Improving one of the following, would significantly improve your training results...
If several of them sound familiar to you... making the relevant changes will be a game-changer.
While your training programme will be specific to your goals...
And while there are multiple methods that you can use to generate results...
There are a number of common 'mistakes' that could slow that progress or increase your injury risk...
Not Warming-Up Correctly
Walking to the gym is NOT a warm-up...
5 minutes on the stationary bike (while playing with your phone), is NOT a warm-up.
A proper warm-up includes EVERYTHING that you should be doing between arriving at the gym, and starting the first 'proper' part of your workout... whether that's the first set of a resistance exercise, or the beginning of a structured cardio workout...
muscles physically warmed up
joints mobilised and 'loosened'
nervous system 'switched on' (exercise specific - increases strength and joint stability)
technique practice where necessary
Obviously that involves plenty of physical prep...
But a large amount of this should also be focussed on the mental side of training... "Getting into the zone".
Get rid of any distractions (see below regarding phones), put some music on and get into the right mindset (positive self-talk).
This takes a bit of time... 10-15 min's when done right. (Make sure every element of the warm-up is relevant... eg. 10 minutes of slow, stationary cycling will have limited benefits prior to a heavy weight-lifting session. While it is a good idea to do some gentle cardio to raise body temperature, raise heart rate etc, you can be much better prepared by adding in some more specific movements... even if it's just a relatively light warm-up set of each exercise).
And the benefits are huge...
Improved physical performance and reduced injury risk for starters... so take it seriously.
Pre-workout stretching: There are arguments for, and against, stretching pre-workout...
While there may be benefits to increasing the flexibility/mobility of muscles and joints pre-exercise, there is a risk that stretching muscles which haven't been adequately warmed-up might do more harm than good.
So, simply walking from the car to the gym and diving in to an elaborate stretching routine (especially one that you are not used to) probably isn't a great idea.
If you do decide to continue including stretches in your warm-up, follow the usual rules;
it's far better to stretch warm muscles than cold muscles. Focus on movement first to generate that warmth... then stretch.
a stretch should never hurt. A little discomfort as you lengthen the muscle is fine. PAIN is not.
stretch gradually. Be patient. Trying to pull on a muscle as hard as possible, as fast as possible is a great way to get injured.
Taking Your Phone With You
"But I use it for music"...
Your phone is going to be a big distraction.
You're in the gym to exercise...
Instagram & YouTube can wait until you're finished.
If you are staring at your phone in between exercises, that means that you are not concentrating on what you should be doing...
If you are serious about getting the most out of your workouts you need to be focussed.
preparing for the next set/exercise
timing and using rest intervals properly
keeping your self-talk game positive
generally being efficient
If you 'need' your phone for music, either find something else to use, or at least put it on 'Plane Mode' and keep it in your pocket.
Not 'Cooling Down'
Just like stretching, cooling down post-workout can feel like a chore...
Especially if you are "squeezing your workout in" during a lunch-break, for example, you might feel tempted to get the "important" parts of the workout done, then finish abruptly and get back to work.
Cooling down properly requires you to taper the end of your workout a bit more gradually.
Note: Cooling down is an active process that you physically do... not just standing outside to bring your body temperature down.
This would ideally fit in immediately after the workout, before stretching.
Example: A cool-down after a steady 5km run at 10km/hr, might mean gradually reducing the speed immediately after you've finished (ie. not stopping as soon as you hit the target distance). Get the speed down to a brisk walk, lets say 6.0km/hr and reduce by a further 0.5km/hr every 2 minutes. After a 10 minute cool-down, your speed is down to a gentle 4.0km/hr.
During that 10 minutes cool-down, you have;
allowed your heart rate and breathing rate to gradually return to pre-exercise levels
continued moving (contracting) the muscles in the lower body, promoting blood flow around the body
reduced the risk of feeling dizzy or faint
encouraged the removal of waste products from the muscles that could have otherwise caused excess soreness in the following days
Lifting Too Heavy
There's a difference between hurling a weight around...
And lifting it correctly.
You need to use enough weight to challenge your target muscles sufficiently.
But if you go too heavy...
At best, you are going to 'cheat'... recruiting muscles that are not the target of the exercise, or using momentum to move the weight as opposed to contracting muscle throughout the movement.
