7 Ways to Hurt Yourself at the Gym

The gym offers so much variety when it comes to exercise, it's tempting to jump in and try it all. Not only that, but some of us try to make up for lost time by doing workouts our bodies simply aren't ready for.

However we approach our workouts, there are some common mistakes exercisers make that may end up hurting more than helping.

Below are some simple tips that will help you get in shape without burnout or injury. 


Doing Too Much Too Soon

Young man holding ice pack on ankle
Young man holding ice pack on ankle. Science Photo Library / Getty Images

If you're getting started with exercise, it's tempting to try to make up for lost time by doing everything at once.

The problem with this approach is that you're so sore for the next few days, you can barely move. Some soreness is normal after a workout. If you can't function, though, you went too far. Tips for getting started:

  • Ease into cardio. Start with 10 to 20 minutes of exercise, 3 days at a moderate intensity, gradually adding time as you build endurance.
  • Keep it simple. Even if you used to lift weights, your body needs time to adapt. Start with 8 to 10 exercises and do 1 set of 10 to 12 reps for the first week or so.
  • Rest. If you feel sore, give yourself extra recovery days. You may need a few weeks of consistent exercise to build a strong foundation.

Always Warm Up and Cool Down

A key component for staying healthy and safe is to make sure your body is ready for more intense exercise by warming up for at least 5 minutes. Cooling down allows you to stretch, relax and feel good about your workout.


Holding Onto the Treadmill for Dear Life

If you're new to the treadmill, it's normal to hold onto the rails. The moving belt can make you feel off-balance, so it's a good idea to hold on at first.

However, you want to wean yourself off holding onto the rails because there's a risk of injuring yourself. Holding on puts your body in an unnatural position that could strain the shoulders. It can also affect posture and reduce the calories burned.

  • Break the habit: If it's a habit, wean yourself by taking your hands off every other minute, increasing that time each week.
  • Slow it down: If you're holding on so you don't fall off, slow down. Going too fast defeats the purpose.
  • One at a time: If you feel shaky, try taking one hand away, and once that feels comfortable, take the other hand away as well.

Keep in mind that it's not just the treadmill. Avoiding the rails on any machine will help you improve balance, burn more calories and move more naturally.


Using Bad Form

Using bad form doesn't just compromise your workouts; it also puts your body at risk, possibly leading to pain or injuries. Bad form comes in many shapes and sizes, but a few common mistakes:

  • Straining the knees: When doing squats or lunges, keep the knees behind the toes. Pushing the knees forward puts pressure on the joints and could cause injury. To avoid this, learn proper form for squats and lunges or work with a professional.
  • Rounding the back: When bending over for an exercise, such as dumbbell rows, keep the back flat or slightly arched to protect the back from injury. To make it easier, bend the knees or raise up until you can keep the back flat.
  • Using momentum: Another problem is when you swing the weights or use your body to help get the weights up. Sometimes we do this without realizing it. Try watching yourself in the mirror to make sure you're using your muscles, not momentum.

In general, good form ensures you're getting the most out of each exercise.


Lifting Too Heavy

It can be tough choosing the correct weights sometimes, especially because every day is different. Some days you might lift more than others.

If you don't have a spotter nearby, it's better to go too light than too heavy.

Risks of Lifting Too Heavy

  • Strained or torn muscles
  • Losing control of the weight and dropping it
  • Swinging the weight to complete the exercise, which reduces the effectiveness of the movement and could lead to injury
  • Using ​bad form to get the weights up, which could put your back, shoulders, or knees at risk for injury


Bouncing When You Stretch

There are different ways to stretch the body. The most common is static stretching, which involves holding stretches for a period of time to increase flexibility.

But, one thing you want to avoid is bouncing while you stretch. Although ballistic stretching may be used for some exercisers for better performance, for most of us, bouncing is a no-no.

When you bounce, you force the muscles beyond their normal range of motion, leading to strained muscles or tendons. This is especially true when the muscles are cold and less pliable. To avoid injury:

Tips to Avoid Injury

  • Warm-up before you stretch or save the stretches for after your workout.
  • Ease into the stretch, only going as far as your flexibility allows. Stretching should never cause pain.
  • Make stretching a regular part of your routine to maintain flexibility.

Doing the Same Thing Over and Over

If you've been doing the same routine for months or years, you're putting stress on the same muscles, joints, and connective tissue every time you exercise.

Not only is this boring for your mind and your body, but it could also lead to overuse injuries such as tendonitis, shin splints, and stress fractures.

There are some simple things you can do to avoid overuse injuries:

  • Try cross-training: Try activities that use different muscles and movements. For example, If you run, try something low or no impact like swimming.
  • Change your routine: Shake things up by changing your workout schedule, trying new moves, or changing your method of training.
  • Work with a trainer: A pro can show you different ways to strengthen and stretch the body to help protect it from injury.
  • Try something completely different: If you usually do a lot of cardio, try adding yoga to the mix or Pilates. Your body will get stronger in different ways, which may protect you from injury.

Skipping Your Warm Up

If you're short on time, you may be tempted to skip the warm up and jump right into your workout.

But the warm up is one of the most important parts of your exercise routine. By easing into exercise with light movement, you can gradually raise your heart rate, increase oxygen to the body and increase blood flow to the muscles.

Not only will warming up make the transition to exercise more comfortable, it also prevents injuries by increasing the elasticity of the muscles.

Always allow an extra 5-10 minutes before the workout and warm up with a little light cardio. Start at an easy pace and gradually increase the intensity until you're working at more of a moderate intensity.

Not only will your body feel good, but your workout will feel better.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Mcgowan C, Pyne D, Thompson K, Rattray B. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Med. 2015;45(11):1523-46. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x

  3. Judge LW, Avedesian JM, Bellar D, Hoover D, Craig B, Langley J, Nordmann N, Schoeff M, Dickin C. Pre- and Post-Activity Stretching Practices of Collegiate Soccer Coaches in the United States. Int J Exerc Sci. 2020;13(6):260-272.

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Additional Reading
  • Fradkin AJ, Zazryn TR, Smoliga JM. Effects of Warming-up on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2010;24(1):140–148. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c643a0.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."