October 18, 2012

Clueless Gym Behavior: Ask the Personal Trainers

Who is THIS moron? Oh wait...

Welcome to our first installment of  "Ask the Personal Trainers!"  We have four personal trainers lined up to answer your questions, and they're a diverse, knowledgeable, and amusing bunch.

Plus, since I can't keep my mouth shut, I'll weigh in too! Sure, I have absolutely no qualifications whatsoever.  But when has that ever stopped my from offering advice before?

This time, since we have introductions to make, there's only one question and it's mine.  This is because it's my blog and I'm a greedy control freak I wanted to start off with a general question that could reflect each trainer's overall fitness philosophies.   

However, we gotten some great reader questions! I haven't forgotten them, and some of these have already been submitted for next time.  (These involve rotator cuff problems, core work and post-hysterectomy recovery, and unmotivated clients, so stay tuned!)

What's today's question?

What is the most clueless thing you see people do in a gym, and what should they be doing instead?

But first, let's meet our trainers!

Taylor Ryan, Fit Women's Weekly and Lifting Revolution 

Taylor Ryan is a NASM certified personal trainer, Venice certified nutrition consult, a vegan foodie and all around health junkie. She spreads her love of fitness at her personal blog, Lifting Revolution.com and at her online fitness community, Fit Womens Weekly.

Taylor lives in Charleston, SC with her husband and their two crazy fur-babies (Nike and Zoe) where she owns and trains a 7-location women’s boot camp. Fitness is her thing and she loves talking all things exercise and nutrition!

Over the course of her fitness career she has participated in dozens of 5Ks, several 10Ks, a strong women’s competition, figure competition, mud runs, and is now gearing up for her first 1/2 marathon later this month.

Dave Smith from Make Your Body Work:

Dave Smith is a personal trainer who's been at it for more than a decade. If there's one thing Dave is serious about when it comes to fitness it is...Exercise Efficiency! Dave teaches people how to maximize their fitness results using body weight exercises that can be done anywhere, anytime. After all, who has time for 2-hour sessions in the gym these days?

You can learn more about Dave's fitness philosophies and training methods at www.makeyourbodywork.com (maybe even try out a workout while you're there!)

Chris Kelly from Peak Fitness:

As the trainer of over 80 women per week, I am a motivator, friend and constant dispenser of burpees. With schedule so often the disconnect with fitness, I specialize in time efficient fitness solutions and strategies for breaking down the barriers to achieving a flat stomach and improving strength (without bulk) without the need to set foot in the gym. My motto for all clients is: Give me 15 minutes per day and I will show you your abs.

You can out find quick and efficient workout tips and strategies at Chris's blog www.peakwellnessonline.com, and more about Chris and his team over at Peak Fitness .

Alfonso Moretti, Angry Trainer Fitness

From the age of 18, I worked as and was certified as a personal trainer. I’ve worked in big gyms in NYC, private studios in suburbia, and in home training everywhere. I’ve been certified in many different specialties, but my own time in the gym, my time training clients, my PASSION for health and fitness, my own lifestyle, those are my credentials.

In my early 20′s, I got really serious about the importance of nutrition and began a hobby as an amateur bodybuilder, culminating nearly 10 years later with me winning first place in the light heavyweight category at a natural bodybuilding competition. I’ve also dabbled in entertainment – finishing third on Boot Camp, the Fox reality show from 2001, and recently filmed a Wipeout style pilot for NBC called It’s a Knockout. I’m a regular contributor to Men’s Fitness, write for Discovery Fit And Health and am a spokesman and contributor to FitStudio – the new online fitness venture from Sears.

On a personal level I have two young sons that look up to Dad and know what I’m trying to do and how I’m trying to fix the fitness industry.

You can find Alfonso at Angry Trainer Fitness.

And now, on to our question!

Q: What is the most clueless thing you see people do in a gym, and what should they be doing instead?