And at worst... you'll deviate from the correct posture or fail to maintain control of the weight. Both increase your risk of injury while reducing/eliminating any benefits.
Keep your 'rep target' in mind when selecting weights...this target should reflect your goals and the weight then corresponds to that target... not the other way round.
Note: Gyms are full of mirrors for a reason. 'Form' and technique are vitally important. If you can't maintain these, you're either lifting too heavy, or pushing excessively hard past the point of muscle fatigue.
Lifting Too Light
Myth: Lifting 'heavy' weights bulks you up. And light weights will 'tone up' your muscles...
Reality: Light weights are useful for improving the endurance/stamina of the muscles that you are training, warming up, practising technique...
That's about it.
A common mistake: lifting light weights DOES NOT change the shape of your muscles. This can't be done. Your training options in terms of visible changes to muscle are...
either increase the size of a muscle
or don't (maintenance of existing muscles mass or atrophy aka degeneration of muscle)
The 'toned' look that most people are referring too is achieved via either an increase in muscle size, a reduction in the body fat that lies over that muscle, or in most cases, a combination of both.
Staying In Your Comfort Zone
Gyms can intimidate people...
Especially specific pieces of equipment (Weights room?)
Do your exercise choices reflect the most effective methods to achieve your desired results...
Or do they reflect where you feel most comfortable?
Not Drinking Enough Water
Ensure that you are hydrated before, during and after exercise.
This is key.
Not just for general wellbeing...
Your hydration level DIRECTLY AFFECTS your body's ability to perform exercise optimally.
In other words, dehydration will severely limit what you can achieve in the gym...
reduced blood flow
increased body temperature (which at the very least is going to increase your sense of discomfort)
higher perception of effort and fatigue
lower muscle endurance
lower supply of vital nutrients to muscles
lower removal of waste products from muscles
.. the list goes on (link).
Not Stretching Enough
You are probably not stretching enough...
Stretching is often neglected in favour of the types of exercise percieved to have a bigger pay-off.
eg. Weight training to build muscle, HIIT to reduce body fat.
Stretching is more of a long-term investment...
If you either...
have poor mobility/reduced range of motion due to tight muscles
pick up an injury
... your training (and results) are going to be negatively impacted.
To get the best results, you need to be training consistently.
By definition, that means staying injury free.
So instead of rushing out of the gym after your final exercise, slow things down and invest the time into stretching...
While it might feel like a bit of a chore at this point (unless you've already learned the hard way through a past injury)... consider this part of the workout essential to ensure that you have the best chance possible of achieving your fitness goals without injury setbacks.
Minimum: Static stretch for every muscle involved during the workout. Hold the stretch (mild discomfort, not pain) for 15-30 seconds. (A full body routine, including approx 15 stretches, many of which mean stretching the left/right muscle seperately, would therefore take approx 10 minutes minimum).
Ideal: repeat each stretch up to 4 times. Theoretically, even after just 15-30 seconds of stretching, each repetition (up to 4 in total) should show a gradual increase in flexibility. (If this happens, it will be natural... DO NOT try to force flexibility improvements by stretching 'harder').
Not Paying Attention To Rest Intervals
Interval training and weight training are programmed based on a number of variables.
reps/length of intervals
number of sets/total volume of workouts
AND THE LENGTH OF THE REST INTERVAL BETWEEN SETS
If your programme states how long your rest interval is supposed to last (which it should), then make certain you follow that instruction…
There may also be a requirement for you to do something during the rest interval…
More often than not, you’ll have an ‘active rest’ programmed…
For example… walking between sprint intervals (rather than stopping).
Like most aspects of your programme, that information is there for a very good reason.
This comes back again to the fact that you must remove distractions from your workout.
Rather than focussing on your phone, keep an eye on your timer and follow the structure of your programme.
There are many, many "mistakes" that going on in gyms every day...
Some are worse than others.
If you've picked up a bad habit that increases your injury risk... address it as a matter of priority.
Other "mistakes" simply reduce the effectiveness of your workout...
This is still a major problem.
Far too many people feel that they are putting in the hours and the effort in the gym, to be left frustrated by a lack of progress.
If that applies to you... the above might just contain the reason for that frustration.