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Five things to do and five things not to do at the gym


A man training in a gym.

As a Personal Trainer, I get asked regularly by fellow gym-goers and clients alike as to what they should and should not be doing when working out. I found myself thinking about this the other day (probably because this is typically the time of year when fitness magazines and websites publish articles about what not to do at the gym) and thought I would add my own contributions in blog form to this debate!

Over the years, I have been asked hundreds of questions concerning best practices where working out is concerned, with a focus on how to safely and effectively exercise. A number of themes usually dominate these kinds of enquiries, which can be summarised as follows.

What people should not do on the gym floor (particularly if they are easing back into fitness):

  1. Avoid adding too much weight to the bar, or incrementally adding weight too quickly. This is, in my experience, one of the quickest paths to painful injury and the reasons for this happening (i.e. competitive training, particularly amongst men) are pretty obvious. There is nothing wrong with finding a comfortable level where weight training is concerned and, if the motivation is to go up the scale, then doing so in a moderated and very incremental way is fine. But protect your body, and particularly your spine, as you only have one of either.

  2. Have no strategy behind your training (or a focus on what you want to achieve). You would be surprised how often I encounter this scenario when people sign-up for a gym or with a personal trainer, not really knowing what their medium and long-term strategy is. It’s fine to have broad objectives (lose weight or put on muscle, for example), but such objectives are not, in themselves, a strategy. Rather, they are desired outcomes. Before training, give time, whilst raising your level of fitness, to develop a strategy to reach an objective as to what you are going to do over a period of time. Personal trainers, gym staff and the internet are all available for consultation on this issue, and I would advise everyone to make use of these resources when deciding on how to get fit.

  3. Rely too much on the internet for guidance (it contains too much, often conflicting, information). Now, having advised the internet above as a source of information, I would not advocate relying on it entirely for direction. The reason for this is because the internet, as anyone who uses it regularly will be aware, is a bottomless pit of information and opinion, not all of which is helpful or reliable. Approach the internet critically and in a balanced fashion, particularly where fitness advice is concerned!

  4. Spend too much time at the gym (keep your workout down to 45/60 minutes tops). On the one hand, you want to exercise regularly at the gym so as to challenge your fitness. Your body will adapt to such demands (or indeed lack of demands) being made on it and will respond accordingly. It will experience exhaustion and come back stronger to respond to the next demand. It will learn and adapt. Unfortunately, there is also a limit within reasonable time periods when it can do this before tipping over into total failure from which it cannot respond within reasonable time periods. At this point, fitness will turn into rehabilitating exhaustion and ill health can set in. To avoid this happening, exercise efficiently to reasonable time periods and allow time for rest and recuperation in-between workouts. Your body will thank you for doing so.

  5. Rely on protein shakes or similar supplements (if you want to get bigger use heavier weights and eat more). I am not a fan of supplements generally and particularly of protein supplements. Taking such regular supplements can appear to be a tempting easy option if adding muscle is a core objective. The problem is that such protein shakes come with unhelpful downsides (digestive discomfort, for example). So, ditch the shakes and instead invest time and skill-building in preparing and eating healthy, natural meals (though if you do want to add muscle, you will need to have a very regular eating pattern to give fuel to the muscle-building process).


What people should do to exercise safely and effectively: