, which not only increases strength and bone density but also increases your metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories throughout the day even once your workout is over.
Stop Ignoring Technique and Form
Our entire panel of fitness experts urge their athletes to slow down each repetition, paying attention to proper form and breathing. Executing each rep with proper technique and form is not only important for preventing injuries, but it’s also what ensures the exercise is actually effective. Use a weight you can handle for the entire range of motion of the move without needing to rely on momentum. When in doubt, go a little lighter, and complete a few extra repetitions.
Stop Avoiding Variety
Variety isn’t only the spice of life; it should heavily season your workouts, too. A well-rounded workout program keeps your body constantly challenged, which helps you become fitter and healthier, and it prevents overuse injuries, boredom, and fitness plateaus. Instead of sticking to your favorite spin class or repeating the same core exercises day after day, mix up the type of exercise you do regularly. Opt for a balance of strength training, cardio, and flexibility workouts each week, and switch up the mode and intensity as well. For example, try a body-weight HIIT workout on Monday, and on Tuesday, try a morning stretch routine and a LISS run to recover.
Stop Skipping Warmups
The warmup in an exercise class isn’t just a formality, and warmups for your own workouts shouldn’t be viewed as an optional component for when you have time. Particularly because we tend to be relatively sedentary throughout the day, and most of us wake up somewhat stiff, warming up our muscles through light cardio, mobility work, and low-resistance lifts is important to safely prepare your body for the workout to come. “Skipping warmups makes you more prone to injury, which ultimately will disable you from working out altogether for a while,” warns Karl.
Stop Working Out Without a Plan
Working out without a plan is like trying to build a house without a blueprint. A proper plan will help you make progress and reach your specific fitness goals. It can also prevent injuries because it ensures your workouts are balanced, include adequate rest, progress at an appropriate rate, and address all types of important exercises—not just the ones you like to do.
Stop Being Negative
“I want my clients to remember to always have a positive attitude—that is the key to success,” says Robinson. Your attitude colors more than how pleasant you are to be around in the gym; it can dictate your success (or lack thereof). Stay positive, believe in yourself, and try your hardest, but understand that fitness is a process, and give yourself grace on days where workouts don’t go as well as you’d like.
Armstrong MJ, Colberg SR, Sigal RJ. Moving Beyond Cardio: The Value of Resistance Training, Balance Training, and Other Forms of Exercise in the Management of Diabetes. Diabetes Spectr. 2015;28(1):14-23. doi:10.2337/diaspect.28.1.14