Taylor Ryan, Lifting Revolution

I see some pretty clueless stuff every time I go to the gym. I try not to roll my eyes or giggle but sometimes it’s tough. Okay, so I don’t giggle but I do try to spread the fitness knowledge so they don’t keep making the same fitness goofs over and over again.

This takes the cake: seeing people (especially women) focusing all their attention on the isolation machines. The machines like the bicep curl, tricep press and of course the thigh adductor.

While these will give your little muscles a “burn” they aren’t going to help transform your figure.

Machines are a waste of time (unless you’re rehabbing an injury). Because they run on a track, the range of motion is fixed and your muscles aren’t pushed to the max as if you were doing free weights.

There is also the issue of calorie burn. By working small muscles (like the bi’s, tri’s and thighs) you’re not going to get the calorie burn you would, say if you were doing big exercises like: lunges with a curl, squat to press, etc.

So get off the machines, pick up a dumbbell and start focusing on what is really going to yield results... moving.

Let’s face it, exercise isn’t suppose to be done sitting on your butt, so why should you move from chair to chair for the machines? Food for thought.

Although this kind of sitting... perfectly ok!

Dave Smith:
You've likely seen them (or maybe you're even one of them!)...They take a seat on some piece of exercise equipment and sit there. Then they do a a few reps. Then they sit there some more. Then they get a drink. And then they talk to their neighbor who is also sitting there. Then they look in the mirror for a while. And then they get another drink (you do have to stay hydrated at the gym you know!) Soon 10 minutes has gone by and very little distance has been covered.

Yes, exercise can be daunting but "hanging out" at the gym is a waste of time and the people who do it are like cars driving below the speed limit in the fast lane...they're just taking up space without really getting anywhere!

To avoid being "one of those people" I recommend you invest in the best workout buddy money can buy...a stop watch. Now try this workout protocol:

  • Start your watch as soon as you begin your workout
  • Do your exercise and then check out your time, say 20 seconds has gone by
  • Give your self exactly 1 minute before you begin your next exercise
  • So, at 1:20 you will do another set and then check your watch again
  • Allow another minute of rest
  • Repeat
Before you know it you'll have completed an awesome workout (that included somewhere between 15-20 sets), you'll feel great (okay, you're body will temporarily feel like hell because you actually did some hard work!), and you'll be out the gym door in 30-40 minutes! And the best part?...seeing all of the "slow-moving vehicles" who are still in mid-workout (with another hour to go) watching enviously as you head home!

What a feeling.

Chris Kelly:
Ah where do I begin. I have seen everything from burpees on a moving treadmill (and subsequent wipeout) to barbell back squats on a gym ball.

But the issue I want to address is why 98% of gym goers never physically change: completely random workouts.

Most clients I work with want to tone their arms, run a marathon and rehab their bum knee all in one session. As a result, what they do in the gym changes from high intensity sprints on the treadmill one day to 45 minutes of curls and tricep extensions the next.

I am all for muscle confusion but really this just becomes confusing. The key is to stick to the same basic program for 3-4 weeks and focus on making exercises more difficult versus changing with each session. Here is an example for anyone seeking to improve basic endurance and muscle tone:

Strength training-
Exercise 1- Push up
Exercise 2- Hip lift
Exercise 3- Inverted row
Exercise 4- Deadbug

- Perform each exercise back to back for 6-8 reps.
- Repeat circuit three times and add weight or difficulty if you can do more than 8 reps.
- Attempt to add weight/difficulty with each week for a period of 3-4 weeks.
- Perform routine 3 days per week.

The Bottom line here is that we shouldn't let the stupid things we see in the gym take our eyes off of what we really want. Pick 1-2 goals to focus on for the month and train these aggressively. And if you are bored after your workout, feel free to throw a few of these in to the mix. Enjoy =)

Alfonso Morretti, Angry Fit Trainer

The most clueless thing trainees do is trying to get results without a plan! Are you walking around doing some of these and a few of those or choosing exercises you feel like that day?

Too many of you are going to the gym and training like bodybuilders, with multiple sets of muscle specific exercises, or taking Yoga, or riding a bike for hours on end or just exercising in a way that’s not productive to your goals and that's not benefiting your life in a functional way.

If you want to be a bodybuilder, then train like one. If you want the endurance to ride 50 miles on a bike then SPIN may be your answer.

But if you want to look like an athlete, toned, strong, fit and lean – you need to train like one! That means that you should have great variety in your program and use many modes of exercise. The more you expose yourself to physical challenges the less pronounced your weaknesses would become.

I’m of the mindset you should also be tracking your workouts and measuring your progress. If you ran ½ mile in 5 minutes last week during a session, try to beat it by even just a few seconds this week. If you performed 3 rounds of 3 exercises for 15 reps each, try getting 16 or 17 reps this week, or get it done faster. SET A GOAL. It’s not good enough to just show up and push hard. Your body is adaptive and you need to coax it to want to change. That requires effort, intensity and a PLAN. If you’re truly serious about being the best YOU, taking 5 minutes to jot workouts down won’t be too much to ask.

I hate to use quotes but “Failing To Plan is Planning To Fail” is 100% applicable here. Make sure your goals are clear, you have a plan and you’re using the right tools. If you’ve got those three things then nothing is impossible!

Good luck, be well, stay ANGRY!

Crabby McSlacker, Cranky Fitness

The most clueless thing I've seen people do in a gym is pick one machine or accessory and stay on it forever and ever and ever, especially when they pick a machine that I want to use.  What they should be doing instead is getting the hell off and letting me go about my routine as if I owned the entire gym. And if they are on my machine when I want to use it, then by definition they've been on there too long.

Plus, this sort of single-minded fixation is actually not good for overall fitness, for reasons explained above by the experts.  Some women who are skeletal looking to start with fear that strength training will make them "bulky" so they spend hours and hours at a time on the cardio machines, trying to shrink themselves down until they are entirely invisible.  While across the room some of the bodybuilder dudes will insist on doing set after set after set of weights, lifting and resting and lifting and resting as the sun sets and rises and sets again--yet they can't run to catch a bus without getting winded.  Their cardiovascular systems aren't visible and can't be admired by onlookers, so what's the point in building those up?

However, oddly enough, I don't find it annoyingly clueless at all for someone to spend hours and hours on equipment I don't use myself.  Go figure!

So, feel free to ask questions either follow-ups from today or brand new questions for future posts.  Or weigh in on gym cluelessness, or just check in about how your week has been!

Stability ball photo: Trainer Josh


  1. Today's question made me think of this question:
    What is the most harmful thing you've seen anyone do at the gym, and what should they be doing instead?

    1. Oooh, excellent question!

      Trying to run backwards and sideways on a treadmill despite being physically uncoordinated and high on too many cups of coffee? Oh, wait, that was me... It's a miracle I don't kill myself. But I'll be curious to see what the trainers have seen in terms of dangerous stunts.

    2. I was going to say run backwards on a treadmill as well. I even saw someone trying to do reverse lunge walks on one. Hummm, okay.

    3. Oooh good one. I love to drop weights on my face and then spend years in the dentist's office. OK used to. I got over that. Still. I love to jerk up too heavy weights so I can throw my back out.

    4. We clearly need a support group.

      I just bought a 15lb medicine ball, let's see what sort of back-wrenching, shoulder ripping, hernia inducing feats I can get up to with that...

  2. Interesting read, Crabby! Thanks!

    I find myself psychologically analyzing the trainers, lol! I will report, prn :-)

    1. It is interesting to see differences in approach and life philosophies! And feel free to psychoanalyze me; I already KNOW I'm nuts.

    2. True, but you have mastered the key: You enjoy your insanity!

    3. Oh goodness... that's a bit nerve racking Dr. Love to hear your thoughts :)

  3. Crabby,

    I feel your pain on waiting on a piece of equipment. One of the funnier things I have seen is someone hogging a bicep curl machine being challenged to an arm wrestling contest. You might consider this option in the gym.

    I also agree with our trainer panel that exercise should be fun and involve new. One of the major reasons we are seeing a rise in over use injuries in our kids is because they focus on only one sport or activity.

    Structured exercise is all well and good, but at the end of the day I think we can all benefit from getting out and playing a bit more (throwing a Frisbee, running in the sand, arm wrestling at the gym....or not)

    Im not sure what this says about my mind as a trainer, but feel free to post further questions below =)


    1. Love the arm wrestling idea as well as more play and less work!

      And thanks so much for all your insight; looking forward to hearing lots more in the future.

  4. Okay, first, that picture at the top is a thing of pure beauty. Really.

    Second, I felt a bit hurt by the responses. I know the question was about cluelessness so I can't fault the trainers, really, but I remember joining a gym for the first time and going from machine to machine and feeling stronger every day and being really damned proud of myself! So yes, I could have gotten a much better workout with free weights and a personal trainer and a clear set of goals like I do now, but that first step of just being there and trying it and feeling good about it is something I really hate to see disparaged. Not everybody at the gym has some serious fitness goal or need to maximize their exercise time.

    Third, I am totally gonna try that barbell squat on a gym ball. That looks bad ass! I'll comment again from the ICU ...

    1. If it's any consolation, I've been exercising for DECADES in a fairly haphazard manner, and while I may have a goal for a few weeks, my bottom line goal is to keep going and having fun. Or at least to keep going and suffering the least amount of misery possible.

      So yeah, be proud you're getting stronger every day! And, um, could you get a pal to video that barbell squat? Um, just so we can all learn proper form. :)

    2. If you feel better and you see results then yay. Be proud of your strength and progress, and then use that to keep moving forward! Sounds like you're doning awesome. I'm with Crabby, video please! good luck!

  5. Nothing much to add, as i'm not a trainer, and i think you've picked 4 excellent ones.

  6. I am now motivated to spend less time on my favorite mindless eliptical and the mean rotating stairs, but on those rough days when I don't even want to be there, they are my perfect zombie machines that get me back to my sweaty happy place!

    1. Eee gads, you brave the mean stair thingy?

      I find that to be one of the most gruesome machines there for anything but very quick intervals. Good on ya for slogging through!

      I need tunes with bpm carefully and compulsively calibrated to match my pace; this plus some other tricks (that make me look like a total ass) can actually make ellipticals and and treadmills fun. I'm overdue for a post on this, thanks for the reminder!

  7. Jenn, I too love (and hate at the same time) the rotating stairs! As far as cardio goes, that piece of equipment is tough to beat. Yesterday I did intervals (fast for 40 seconds, slower for 40 seconds) and was pretty beat in 18 minutes. I'm not sure if I was in a "sweaty happy place" but I sure got an efficient workout done :)

  8. I have calves that are hard as a rock which is a big flexibility problem and I have achilles tendonitis. I do calf stretches, lunges, squats downward dog and up and down on my toes every day. I make the problem worse by working at a desk and balancing on my toes under my chair. I now have a collection of foot rests, a balance ball, heating pads etc. under the desk. What am I not doing that I should be doing? Deep Tissue massage? Accupuncture? I have had physio for a year they just give me weekly ultrasound and tell me I do too much.

    1. Great question, I'll save this one for a future "ask the trainer" post!

      And gotta say, your physio folks sound most unhelpful! Good for you for continuing to look for solutions on your own.

  9. Oh great! Now I'll never go to a gym. Well, I will and for the first while I will be a mindless zombie on a bike and on one weight machine or another. I have to get my wind back and lose a few pounds before I think about setting a proper routine, let alone shake one up :)

    1. Good for you Reb, and don't be scared off by the hard-cores!

      Some of us have been hitting the gym for years, doing the same things over and over and not necessarily continuing to add strength or endurance gains. I think the trainer advice is aimed at those of us who have become mindless zombies; for starting off, or coming back from injuries, I think mindless zombiehood is an excellent goal, as it gets the habit going with minimal martyrdom!

    2. Hey Reb,

      I'm glad you're getting back into a routine. So often I hear from people who gave up on the exercise because they took time off and "couldn't get started again" - Getting started is always the hardest part but it sure gets easier when the results start showing!

  10. Ya know I really got a lot out of each trainer's thoughts and recommendations - more than I thought actually since I do not go to the gym. Glad I am doing something right (not doing a burpee - I had to look it up - on a treadmill, but recording what I do and all the particulars) I think for me the ideas Chris Kelly offered work really well because I can do them at my home gym and they are not my normal routine and concentrate on the core which is a problem for me right now. Really big thanks because it is motivating. The deadbug video is not working (fyi), but I went out and found it. I looked at a few of his other videos - fantastic!

    Thanks to all the trainers and I look forward to the next installment! Thanks Crabby. That could be me with the cupcake. Smirky smirk smirk.

    1. Hey that's great that you found a resource out of this! I think Chris has lots more videos and suggestions over at his place.

      "Power cupcakes" I think we gotta work on this, I suspect there's money to be made...

  11. As an independent gym owner, I also get to see crazy and clueless gym behavior at my gym. But I have to say that the specifics that the trainers have given in these examples are not obvious to gym beginners. Because of this, I implemented an orientation to give to my new members. The orientation of the gym is given by one of my personal trainers to give the new member an idea of how machines work and other basic gym concepts. However, after reading this post, I am thinking that I should make the orientation mandatory! Thank you for your gym business Insights!

    1. Hooray for gym orientations! I think these are an awesome resource, because even veterans can use safety reminders and info about the particularities of each gym. Lots of variations in terms of working in, signing up for equipment, time limits, sweat-wiping protocol etc.

      Although MANDATORY might cause a few problems for folks like me who travel and use day passes; don't know if you have those types of visitors but if I had to attend a mandatory session that could be problematic. I usually carefully observe the natives and ask questions and hope I'm not making too much of an ass of myself.

    2. You want my Aunt to help you design the most comprehensive orientation plan. I have never laughed as hard as I did when she described her start at the gym. After a health scare she lost 240Lbs and quit chain smoking cold turkey. She decides she needs to tone up after 2 years of weight loss so she gets a gym membership but she is the girl that has never been interested in physical activity. She can identify a bike and a treadmill but she has no clue. Her first misadventure was the stationary bike. She didn’t realize the seat was adjustable so she stood on the frame to get up to the seat and sat there with her feet dangling in the air. Next she climbs down to the peddles and rides standing with the seat poking her in the back. She comes home and tells her family the equipment doesn’t fit her.
      She has a hundred of these stories I think her trainer is going to write a book.

    3. Too funny Cindy! But gotta hand it to her if she could lose all that weight, quit smoking etc. Maybe she needs to design our workouts after all, who knows what she'd come up with!

    4. Crabby,

      I did not think about the day visitor issue if the orientation was to be made mandatory. I will think of some other incentive t make attending the orientation a good use of the member's time.

      Thanks for the laugh!

      For my gym business insights, I have a blog too if you are interested at: http://blog.gyminsight.com/

      Take care!

    5. Cool blog Lawrence, interesting to see the whole gym experience from the owner's perspective!

      I've visited a lot of gyms, both good & bad, and it's fascinating to see the challenges that go on behind the scenes. Love the ones that figure out how to make money by ways other than cramming too many people in or never upgrading broken equipment.

  12. Ha! I loved your response, I needed the laugh tonight.

    It was kind of refreshing to hear focus on a few things rather than the constant "muscle confusion." I like to be healthy, but I also do like to see some results.

    Very fun.

    Guy on the ball = crazy.

    1. Glad the "focus on a few things" resonated! The great thing about having different viewpoints is that each philosophy speaks to different people depending on where they are in their fitness journey and how they like to set about making changes.

      Muscle confusion is confusing to me too!

  13. Great post!!!!!! SO many crazy things I have seen in the gym over my 30++ years! The biggest thing that stands out to me although this is just one of many - seeing the same person come in day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year doing the exact same exercises in the exact same order & they look exactly the same 1 or 5 or 10 years later or maybe even heavier cause of age hormones... :-) Also, I respect the above trainers but I have seen my share of BAD & hear them telling someone that there is only one way & it it their way. We are all different & things that work for me may not work for another & vice versa....

    1. Excellent input Jody! And sometime I'd love to hear what the CRAZIEST thing you've ever seen, bet you have some stories!

  14. I totally agree with your analysis of "people who hog the equipment I want are wasting my time, even if they just got on" mindset. Thanks for being brave enough to call it.

    After your take, I found all the trainers interesting, but most interesting to me was Dave Smith who wrote about not getting to scattered in attempting to confuse your muscles. (My problem is that I get confused myself before I can sufficiently confuse my muscles, & as a result, things can get a little scattered.)

    Seriously, though, I liked Dave's admonition to keep workouts FOCUSED in order to avoid total confusion. I've discovered so many really excellent trainers & websites that I want to do it ALL, & even if I had the time & energy, it's not possible! Plus, those of us who are well past our 20s are absolutely NOT going to be able to keep up with some of those sleek young things who have yet to suffer the stress fractures, strained tendons, & other assorted injuries that we have had. Besides, I also enjoy a cupcake now & then, and I am not prepared to eat nuts & seeds 24/7 just to have abs of steel.

    Thanks again for an informational, entertaining read! Love ya, Crabby!

    1. Oh cool, thanks so much for feedback and, well, as you know I'm well past my 20's with my share if injures and also a fan of the occasional cupcake too. Go us!

      Glad Dave's advice resonated, and look forward to hearing what you think about upcoming trainer advice!

    2. Elaine,

      Glad to hear we share a similar view on fitness. It's exactly as you said, nobody needs to "do it all" - We all just need to do something. Exercise is sometimes made out to be more like rocket science than it should be. Our bodies are built to move...let's keep moving and we'll be in good shape!

  15. Cluelessness: I'm still grumpy about my experience yesterday with the two men dropping and bouncing their 75 pound weights on the floor at the end of each set. One on each side of me. (Who didn't appear to know each other.) I'm happy for them that they worked to exhaustion, but has no one told them not to do that? Because you're not likely to just walk in off the street and do a full arm workout with 75 pound dumbbells the first time. Arrgh!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

    1. I hate this too; many gyms have signs saying not to do this; yet at other gyms the weight-slamming seems to be part of the whole deal. Now that more people are doing cross-fit type stuff at their local gyms I think the weight dropping is on the rise!

      Although I was chastised by a trainer at one gym when doing dumbbell bench presses for letting the weights drop all of two inches because the bench was too high for me to set them down gently. Sigh. So I guess I've been guilty as well.

  16. Yeah... the people sitting in one place and moving from place to place to sit in one place. I don't get it. And I feel your frustration on waiting for equipment. I hate when I have to wait a half hour for the squat rack because some guy is doing shrugs in it.

    Crabby, next time you winter in NorCal, please let's arrange a day when I take you to my favorite gym in the world. There is one machine (a cable machine). There is open space, rugs on the floors, resident cats and dogs, a variety of barbells, kettlebells, sandbangs, and some the wisest trainers I know. We'll have FUN!

    1. Yes we gotta do it, sounds like a blast! Cats, dogs, rugs, space, what's not to love!

      Oh wait, are we supposed to actually WORK OUT while there? Um, yeah, actually, still sounds like fun. :)

  17. PS: Forgot to say I LOVED THE PIC OF YOU!!!!!!!

  18. I usually mind my own business and let ppl do what they want unless it impacts me, but these 3 kids today had me shaking my head, they were hanging around bagging somebody else's form (couldn't possibly have been mine) then proceeded to do single rep ez bar curls with a spotter at each side (helping the whole way) and more weight on the bar than I was squatting at the time. kids these days eh.

  19. Great post! I find that variety works for me.I train everywhere and all ways different never the same workout in the same month , I go to the gym on the odd occasion when its very bad weather or if I want to do a very heavy bench press or pullup.


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